Red Rock Canyon Scenic Drive: Best Stops, Hikes & Permit Info

Ultimate guide to the Red Rock Canyon Scenic Drive, Nevada blog cover image.  Text overlaying an image of a road snaking through the Mojave desert with a backdrop of red rocks.

The Red Rock Canyon Scenic Drive is a 13-mile pleasure cruise through the otherworldly sandstone landscapes of the Mojave Desert. It is a favorite for locals and tourists alike seeking respite from the neon lights of Las Vegas.

In this guide, you will discover the best places to stop along the Red Rock Canyon Scenic Drive as well as hiking trails, operating hours, and everything else you need to know before hitting the road.

If you wish to do more than just the scenic loop on your visit, be sure to check out our ultimate guide to Red Rock Canyon to learn more about the best things to do in the rest of the National Conservation Area.

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Red Rock Canyon Scenic Drive Overview

Red Rock Canyon Scenic Drive snakes through desert and rocky landscapes

While the Red Rock Canyon Scenic Drive only covers a small part of the park, this sections offers the most scenic viewpoints and hikes.

The road is a 13 mile (20.9km) one-way loop that can be driven in as little as 30 minutes. Of course, most visitors tend to take at least a few hours to enjoy the beautiful scenery and perhaps take in a short hike.

As the scenic drive is one way, you will want to ensure you plan your stops sequentially so you don’t miss them or have to go around twice. We recommend just pulling into all of the parking lots as you go (even if you don’t plan to do any of the hikes) as each offers a unique view.

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Red Rock Canyon Reservations and Opening Times

View of the Mojave Desert from High Point Overlook on the Red Rock Canyon Scenic Loop Drive

The Scenic Drive is the only portion of Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area that requires an entrance fee. As you enter, you will be stopped at a ticket booth where you can either pay the daily rate or present an annual pass.

Entrance Fees

  • $15 per vehicle
  • $10 per motorcycle
  • $5 per individual
  • $80 Interagency Annual Pass

Red Rock Canyon Scenic Drive Opening Hours

The scenic drive is open daily from 6am but closing times vary throughout the year. Below are the closure times:

  • Nov 1 – Feb 28/29: 5pm
  • Mar – Mar 31: 7pm
  • Apr 1 – Sept 30: 8pm
  • Oct 1 – Oct 31: 7pm

Timed Entry Reservations

As of October 2020, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) introduced a timed entry system during peak season which requires a pre-booked reservation in order to enter Red Rocks.

Reservations are required from October 1 – May 31 between the hours of 8am and 5pm.

You can make reservations up to 30 days in advance via recreation.gov and you can find out more information regarding the timed entry system on the BLM website.

Entry fees are the same price during peak season. However, you will be charged an additional $2 booking fee to procure your reservation for entry. If visiting during the Oct 1 – May 31 window, ensure you book your timed entry in advance to avoid disappointment.

Timed entry reservations are not necessary from June 1 to September 30.

Map of Red Rock Canyon Scenic Drive

Below is the official park map for the Red Rock Canyon Scenic Drive. It shows the parking lots around the scenic loop as well as the hiking trails available.

Stops along the Red Rock Canyon Scenic Drive

Visitor Center 

The visitor center at Red Rock Canyon at golden hour

Your first stop on the scenic drive will be the visitor center. Open daily from 9am-4:30pm, the visitor center provides lots of information and exhibitions about the history, geology, and the flora and fauna of the Mojave Desert. You can also pick up a map here, if you didn’t already get one on arrival at the gate, and ask at the help desk about the current hiking conditions.

At the back of the visitor center, you can follow the boardwalks and admire the vistas while learning more about the local flora and fauna you may encounter via the many interesting signs.

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)

Before you leave the visitor center, use the bathroom here! While many of the parking lots have vault toilets, the toilets at the visitor center are flushing toilets and much cleaner.

The visitor center is also the only place with water fountains along the Scenic Drive, so be sure to fill up your water bottles before you leave.

Calico Hills

Red striped rocks in Calico Basin

From the visitor center, the road snakes onward toward the Calico Hills region.

There are two stops on the scenic drive along the Calico Hills, shown as Calico I and Calico II on the map. Both of these provide views over the vibrant red sandstone cliffs and allow you to venture into them if you care to do some hiking.

Our favorite was Calico I, but I recommend stopping at both and having at least a short walk into the hills. While the views from the parking lots are beautiful, it’s well worth walking down into the hills if you’re able. Getting up close to the Calico Hills allows you to admire the intricate swirling patterns and grandeur of the rocks.

