Exploring Red Rock Canyon – When Hiking Up and Down the Las Vegas Strip Just Isn’t Enough

Red Rock, Nevada
Many people never leave the Strip when visiting Las Vegas, and who can blame them? Incredible food, world class entertainment, people dressed like pirates. Or Roman soldiers. Or Transformers. Or sexy cops. Or Chewbaccas. Or sexy Chewbaccas. Basically, if someone can dream it up, you can probably find it somewhere on the Strip. There is no shortage of stimulation or entertainment available in Sin City.

There’s also no shortage of opportunities to get your steps in if you’re a walker, runner, or FitBit addict. Because I travel so much I make it a priority to get some activity in every day when I am on the road. Sometimes the only way is to build it into your sightseeing. Determined to get our workout in but without enough time to hit the gym, Angela and I decided on our first day to walk to the Las Vegas sign from the Wynn. For those of you who don’t know Vegas, that means a 14km trek, round-trip, all while dodging hawkers, climbing countless steps, and being distracted by the pirates, Wookiees, slow moving pensioners, and frat boys trying to hold onto their fourteen-inch drink cups from Fat Tuesdays. My first half-marathon was easier, but this was undoubtedly more fun.

After making it to the sign and posing with a couple of showgirls who wanted a picture with me*, we made the trek back. It was a good hike, but not quite what we’re used to. Like my best friend Brendan used to say, “Vegas is like being in a big cartoon,” and while cartoons are fun in short bursts, sometimes you need a break.

So we decided to rent a car later in the week and check out Red Rock, a place we’d heard about for years, and a place we’d be able to get outdoors and enjoy some activity without fighting with all of the obstacles on the Strip.

Less than half an hour from McCarran International Airport (and ten minutes from Red Rock Casino if you’re staying at that end of town) is Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area (Red Rock for short). Red Rock is one of the easternmost parts of the Mojave Desert, and surrounded by mountains and various rock formations it makes it a fascinating place to explore.

The Conservation Area includes a 13 mile loop that you can drive as you explore the park. Along the way there are lookout points and trailheads, providing plenty of opportunities for hiking and rock climbing. Each scene is more spectacular than the last. The picture below is the first look you get as you enter the 13 mile route.

The red colour comes from oxidation of the iron minerals in the sediment. In this particular park the red rocks make up about a third of the rocks we saw – others included sandstone, limestone, and some we couldn’t identify (which is no great shock because identifying rocks is high on the list of things I can’t do, along with dancing and playing the tuba).

There was a sign at the front of the loop that said “Do Not Feed Wild Horses and Burros” which I first believed read “Do Not Feed Wild Horses Burritos”, which I thought was too bad, as what wild horse wouldn’t enjoy a burrito? Angela quickly corrected me when I asked her about the sign. We never saw any burros or horses anyway, so it made no difference, but I can’t get the image of wild horses munching down burritos out of my head.

Burros and horses aren’t the only wildlife in the area – rattlesnakes and scorpions are residents of this section of the desert as well, so we were careful not to stray too far off any paths.

The photographer in me loved every minute of being at Red Rock. It felt like we were a million miles from the Strip, and being January we almost had the place to ourselves. We hiked a bit on the trails, loved the fresh air, and really enjoyed the terrain.

At the second pullout along the loop a group of advanced climbers were climbing the face of a steep sandstone rock formation and we thought, “wow, that looks like fantastic exercise for people other than us.”

Half way around the loop we hit the highest point in the conservation area. We pulled in to park and had to get out of the way as people started snapping pictures.

We knew we had rented a snazzy car, but this was over the top. From 0 to 60 in about 90 seconds, I knew our blue Yaris was fast but not that fast. When a nearby traveler explained they were shooting the Lamborghini it made more sense.

The view west from the top lookout:

Looking north was more dramatic:

Even moreso was the look to the northwest, where it felt like we were beginning a quest towards Mordor.

I was amazed at all of the different looks, colours, and rock formations. The park totally exceeded my expectations.

We could have stayed at this vantage point all day but had to move on. Later in the day we had a date with the Neon Boneyard (post to come), and the Neon Boneyard waits for no one.

We made our way down the back half of the trail, stopping at a tiny pull off where no one else was around. Angela and I snapped away as we hiked a bit, loving the seclusion. This is one of my favourites from that spot:

One more from that section of the park…

Red Rock is only 17 miles from the Strip, making it easily accessible. This excursion, in addition to our trip up north to Rachel, Area 51, and the Delamar Dry Lake (post coming soon), convinced us that there is much more to a Vegas vacation than just the Strip – and this doesn’t even include Hoover Dam or that little hole in the ground people refer to as the Grand Canyon.

Nevada has some of the most beautiful terrain I have ever seen, and my next Vegas trip will include more active time outdoors – it’s changed how I view Las Vegas, and I’m looking forward to my next trip to southern Nevada.

Have you visited a place that surprised you when you stepped out of your normal routine? Comment below! Cheers –

* I might have this part backwards.


  1. Great post! Makes me want to go back to Vegas soon! Can;t wait to read about the Neon Boneyard – though I think I am much more of fan of the “Natural” wonders!

    1. Thanks, Shel! Makes ME want to go back to Vegas soon, too! You’d love the Neon Boneyard as well, although you’re right, it’s totally different, but if it helps sweeten the pot, it is outdoors. So it’s in nature. Kind of. 🙂

  2. Been to Vegas many times but only ventured off the Strip to downtown (if that even counts) or to Hoover Dam. Next time, I think this makes the “to-do” list! Great pics!

    1. Thanks, Kelly! Yeah, getting off the Strip definitely changes the complexion of a Vegas trip, even if it’s just for a day or two. Thanks for your thoughts!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge