Here’s the thing, it only takes about two days before we hit our breaking point with the noise and chaos of Las Vegas. We don’t really gamble and only occasionally drink, but we keep coming back to Sin City anyway. Why? The day trips of course. If you’ve got access to a car, there are surprisingly a lot of places to go in the desert. On our latest visit to Las Vegas, we finally had a chance to check out Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Only 30-minutes away from the city, it’s a quick and easy escape.
Scenic Drive Through Red Rock Canyon
Managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Red Rock Canyon consists of a 13-mile one-way scenic drive through the Mojave Desert.
The key here being one-way. As we learned, if you skip something, you can’t go back without re-entering the park. When the park requires timed reservations, re-entry may not be possible. See timed entry under General Information below.
If you’re just in the park for the scenic drive, overlooks, and the 800-year-old petroglyph wall, plan to be in the park about 1 – 2 hours, add more time for hiking.
Hiking Red Rock Canyon
With thirty-one trails, it’s possible to spend an entire day hiking, that is, if it’s not too hot.
Previously, we had only been to Las Vegas in summer. With temperatures of over 120F it was too hot for hiking. This time we planned our trip for early October, figuring temperatures would be more manageable. And they were… at least until late morning.
We started our day before sunrise on the Turtlehead Peak Trail. By the time we finished the exhausting hike, we only had time for the Keystone Thrust Trail before the heat became unbearable. After that, we had to settle for enjoying the overlooks and short walks accessible from the scenic drive.
If you are lucky enough to have a great day for hiking, Red Rock Canyon has a fantastic online map with a full list of all the trails. Each trail also has its own dedicated hiking page with full trail descriptions.
Best Time to Visit Red Rock Canyon
If you can get yourself up and out to make it to the park for sunrise, you’ll be heavily rewarded. Not only is the park less crowded, but the cooler temperatures also make hiking a bit more pleasant.
When it comes to sunrise vs sunset, at Red Rock Canyon there’s really no competition. The mountains face East, so sunrise illuminates the sandstone in beautiful reds, oranges, and yellows.
In the evening, the sun sets behind the mountains. Though it is still a lovely time to visit, especially if you get a great sky, but there is significantly less illumination of the rocks.
What to Bring to Red Rock Canyon
No matter when you visit Red Rock Canyon, bring plenty of water. It’s easy to underestimate just how dry the desert is. A good rule of thumb is 1-liter per-person per-hour.
You also don’t want to forget sunscreen. With very little shade you’ll want all the protection from the sun you can get. It may sound counter-intuitive but a long-brimmed hat, a light weight long-sleeve shirt, and pants will keep you cooler than shorts and a t-shirt.
- Car/truck day pass $15
- Motorcycle day pass $10
- Bicycle/pedestrian day pass $5
These passes include vehicle admission / entry for 4 adults to over 2,000 federally managed parks. Children under 16 are free at US National Parks.
You can buy the pass through the National Park Service website, at many National Parks including Red Rock Canyon, or from REI. The lovely folks at REI don’t always know they sell it, but they do.
*Prices correct Dec 2021.
Red Rock Canyon is open year-round, though its hours of operation change slightly for the time of year.
- Nov – Feb – 6:00 AM to 5:00 PM
- March – 6:00 AM to 7:00 PM
- Apr – Sep – 6:00 AM to 8:00 PM
- Oct – 6:00 AM to 7:00 PM
Visitor Center: Open daily from 9:00 am – 4:30 pm
From October to May, the park requires a Timed Entry Reservation between the hours of 8 am and 5 pm.
Entering the park before or after these hours (i.e., 6 am for sunrise) does not require a timed reservation. Once you are in the park, you do not have to leave. However, if you leave, you will need a reservation to re-enter the park during those hours.
In summer, reservations are not needed because honestly, it’s just too hot. The park doesn’t get that busy and those who visit, don’t stay that long.
Reservations can be made online through the Red Rock Canyon BLM website. Unfortunately, there is a $2 fee, even if you have a pass.
Headed to Las Vegas? We have plenty of other posts to help plan your trip. Check our some of our favorites.