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Red Rock Canyon: one of the best ways to enjoy nature near Las Vegas

May 11, 2021 /
red rock canyon nevada

Warning: Due to COVID 19 some information in this article (e.g. operating hours) may not be up-to-date.

Before we tell you about Red Rock Canyon, we must mention the neighboring city of Las Vegas, known worldwide as the city of vice, as an overflowing, glittering mecca of fun for gamblers and anyone who wants get immersed in the crazy atmosphere of an open-air casino, with extravagant hotels, entertainment, events, concerts and incredible shows in crowded arenas, trendy restaurants and fun nightclubs. In a nutshell, it’s a crazy city, but one that will certainly is not to everyone’s liking.

There’s no doubt that this absurd and huge casino city in the middle of the desert will intrigue you, but after a couple of evenings spent going to different hotels, you’ll probably want to get away, especially if you are mainly interested visiting the incredible natural parks that are scattered around Nevada, Utah and Arizona. It is true that Las Vegas is a strategic point to start a tour of incredible natural wonders such as the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, but also Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon and many others.

However, not everyone knows that… not far from Las Vegas there are some gems that are perfect for those who want to escape from the Las Vegas Strip to discover the natural beauty of the area. In addition to Valley of Fire and the Hoover Dam, which we have already told you about, there is also a natural conservation area that is really convenient to reach (about a 30-minute drive from Las Vegas). We are talking about Red Rock Canyon.

Red Rock Canyon: where is and how far is from Las Vegas?

Red Rock Canyon Las VegasAbout 15 miles or less from Las Vegas, not far from the hype and artificial lights of the Strip, there is this wonderful natural conservation area, of course, is known for the red rock faces that are common in this area (and to our eyes completely new). Red Rock Canyon is a natural wonder where you can admire unique formations of red rock that emerge from the desert terrain creating a surreal and quite remarkable landscape.

Please pay attention. Don’t confuse Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area in Nevada with Red Rock Canyon State Park in California, not far from Bakersfield, or with Red Canyon in Utah.

Hours and Entrance Fees

red rock canyon national conservation area las vegas
High Point Overlook

Here is information about the park’s hours of operation:

  • The Red Rock Canyon Visitor Center is open from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm.
  • Scenic Drive, the trail on the Red Spring Boardwalk, and the Red Rock Overlook follow the following schedule:
    • November to February: from 6:00 am to 5:00 pm
    • March: 6:00 am to 7:00 pm
    • April to September: 6:00 am to 8:00 pm
    • October: from 6:00 am to 7:00 pm

Admission to Red Rock Canyon costs $15 per car, but it is included in the America the Beautiful parks pass.

Things to do in Red Rock Canyon

red rock canyon map
Park map

Red Rock Canyon Scenic Drive

Red Rock Canyon Scenic DriveGiven its proximity to Las Vegas, Red Rock Canyon can be easily visited in a day or, if you like, even in a few hours. Most visitors (about 2 million per year!) decide to visit it by car, along the 13-mile Scenic Drive that goes all around the rounded peaks and the red rock formations (Wilson Cliffs) and offers the opportunity to enjoy the park in peace, both during the drive and at the various viewpoints on the side of the road. Among the most beautiful overlooks are High Point Overlook, Calico Hills and Red Rock Overlook. All three are well-marked on the route and maps available at the visitor center.

The third viewpoint (Red Rock Overlook) is not actually on Scenic Drive, but on SR 159, just outside the park. If you visit it on your way back from Las Vegas, you will encounter Red Rock Overlook at the end of Scenic Drive (turning left onto SR 159), less than half a mile from the turn. These are the coordinates. You can get your bearings by looking the map above.

How long does it take to drive the entire length of Scenic Drive? If you take your time and stop at the various viewpoints, you can get to the end of Scenic Drive within an hour. If had in mind only a quick visit to Red Rock Canyon, then this is the best solution.

Red Rock Canyon Best Hikes

red rock canyon las vegas hiking
Wilson Cliffs

However, those who really want to get the full experience of the park will find it hard to resist the temptation to park their car and venture out on one of the many trails along the red terrain of the canyon. Let’s take a look at some of them, arranged according to the level of difficulty.

Easy Hikes

Red Spring Boardwalk
Moenkopi Loop

This quick trail starts at the visitor center and continues into a desert area of the park, where you can enjoy the view of the reddish Wilson Cliffs, walk among Triassic fossils and cacti on the side of the path. You can walk the loop and return to the visitor center or continue the route towards the Calico Hills area.

