Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
Just fifteen miles west of the city is one of the most interesting natural sites in the area, Red Rock Canyon. The area is a geologic and biologic wonderland providing the visitor with geological formations that date back through several ages of the area’s geological transformation, while providing the proper habitat for over 600 species of native plants to grow and flourish, a hundred species of birds, and 45 species of mammals. Today the area is a designated natural conservation site that welcomes more than a million visitors a year.
Officially known as the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, this attraction 15 miles from the Las Vegas Strip is a worthwhile drive if you’ve decided to rent a car in Las Vegas. The scenic loop offers a good glimpse into the desert landscape and is a nice respite from the neon lights of the rest of the city. This area is also popular with hikers and rock climbers.
13-Mile Loop Drive
There is a one-way road that winds for 13 miles through the canyon area. As you drive, you’ll pass unique slab stones and the truly red rocks that gave this area its name. Though you can appreciate the views from your car, there are a number of vista lookout points and parking lots where you can stop for a closer look and better photo opportunities. If you look closely, you might even be lucky enough to spot a climber scaling one of the sheer cliff faces. There are also picnic tables at some of the pull-off areas.
It is important that you drive the speed limit on this road because of its winding nature and the number of cyclists and runners that train here.
There are great opportunities here for trail hiking and for backcountry hikes. The trails are well marked, but be sure to be prepared. Have sufficient water with you, and a map of the area. A walking stick is always handy, as there are rattlesnakes here and an extended walking stick has saved hikers from bites in the past. If you are a backcountry hiker, be sure that other people know your plans and the area in which you are headed. Be sure to carry extra supplies in case you get caught overnight.
Many visitors and locals go to Red Rock Canyon for hiking opportunities. Ranging from short, half-mile interpretive trails to longer, more strenuous trails requiring rock scrambling, there are hikes for people of all interest and skill levels. Several of the hikes wind back into slot canyons or to seasonal lakes or springs. Others offer opportunities to spot wildlife such as jackrabbits, bighorn sheep, or wild horses.
In general, trails are rough and rocky, so if you’d like to hike, come prepared with proper footwear. Trails can be hard to follow at times, so keep your eyes on markers and cairns that mark the way. Pick up a map at the Visitor Center when you enter Red Rock Canyon for information on where to hike and what to expect on each trail.
Rock climbers from around the world flock to Red Rock Canyon for its many steep, moderate routes and technically challenging longer routes found few other places on Earth. A variety of cracks, pitches, and edges without the crowds and noise of other popular climbing areas also make this a popular place to climb. There are bolted anchors on the most popular climbs, and many guidebooks have been written for those who’d like to find the less-visited routes.
The Red Rock Canyon area offers every type of rock climbing there is. If you are just a rock scrambler, there are plenty of areas to stretch your legs. If you are a beginner, try your luck at the Brass Wall. If you have climbing experience, test your skills at the Big Wall. Whatever the case, the Aztec sandstone will provide a great climbing experience.
Follow the Scenic Loop Road from the business center as it winds its way through and past all the natural wonders of the area. The road provides ample opportunities for pulling off the roadway to stretch your legs, take photographs, or just enjoy the beauty of the Mojave Desert.
Several cyclists and runners use Red Rock Canyon as a training route, and you can too if you’d like to keep up your exercise regimen while on vacation. Be mindful of these people on the road when driving through the park.
Also, there are several guided hikes and talks given by staff members and volunteers. Check with the Red Rock Canyon Interpretive Association for more details on these programs.
Regardless of the time of year you visit Red Rock Canyon, the weather may impact your visit. As this is an open desert, it will be dry with little shade from the direct sunlight. Carry plenty of water with you at all times and wear sunscreen and appropriate clothing to protect yourself from the sun. In the spring, temperatures are comfortable and desert flowers are in bloom. You may also encounter seasonal lakes and springs from winter run-off.
The summer months can be unbearable with hot winds and temperatures that are consistently above 100F. In the autumn, leaves are drying up and falling from trees, but temperatures have cooled considerably. Though it is cooler in the winter months (with daily temperatures between 50F and 60F), it is a comfortable time to explore Red Rock Canyon, though you may encounter snowfall and icy trails.
You can reach Red Rock Canyon from Las Vegas Boulevard in a couple of different ways. The first is to drive north on the Strip past the Stratosphere, which more or less marks the northern edge of the Strip. The next major light going north is Charleston Boulevard, where you’ll turn left and keep driving for 15 miles. You’ll have to deal with stoplights for most of the way, but you can make it in about 25 minutes from the Strip.
If you’re located at the southern end of Las Vegas Boulevard, you can avoid the traffic on the Strip by continuing south and getting on I-215 going west. The byway goes around the western side of the city, so the drive feels a bit longer, but there are no stoplights and there’s plenty of space on the road for traffic. You’ll want to take exit 26 for Charleston Boulevard (the one right before it is for Sahara Avenue). Make a left on Charleston Boulevard heading west out of the city. This road winds around a bit before reaching Red Rock Canyon. The entrance is located on the right side of the road.
The area is open from dawn to dusk, with hours that change with the seasons.
November 1 through February 28/29: 6:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
March 1 through March 31: 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
April 1 through September 30: 6:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.
October 1 through October 31: 6:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Questions about the hours of operation should be directed to 702-515-5350.
The Visitor Center and Elements Gift Store are open daily from 8:00 a.m. to 4: 30 p.m. year-round.
Visitor Center / Elements Gift Store
Red Rock canyon boasts a new and unique visitors’ center. Designed to handle the increasing number of visitors to the area, the facility has created exhibits that are, for the most part, exterior exhibits. The facility has a LEED Gold rating, making it one of the most ecological friendly visitors’ centers in the country. By stopping here before entering the park, the exhibits, the park rangers, and the information available can better prepare you for what the park has to offer.
When you first arrive at Red Rock Canyon, you’ll have to pay $7.00 for the privilege to enter the area. (Those with an America the Beautiful Pass can enter at no charge.) A newly remodeled Visitor Center has information about the geology and biology of Red Rock Canyon and the desert landscape. There are staff members and volunteers here who can answer your questions about the Canyon and the Southwest.
The Elements Gift Store is also located at the beginning of the 13-mile scenic loop. It offers an array of books as well as desert-flavored candies and foods, seeds, and gifts.