Red Rock Canyon is a National Conservation Area west of Las Vegas, NV managed by the Southern Nevada Conservancy, a non-profit organization that provides access to the land, interpretative programming and recreational opportunities in partnership with the United States Bureau of Land Management. The park spans close to 196,000 acres of the eastern Mojave Desert. The area is rich in year-round springs. Notable plants and animals include the Joshua Tree, Yucca, Agave and Utah Juniper. The park is home to wild burros, rabbits and Desert Bighorn Sheep and is a protected area for the Desert Tortoise.
26 hiking trails at Red Rock Canyon range from easy, to moderate, to strenuous. Highlighted hikes include Bridge Mountain, a 14-mile loop which averages 7 hours to complete. This strenuous hike begins at the Willow Spring Picnic area, then passes through a pinyon-juniper forest to sandstone peak. La Madres Springs is a moderate hike that follows an old canyon road past sandstone cliffs and limestone mountains. The trail ends at a 1960’s concrete dam just before the springs. Dense vegetation and water around the dam make it an excellent place to look for Desert Bighorn Sheep. Among the easy hikes is the Petroglyph Wall Hike. This 30-minute hike is just over one tenth of a mile and takes guests from the Willow Springs Picnic Area to a cliff featuring 800-year old rock wall drawings. The Lost Creek Children’s Discovery Trail is an easy one-hour hike that features a variety of plant life, as well as a petroglyph and an agave roasting pit site. A large waterfall runs when there has been recent rain or substantial snowmelt.
Rock climbing is a popular activity in the park. More than 2,000 climbing routes place it among the top five climbing destinations in the United States. Routes range from beginner to expert climbs. The main type of rock is Aztec sandstone (Navajo sandstone) and can at times be brittle and slippery, especially after rains. Climbers are cautioned to wait 24 to 48 hours after rain to climb. The major climbing routes in Red Rock Canyon overlap the Rainbow Mountain Wilderness; bolting in the wilderness area is not allowed. Late exit and overnight bivy permits are available for climbers on multi-pitch routes and on designated walls.
A 13-mile scenic drive begins at the Visitor Center and makes a one-way loop through the center of the park. Plenty of parking areas and picnic area along the way lead to trail heads and overlooks. The Visitor Center includes both indoor and outdoor exhibits on the local flora and fauna including a live Desert Tortoise habitat. Cycling is allowed on the scenic drive, and both cycling and off-road driving are permitted on designated trails.
The Red Rock Canyon Campground is the park’s only developed campground. The mixed-use campground offers shade structures, but no amenities for RV’s. It is open from September through May each year.
History: Humans have lived in the Red Rock Canyon area as far back as 12,000 years ago, attracted by the availability of water and the variety of plant and animal life. The Southern Paiute are among the most recent native residents. In the early 1900’s European arrivals operated a small sandstone quarry, which was soon shut down, leaving behind some large sandstone blocks at the northern end of the scenic drive. In 1967, the Bureau of Land Management donated 10,000 acres to the site which would become the Red Rock Recreation Area. By 1990, the government had labeled the land as a National Conservation Area providing further protections from future development.
Ongoing Programs and Education: Events at Red Rock Canyon are led by Certified Interpretative Guides (CIG). Guided hikes include evening Full Moon Walks, the Calico Basin Night Hike and interpretive walks along the Pine Creek Canyon trail, the Moenkopi Loop and Fossil Ridge, among others. Fossil Walks meet at the Visitor Center. The family-friendly hikes point out remnants of ancient life and recent discoveries that have added to the importance of the area. Meet the Plant People is an easy, all ages walk around the Visitor Center that describes the ways in which plants of the desert are just like people, who eat, sleep and even move. Red Rock Canyon Mammals takes place at the Visitor Center and displays and interprets preserved animal specimens. Animal Tracking teaches visitors of all ages how to identify signs of animals from their footprints, scat or homes. Nevada’s State Reptile is presented at the Desert Tortoise habitat at the Visitor Center.
State Highway 159, Las Vegas, NV 89161, Phone: 702-515-5350