  • Duration: 1h 50 min.
  • Length: 2 miles
Red Spring Boardwalk

A very easy trail that can be covered on a wooden walkway that is rewarding and effortless. The trail is not located on Scenic Drive, so to reach it you will have to leave the park and take the Calico Basin Road. Here is the address to enter on Google Maps for where you will park and start the trail.

  • Duration: 20 min.
  • Length: 0.5 miles

Moderate Hikes

Calico Hills trail
Calico Hills Trail

There is more than one way to get on the Calico Hills Trail. You can access the trail by following the Moenkopi Loop, or by parking in one of the two parking lots along Scenic Drive. On the trail, you can go to two different viewpoints or walk on longer and more difficult trails, such as the one to Turtlehead Peak which, after all, is the easiest peak to reach. But we’ll talk about that in a bit.

  • Duration: Variable (1 h 50 min. – 3 h 50 min.)
  • Length: Variable (2-6 miles)
Calico Tanks

If you still want to see the Calico Hills up close, you can do so by venturing on this incredible trail, one of the most famous in the whole park. The trail is located in Sandstone Quarry. In Calico Tanks you can get a real lesson in geology and prehistory while walking in the heart of the canyon, among strange rock formations and narrow shaded trails below the red rock faces.

  • Duration: 2 h
  • Length: 2.5 miles

Challenging Hikes

red rock canyon things to do

Ice Box Canyon Trail

In my opinion, this is one of the most intriguing trails in Red Rock Canyon, and also one of the most underrated. After having walked for some time in the desert, you will arrive near the most sheltered area of the canyon, where you will find small natural pools and waterfalls. While the Ice Box Canyon area is relatively cooler, it is also true that to reach it you will be exposed to the heat. Prepare accordingly by bringing plenty of water. The trailhead is located 7.7 miles beyond the visitor center.

Just before reaching the Ice Box Canyon Trail, there is also a family-friendly trail called Lost Creek – Children’s Discovery.

  • Duration: 2 h 50 min.
  • Length: 2.6 miles
red rock canyon las vegas weather
Turtlehead Peak trail

Don’t underestimate this trail, because it puts even the most experienced hikers to the test. Some points that require rock-climbing are complex, but the view from the top of Turtlehead Peak is worth the effort.

  • Duration: 3.5-4.5 miles
  • Length: 5 miles

Visit Bonnie Springs Ranch

Bonnie Springs Ranch

Once you arrive at the end of Scenic Drive, before driving north to return to Las Vegas, head to Blue Diamond Road, which is the continuation of Red Rock Canyon Road. 5 miles before the end of the loop, on the right, you’ll find the ghost town of Bonnie Springs Ranch, where there is a restaurant, a show arena, a motel and… a zoo.

Attention: Unfortunately, as of March 17, 2019, this attraction is closed.

Red Rock Canyon Tours

tour red rock canyonAlthough Red Rock Canyon is not a major destination of classicWest Coast trips, it still lends itself particularly well to the most diverse and original organized tours, anything from bike tours to Hummer tours, horseback riding or even scooter tours (!!!). There are numerous guided tours departing from Las Vegas.

Here is a list of tours:

Red Rock Canyon Tours from Vegas

Red Rock Canyon or Valley of Fire?

red rock canyon las vegasBoth Red Rock Canyon and Valley of Fire are ideal for excursions departing from Las Vegas because of their proximity to the city, but often, due to timing and set itinerary plans, it may not be possible to visit both parks. So which one should you leave out? If you find yourself having to choose, my advice is to choose Valley of Fire, which boasts a much more spectacular Scenic Drive, as well as a number of very impressive trails.

To find out more, read our guide to the Valley of Fire in Nevada.

Where to stay near the park

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation AreaInside Red Rock Canyon, there are no accommodations, so the only option is to pitch your tent at the canyon’s campsite, which is about 2 miles east of the visitor center, but keep in mind it does not accept reservations.

Therefore, the most obvious choice, as well as the most convenient place to stay overnight, is in an amazing themed hotel in Las Vegas or, if you prefer, in an extravagant Las Vegas luxury hotel. You can also read about on our website where you will find several tips and recommendations on how to find accommodations in Las Vegas:

Our Tips for Staying in Las Vegas

Alternatively, if you’re visiting various national parks and are coming from California, you might want to consider visiting Red Rock Canyon as you make your way from Death Valley to Las Vegas, in which case, I recommend you read our guide on where to stay in the Death Valley area.

Bernardo Pacini
Bernardo Pacini

I am an editor and copywriter and have published some poetry. Besides traveling, my interests include literature, experimental music and good food

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