7 Best Things to Do in Red Rock Canyon National Recreation AreaPin

7 Best Things to Do in Red Rock Canyon National Recreation Area

These are the best things to do in Red Rock Canyon.

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is why we moved back to Las Vegas. We started climbing after our first stint in Vegas and didn’t realize we missed out on some epic climbing (so dumb!).

When the weather is just right, we’re out here at least once a week exploring new corners of the park. We’re so lucky and spoiled to have Red Rock as part of Las Vegas. Even if you live on the opposite side of Vegas, it’s only 30 minutes to escape to some great hikes, climbs, and scenery.

7 best things to do in red rock canyonPin

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Last Updated: February 12, 2022

What You Need to Know Before You Go

Is Red Rock Canyon worth visiting?

If you love the outdoors, Red Rock Canyon is a must. For us, it’s the highlight of living in Las Vegas. The brilliant red colors pop out of nowhere in the desert backdrop, and you can see them from the scenic drive or get out to hike or climb.

How much is the Red Rock Entrance Fee?

Do you need reservations for Red Rock?

On top of the entrance fee, you need a reservation to get into the Scenic Drive. You can make reservations online here ($2 fee) or in person if there is availability. If they’re full, you can try driving up to see if they have openings. There are also hikes outside this fee/reservation area.

What time does Red Rock Canyon open? For the Scenic Drive / Red Spring Picnic Area / Red Rock Overlook

  • Nov-Feb, 6 am to 5 pm
  • Mar, 6 am to 7 pm
  • Apr-Sept, 6 am to 8 pm
  • Oct, 6 am to 7 pm

How much time do you need at Red Rock Canyon?

The time you should allot all depends on your activities of interest. At a minimum, you should spend a couple of hours getting an overview of the park. That gives you time to do the Scenic Drive, take in the views at overlooks, and do a short hike. There are enough hikes to spend several days and climbing routes to last us years.

Leave No Trace

Pack out anything you pack in. Or better yet, if you’re up for it, leave it better than you found it and pick up any trash you see. Poop does not decompose as fast in the desert as in more humid places. Use the pit toilets at specific lots or look for wag bag stations.

Where is Red Rock? + Getting to Red Rock

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is 30 minutes from the Strip, on the west side of Las Vegas. To get there, map to the Red Rock Visitor Center, or 1000 Scenic Loop Dr, Las Vegas, NV 89161 (map).

If you plan on visiting parts of the park outside the fee area, like Red Spring or Kraft, make sure you take the Calico Basin road (it’s before the main loop if you’re coming from Summerlin or after if you’re coming from Southwest). Google maps will have trailheads, parking lots, and significant landmarks. Download an offline map before you lose service.

Red Rock Visitor Center Info

The Red Rock Visitor Center is just inside the loop. It’s a great place to stop to get insight from rangers to make the most of your visit. You can also pick up souvenirs and learn more about Red Rock and the Mojave Desert in their indoor and outdoor exhibits.

The address:
1000 Scenic Loop Dr
Las Vegas, NV 89161 (map)

Weather at Red Rock

Weather varies significantly between summer and winter. It’s scorching in the summer and can be freezing in the winter if you stay past sunset. Luckily, it’s typically 10 degrees cooler in Red Rock than the strip, but we still avoid Red Rock during the summer when it’s scorching, and there’s little to no shade. Here is the average weather each month.

Red Rock Canyon Average WeatherPin

7 Best Things to Do in Red Rock Canyon

1. Scenic Drive

How long is the scenic drive Red Rock Canyon?

If you’re not much of a hiker or climber, this 13-mile scenic drive lets you explore the park from the comforts of your car. It’s the only way I’d do it with the 100+-degree weather during the summer. You not only get an excellent overview of the park, but it takes you to scenic overlooks and trailheads, should you choose to hike.

How much is the scenic drive?

On top of the park entrance fee ($15 per day, $30 annual), there is a $2 reservation fee to get into the loop. They kept saying they will get rid of the reservation fee, but that was last year.

LOCAL TIP: Driving the loop takes you roughly 30 minutes as long as you don’t get stuck behind tours or visitors who don’t realize there are two lanes. When the loop is busy, parking lots fill up quickly. The best time to avoid the crowds is early morning or late afternoon. On the plus side, many visitors only make quick stops at each spot, so you can always wait for a spot to open up.

See More – 11 Gorgeous Canyons in the US to Add to Your Bucket List

2. Hiking

Before we started climbing, we mainly hiked to see the park. To help you get started, here are the most popular hikes (full Red Rock hiking post coming soon!)