Golden hour at Calico Basin in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

The Calico Hills trail connects the two parking lots and continues on to Sandstone Quarry. The trail can also be started at Calico Basin for a longer hike. We didn’t bother with the full hike, which ranges in length from 2-6 miles, but took some time to traverse the undulating hills near the parking lot. Much of the hiking trail can be seen from the road and we wanted to save our energy for other hikes in Red Rock.

This is also a starting point for some of the best rock climbing routes in the park, so look up at the hills to see if you can spot any climbers up above!

Sandstone Quarry

Turtlehead Peak in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
Turtlehead Peak

Sandstone Quarry provides a parking lot for Calico Tanks hike and Turtlehead Peak hike. You can admire views of Turtlehead Peak from the parking lot if, like us, you’re not quite up for a 5 mile (8km) hike with a 2000ft (600m) elevation gain!

Instead, we opted to hike Calico Tanks, which seemed more reasonable at 2.5 miles (4km) and a 450ft (120m) elevation gain. The hike didn’t disappoint! We went late in the afternoon when the weather was cooler (we visited in August) so we could watch the sunset from the tanks.

Calico Tanks Hike

Sunset along Calico Tanks trail.
Sunset along Calico Tanks trail.

The hike isn’t too challenging, although we thought we’d lost the trail a few times and there were parts that required some minor rock scrambling. There are signs with arrows along the way to help navigate. If you ever think you’ve lost the trail, keep walking in the same direction of the last arrow and you’ll soon pick it back up!

The path itself meanders through the canyon, flanked with vibrant red, orange and yellow sandstone formations. Added to the palette of colors is the blue-grey mountain to the northwest, creating even more colorful diversity to an already spectacular scene.

Sunset at Calico Tanks in Red Rock Canyon Nevada.

At the end of the trail you’ll reach the Calico Tanks; a depression that is often filled with water. When we visited in August, we were fortunate to still find some water here. From the tanks, you can scramble up the rocks to the right for panoramic views over the Las Vegas skyline.

The trail ventures up a canyon colored in both yellow and red sandstone. Add the gray-blue mountains to the northwest and you get some seriously amazing views.

If you do visit at sunset, be sure you take a flashlight with you and leave ample time to find your way back.

High Point Overlook

View of desert landscape from High Point Overlook in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
View from High Point Overlook.

As you leave Sandstone Quarry, the road will continue to climb until you reach High Point Overlook at an elevation of 4771ft (1445m), the highest point on the scenic loop drive. Park up here to take in the spectacular 360° panoramic views over the canyon and surrounding mountains.

Take some time to read the interpretative signs here too as they have a lot of interesting information about the geology of the area. Spoiler alert: the entire area was once one of the largest sand dune fields to ever exist on Earth! It’s a crazy thing to imagine as you’re looking out over desert and mountains.

White Rock

Dirt road leading to White Rock in Red Rock Canyon
The road to White Rock.

To reach White Rock, you’ll need to drive down a dirt road. There are three trailheads at White Rock, all of which are considered moderate or difficult.

  • Keystone Thrust: moderate, 2.2 miles (3.5km)
  • White Rock – Willow Spring: moderate, 4.4 miles (7 km)
  • White Rock / La Madre Spring Loop: difficult, 6 miles (9.6 km)

Lost Creek and Willow Spring

Petroglyphs in Red Rock Canyon
Petroglyphs in Red Rock Canyon

There is a nice, shaded picnic area at Willow Spring that provides the perfect spot to stop for lunch. From here there are a few different trailheads but the main attraction is the Petroglyph Wall Trail. Just a short 0.15 mile walk takes you to historical wall art on the cliffside that is estimated to be about 800 years old.

Picnic area at Willow Spring in Red Rock Canyon
Picnic area at Willow Spring in Red Rock Canyon.

Ice Box Canyon 

The Ice Box Canyon trailhead starts at this stop, as well as two other hikes. Although all these hikes are less than 5 miles, they are all rated moderate to difficult. We did the Ice Box Canyon hike which is 2.6 miles (4.1 km) and listed as difficult. From December to April seasonal waterfalls can be found along this trail, depending on recent rainfall or snowmelt.

View from Ice Box Canyon trail
View from Ice Box Canyon trail.

Honestly, we found the views from the trailhead much more interesting that from within the canyon. The hike wasn’t overly challenging, but being within the canyon the views are limited and don’t offer much in the way of diversity. Perhaps when waterfalls are present, the hike will have more appeal, but we would recommend opting for a different hike such as the Calico Tanks hike.

Red Rock Wash Overlook 

View from Red Wash Overlook in Red Rock Canyon
View from Red Wash Overlook.

This observation point has limited parking but offers a few benches in a tranquil spot to take in the scenery. From Red Wash Overlook you have beautiful views all around from the center of the scenic drive.

