I have been to Las Vegas about 7 or 8 times. I have been on crazy girls’ trips, family holidays with children and finally, a couple of romantic getaways with my husband. For every single one of them, we have at some point laid by the pool, done fantastic shopping, saw astounding shows and ate at mouthwatering restaurants. On many trips, I have never left the Vegas strip. Why would I, right? This is where the action is. However, when I was last there with my husband, we decided to break from tradition and “get out of Dodge”! We headed to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area for a half day trip, hoping to see some beautiful scenery and maybe go on a hike. After, I kicked myself for hours wondering why it took me so long to go to this extraordinary place.
Travel to Red Rock Canyon
Red Rock Canyon is an easy 30-40 minute drive from the Las Vegas strip. We didn’t have a car, so we rented one last minute. We stayed at the Wynn Hotel and conveniently, Hertz Rent A Car had a location there. I understand that many hotels on the Vegas strip have a rental car company on their grounds. We paid $40 USD for a 24 hour rental for a mid-size vehicle. I was pretty happy with the price.
We considered taking an Uber or a Lyft, but decided against it for a number of reasons.
- The cost of the rental car was attractive.
- We didn’t know whether we would be able to book an Uber or Lyft to return to Las Vegas.
- I had read that cell coverage was very spotty in and around Red Rock Canyon.
- Odds are we would stumble upon other things we wanted to explore once we left Vegas. I wanted flexibility to make changes to our day.
At the end of the day, I was very satisfied with our decision. The roads and highways in and around Las Vegas and Red Rock Canyon were very good and easy to follow. Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is very isolated and cell coverage didn’t work in many areas. Finally, we decided to stop and have a late lunch on the way home.
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
One of the things that I always notice when I’m in Las Vegas is how flat everything is. In fact, I can look out of any hotel window on the strip and see for miles and miles because it is so flat. However, Red Rock Canyon is very different.
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area lies in Nevada’s Mojave Desert. Accordingly, there are vast plains of beige sand, green cacti and other desert vegetation everywhere you look. And then, out of nowhere, towering red sandstone peaks next to enormous brown limestone summits jut out of the land. It is so abrupt that you wonder whether there has been a mistake – whether you have stumbled upon your child’s geography project and they have someone mangled the proportions of the landscape.
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is stunningly beautiful. Except for the Visitors Centre, it is completely uninhabited and undeveloped Everywhere you drive or walk, you are surrounded by nature and beautiful jaw dropping views of red or brown rugged mountains.
Red Rock Canyon Visitor Centre
It costs $15 USD to bring a vehicle into Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area. However, you can park your vehicle outside the Conservation Area and walk in for $5 USD per person with or without a bicycle.
The Visitor Centre is a short drive from the entrance to the park. It is a beautiful building with exhibitions about the history, geology and wildlife in the park. It also has a lovely store and a help desk to assist you with hikes, bike trails and other information about Red Rock Canyon.
This is where we headed when we first arrived. When we entered the park, we were provided with a Visitor Guide with an enormous map of Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area inside. The map indicated countless hikes of various levels all over the park. We had no idea where we should go or what we should do. So, we asked for help.
This is where things got a little wonky. I asked the gentlemen manning the desk to recommend a hike that would be easy to moderate and in the shade. His reply was “Have I got a hike for you!”. He suggested that we hike La Madre Spring. He gave us directions there, and then said
“Drive pass the first couple of parking lots and then park in the third one. Then, you will easily locate the trail to start the hike. At the end of the trail, you will find a natural spring”. There, I guarantee you that you will see wildlife.”
We were very excited by his description.
Scenic Drive in Red Rock Canyon
But first, we were rewarded with a remarkable and stunning scenic drive around the park. Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area offers a 13 mile (or 21 km) one way scenic drive on undulating hills on an asphalt road. It starts as soon as you enter the park and takes you all the way around and back to that entrance. The road was very wide, with lots of room. We were able to drive as slow as we wanted and not disturb other drivers. Luckily, we saw lots places to stop and park so we could explore a little on foot and take photos. We loved the drive and the views that we saw.
About half way around the loop, we saw our turn off for our hike. However, this is where the problems began. First off, we drove past the first two parking lots, as instructed, but once past the second one, the road changed from asphalt to dirt “4 x 4” roads. And boy, were these roads rough. For a time, we actually followed a trail of water that obviously came from something that had been punctured from underneath another vehicle. After awhile, and after a couple of crazy patches in the road, we decided to give up driving and park. We did not want to damage the rental car.