  • Red Springs Boardwalk (easy, 0.5 mi, 52 ft elevation) is outside the fee area.
  • Calico Tanks (moderate, 2.2 mi RT, 406 ft elevation)
  • Ice Box Canyon (moderate, 2.3 mi RT, 577 ft elevation) – this hike involves some scrambling.
  • First Creek Canyon (moderate, 3.4 mi, 377 ft elevation) – it’s the prettiest hike in the park IMO, not as crowded, and outside the fee area. It reminds me of Zion and also has a pool and small waterfall.
  • Calico Hills (challenging, 6.4 mi RT, 1108 ft elevation) – one of the popular hikes.
  • Guardian Angel Pass (challenging, 3.2 mi loop, 679 ft elevation) – challenging but fun hike with nice views once you get to the saddle.

See More – 15 Best Day Hikes in the US

red rocks hiking trailsPin

3. Rock Climbing

If you climb at all, Red Rock is a must for your itinerary, and chances are it’s why you’re visiting Vegas in the first place. You’ll find tons of trad, sport, and bouldering here. We’ve done some sport climbing, but we mainly boulder for the social aspect.

Kraft Boulders is the main touristy bouldering area due to the sheer concentration of boulders. Check out other spots like Willow Springs, Red Springs, and Gateway to avoid the crowds. With climbing on the rise, though, these areas are also starting to get crowded.

Below is me on Plumber’s Crack, a classic that’s easy yet terrifying.

LOCAL TIP: Come say hi to us at Refuge Climbing! If it has rained in the past 48hrs, do not climb on sandstone. In the winter, it may take longer. A good test is to dig about an inch down on the ground around the rock. If it is still damp, it’s too wet to climb.

Plumbers Crack Red Rock CanyonPin

4. See Petroglyphs

You can find the Petroglyph Wall on a short walk from the Willow Springs picnic area. There are more petroglyphs throughout the park, but this is the most accessible.

5. Camping

Our San Diego neighbors (and friends who first introduced us to climbing) come to camp here twice a year. On their last trip here, we checked out their campsite. It’s something we would consider if we were coming from out of town.

The one developed campground has 53 sites, six RV sites, and seven large group sites (with no hookups). Book your campsite here (some are walk-in only).

There’s also an unofficial spot where van lifers camp for free. As you approach Red Rock, you will see vans and RVs parked there on the left near the Red Rock Detention Basin (map).

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6. Wildlife

There are over 1000 species of plants and animals. We’ve only ever seen burros and rattlesnakes, but if you’re lucky, you may even spot bighorn sheep, bobcats, coyotes, desert tortoises, and more.

wild burros red rock canyonPin

7. Fly Over Red Rock

We flew over Red Rock with All in Aviation. Jacob took a flight lesson and logged his first hour towards a pilot license while enjoying the views of brilliant red rocks.

See More – 17 Epic Bucket List Experiences in Las Vegas

Learning to Fly with All in Aviation + 15 Best Vegas Experiences to Put on Your Bucket ListPin

Where to Stay Near Red Rock

Tips for First Time Visitors

  • Avoid summers. It’s hot and doesn’t make it very enjoyable. Definitely avoid hiking in the heat. Our favorite time of year is winter. The weather is cool but the sun keeps you warm.
  • Early mornings or late afternoons are the best times to visit.
  • You will lose service as soon as you hit the Red Rock sign. If you’re meeting up with friends, we recommend bringing walky talkies. Also, if you’re unfamiliar with the area, download an offline google map for Red Rock (easy and free).
  • You can take tours, but having a car is the best way to see the park. You can go at your own pace and make as many stops as you want. Search for rental cars here.
  • Certain roads require a high-clearance vehicle, like Black Velvet.
  • Bring plenty of water and sun protection with you.
  • There is no cell service in most of the park, although there are a few spots you might get a bar or two. Don’t rely on it though.
  • The loop is one-way and always takes us longer than expected, especially when you get stuck behind tours or slower cars. Many visitors don’t realize it’s two lanes because there aren’t marks on the road. Once, someone tried to run us off the road because they thought we were in the wrong. We come here often enough, and we asked the rangers. Don’t block both lanes if you see someone trying to pass.
  • For climbers, do not climb on wet sandstone. Please be good stewards. The rock is sandstone and you should not climb it when it’s wet, otherwise you risk breaking holds. There is so much conflicting info on how much time is enough time. The sign at the front says 24 hrs, Mountain Project says 48, and we’ve seen it take longer than 72. The best test is to the dig 1 inch beneath the sand/ground near the rock. If it is damp, it’s too soon to climb. It’s raining here way more than it used to and taking longer to dry than in the past.