Pine Creek Canyon

A girl walking along Pine Creek Trail in Red Rock Canyon
The start of the Pine Creek Trail.

Nestled between Bridge Mountain and Rainbow Mountain is Pine Creek Canyon. For most people, this is likely the last stop on the Red Rock Canyon scenic drive.

This area of Red Rock provides a stark contrast to the rest of the park, with rare pine trees found in and around the canyon, as well as flowing water, mosses and ferns in the canyon. It is believed that the area is unchanged from the last ice ago over 10,000 years ago and that an underground creek supports this relic environment.

The Pine Creek Trail is a 3 mile (4.8km) hike that is listed as moderate. This trail offers some of the greatest diversity, beginning in the open desert before heading into a shady canopy of ponderosa, pinyon, cottonwood, willow and oak. It also connects to several other trails, including the easy 0.75 mile (1.2 km) Fire Ecology trail, as well as the longer Dale’s, Arnight, and Knoll’s trails.

North Oak Creek

Most people, us included, pass right by North Oak Creek! To reach the trailhead, you will need to venture down a dirt road. From here you have access to a variety of trails, although most of these can be reached from outside the scenic loop so many opt to park outside the park and hike in.

As this isn’t a popular stop, it does mean you are more likely to have the trails to yourself if you prefer a bit of peace and quiet out in nature! During the spring, this area is definitely worth a stop as the easy 2-mile (3.2km) Oak Creek Canyon hike is good for wildflower viewing.

North Oak Creek is the last pull-off before you exit the scenic drive.

Red Rock Overlook

View from Red Rock Overlook Nevada
View from Red Rock Scenic Overlook.

After exiting the scenic drive you will have a dirt parking lot immediately on the left, which provides some nice views back across Red Rocks. However, if you continue on towards Las Vegas, you will reach Red Rock Overlook. This bonus stop on the Red Rock Scenic Drive is well worth stopping at.

It offers sweeping views north over Red Rock Canyon and is a particularly popular spot for watching the sunset as it provides views towards the Spring Mountains in the west.

Where to Stay near Red Rock Canyon

Accommodation

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

The Milky Way rises in the city glow of Red Rock Canyon National Park near Las Vegas, Nevada.
The Milky Way rises in the city glow of Red Rock Canyon National Park near Las Vegas, Nevada.

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!

Useful Tips for Visiting Red Rock Canyon

Scenic drive through Red Rock canyon near Las Vegas.
  • 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:  Avoid the crowds and 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. Pack a cooler and sunscreen, and ensure you refill your water bottle at the visitor center to keep hydrated.
  • 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.

Red Rock Canyon Scenic Drive FAQs

How long does it take to do the Red Rock Canyon Scenic Drive?

You could drive the Red Rock Canyon Scenic Drive in around 30 minutes without stops. However, you will want to budget at least 3-4 hours to stop at the various overlooks and could easily spend the entire day if you plan on hiking.

How much time do you need at Red Rock Canyon?

The amount of time you need at Red Rock Canyon depends on whether you plan to hike or just stop at the scenic overlooks, or if you plan to visit areas outside the scenic drive. 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.

How much is Red Rock Canyon Scenic Drive?

The entrance fees for Red Rock Canyon Scenic Drive vary on how you enter the park. The prices for Red Rock Canyon are as follows:

  • $15 per vehicle
  • $10 per motorcycle
  • $5 per individual
  • $80 Interagency Annual Pass
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 Scenic Drive worth it?

Absolutely! Even if you only have a couple of hours to spare, it is well worth driving the short 13-mile loop to explore some incredible otherworldly landscapes just a stone’s throw from Las Vegas.

Do you need a reservation to drive through Red Rock?

During peak season, from October 1 – May 31, timed entry reservations are required between 8am-5pm.

Timed entry reservations are not necessary from June 1 to September 30.

You can make reservations up to 30 days in advance via recreation.gov and you can find out more information regarding the timed entry system on the BLM website.

Can I enter Red Rock Canyon before 8am?

The scenic drive is open daily from 6am but closing times vary throughout the year. Below are the closure times:

  • Nov 1 – Feb 28/29: 5pm
  • Mar – Mar 31: 7pm
  • Apr 1 – Sept 30: 8pm
  • Oct 1 – Oct 31: 7pm

Timed entry reservations are required from 8am-5pm during peak season (Oct 1 – May 31).

Other Southwest Guides

Before your visit, be sure to check out our ultimate guide to Red Rock Canyon for everything you need to know and all the best things to do beyond the Scenic Drive.

If you’re visiting Red Rock Canyon as part of a bigger road trip you may find some of these other regional guides useful as well!

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