The Red Rock Canyon of Las Vegas provides respite for anyone needing a breath of fresh air or a break from the lights and noise of Sin City.
Located on the west edge of the Las Vegas valley in Southern Nevada, the Red Rock Canyon National Recreation Area is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) which protects 197,000-acres of otherworldly landscapes.
Visitors can explore the park via the popular 13-mile Red Rock Canyon Scenic Drive, or hike one of the many beautiful trails into the desert wilderness.
This guide will provide all the necessary information for planning a trip to Red Rock Canyon. This includes where to stay, what to see, entry fees, frequently asked questions, and photo inspiration for your visit.
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🌅 Quick Facts ABout Red Rock Canyon
- Location: Nevada, USA
- Established: 1990 as a National Conservation Area
- Size: 195,819 acres (306 sq mi)
- Annual Visitors: 2 million
- Visitor Centers: Within the Scenic Loop Drive, open year-round
- Entrance Fee: $15 per vehicle; $10 per motorcycle; $5 per individual; $80 Interagency Annual Pass (fees only applicable to Scenic Loop Drive)
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📸 Top 13 Best Things to Do in Red Rock Canyon (Las Vegas)
🚘 1. Red Rock Canyon Scenic Drive
The Red Rock Canyon Scenic Drive is a 13 mile (20.9km) one-way loop. While the drive time is only around 30 minutes without stops, you’ll want to budget plenty of time to explore the wonders of this park.
If you only do one thing in Red Rock Canyon, make sure it’s the scenic drive! While this route only covers a small portion of the park, it provides the most scenic viewpoints and trailhead access.
The scenic loop drive is also the only part of the park that requires a fee. During peak season (Oct-May) timed entry reservations are also required.
Find out everything you need to know about the Red Rock Canyon Scenic Drive here, including tickets, reservations, and all the stops you don’t want to miss!
🏞 2. Red Rock Canyon Visitor Center
Located at the entrance of the scenic drive, a stop at the visitor center is one of the best things to do in Red Rock Canyon NCA. It is open daily from 9:30am – 4pm, although it is worth checking online for up to date hours and schedules.
Here you can find a variety of indoor and outdoor exhibits, providing a wealth of information about the history, geology, and flora and fauna of the Mojave Desert. Be sure you pick up a map here if you didn’t get one at the gate, and always ask a ranger about current hiking conditions before venturing out.
At the back of the visitor center you will find a number of boardwalks and viewpoints that offer incredible views over the desert landscape, with informative boards.
The visitor center also serves as a trailhead for three of the hikes in Red Rock Canyon:
- Moenkopi Loop: easy, 2 miles (3.2 – 9.6 km)
- Calico Hills: moderate, 2-6 miles (3.2 km)
- Grand Circle Loop: difficult, 11.3 miles (18.2 km)
Finally, make sure you use the bathroom before leaving the visitor center! While many of the parking lots have vault toilets, the toilets at the visitor center are flushing and much cleaner. It is also the only place in the park that provides potable water, so refill your water bottles here.
🌳 3. Red Spring and Calico Basin
Just a couple of miles before the Scenic Drive fee area, you will discover Red Spring and Calico Basin. You do not want to miss these destinations!
As they are located outside of the fee area, you do not need to pay to visit this part of Red Rocks. If nothing else, at least drive in to appreciate the incredible views from the road.
The Calico Basin is nestled amongst a colorful array of landscapes. You will find the gray limestone La Madre Mountains to the north, the red sandstone Calico Hills to the west, and a desert ridge to the south. One of the things that makes this area so unique is the three permanent springs here: Red Spring, Calico Spring, and Ash Spring. The presence of water in this region creates a vastly different environment from the desert landscape that surrounds it and is a haven for wildlife.
There are a number of trails that start in the Calico Basin, as well as a wheelchair-accessible boardwalk. The Red Spring boardwalk traverses half a mile through the delicate desert meadow and offers a number of informational signs so you can learn more about this important ecosystem.
From here you can also explore the Calico Basin Trail which connects to the Calico Hills Trail within the scenic drive. While this 6+ mile hike may not be for everyone, it is well worth exploring some of the trails in this area if time permits. Few places in the world showcase the candy-striped red sandstone that you will find in the Calico Hills.
At Red Spring you will also find picnic tables, fire grills, trash cans, and vault toilets.
🥾 4. Hiking in Red Rock Canyon
While you can see a lot of Red Rock Canyon from the scenic drive, there’s nothing quite like walking amongst the otherworldly landscapes to fully appreciate the enormity and color palette of the rock formations.