What to Pack

What should I wear to Red Rock Canyon?

In the summer, dress in cool clothes that protect you from the sun. In the winter, have layers since it’s warm during the day but cold at night.

Do you need hiking shoes for Red Rock?

Depending on the hike, solid hiking shoes are essential. Some require you to scramble and walk on uneven ground. If you’re unsure, it’s always best to prepare for the worst. I sometimes go out in sandals for easy hikes, but you have to watch out for cacti and other spiky plants.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you walk through Red Rock Canyon?

There are a lot of hikes you can check out to explore Red Rock Canyon, but it helps to have a car to get to the different trailheads since they are far apart.

Which is better Valley of Fire or Red Rock?

Each provides its own unique landscapes. Valley of Fire has more iconic spots that you probably have seen on Instagram and the hikes are shorter. Red Rock has longer hikes and more activities available, like rock climbing. It’s also closer to Las Vegas.

Are there ticks in Red Rock Canyon?

Ticks do exist in Red Rock Canyon but are rarely seen.

How far is Vegas from Red Rock Canyon?

Red Rock Canyon is roughly 18 miles or 30 minutes away from the Strip. It may vary a bit depending on where you are on the strip.

Is Red Rock close to Hoover Dam?

Red Rock is about 50 miles or 1 hour away from Hoover Dam.

What Else is Near Red Rock Canyon?

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Can you think of more things to do in Red Rock Canyon? Which of these have you done?

This Post Has 15 Comments

  1. Esther, what gorgeous, GORGEOUS photos! It snowed here yesterday so I am also loving how warm and sunny this canyon looks :)

    1. Thanks so much Amy! :) You should come visit if it gets too cold over there!! We might need to leave here during the summer too. :P We should house swap.

  2. OMG these are amazing pics you guys! Ah-ma-Zing <3

  3. The pictures are so pretty! Maybe David and I can do our 1 year anniversary pictures there :p hahaha … i like your hat! I need to get one of those big brim ones for outdoor activities …

    1. You should! I can find you a photographer. I know someone here. :) Yeah, we bought it originally for the Machu Picchu hike and it has come in pretty handy lately. Sometimes I feel like an ahjumma though.. When should we buy those visors? haha

      1. no visors !! we’re still young! i don’t think it looks like ahjumma — in asia it’s so common to wear big brim hats since they don’t like to get dark :p it’s call taking care of our skin :)

  4. Wow those pictures are gorgeous, I would absolutely love to visit one day, the red rock looks so beautiful. I would be really worried if I got lost out there! We have some beautiful national parks here in the UK too, I hope to do a couple this summer in Scotland and Wales – will probably feature in an upcoming Weekly Wishes post:-)

    1. Thank you! :) I would recommend it if you’re near Vegas.. but if not, Yosemite is by far my favorite national park. I’m not too familiar with the national parks in the UK. Which ones are the ones on your must visit list? Hopefully, next time we’re there we can see more than just London.

    1. I’m sure you could probably do it! I think you’re way more fit since you walk a lot more and you have to lift heavy things all the time. :) I was actually pretty angry at Jacob when we got lost for an extra hour. It’s like I have to go into it with the expectation that we will probably get lost.. *sigh

  5. All I could think while reading this post is I LOVE THE SOUTHWEST AND I WANNA GO BACK NOW!

    Tyler and I got the chance to go to Red Rock Canyon… and while he would have loved the hike, the rest of us were content with driving the scenic road and jumping out of the car at a few key points.

    These pictures are mesmerizing. I WANNA BE IN THE SOUTHWEST OH MY GOSH. There’s something about the red rock that just lights me up!

    And you guys are just cute!!!!

    1. Thanks girl! :) haha I’m glad they’re making you want to come back! maybe you’ll have to make it part of your summer plans after all! :P

      it was a really interesting hike in my opinion. loved all the different rock formations and landscapes. some hikes i get bored after a while if there isn’t anything interesting and different to see along the way. :)

  6. Beautiful photos! I’ve been to Red Rock once, but the people I was with weren’t really the hiking type, so I would love to go back and explore again.

    1. Thank you! You should absolutely check out the hikes! There are a lot of different ones, and we only saw a small part of red rock.. but we’re excited to see more. Did you do the scenic drive? We definitely want to do that too.

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