The Ultimate Red Rock Canyon Travel Guide
Red Rock Canyon is a stunning oasis – a hidden gem – just outside the city of Las Vegas, Nevada – about 15 miles west of The Strip. This national conservation area is an achingly beautiful landscape of mountain peaks, vivid red rock hills, sandstone ridges, steep canyons, and preserved signs of life dating back thousands of years.
One thing you won’t have to gamble on as you take a break from Las Vegas Boulevard, is the beauty you will find on a getaway to Red Rock Canyon. Grab a dose of nature and fresh air and feast your eyes on the mountain majesty. If you are traveling with children too young to walk into a casino, Red Rock Canyon is a recreational alternative that the whole family can enjoy. From hiking to climbing around the red rocks, taking photographs and searching out wildlife, bike riding or just rolling down the windows as you cruise along the Scenic Drive, this place is good for the soul.
With close to 200,000 acres of land, Red Rock Canyon is visited by more than three million people a year. It’s become so popular, in fact, that you now need a reservation to enter the renowned Scenic Drive that takes you along a 13-mile journey through the canyon. But don’t let the short distance fool you. You could motor around the Scenic Drive in 45 minutes without stopping, but you’d be missing out on a lot. Along the way are trails, overlooks, ancient art and wildlife, plus an incredible Visitor Center with outdoor exhibits, so you could easily spend the entire day here and still not see everything. If you don’t have that much time, though, two hours will do. That will at least allow you a glimpse of what Red Rock Canyon is all about.
In this guide, you'll find information about:
- Details to know before you go
- How to get to Red Rock Canyon
- The best time to visit
- Things to do in the park
- Where to stay
- Where to eat
The Red Rock Canyon Visitor Center / Photo by Lizzie Gerecitano
The Scenic Drive & Advance Reservations
Red Rock Canyon revolves mostly around the Scenic Drive with its overlooks and hiking trails. Although you can access other areas outside of the Scenic Drive, the majority of the best viewpoints and 21+ trails are accessed along the Scenic Drive.
Red Rock Canyon (and the Scenic Drive) is open from 6 a.m. until sunset, so closing time varies based on the time of year you’re going. You can enter between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. each morning all year ‘round without a reservation, and you also don’t need a reservation in the hottest months of the year – between June 1st and Sept. 30th. But from Oct. 1st until May 31st, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., you’ll need a reservation for a specific entrance time to get in. Your entry time is good for one hour so, for example, if you choose a 9 a.m. entry time slot, you can enter Red Rock Canyon between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. The entrance fee is $15 per vehicle per day, plus a $2 reservation fee per ticket. America the Beautiful annual and lifetime national park passes are accepted here.
For each reservation, you get to drive around the Scenic Drive one time. So try not to skip any stops along the way. If you miss anything and want to go back around the loop, you don’t have to pay a second time, but you’d have to make another reservation online … if Red Rock Canyon hasn’t reached capacity for the day by then.
To make a reservation, click here.
RELATED: One-day Itinerary: Red Rock Canyon
The Visitor Center
The Visitor Center at Red Rock Canyon is the first stop you should make after you enter and get through the Fee Booth. This is the only place from which you can access it. Once you start the Scenic Drive, there’s no turning around to get back to the Visitor Center, since you’re on a one-way road.
The Visitor Center is a must-see. The minute you walk in you will be met with a stupendous, panoramic, glass wall framing the mountains. There’s a wonderful gift shop for souvenirs, books, local crafts and last-minute hiking supplies, and the lovely park rangers and volunteers at the Information Booth offer expert advice on which hikes to choose based on the day’s weather and trail conditions, plus a free map. Be sure to find the back door leading out to some fabulous exhibits and that view, plus the possibility of seeing real desert tortoises in their habitat!
Outside and downstairs from the Visitor Center is a second set of bathrooms with running water and a water bottle refilling station. This is the last water you’ll find at Red Rock Canyon, so bring your own! The Visitor Center hours are 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
The address for Red Rock Canyon and the Visitor Center:
1000 Scenic Loop Dr., Las Vegas, NV 89161
The Road into Red Rock / Photo by Lizzie Gerecitano
Fly into Harry Reid International Airport (formerly named McCarran Int’l Airport) which is adjacent to Las Vegas Boulevard in the heart of the city. If you’re staying in the city for gambling and entertainment, you’ll have about a 15 - 20 mile drive to get to Red Rock Canyon, traveling west along W. Charleston Blvd./Rt. 159, which leads straight to the entrance of Red Rock Canyon. This could take you about 40 - 50 minutes depending on traffic.
