A little further, about 20 miles from the lights of the Las Vegas Strip lies Red Rock Canyon. Many miss this hidden gem – a day trip to Red Rock Canyon from Vegas. We were on a college reunion trip and headed to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area in Nevada’s Mojave Desert for a day trip to see some scenery and go on a few short hikes.
Drive to Red Rock Canyon from Vegas
Red Rock Canyon is a pretty easy 30-40 minute drive from the Las Vegas strip. We didn’t have cars, our tour guide picked us from our hotel at the Bellagio in Vegas. You can also rent a car for the day if you want to drive yourself. This will give you the flexibility of staying longer, going on a few hikes and maybe watching a sunset in the canyons.
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
The Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area located within the Mojave Desert is just a few miles west of Las Vegas and encompasses 195,819 acres. The drive from Vegas to Red Rock Canyon was on nicely marked highways. The cell service was spotty so it is better to download the map before you start driving. Once you get to the Red Rock Canyon make sure to stop at the visitors’ center to get details about the trails and hikes. The Red Rock Canyon Visitor Center also has indoor and outdoor exhibits and plant specimens from throughout the canyon.
More than 500 million years ago the Red Rock Canyon area was at the bottom of an ocean basin. Mostly limestone and dolomite accumulated in this ocean basin for over 250 million years during the Paleozoic Era. The limestones contain the fossils of sea life that flourished during that time. Thousands of feet of the gray Paleozoic limestones are exposed at LaMadre Mountain to the northwest of the Scenic Loop Drive in Red Rock Canyon.
Scenic Drive in Red Rock Canyon
The best attraction in Red Rock Canyon is the rock formations. Go on the 13-mile scenic loop drive that goes through the Calico Hills, petroglyphs and the vibrant sand dunes that preserve fossils from millions of years ago. You can see sand dunes and canyons. The landscape looked a lot like Sedona. (See Post for our stunning photos from our Pink Jeep Tour in Sedona) These fossilized sand dunes seem to change hue from red and pink to orange and tan as the sun travels across the sky. We made a few stops along the way to admire the rock formations and went on short hikes to see the petroglyphs up close.
We booked our trip with Pink Jeep for our day trip to Red Rock Canyon from Vegas. While we didn’t go on many off-road trip like we did during our last trip, we still enjoyed the drive.
Note: Off-highway driving in the Red Rock National Conservation Area is limited to certain designated roads. Drivers traveling off designated roads are subject to fines. See here for the road where you can drive off-road.
Biking & Hiking at the Red Rock Canyon
Red Rock Canyon is a maze of canyons and peaks, ledges and chimneys, chutes and leading to surprises around every wall. There are 26 different hikes and bike trails that take you from the deep canyons to the highest points of Red Rock canyon. We only had time for a couple of small hikes and the Petroglyph Wall Trails was one we all loved. Distance: 0.20 miles; Average Time: 30 minutes; Difficulty: Easy
Lost Creek is a self-guided interpretive trail that introduces visitors of all ages to the many different features of the Mojave Desert at Red Rock Canyon. On this kid friendly and easy hike in Red Rock Canyon, you can see pictographs, desert life, towering views, and a hidden seasonal waterfall (which can be seen December-April) in the canyon.
If you have a whole day to spend at the Red Rock Canyons you can embark on The Grand Circle Loop. This popular hike in the Red Rock Canyon is a combination of trails that takes you through the heart of the Scenic Drive. This trail features walking across desert foothills and crossing washes. You can start this trail from five different points, but it is recommended you start it from the Visitor Cente. Distance: 11.4 miles; Average Time: 6 hrs; Difficulty: Strenuous
Petroglyph Wall Trail
This is one of the easy and most rewarding hikes in Red Rock Canyon. This short trail takes you across a wash and towards a cliff-side that features historical rock art which is estimated to be at least 800 years old. Look for the start of this trail in the Willow Springs Picnic Area parking lot. The trail starts on the opposite side of the road from the picnic benches. See here for the map to get to the Petroglyph Wall Trail.
The great sandstone cliffs at Red Rock, some of which are thousands of feet high are made up of the Aztec Sandstone. Some of these formations are about 180 – 190 million years old and comprised of lithified sand dunes. These are part of the vast desert that covered a large part of the southwestern United States during the Jurassic time. The red color of the outcrops of the Aztec Sandstone is due to the presence of iron oxide or hematite.
Tip: Bring lots of water, wear sunscreen and a hat if you are going on the hikes. If you forget, some of these items can be purchased at the Visitors Centre. Ask one of the helpful rangers for maps and hiking routes.
Climbing is another popular activity in Red Rock Canyon. There are routes of interest to both the beginning and advanced climbers. Great boulders and sheer rock faces bring climbers from around the world. For more information, see “Rock Climbing” on the BLM Red Rock Canyon page.
Dinosaurs in the Desert
The tracks of small bipedal (two-footed) therapod (meat-eating) dinosaurs have been found in the Aztec Sandstone at Red Rock Canyon in three different places. The small animal tracks made by proto-mammals, early mammals, and arachnids (spiders and scorpions) were also found. Paleontologists are still researching these sites.
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