Red Rocks provides ample options for hiking for all levels of ability. There are 26 different trails in red rock ranging from short, easy 0.5 mile (0.8km) hikes to longer 10+ mile (16+ km) hikes, with most ranging between 1-7 mile round trips.
If you only do one hike, make it the Calico Tanks hike! This is a 2.5 mile (4km) trail from Sandstone Quarry with a 450ft (120m) elevation gain. The trail meanders through the Calico Basin wherein you will find yourself surrounded by a myriad of vibrantly colored rock formations. You have the option of hiking to Turtlehead Peak from a trail fork, but we recommend heading for the Calico Tanks.
At the end of the trail, you’ll reach a depression unexpectedly filled with water. These are beautiful to behold but the real appeal is the unforgettable views of the Las Vegas skyline at the trail’s end. For this reason, we also recommend the Calico Tanks trail as a particularly great hike for sunset.
Other hikes in Red Rock Canyon that you should consider include:
- Calico Hills Trail
Length: 2-6 miles (3.2 – 9.6km)
Approx. hike time: 1.5 -3.5 hours
Elevation gain: 400 ft (120 m)
- Ice Box Canyon Trail
Length: 2.3 miles (3.7km)
Approx. hike time: 2 hours
Elevation gain: 500 ft (152 m)
- Pine Creek Trail
Length: 3 miles (4.8 km)
Approx. hike time: 2 hours
Elevation gain: 300 ft (90 m)
- First Creek Canyon (outside of fee area)
Length: 3.4 miles (4.8km)
Approx. hike time: 2 hours
Elevation gain: 300 ft (90 m)
You can find also find a complete list of all the hiking trails in Red Rock Canyon and a trail map here.
✍ 5. Petroglyphs in Red Rock Canyon NCA
Just a short 0.15-mile walk along the Petroglyph Wall Trail takes you to historical wall art that is estimated to be around 800 years old. The petroglyphs were carved by Pauite people who have inhabited the area since 900 A.D.
There are also other petroglyphs visible through Red Rock Canyon, including the Calico Basin. Be sure to stop by the Visitor Center to learn more about the Pauite culture and other settlers that have occupied this area for 10,000 years!
🧗 6. Rock Climbing in Red Rock Canyon
Red Rocks provides over 2000 designated climbing routes through the Rainbow Mountain Wilderness and La Madre Wilderness areas. With so many options, there are routes to suit climbers of all ability levels.
The area is unique for climbers, in that it offers extensive climbing on Aztec (or Navajo) sandstone amongst desert landscapes while being so close to a metropolitan area.
While climbing is accessible here year-round, it is particularly popular from September to May as the weather cools to a comfortable temperature in the desert. As other temperate climbing locations succumb to adverse winter weather, many climbers venture south to Red Rocks seeking the warm, sunny winter weather!
🦎 7. Wildlife Spotting
While wildlife spotting may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the desert, Red Rock NCA has an abundance of critters you may see! It is home to 38 species of mammals, 44 species of reptiles and amphibians, and 170 bird species.
It is not uncommon to spot wild burros, ground squirrels, the endangered desert tortoise, desert hare, and various lizards. For the best chances of seeing wildlife, venture out early in the morning or later in the evening as the temperatures are cooler and less people are around.
For this reason, please also drive carefully to protect wildlife. Desert tortoises, in particular, make a common appearance on the road. And, of course, do not feed any wild animals.
🐴 8. Horseback Riding through the Canyon
Experience Red Rock Canyon in true western fashion; by horseback!
There are a number of different local operators that offer horseback rides through the canyon and no previous experience is necessary.
Many tour companies will also include breakfast or dinner depending on the time of day.
🚴♀️ 9. Cycling
For those that enjoy taking to two wheels, there are excellent riding opportunities throughout Red Rocks. There are ample options for both road biking and mountain biking.
The Red Rock Scenic Drive is the perfect location for road biking, with 13 miles of paved, undulating road to explore. Although it is worth noting that bikes are not permitted on any of the trails along the scenic drive.
The area is also renowned for its world-class mountain bike trails. These are particularly popular in the Cottonwood Valley, with a network of trails for desert riding. The Blue Diamond Loops offers a challenging 10.5-mile loop for more experienced riders.
🛻 10. Off-Roading
Off-road adventures are popular within the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. For most, the best way to experience the thrill of an off-road adventure in Red Rock Canyon is through a tour! This highly-rated tour will take you on an adventure up Rocky Gap Road in an open-air Jeep Wrangler.
