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Red Rock Canyon: An Easy Day Trip From Vegas

Beautiful views from a look out point in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

Why You Should Leave The Vegas Strip And Reconnect With Nature

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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.

 

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Our view as we approached Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

 

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.

 

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Map from the Wynn Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

 

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.

 

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More views as we approached Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

 

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.

 

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The map of Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

 

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Description of the hikes, level of difficulty and elevation gain from Visitors Guide.

 

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.

 

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Panoramic views at a stop along the Scenic Drive.

 

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Beautiful views from a look out point in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

 

Parking

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.

 

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The entrance to the La Madre Spring hike.

 

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A view from the start of the La Madre Spring’s hike.

 

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.

 

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Hiking up La Madre Spring trail.

 

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Walking back down from La Madre Spring hike.

 

 

Natural Spring

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.

 

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A breathtaking view from our hike.

 

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Taking a break from our hike to the natural spring and enjoying the view.

 

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!

 

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The natural spring at the top of La Madre Spring trail.

 

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.

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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.

 

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Petroglyphs on the mountainside.

 

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.

 

Conclusion

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:

 

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Red Rock Canyon is a beautiful national park only 40 minutes away from the Las Vegas. If you are looking for a quiet and cheap day away from the chaos of Vegas, then this is the place for you. It has spectacular scenery, rugged mountains, and awesome hikes. #travel #nationalparks #adventuretravel |hiking, La Madre Spring, Las Vegas, Mojave Desert, National Conservation Area, Nevada, petroglyphs, Red Rock Canyon, Scenic Drive, USA, Visitors Centre, Visitors Guide, Wynn Hotel

 

 

18 Comments

  • Red Rock Canyon is one of the best reasons to visit Vegas and like you said it is a lesser known gem. It is also a climbing mecca. Great tips about the shade and bringing water! It’s been a while since we were there, but it looks like it still has all the charm as I remember. Hiking in the desert is such a different experience, but getting lost and finding “water” is always a good time.

    • I agree. Most of the hiking I do is in forests so this is very very different. I don’t think anything has changed in 20 years or so at Red Rock Canyon but it is definitely worth another visit. So beautiful!

  • Awesome post! I have never been to Vegas but can’t wait to go one day soon. But I’m not a huge gambler or night life person, so would love to go somewhere out in nature. I know the Grand Canyon is there but not super close – so Red Rock Canyon seems like such a good option! Thanks for sharing.

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    • You are right. Vegas is not close to the Grand Canyon, but it is nice and close to the Hoover Dam. We went a few years back with kids. It is a very different experience than Red Rock Canyon as you spend time at the Hoover Dam underneath the surface learning about its creation and how it works. But, a very worthwhile trip.

  • I have been to Vegas a great number of times too, but never went to Red Rock Canyon. I enjoy day hiking, so I will have to visit someday. You gave a lot of great tips and useful maps. It always seems the marking and/or the directions in hiking areas aren’t that clear, but I guess it is fun just to explore and see where you end up too!

    • Yes, it was lovely eventually figuring out where we were and “discovering” the natural spring. If you like a nice hike, I think that you will really enjoy some time at Red Rock Canyon.

  • I’ve been to Las Vegas a bunch of time and still haven’t been to Red Rock Canyon. One of my colleagues likes to go there for rock climbing, yet I’ll stick with the hiking paths. La Madre Spring Hike sounds challenging with the hills but looks fun! I’m notorious for getting lost, so I’ll be sure to have someone else with me during the adventure here. Thanks for the helpful tips on how to get here and what to bring.

    • I agree – climbing is for others! But there are lots of hikes so you should find one to your liking. The good news about getting lost is that it would be pretty hard to do that there. Yes, you could end up on a trail that you are not sure where you are going or how long it is, but there aren’t many hiking paths that interconnect each other so once you start on one trail, it would be easy to stay on that trail until you find your way back to the start.

  • Thanks for the helpful guide. I love all the maps and the info about essential items and the lack of shadow. You recommend it to families too but don’t you feel that young kids (around 4 and 5) could get annoyed there?

    • I think the heat would make it a difficult hike for young kids. But, there are lots of other spots in Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area that I think kids would love to explore. The Visitor Centre would also be a cool place to visit with kids.

  • Sounds like a really challenging hike with all the heat but seems worth the trouble, if the pics are anything to go by! Must’ve been hilarious and frustrating at the same time to find a tiny stream when you were hoping to swim 🙂 Thanks for all the useful tips though, great to know before you go!

    • It was exactly both of these things – hilarious and frustrating. For whatever reason, I had this animated Disney vision in my mind of this oasis that we would find. But, of course, it is in the desert, so what we found completely made sense!

  • I’ve been to Vegas a few times and the crowds always overwhelm me. I think I would like hiking Red Rock Canyon a lot better. I’m glad you didn’t get lost out there, since the guy’s instructions didn’t seem all that great. It’s kind of funny about the natural spring, but I’m sure a nice dip in a decent amount of water would have been much preferred. The views are beautiful though.

  • Looks like an amazing place to visit. I’ve never been to Vegas and had no idea the Red Rock Canyon was so close. And such cheap car hire why wouldn’t you go?

  • This is such a useful guide. I’ve not managed to get round to Vegas yet but it’s definitely on my to do list. The Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area looks amazing and something different, really good to know how cheap car hire is there too!

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