This is where the second problem arose. We never saw a third parking lot and couldn’t believe that another one would possibly be found at the end of this treacherous road. Accordingly, we just decided to stop and park off to the side, nestled between cacti and tumbleweeds.
La Madre Spring Hike
Then, we tried to find the start of the hike. After a 10 minute walk along the road, we located the start of a trail. However, the sign and map were so badly faded from the sun, we weren’t able to confirm that this hike was actually La Madre Spring. In fact, we were convinced it wasn’t since we were able to see that the hike was rated “difficult” on the sign. We looked around but couldn’t see another trail or parking lot anywhere else. Eventually, we just decided to go for it and started to walk on the trail.
This is where problems number 3 and 4 occurred. This was a “difficult” level hike. It was totally uphill. It wasn’t a severe incline where we had to scamper up rocks in addition to hiking, but it was definitely a significant uphill walk. Also, there was very little shade. Every now and then, we found a small tree with a couple of sinewy branches. If we stood on one foot and leaned severely one way, we found some temporary relief from the sun. But that did not happen very often.
However, the views were absolutely beautiful. We were surrounded by red rugged sandstone and limestone mountains, cacti and other desert foliage. It was really hot, between 90F-100F (32C-38C), but the sky was crystal clear and we could see for miles. Although we didn’t quite know where we were or where we were going, we were loving the hike.
After about an hour of walking uphill, we wondered whether we should simply turn around. We had no idea where this hike was supposed to take us or whether it would loop back round to where we started. We were just about to do that when I spotted another sign up ahead. Excitedly, we walked to it and then, heard the sound of running water. Unbelievably, we realized we had been hiking La Madre Spring hiking trail and had found the natural spring. We were thrilled.
We walked down to the natural spring and couldn’t believe our eyes. It was basically a six inch wide stream that was about 50 feet long. I was expecting this oasis filled with waterfalls and streams with animals and birds everywhere. I had wondered if we would be able to swim or not. We laughed – none of that was going to happen. We could barely fit our toes in the water. Unsurprisingly, there wasn’t any wildlife in sight!
Petroglyph Wall Trail
After we walked down from the natural spring, we collected our car and drove back to the second parking lot. We parked and then took the Petroglyph Wall Trail.
This easy hike took us around 10 minutes each way. We walked along a path towards the mountain. Once there, we saw petroglyphs that are considered to be around 800 years old.
Petroglyphs are images associated with prehistoric people. They are created by removing parts of a rock surface by picking and carving. They are seen as a form of art.
We really enjoyed this little walk and the petroglyphs.
Recommendations For Red Rock Canyon
Here are some recommendations to make the most out of your time while visiting Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area:
- Rent a car and do not take an Uber or Lyft.
- Make sure your car has high clearance and off roading abilities if you think that you will want to explore beyond the Scenic Drive.
- Arrive as early as you can. By midday, it is hot in the Mojave Desert.
- Do not expect any shade while exploring.
- Bring lots of water, wear sunscreen and a hat. If you forget, all of these items can be purchased at the store in the Visitors Centre.
- The map offered by the park is a general outline. However, there is a lot of detail about hikes on a separate page in the Visitors Guide.
- If you want more information, go to the Visitors Centre and ask questions. If they recommend a hike to you, I would confirm parking, the quality of the road and any issues about finding the start of the hike. I would also confirm the details of the hike (length and elevation gain) in the Visitors Guide.
- Be prepared to get a little lost or at least, take a trail that you either had no intention of taking or hoped would be at a different difficulty level. The park is a nature reserve and signage is basic.
I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this easy day trip from Las Vegas to Red Rock Canyon. Whether you are travelling with adults or as a family, this place is an amazing destination. It is stunningly beautiful and offers many ways to connect with nature or enjoy the spectacular scenery. It is very easy to explore. You do not have to go on a major hike to experience what it has to offer. However, there are also lots of fantastic hikes up into the mountains that offer awe-inspiring views.
If you are interested in other US experiences, please refer to the following articles:
- An Epic One Day Boston Itinerary With Teens
- 10 Ultimate New York City Attractions With Teens
- Disneyland Vs. Universal Studios: Which Amusement Park Is Right For You?
- Universal Studios Orlando: The Best Tip To Save Time and Money
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