If you have your own 4×4 vehicle, ensure you stick to designated areas for off-highway recreation and be aware that the roads are multi-use so you may encounter hikers, cyclists, and horses.
🚁 11. “Neon & Nature” Helicopter Tour Over Red Rock Canyon & Las Vegas
Take to the sky to see Red Rock Canyon from a truly unique perspective. From high above you can admire the sandstone peaks and expanse of the Mojave Desert.
There are many different helicopter tour options, however, we recommend Red Rock Canyon Helicopter Landing Tour as they are the only one to land at a private vista above the valley. From here you can take in the views of Las Vegas and Red Rocks while sipping on champagne before returning back to the city.
Pro Tip: You can and should opt for a sunset flight to enjoy golden hour from the viewpoint and fly back as the bright lights of Vegas twinkle below.
🚌 12. Red Rock Canyon Tours
If you’re visiting Las Vegas and want to escape the city, or don’t want to plan your own trip, a guided tour of Red Rock Canyon is a great option. There are many different guided tours available from just a couple of hours to full-day trips, from adventurous 4×4 tours to e-bike trips and luxurious helicopter rides. You can even include other destinations such as Valley of Fire or Seven Magic Mountains.
Here are just a few of the top-rated guided tours of Red Rock Canyon:
- Las Vegas: Valley of Fire and Red Rock Canyon Day Trip: 5/5 ⭐
Take in two of Nevada’s most spectacular areas as you explore both Valley of Fire and Red Rock Canyon in this day trip from Las Vegas.
- Red Rock Canyon Sunset Tour: 5/5 ⭐
Take in the sights along the scenic drive and watch the sunset in Red Rock Canyon National Conservatin Area with this group tour. You also have the option to add a visit to Seven Magic Mountains.
- Red Rock Canyon Helicopter Landing Tour: 4.8/5 ⭐
Discover incredible aerial views of Vegas and Red Rocks as you soar over the valley. Watch sunset and sip champagne from a private landing area before returning to see the neon lights of the city.
- Red Rock Canyon 4×4 Adventure: 4.9/5 ⭐
Experience a thrilling off-road adventure along Rocky Road as well as taking in the sights along the Scenic Drive.
🎒 13. Backpacking in Red Rock Canyon
For the truly adventurous, backcountry camping is allowed within Red Rock Canyon at over 5000ft (1524m) in the Rainbow Mountain Wilderness and above 6500ft in the La Madre Wilderness. However, there are no developed trail systems in the backcountry and no drinking water.
Additionally, a permit is required, known as a backcountry late exit pass. This can be obtained online at recreation.gov.
🗒 Planning Your Visit to Red Rock Canyon
This section provides information on all of the planning elements for visiting Red Rock Canyon. This includes maps, where to stay, information on the park itself, services, and more.
🗺 Maps of Red Rock Canyon Las Vegas
You may find it helpful to download or save some maps of Red Rock Canyon prior to visiting. Below are some of the most useful ones for driving or hiking within the park.
Official Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area map
Below is the official Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area map. You can find a downloadable version of this map on the BLM website.
Interactive Google Map of Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
We’ve also put together an interactive Google Map of all the places mentioned within this blog post. Click here or on the image below to open the map in a new tab.
☀️ Best Time to Visit Red Rock Canyon
The best months to visit Red Rock Canyon are from October-May, and the best times of day to visit are mornings or at sunset.
It is possible to visit Red Rock Canyon year-round and each season offers its own unique advantages and challenges.
Both times I’ve visited have been during the summer and, although it is extremely hot, the crowds are thin and advanced ticketing is not required.
If you visit during the summer, you will want to take advantage of the cooler morning hours or stick to shorter hikes and spend more time exploring the scenic drive by vehicle than on foot!
In terms of weather, the best time to visit Red Rock Canyon is between October and May. However, this is the busiest time of year to visit so you can expect crowds. Additionally, you now require a timed entry reservation booked in advance. During the winter, you may even be fortunate enough to witness Red Rocks with a dusting of snow, adding an extra magical layer to an already spectacular scene.
⏳ How Much Time for Red Rock Canyon
Half a day is enough time to see Red Rock Canyon via the Scenic Drive, but a full day is needed if you wish to do some hiking and truly see the park.
You could drive around the scenic loop drive in less than an hour if you just want a glimpse of the landscapes, but it is worth spending at least a full day here if time permits. This will allow you to drive the entire loop at a comfortable pace, go on a few hikes and explore the Red Springs Calico Basin area.
Of course, if you want to go on longer hikes or climbs you will need to budget more time but one day in Red Rock Canyon will allow for a great experience.
