Red Rock Canyon: 10 Things To Do + 4 Things To Know
Next time you’re heading to Las Vegas, why not plan a full day away from the neon and noise? The juxtaposition of The Strip’s glitz and glamor with one of the most spectacular natural landscapes in all of America is mind-blowing. Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is less than a half-hour west of Las Vegas Boulevard, and it’s downright life-changing to stand at the top of a canyon or at the bottom of a mountain in the middle of the Mojave Desert. You’ll be in awe of colors so vivid that it’ll leave you wondering how a place like this could possibly have the address “Las Vegas, Nevada!”
Ten (awesome) things to do at Red Rock Canyon:
BLM Nevada, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
1. Take the Shaka Guide self-driving tour of Red Rock Canyon
Just download the app and you’ll have your own personal concierge in the car with you to provide you with detailed information, step-by-step directions and entertaining, informative stories along the way!
RELATED: Red Rock Canyon Itinerary
2. Take an E-bike Tour
Red E Bike Las Vegas consistently ranks at the top of the list of TripAdvisor’s best experiences in the US. This is especially great if you have teenagers with you, who are typically a tough crowd to please. They’ll get such a rush flying up and down a 17-mile mountain road! And, without having to do much pedaling, parents will have no trouble keeping up!
3. Horseback Ride near Red Rock Canyon
Cowboy Trail Rides is the best of the best! Make an online reservation. I think the sunset ride ending with a campfire meal is pretty much amazing. Note: The canyon rim trail ride is not for the faint of heart – the horses climb to the top of a canyon and you find yourself riding along the edge of the rim, which can be absolutely spectacular for some, but quite scary for others…especially if you look down! So you might prefer to book a ride along the canyon floor if you’re a beginner or have a fear of heights. But being out in the wild west on horseback? Priceless!
4. Take the Red Rock Canyon Scenic Drive
Hermann Luyken, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
It’s a 17-mile Scenic Drive. Plan to spend the better part of a day if you want to get out of your car at each of the marked stops along the route for the overlooks and hiking trails. This Scenic Drive is a must! Click here for more information, and a map.
5. Hike the Calico Tanks Trail from Sandstone Quarry
Hike the Calico Tanks Trail, or enjoy a hike from the Calico I or Calico II stops along the Scenic Drive. One thing’s for certain–the Calico Hills are nearly impossible to pass by without wanting to stepping foot on them!
RELATED: 7 Must-Try Trails in Red Rock Canyon
6. Hike the Calico Basin Trail
Walk along the Calico Basin Trail and walk the Red Spring Boardwalk. These are both amazing and begin on the other side of the Calico Hills (instead of along the Scenic Drive). To get there, drive down Calico Basin Road to the Red Spring Picnic Area from Highway 159/Red Rock Canyon Road (just east of the main entrance to Red Rock Canyon). You don’t need a reservation for this location. It’s also fascinating to watch the mountain climbers scale the Calico Hills while hiking the trail!
7. Check out the Desert Tortoise Habitat behind the Red Rock Canyon Visitor Center
Thomas Farley, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
This includes a display with the names of all the mountains you’re seeing so that you’ll be able to identify them once you start the Scenic Drive. When you enter Red Rock Canyon, you only have one chance to access the Visitor Center, and that’s before you begin the scenic drive. So once you pay your entrance fee at the fee booth, follow the signs to the Visitor Center first. Remember – it’s all one-way so if you pass by the Visitor Center, there’s no way to get back to it (and it closes before the park does). Note that the outdoor exhibits are behind the Visitor Center, so you won’t see them unless you head inside and then out the back door. But it’s a fantastic series of exhibits that includes what might be your only chance to spot a real live desert tortoise! So search the area carefully!
8. Check Out the Red Rock Canyon Overlook
As soon as you get to the end of the Scenic Drive, make a left onto Highway 159. The overlook parking lot will be immediately on your left. Once you park, walk past the helipad at the far end of the parking lot, and up the short paved walkway lined with Joshua trees. It’s a monumental panoramic view. If the bench is available, have a seat and maybe do some meditating or contemplating!
9. Take the Petroglyph Wall trail
Hike the Petroglyph Wall Trail to see some incredible ancient artwork! Also while you’re at Willow Spring, hike the Willow Spring Loop trail and try to spot a mountain goat! They tend to hang out on the rocky ledges of the mountains above that trail. But they sure do know how to camouflage themselves!
10. Enjoy a meal, crafted coffee or cocktail at Cottonwood Station
Check out the Cottonwood Station eatery in the teensy, adorable desert town of Blue Diamond. Take in the views of the beautiful Spring Mountains along the way. This restaurant is just a hop, skip and a jump from Red Rock Canyon and the only nice, sit-down eatery for miles. And it sure is a great one. And if the weather’s nice and you can find a seat outside on the deck, you’ve got a gorgeous mountain view!
Now that you’re ready to embark on a Red Rock Canyon adventure, here are four (really) important things you should know!
1. The best way to get there is to drive yourself.
inkknife_2000, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
It’s worth renting a car, and it’s a really easy drive. Plus, this gives you control over how much time you choose to spend at each of the spectacular stops along the scenic drive. Note that this is not the kind of place that you can Uber to. While, in theory, you could get dropped off there, calling for a ride home would be another story. There is hardly a cell phone signal to be found inside this national conservation area. Not only that, but it’s too vast an area to see on foot, so getting dropped off without a car would mean having to walk…through the desert… up high elevation changes...in the heat. Not super safe or convenient. SO…you need a car. Or, you could take a group tour, if you don’t mind being crammed into a van with strangers all day. If you like to think outside the box, you could sign up for an electric bike tour, which is a super fun experience for you adrenaline junkies. More on that later.
2. If you make the choice to drive yourself to Red Rock Canyon, make sure you start off with a full tank of gas, and stop at a grocery store before you leave the heart of the city.
There are no gas stations, grocery stores, or convenience stores anywhere near Red Rock Canyon. So stop at an Albertson’s – there are a few along Charleston Boulevard/Hwy 159 – pick up a cooler for the trunk, and load it up with water. This is the desert. So by the time you realize you’re dehydrated, it’s probably too late, and you can’t get water anywhere once you pass the entrance of the park. Also, that one water bottle you brought with you? It won’t be enough. Trust me. Same goes for snacks and food. Besides, you’ll want the option of sitting at a picnic table in the park to dine among the mountains, should you feel the urge to do so!
3. If you’re visiting Red Rock Canyon (except for June, July, August and September when it’s blazing hot and dangerous to be outside for too long) you’ll need an online reservation to get in – unless you enter before 8 am.
FrankFortePhoto, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Also, make note that the scenic drive is a one-way road, so you can’t backtrack if you miss any of the gorgeous stops along the way. That means you’d need a second online reservation if you want to re-enter the park and take the scenic loop a second time around. Which brings me to my next point…
4. Get there early!
If you can plan to arrive prior to 8 am, not only will you not need a reservation, but you won’t have to worry about the crowds. Which also means you won’t have to miss any of the stops along the scenic drive due to overflowing parking lots. And since Red Rock Canyon’s scenic drive closes at sunset, you’ll want as many daylight hours available as possible to take advantage of all those glorious trails!
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