Canyons Collide

Las Vegas is more than bright city lights and gaming. Just beyond the strip, the natural desert landscape calls visitors to a different type of recreation. Millions of people visit Red Rock Canyon every year to enjoy the scenic drive, hiking, biking or camping, beside sandstone hills and cactus plants.
This conservation area encompasses nearly 200,000 acres of the Mojave Desert and is home to wildlife such as burros, desert tortoises, lizards and quail. Several unique geological features lie within the park, like the Aztec Sandstone cliffs formed from fossilized sand dunes.
The Keystone Thrust Fault, which formed around 65 million years ago, runs through the conservation area. This fault created two-tone gray and red rock formations along its plate lines as compression pushed up an ancient limestone rock layer over a younger sandstone layer.
Along the Keystone Thrust trail, hikers will find the two exposed tectonic plates — one red sandstone slab and one gray limestone slab. It is extremely rare to witness these plates above ground as normally this interaction takes place many miles below the surface. This unusual natural occurrence is what makes Red Rock Canyon such a unique area to explore.
There are a few different ways to experience the canyon, but all involve the one-way, 13-mile scenic drive. Upon entering the park, whether in a vehicle or bicycle, guests will follow the road northwest to a series of scenic overlooks and trailheads.
Once inside the park, popular activities include rock climbing, cycling, hiking and picnicking.
The Visitor Center is currently closed, but the Elements Gift Shop at the start of the scenic drive is open daily 9 a.m.-4 p.m. This is the only spot with running water restrooms, but there are vault toilets at most trailheads throughout the loop.
Make sure to stop at the gift shop at the beginning of your trip because the scenic drive does not loop you back to this spot, you would have to re-enter the park and take the 13-mile drive again as it is a one-way road.
As of Nov. 3, reservations are required for a timed slot to enter the park from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Visitors must arrive during their one-hour time slot to guarantee entry, but then may stay until closing. Reservations are required during peak season from Nov. 3-May 31 to regulate crowds for a more enjoyable experience for all guests.
Tickets become available up to a month in advance on a rolling daily window; visit RedRockCanyonLV.org to book. The fee for a private vehicle to enter the park is $15.

Popular Hikes

Lost Creek/Children’s Discovery (Easy): This fun hike for all ages is in the Willow Springs area, a little over halfway through the scenic drive. There are several quick and easy trails in this area, like the Petroglyph Wall and the Willow Springs Loop, but the Lost Creek Trailhead is our pick due to the diverse vegetation and interesting trail leading up rock steps, under tree canopies and over a few boulders. There is even a seasonal waterfall that may appear in the winter and spring months depending on snow and rainfall. This is about 1 mile roundtrip and gains 200 feet in elevation.

Calico Hills (Easy-Moderate): The first stop off of the scenic drive is the Calico Hills area, which is one of the most beautiful spots due to the red swirling sandstone formations. There are a few different trails here, which you can travel down as far as you’d like, depending how strenuous of a hike you are up for. They can range from 2-6 miles, or even less if you choose to turn back sooner. This is a fun spot for bouldering and rock climbing, and also produces great photo opportunities.

Keystone Thrust (Moderate): As mentioned above, this trail leads to the fault line with the limestone and sandstone tectonic plates visible above ground. It is 2.2 miles round trip from the Upper White Rock Trailhead, and gains 400 feet in elevation.

Turtlehead Peak (Difficult): Named for the mountain that resembles a turtle’s head peeking out over the canyon, this hike rewards travelers who can make the strenuous 5-mile trip with sweeping views of the canyon, as well as the Las Vegas valley and Lake Mead. The trail can be difficult to follow at times and it is typically quite windy at the peak, after a 2,000-foot elevation increase.

There are numerous other trails throughout the park and upon entering through the fee station, travelers will receive a trail map outlining the trailheads, difficulty and length of 27 different hikes. You also may find this information online at RedRockCanyonLV.org to plan your day ahead of time.