Red Rocks Done Right

Your guide to a winter wilderness escape.

Words by Alison Foster, photos by Garrett Green

Hidden from the Las Vegas metropolis by only a few miles and a couple of measly hills, Red Rock Canyon has somehow managed to remain a well-kept secret. Ask around and you’ll find that both locals and tourists alike are shocked to hear that there is an outdoor mecca for climbers, hikers, and nature enthusiasts, mere steps from the casino entrances.

While it might take only minutes to go from suburbia to the great outdoors, this beautiful place feels like an alternate reality from the city that borders it. Instead of flashing lights and expensive restaurants, you’ll be surrounded by awe-inspiring canyons, a playground of vivid red rock formations, and that indescribable feeling of desert vastness and solitude.

Red Rock Canyon

But Red Rocks is so much more than its national park-esque beauty; it is a veritable buffet of year-round outdoor adventures: Rock climbing, hiking, peak-bagging, road cycling, mountain biking, dirt biking (all the biking), horse riding, hammocking, rock-hunting, nature photography-ing, picnicking, and camping are all available to the intrepid traveler regardless of season (though you will want a jacket during the chilly winter months). There is also something here for your (on-leash) dog. The only thing this place doesn’t have is cell service—whether you like it or not, sharing your adventures online will have to wait until you have thoroughly embraced the moment.

Whether for a day, a weekend, or a full week, Red Rocks, well … rocks. To help whet your appetite, here are just five of the many wonderful ways you can experience this winter wilderness escape.

Five Ways to Live the Desert Dream

Soak up the Sunrise

Set your alarm early and arrive at the park entrance just as it opens at 6:00 a.m. Drive 10 to 15 minutes to the High Point Overlook and take a seat on the bench looking east. Arm yourself with a thermos of coffee and a cozy blanket, and watch the sun rise over the Las Vegas skyline. The views and solitude make the early wake-up worth it.

Red Rock Canyon

Defy Gravity

Red Rock Canyon is one of the top rock climbing destinations in North America, and, due to its reliable weather, is one of a handful of locations that can genuinely offer year-round climbing. With thousands of short sport routes, there is something for everyone regardless of skill level. For your first visit, head to the must-climb Cannibal Crag or The Gallery for a taste of gravity-defying acrobatics.

Red Rock Canyon

Get Above it All

In addition to short routes, Red Rocks is home to some of the best “big wall” climbing in the world. Experienced climbers can head to the cliffs of Pine Creek Canyon and Juniper Canyon for the chance to ascend thousands of feet up sheer canyon walls. These full-day adventures offer the challenge of a lifetime, and there are difficulty levels available to all those who want to test their minds and bodies.

Look Closely

The Lost Creek and Willow Springs trailheads are perfect for those on the hunt for an easy afternoon to explore the desert. These moderately easy trails meander their way through washes and canyons, allowing time to leisurely explore plant and animal life, Native American cultural sites, and even a beautiful waterfall. Interactive signs and a nearby picnic area make it perfect for a family adventure.

Hit the Trail

For those who like their feet planted firmly on the ground, there are dozens of trails that wander through a stunningly diverse range of landscapes. For the most bang for your buck, try exploring the Calico Hills trail at the base of the bright red Calico Rocks. For those looking for a bit more of a challenge, head to Ice Box Canyon’s out-and-back trail for boulder scrambling, looming canyon walls, and waterfalls.

Red Rock Canyon

The Practicalities of Red Rock Canyon

How to get There

Red Rock Canyon in located just 17 miles from downtown Las Vegas. If you arrive by plane, you will need a car since there is no reliable transportation to or in the canyon. For those traveling from other locations in the West, Red Rocks is only 4 1/2 hours by car from Southern California and 6 1/2 hours from Salt Lake City. Google Maps will get you the rest of the way there.

What to Eat

Five miles from Red Rocks is a suburban shopping center with grocery stores, coffee shops, and restaurants. There is no need to rough it on this camping trip! The local Albertsons is always full of fellow puffy-clad campers buying supplies for their evening meals, and the surrounding restaurants provide every food option imaginable.

Where to Stay

For those looking for the outdoor experience, there is only one campground nearby. It is located one mile down a well-marked road southeast of the Red Rocks entrance. The campsite is relatively primitive, with clean pit toilets, picnic tables, and water taps. Fair warning, the campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis and will be fully booked on holiday weekends. Get there early in the morning to snag a spot or ask around—people are friendly and willing to share. In addition, there is dispersed camping in Lovell Canyon, about 25 miles from the Red Rocks entrance.

For those looking for a bit more comfort (hot showers, comfy beds, etc.), there are literally hundreds of hotel options within a 20-minute drive. The closest is Red Rock Casino, five miles from the entrance.

Red Rock Canyon