Red Rock Canyon, Nevada

Just beyond the neon and greenbacks of Vegas lies a priceless wilderness gem.
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Just beyond the neon and greenbacks of Vegas lies a priceless wilderness gem.

Little-Known Fact: A 7,000-foot limestone escarpment surrounds Red Rock Canyon.

The second we enter the casino it's painfully obvious we don't belong. Bleary-eyed players look up from their cards just long enough to cast suspicious glances at our hiking boots. Lights flash, swingers wink, bells clang, and coins clink. It's Vegas, baby, and we need to get away. We flee to the desert and immediately strike pay dirt in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

We start from the Sandstone Quarry turnoff, a little more than a quarter of the way through the 13-mile paved loop maintained by the Bureau of Land Management. We wander north for several hours, following trails and washes until we spot a rock formation to act as our base for our first day of hiking, bouldering (vertically inclined visitors will find dozens of challenging rock climbing routes, many with fixed protection), and sunning ourselves on the smooth stone like giant lizards.

There are several short, frontcountry loop trails established in the conservation area near the paved road. But since we like to experience the more scenic and isolated parts of Red Rock, we use our maps to hike farther into the backcountry on sturdy rock or gravel, navigating around stands of vegetation.

Contact Information:

Bureau of Land Management

Las Vegas District Office

Box 26569

Las Vegas, NV 89126

702/647-5000

Visitor Center: 702/363-1921

Location:

Red Rock is located in southern Nevada, 20 miles west of Las Vegas.

Getting There:

From Las Vegas, Nevada, follow Charleston Blvd. (NV 159) 20 miles west to the visitor center entrance.

Seasonal Information:

Summer can be unbearably hot. Winter brings clear skies, cold nights, and warm days. The best season is spring, when rain and snowmelt bring out the wildflowers and give rise to seasonal waterfalls.

Wildlife:

Wildlife in the conservation area is as abundant and varied as the plant life. Rabbits and rodents provide food for the coyotes, kit foxes, and bobcats that live in the canyon.

Insects:

Contact park office for information.

Plant Life:

Red Rock Canyon isn't composed of just the typical desert plant community. Ponderosa pines and willows grow in the area that is also decorated with wildflowers in the spring.

Facilities:

Camping is allowed in parts of Red Rock Canyon, but call ahead since site designation and availability of permits varies. Or you can stay at the Oak Creek campground for $10 a night.

Parking:

Contact park office for information.

Permits:

Entrance and camping are free. Backcountry campers must register and get a permit at the visitor center.

Policies:

Contact park office for information.

Hazards:

Water sources are unpredictable, so fill your jugs at the visitor center and carry more than you think you will need.

Leave No Trace:

  • Learn to identify fragile cryptogamic soil, and stick to established trails where they exist to avoid destroying it. When you do travel off-trail, hike on rock, gravel, or compacted soil.
  • When selecting a campsite, camp at least 200 feet from water, don't disturb vegetation, don't camp in archaeological sites, and stay out of low areas where your tent can get washed away in a flash flood.
  • All LNT guidelines apply.

Maps:

Trail maps are available at the visitor center. The USGS topo maps (sold at the visitor center) are "Mountain Springs," "La Madre Mountain," "Blue Diamond," and "La Madre Spring."

Other Trip Options:

If you want to stay in the area and stay outside of the bright lights of Vegas, Spring Mountain State Park, Toiyabe National Forest (with Lee Canyon Ski Area) and Death Valley National Monument are all west of Las Vegas.