You’ll need a car for Red Rock Canyon, because it’s a Scenic Drive. Almost everything you can do is located here. Overlooks and trailheads are found as the road meanders through the mountains and canyons. This is not a place where you can use public transportation to get dropped off and then get around on foot, or all you’ll have access to is the Visitor Center and the one or two trails you can reach from there. Also, you wouldn't be able to rely on finding a cell phone signal to call for a ride once you’re ready to leave.
Two things we highly recommend you do as you’re driving to Red Rock Canyon:
Fill up your gas tank, and bring food and water. As you’re approaching Red Rock Canyon along W. Charleston Blvd./Rt. 159, the last shopping center with a grocery store and gas is at the intersection of Desert Foothills Drive, on your right. We suggest grabbing a disposal cooler and some bags of ice, and then a bunch of water bottles, lunch and snacks for the day. Especially if you’re hiking, you will get thirsty and hungry. And you’re in the desert, so you’ll dehydrate without extra water – you need more than you would drink at home. You are out in the middle of nature with zero chance of finding food, gas, or water along the hiking trails or along the Scenic Drive at Red Rock Canyon. There are several picnic areas with amazing views where you can enjoy your lunch along the Scenic Drive, as well as at the Red Spring Picnic and Boardwalk area.
There is one other option for a small general store, gas pump and restaurant off of Rt. 159 in the tiny desert town of Blue Diamond a few miles west of
Red Rock Canyon if you want to drive past Red Rock Canyon to that town for your supplies instead. But blink and you’ll miss it.
RELATED: Know Before You Go, Red Rock Canyon
Photo by Lizzie Gerecitano
Red Rock Canyon is a beautiful place to visit any time of the year. Located in Las Vegas Nevada, it averages 294 days per year of sunshine, with an average humidity of only 29-percent! These temps differ tremendously from the city of Las Vegas itself, even though it’s less than 15 miles away from Red Rock Canyon. And because Red Rock Canyon is in the Mojave Desert, it’s dry most of the time, averaging only around four four inches of rain per year. Much of Red Rock Canyon is recreational, especially for hikers, bikers, and rock climbers. So there are certain things you should be aware of involving the weather and the time of year that you choose to visit Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, if you’re doing more than driving through it in your car.
Red Rock Canyon in Spring
Springtime in Red Rock Canyon is beautiful – especially early spring before it starts getting too hot. The weather in springtime can fluctuate wildly between being cool and quite windy (gusts can reach over 60 mph), to summer-like heat during the day, but a cool dawn and dusk, and cold nighttime hours. The wildflowers are just beginning to bloom along the lower elevation, and we get our first peek at the desert tortoises emerging from their burrows to bask in the warm sunshine after a winter brumation (the desert tortoise’s hibernation period.) The average daytime temperature is 77 degrees fahrenheit (25 celsius) and the average nighttime temperature is 50 degrees fahrenheit (10 celsius).
Red Rock Canyon in Summer
Summer is a season that can be dangerous for hiking and other daytime outdoor activities at Red Rock Canyon, so try to have most of your outdoor fun during early morning hours, and be sure to wear sunscreen. Even if windy conditions provide some relief, you could quickly dehydrate and develop a sunburn if you are hiking mid-day when the temperatures can soar well into the 100s fahrenheit. Also, sudden heavy thunderstorms with flash flooding can happen all year round but are most common in summer months. They could leave you stranded, sweep you away or lead to drowning whether you’re on foot or inside your vehicle. The average daytime temperature is 93 degrees fahrenheit (34 celsius) and the average nighttime temperature is 65 degrees fahrenheit (18 celsius).
Red Rock Canyon in Autumn
Autumn is monsoon season in Red Rock Canyon so pay careful attention to the weather forecast if you are planning a trip this time of year, and check the weather specifically in Red Rock Canyon before you go since it can differ greatly from the city of Las Vegas. Be prepared for high winds with gusts sometimes over 60 mph. The changing, yellowing leaves of fall can be quite a sight to see! The average daytime temperature is 70 degrees fahrenheit (21 celsius) and the average nighttime temperature is 43 degrees fahrenheit (6 celsius).
Winter in Red Rock Canyon
Winter in Red Rock Canyon can be beautiful – with a jacket and layers. Strong winds with gusts can reach over 60 mph, along with cold fronts that pass through – especially during this season. The sunsets during late-afternoon hikes are spectacular. You could run into some snow the higher you go in the mountains, making ice a hazard for hikers. But even the area around the Visitor Center has been known to receive a few inches of snow from time to time. And it rains more often during winter. The average daytime temperature in winter is 57 degrees fahrenheit (14 celsius), and the average nighttime temperature is 32 degrees fahrenheit (0 celsius).
