It’s rare for such a big city to have a picturesque piece of national land so close by. Most of the time, big city dwellers have to drive at least an hour to get to a suitable place for true nature hiking. For residents of Las Vegas, stunning nature trails and mountains are only 20 minutes away at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.
Just 20 miles east of downtown Las Vegas, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation area is the perfect escape from big city life. Surrounded by rocky red mountains that get their red color from the presence of iron minerals that have oxidized and rusted over time, there is nowhere more peaceful or beautiful to hike in the Vegas area.
We’ve made it a priority to get out to Red Rock Canyon every time we’ve been to Vegas, and it never disappoints. To the contrary, it seems to get more beautiful every time we go. We even brought our drone out to take some pictures and do some filming during our last visit. We got some pretty epic panoramic shots of the park from above. You can see all this in our video of the park, embedded below!
It costs $15 for vehicles to get into the park. Admission includes a map of the park and allows you to get in and out of the park the whole day. Read on for details on the Visitor Center, Scenic Loop Drive, as well as the various trails and hikes within the park.
Red Rock Canyon Visitor Center
Starting your visit to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area with a trip to the Visitor Center is always a good idea. They have maps and souvenirs available, as well as fairly clean bathrooms to use before you start your day of adventures.
The visitor center is located just inside the entrance to the park, turn left when you see a fork in the road and the visitor center will be on your left. As an added bonus, the visitor center actually has some gorgeous views of the park.
Scenic Loop Drive
The vast majority of stops, hikes, and sights in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area are located alongside Scenic Loop Drive. This main road takes a circular route through the park. Scenic Loop Drive makes it very convenient to visit the park, because all you have to do is follow the loop and stop at sights that interest you along the way. All the stops are clearly marked, so you can check what the stop entails using the map that they give you when entering the park.
Make sure you know ahead of time which stops you want to make, because Scenic Loop Drive is a one way road. This means you’ll need to go all the way around again if you miss a stop. For this reason, we stopped at nearly every stop we saw. We didn’t want to miss something good! Also, most of the stops have stunning sights that you can see from the parking lot.
Even just driving along this road without making any stops is amazing. You are surrounded by massive cactuses and succulents in an arid desert land. In the distance, you can see the beautiful mountains and rock formations that Red Rocks Canyon National Conservation Area is famous for.
Calico I is the first actual stop within the park after the Visitor Center. It’s known for its massive, red rocks that run alongside the parking lot. Being so close to such beautiful rock formations really wowed us. Plus, this stop is very accessible since the parking lot is right next to the rock formations. All you have to do is walk a couple hundred feet if you want to get closer to the rocks.
At this stop, we read the placard and learned that the entire area where Red Rock Canyon is today was once water. When the water dried up, seismic activity caused the land to morph into beautiful mountains and rock formations. It’s pretty crazy imagining that water was once there, since the land today is dry, arid desert land.
We saw a ton of rock climbers while we were at this stop. They were pretty high up and appeared to be making their way to the top of the rock formation. We think it’s great that the park allows rock climbers, since it’s hard to imagine a more beautiful place to rock climb in nature.
Sandstone Quarry had some of the coolest rock formations that we saw all day. From the parking lot, you can see two MASSIVE rocks that are located right next to each other. We tried walking in between them, but there is a ton of wildlife that makes it basically impossible to walk through.
The coolest feature of Sandstone Quarry is the massive rock that is half light and half red. You can even see the line separating the two colors. We tried researching what caused this phenomenon and couldn’t find anything, just know that it’s amazing to see in person.
High Point Overlook
The views of the park that High Point Overlook offer are unrivaled. At over 4,000 feet in elevation, you’re able to see most of the park from perched on this lookout point. It’s sure to be one of your favorite spots in the park—you and the 50 other people at the lookout point. It’s true, the views are beautiful but this stop was definitely more than a little crowded when we visited. To take in the views undisturbed, we walked down the hill from the lookout point by about 25 feet so we could take in the views in peace.
Despite the crowds, it’s worth your time to stop at High Point Overlook. It’s right off Scenic Loop Drive so it’s very convenient, plus it’s the perfect picture spot.
Ice Box Canyon is a difficult 2.2 mile hike. We had already been in the park for hours by the time we reached Ice Box Canyon, so we only walked about half a mile in before turning back to head for the car. If you’re up for the hike and make it to the end, there is a seasonal waterfall that is there between December and April.
Red Rock Overlook
Red Rock Overlook is a beautiful way to end your time in the park. It is located near the end of the loop, making it convenient to exit the park once you’re done with this stop. You’ll know right away why it’s called Red Rock Overlook–the name is pretty self-explanatory.
There wasn’t a single other person at this stop with us, which was strange because the park had been pretty busy. We soaked up the peace and quiet by sitting on a bench overlooking the beautiful mountains in the distance.
If you don’t want to pay the $15 admission fee but still want to experience all the beauty of Red Rock Canyon, you are not alone! We noticed a lot of locals doing Calico Basin Trail when we were last there. This is smart, because Calico Basin is just outside of the park’s entrance. To get to Calico Basin Trail, take a right on Calico Basin Rd. just before you arrive at the park. The trailhead for Calico Basin is about a quarter mile down the road.
We hiked for about a half mile in Calico Basin and thought it had views just as beautiful as many of the places within the park. Judging by the large amount of locals also hiking there, they must agree. The trail appears to be pretty long, so if you want to avoid the $15 fee then this is the hike for you.
If you’re spending time in Vegas, doing all the classic touristy things is a must. But it can also be great to get out in nature and explore a little. This is especially true when there is such a beautiful national park just a 20 minute drive away. You don’t even need hiking boots! Most of the trails are moderate and well-maintained so a pair of sneakers and some comfy clothes will do.
We like to leave ourselves at least a few hours to explore. However, you could spend anywhere from an hour to a whole day in the park and still have a great time. It just depends on how much hiking you want to do. Lastly, remember to take care of the park! It’s a beautiful piece of nature, so try to stay on the trails and don’t leave any trash behind.
If there’s any more information that you are missing about Red Rocks Canyon, feel free to ask in the comments below or visit the Red Rock Canyon Website–it’s a great resource.
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