🚗 Getting to Red Rock Canyon from Las Vegas
Red Rock Canyon is located 17 miles west of the Las Vegas Strip on Charleston Boulevard/State Route 159. It is only a half-hour drive from Las Vegas to Red Rock Canyon.
This makes for an easy half-day or day trip from the city. However, there is no public transport to Red Rock Canyon so you will need to drive here or book a tour.
It is not recommended to take a Lyft or Uber as you are unlikely to have cell service in Red Rocks and many people have got stuck in the park without the ability to book a return journey. You will also only be able to explore from the Visitor Center and will likely miss many of the park’s highlights along the scenic drive.
For those that prefer two wheels, you can cycle the scenic loop either by traditional bicycle or electric bike. There are also companies that offer self-guided e-bike tours with hotel pick-up so you can explore at your own pace.
🚵♀️ Getting Around Red Rock Canyon
There is no shuttle service within Red Rock Canyon. As such, you will either need to self-drive or book a tour to explore the park.
It is also possible to cycle the scenic drive and you can even rent an e-bike to save your legs!
🏨 Where to Stay near Red Rock Canyon
Accommodation near Red Rock
Las Vegas is the closest city to Red Rock Canyon and offers ample accommodation options to suit all budgets and tastes. Although there are accommodation options dotted all over Vegas, you’ll find the highest density located in Downtown Vegas around the Strip.
On my first visit to Las Vegas, I stayed at the MGM Grand. Like many of the resorts on the Vegas Strip, the MGM Grand boasts its own casino, several swimming pools, and a host of dining options. I had a great experience here, despite getting lost on the way back to my room a few times as the resort is so enormous! It’s a wonderful spot to experience Las Vegas and all the strip has to offer at night while relaxing in a lazy river with poolside drinks during the day. It is also only a 30-minute drive from Red Rock Canyon. Prices start from around $75 per night, however, keep in mind with most Vegas hotels that there will be an additional resort fee and tax added to the final price.
With all that said, this won’t be the right hotel for everyone! We always recommend checking current prices and availability to find the right deal for you. Browse current rates and reviews for accommodation in Las Vegas here.
Camping in Red Rock Canyon
For those that prefer camping, there are also campsites nearby. There is one developed campsite within Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area; Red Rock Canyon Campground. It is located just three miles from the scenic drive and provides both tent sites and RV sites, however, there are no hook-ups or showers. The campsite is also closed during the summer months, typically from May to September.
There are also several RV parks within Las Vegas that offer full hook-ups and other amenities. You can even find luxury RV resorts with swimming pools and a mini-golf course!
🛄 Packing List for Red Rock Canyon
Your individual packing list will vary depending on how you visit Red Rock Canyon. However, there are a few essentials that you will want to consider taking with you.
- America the Beautiful Annual Pass:
Red Rock Canyon accepts the annual National Park Pass. This costs $80 and provides access to all 63 national parks in the US. Additionally, it grants admission to over 2000 federal recreation sites! Discounted passes are offered to some groups, including seniors, military personnel, and 4th graders. Check the NPS website for up-to-date information and to purchase your pass.
Hopefully, by now you’ve seen how beautiful Red Rock Canyon is, so you don’t want to forget your camera! We use the Sony a7riii and have loved it ever since the first photo we took with it. However, for beginners, you may wish to consider an entry-level DSLR. This will allow you to start learning manual settings and decide whether photography is something you enjoy enough to invest in.
- Sun protection:
You are going to be in the desert and exposed to the sun. Bring a sunhat, sunglasses, and sunscreen as a minimum. We use Stream 2 Sea sunscreen as it’s eco-friendly and most of their bottles are made from sugarcane resin rather than plastic.
- Hiking shoes:
There are some great hikes in Red Rock Canyon. You’ll therefore want to ensure you pack some comfortable shoes. Closed-toe, sturdy hiking shoes are better than hiking sandals. This will help to reduce the risk of injury to your feet in a desert environment.
The weather varies by season. It is typically sunny throughout the year but temperatures vary from average highs of 50°F (10°c) in the winter to over 95°F (35°c) in the summer. With this in mind, what you pack will vary depending on the season.
- Reusable Water Bottle:
We don’t travel anywhere without a reusable water bottle. Remaining hydrated is even more important in the desert. Bring your own bottle to prevent wasting single-use plastic bottles! Water is available at trailheads and visitor centers.
Pack a cooler in the car to ensure you have cold drinks and snacks throughout the day. If you’re flying in and renting a car, a soft collapsible cooler is a great option.
