I would venture to guess that most people who have ventured beyond the borders of Las Vegas for a quick day trip have been to Red Rock Canyon. There are lots of great places to escape if you’ve had enough of the glitz and glam of Sin City, but for some reason, Red Rock Canyon seems to be the most popular destination for quick trips away from the Strip.
And rightly so, I think. Even though I’ve been to Red Rock Canyon several times, it always shocks me to run into the startling landscape that looks like it’s on fire. Red Rock Canyon was designated at Nevada’s first national conservation area, and it’s not a national park, despite what many people believe. Rather, Red Rock is BLM wilderness that beckons to hikers, climbers, photographers and anyone looking to step a foot outdoors during a Las Vegas vacation.
Red Rock is actually fairly small in size, and there isn’t a lot of flexibility in how to visit it. Everyone must enter near the visitor center and then drive the 13-mile scenic loop around the park. The visitor’s center was recently remodeled, but, truthfully, I haven’t stopped in it in years. Instead, I head for the hiking trail on my radar—and there are lots to choose from. More than 30 miles of trails traverse the park and snake back into the canyons. Some are simple and ideal for families with young kids while others require a bit of rock scrambling. Most people stop at the first pull off and just start hiking, and, as a result, the trails early on the scenic drive are much more crowded than those further along.
In addition to hiking, Red Rock Canyon is a huge draw for rock climbers. I’m not a climber, so I don’t know what the particular appeal of this destination is for climbers, but they come out in herds, and you can often see them scaling the canyon walls like Spiderman. Take binoculars along to get the best views of them while they climb.
The thing I do most at Red Rock Canyon is run, and I’m not the only one. Early in the morning, especially on weekends before the sun has risen, runners and cyclists descend upon Red Rock for a workout. The hills are great for training and the distance of the scenic drive is obviously ideal for those training for half marathons. Though early morning is most likely when you’ll find folks running and cycling at Red Rock, keep your eyes open for them at all times and drive accordingly.
Early morning visits are actually a very rewarding time to visit Red Rock. Because it gets so hot during the day, it’s in the early morning that you’re most likely to see wildlife. Jack rabbits, wild burros, snakes and lizards run across the road and birds fly overhead. An early morning excursion to Red Rock also provides the perfect opportunity to snap sunrise photos.
I recommend that first-time visitors to Red Rock Canyon plan to spend a few hours there. Stop at the viewpoints along the drive to enjoy the scenery, and choose a couple short hikes that pique your interest. Don’t forget that this is a desert landscape, so wear close-toed shoes and appropriate sun protection, and carry—and drink!—lots of water.