If you’re visiting Las Vegas and looking for cool things to do that get you outdoors and away from the bustle of The Strip, then look no further than Red Rock Canyon National Conservation area.
Hands down of my favorite things about Las Vegas, Red Rock is a must-visit, even if you have to rent a car to get there.
At Red Rock you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your vehicle to take in the amazing scenery and views of the city, though I highly recommend that you do get out and explore a bit.
A Quick Look At Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area
Red Rock Canyon is undoubtedly a sight to see. The rocks really are that red, and it offers stunning views, good rock climbing, and even better hiking.
It also touches Las Vegas’s western edge, making it one of the quickest protected natural areas to get to from Las Vegas. It takes just 30 minutes by car from The Strip.
Unfortunately, time saved getting to Red Rock can be lost stuck behind cars on the single loop drive or trying to find parking in the parking lots. Busy times of year, like summer and winter holidays, can be truly overrun.
But if you can hit it at just the right time, it’s unbelievable. If you get there when everyone else is there, though, be prepared to experience very little serenity.
It is a national conservation area, which means it falls under the group of National Parks and related areas managed by the federal government.
As of November 2020, the entrance fee is $15 per vehicle and reservations are required for the scenic loop as of November 3, 2020.
Going forward , timed entry reservations will be mandatory for all visitors October 1 to May 31 between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. So, the only time of year that you won’t need a timed entry reservation is between June 1 and September 30.
The reservation fee is an additional $2.00.
Cool fact: Tracks of small dinosaurs have been found in Red Rock’s sandstone. But their locations aren’t disclosed to the public.
The Visitor’s Center
If you’re the kind of person who always skips the visitor center at national parks, then you’re gonna wanna change your ways and stop at this one.
They some some really cool outdoor exhibits, in additional to some cool nerdy stuff inside the visitor’s center.
After you walk out the back of the visitor’s center, you enter into a cool open air exhibit that teaches you about the surrounding terrain. And as a bonus you get awesome vistas of the park as you learn.
And don’t worry, there are lots of shaded areas in this exhibit, so you don’t have to worry too much about getting sunburned while learning cool facts and taking in the scenery.
You can see the “air” part of the exhibit in the picture I took below.
Of course, you’re probably not visiting Red Rock to level up your geography knowledge. So, once you stop by the toilets on your way out, it’s time to start that scenic loop and take in some of the most amazing scenery and vistas that the Las Vegas Valley has to offer.
The Scenic Loop Drive
If you’re not visiting Red Rock with the intent to get out and do some exploring, then you can see some awesome scenery from the comfort of your air conditioned vehicle.
The scenic loop is 13 miles long and shows off the best of Red Rock. There’s plenty of parking lots along the way for trailheads where you can pull off and snap some photos.
You might see some rock climbers scaling the sandstone, or you might even see some cool desert wildlife. But you’ll definitely see some breathtaking landscapes.
And when you get to the highest point of the loop, you’ll be able to see the city of Las Vegas in the distance.
Things To Do In Red Rock Canyon
As you might imagine, Red Rock is an ideal spot for outdoor enthusiasts who are into hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing and other activities.
In fact, this is a hugely popular location for rock climbing. Most days when you pull off at one of the Calico trailhead parking lots you’ll be able to see climbers scaling the rock face.
Can you spot the climbers in the picture I took below?
Of course, this is a great place for hiking, which is my favorite outdoor activity. And there are trails that meet all skill levels.
Best Red Rock Canyon Hikes
One of my favorite trails to take out of town visitors to is the Calico Hills trail that runs between the Calico I and Calico II trailhead parking lots. This is actually where the picture above was taken, from a viewpoint on the trail.
The Calico Tanks trail is right there too, which makes it a great addition if you want to be out in the park for a while.
The trails are both rated ‘moderate’ but I find that visitors enjoy doing at least part of the trails. Here’s how they’re described by the park:
- Calico Hills: This trail offers access to sport climbing areas and the best close-up views of the Calico Hills.
- Calico Tanks: From the parking lot, follow the trail that winds through the wash. There may be seasonal water present in a natural tank (tinaja) at the end. This trail offers sweeping views of the Las Vegas valley.
If you prefer a trail that doesn’t have much elevation gain and is rated ‘easy’ then I’ve got a few recommendations for that as well.
If you want something relatively short, then go with the Petroglyph Wall Trail. It’s super cool since you get to see some ancient petroglyphs and it shouldn’t take you more than a half hour.
A slightly longer trail worth checking out is the Lost Creek – Children’s Discovery trail. Don’t let the name fool you – this trail isn’t just for the kiddos. It’s got some cool stuff for people of all ages.
The Lost Creek – Children’s Discovery trail should take you around an hour to complete.
And for a longer trail that should take you around 90 minutes, the Moenkopi trail is a great choice. The scenery is awesome and it keeps you close to the visitor’s center for a quick bathroom break once you finish the trail.
The trails are all rated ‘easy’ but I find that even more advanced hikers enjoy doing these trails at least once. Here’s how they’re described by the park:
- Petroglyph Wall Trail: The trail starts across from the Willow Spring Picnic Area near the juniper fence turn around. The petroglyph wall is across the wash adjacent to a large juniper tree.
- Lost Creek – Children’s Discovery trail: This moderately easy trail is a wonderful place to explore because of the variety of plant life and a number of cultural sites. Depending on the season, there may be a waterfall based on recent rain or snowpack. Also look for a pictograph and an agave roasting pit site. This trail is a combination of rocky, uneven terrain and a boardwalk trail.
- Moenkopi trail: This trail starts west of the Visitor Center near the picnic area. It offers panoramic views of the Calico Hills, the Spring Mountains, and La Madre Mountains.
You can also go camping at Red Rock Canyon Conservation area, if that’s your thing. I live nearby, so I’ve never had a need to pitch a tent there.
Best Time Of Day To Visit Red Rock Canyon
This is Mojave Desert and it get hot here. And with so few shaded areas available to visitors, you’re going to want to visit during the coolest parts of the day.
That means first thing in the morning and around sunset in the afternoons. This is especially true during the hot summer months.
In fact, early mornings is really the only time you’ll want to visit during the summer.
In the cooler months of the year, you can plan on mid-morning as a great time to pop over to the park for some hikes.
One thing to keep in mind is that mid-day and afternoon is when it gets the most crowded.
Can You Take An Uber or Lyft To Red Rock Canyon?
Yes, the local Uber and Lyft drivers are used to taking tourists from the Strip to Red Rock for driving the scenic loop.
Although some Uber drivers won’t take you any further than the visitor’s center, where they drop you off.
The real problem with taking a ride share to Red Rock Canyon is that you probably won’t have cell service out there – so how will you get a ride back into the city?
Plus, since it’s a good half hour drive out from the strip, the round trip cost will be over $50 (not counting tips), so it’s probably going to be cheaper for you to just rent a car for a single day.
Just something to keep in mind.
If you’re still wondering if visiting Red Rock Canyon Conservation area is worth it, then the answer is a resounding yes!
I think it’s one of the best parks not only in Nevada, but in the United States. And I’ve visited a lot of national parks and state parks since I love to go hiking.
One of the things that makes Red Rock so great to visit is that you don’t have to be an outdoorsy person to enjoy it. You can stay in your car the entire visit and still get that feeling of awe from taking in all that awesome scenery you get on the Scenic Loop drive.
So, the next time you’re in Vegas, do yourself a favor and rent a car to check it out. You won’t be sorry.