- Portable Powerpack:
It’s likely you’ll be using your phone to navigate, take photos, and more! Bring a power pack with you to keep your phone charged on the go.
You’ll want a backpack that’s comfortable and sturdy to carry around during the day. I use the GoGroove camera backpack as it also provides easy side access to my camera while out and about.
- Mini First Aid Kit:
When out hiking, we always have a mini first aid kit in our bag just in case. You never know when it may come in handy (particularly as I’m clumsy)!
⚠️ Useful Tips for Visiting Red Rock Canyon
- Plan ahead: If you’re visiting in peak season (Oct 1 – May 31), you will need to book a timed entry in advance.
Find out more information on the BLM website.
- Park only in designated areas: Stopping on the scenic drive is only permitted in designated parking areas.
- Arrive early: The park can get busy during the day so arrive early to avoid the crowds. It can also become very hot during the middle of the day, so take advantage of the cooler mornings for exploration.
- It gets hot: The dry desert heat can quickly cause dehydration and the sun can be intense. Make sure you carry plenty of water and sunscreen.
- Leave no trace: Please be respectful of the park. Keep to the trails, dispose of waste properly, and leave any plants etc. that you find.
- Let wild animals be wild: You may encounter many different animals including tortoises, bighorn sheep, burros, wild horses, coyote and foxes, please do not feed or disturb them. Feeding wildlife can alter their behavior with humans, making them less fearful and more aggressive. This can lead to wildlife having to be euthanized. There is also a $500 fine for feeding wild burros or horses.
- Desert critters: Encounters with dangerous desert critters are rare in Red Canyon. However, it is home to rattlesnakes, black widow spiders, scorpions and other venomous animals.
- Pick up a map: Cell service is limited throughout the park, therefore it’s worth grabbing a map from the entry kiosk or visitor center to ensure you don’t miss anything! Wi-Fi is available at the visitor center.
- Drive carefully: The road is a one-way loop and the speed limit is mostly 35mph. You will likely share it with cyclists, wildlife and the occasional pedestraion. Please adhere to speed limits and drive responsibly in Red Rock.
🏞 Fun Facts About Red Rock Canyon
- Around 180-190 million years ago, where Red Rock Canyon now stands would have been one of the largest sand dunes to ever exist on Earth.
- The red color in some of the sandstone is caused by the oxidization (or rusting) of iron minerals within the rocks, creating a red or orange hue.
- More than 500 million years ago Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area was at the bottom of an ocean basin.
- Dinosaurs once lived in this area. Their tracks have been found in three places throughout Red Rock Canyon.
- There are over 100 bird species and 45 different mammal species that call Red Rocks home, as well as over 600 species of plant.
- People have occupied Red Rock Canyon for thousands of years, with evidence of Paleo-Indians being present here 11,000-8000 BC.
🙋♀️ FAQs About Red Rock Canyon Things to Do
🚗 How far is Red Rock Canyon from Las Vegas?
Red Rock Canyon is around 20 miles from Downtown Las Vegas. It is 17.3 miles from Las Vegas Strip to Red Rock Canyon Visitor Center.
🚘 How long is the scenic drive Red Rock Canyon?
The Red Rock Canyon Scenic Drive is a 13 mile loop that can be explored by vehicle or bicycle. The loop drive takes visitors to many scenic overlooks and trailheads.
📸 Is Red Rock Canyon worth visiting?
Red Rock Canyon is absolutely worth visiting as it provides a great way to escape the hustle and bustle of Las Vegas and explore an incredible desert landscape.
⌛️ Is Red Rock Canyon closed?
The 13-mile Scenic Drive at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is open daily from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
⌚️ How much time do you need at Red Rock Canyon?
A half-day visit to Red Rock Canyon is the perfect amount of time to drive the scenic loop and stop at the overlooks. Allow at least 4 hours just for the scenic drive and time for hiking as desired.
The drive can be completed within 30-60 minutes. However, you could easily spend an entire day exploring the area.
At a minimum, at least 4 hours is recommended to truly explore Red Rock Canyon from Las Vegas.
🏜 Which is better Valley of Fire or Red Rock Canyon?
Both Red Rock Canyon and Valley of Fire are worth visiting. Red Rock Canyon is much closer to Las Vegas making it a popular option for a short day trip from Vegas, while Valley of Fire offers more impressive landscapes.
📷 Why is Red Rock Canyon famous?
Red Rock Canyon in Nevada is famous for its incredible geology. Its vibrant rock formations amaze both geologists and casual visitors alike.
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