Red E Electric Bike Tours / Photo by Lizzie Gerecitano
1. Take a Shaka Guide Tour
Download Shaka Guide’s Red Rock Canyon Tour and enjoy a wonderful adventure complete with detailed directions, solid advice, valuable information, and informative, entertaining stories about Red Rock Canyon!
2. Visit the Red Rock Canyon Visitor Center
3. Drive the Red Rock Canyon Scenic Drive
4. Take a Hike!
There are easy, moderate and challenging trails at Red Rock Canyon including the Calico Tanks Trail, the Willow Springs Loop, the Petroglyph Wall Trail and the paved walkway leading to Red Rock Overlook. Details on these trails and many more can be found in our Hiking Guide.
5. Take in Some Scenic Overlooks
Sandstone Quarry Overlook. High Point Overlook, Red Rock Wash Overlook and Red Rock Overlook.
6. Stroll Along the Red Spring Boardwalk
This is a must-do! An easy stroll, this boardwalk brings you along the base of the Calico Hills. The view is magnificent! Stay for a picnic and hike while you’re there, including one of the best: The Calico Basin Trail. This boardwalk (plus trailheads and picnic area) is located on Calico Basin Road, just east of the main entrance of Red Rock Canyon (not along the Scenic Drive.)
7. Book a horseback ride
You’ll feel like a cowboy in the wild west as you ride inside this incredible mountain and desert range (no experience necessary.) This includes the chance for a sunset trail ride with a campfire dinner, or a canyon rim ride if you’re more daring and want to climb high onto a mountain inches away from the edge of a canyon on horseback. It all depends on your adventure level!
8. Book an early-morning electric bike ride
This is not for the faint of heart but your teenagers sure will love the rush of it! You don’t have to be in super great shape because the bike does most of the work, but you are going up and down some enormous hills and around some steep curves! You’ll never experience anything like it, parents, so give it a try with your high schoolers!
9. Book an electric scooter ride around Red Rock Canyon
10. Try Rock Climbing
If you are a rock climbing aficionado, Red Rock Canyon ranks among the top five places in the world for this adventurous sport! Especially around the areas of Sandstone Quarry and in the Calico Hills.
11. Go Camping
You can stay at the Red Rock Campground to enjoy the night sky, but make sure you are prepared: it does not contain running water or a place to fill up your gas tank.
12. Go Mountain Biking (in back-country off the Scenic Drive)
13. Off-Roading 4x4 driving
The Red Rock Casino Resort & Spa / nexxtpress.de, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
The closest place to stay to Red Rock Canyon is the Red Rock Casino Resort & Spa. Other nearby hotels would be in the area of Summerlin if you want to avoid downtown Las Vegas and start your day closer to Red Rock Canyon. But it is always a popular choice to stay at one of the myriad of hotels around the city of Las Vegas if you’re on vacation and want the best of both worlds.
If you want to enjoy a nice meal with a view of the mountains once you wrap up at Red Rock Canyon, head down to Cottonwood Station in the tiny, adorable town of Blue Diamond just a few miles west of Red Rock Canyon. Or, if you’re heading back to Las Vegas, check out Batista’s Hole in the Wall for authentic, traditional Italian Food and immerse yourself in old-time Las Vegas memorabilia and photos of famous Vegas celebrities that sat in the same booth you’re sitting in!
- Red Rock Canyon is pet friendly, so feel free to bring your dog along the trails, on a leash.
- There is very little chance of getting a cell phone signal inside Red Rock Canyon.
- The minimum amount of time you should budget to see Red Rock Canyon is two hours. But really you could spend an entire day there or even two, if you wanted to really enjoy the exhibits and explore many of the trails.
- There are vault toilets (rather decent, actually) in almost every parking lot along the Scenic Drive, so you’ll always have access to a restroom. But there’s no running water, so you may want to have wipes and sanitizer on hand.
Leave No Trace
Pine Creek Canyon / Photo by Lizzie Gerecitano
Red Rock Canyon is packed with not only ancient historical sites - but also stellar natural beauty in its trails, overlooks, and, of course, the canyons. When you visit, we ask that you follow the saying "Leave No Trace" - which means picking up all your trash, and following all guidelines in the park. Its up to us to preserve this park for future visitors!