Please stay on established trails in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Cutting across switchbacks damages soils and plants, and severely damages the trail. Thin black crusts of moss and lichen cover open areas and protect desert soils from wind and rain erosion; any foot traffic quickly destroys the crusts which heal very slowly. If is it necessary to hike off trail, hikers should spread out in small groups, and hike on rock areas as much as possible.
Each year people are lost, injured, and sometimes killed while visiting Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. For your safety, please follow these simple rules:
- When hiking, stay on established trails and watch your footing at all times. Steep slopes and cliff edges are dangerous.
- Do not roll or throw rocks and other items from high places; other visitors may be below you.
- Watch for snakes on the rocks.
- Temperatures can exceed 110 °F (41 °C) in Red Rock Canyon. Drink four liters of water per day in the summer, but do not drink untreated water as it may be contaminated. Carry water on your hike, at least a gallon per person per day in the summer.
- Avoid drainages after thunderstorms or severe weather because of flash floods. Stay away from high points during thunderstorms; lightning can kill.
- Wildlife may appear to be tame, but may attack if threatened. Stay a safe distance away while observing animals.
- Watch children closely; they often do not recognize potential dangers.
- The burros at Red Rock Canyon are not domesticated animals and can be dangerous. Do not feed or pet the burros. Feeding burros encourages these animals to congregate on roadways where many have been killed and injured by vehicles. To observe these animals safely: pick a safe place to stop; pull completely off the roadway, observe the burros from a distance. Staying in your car is the safest way to photograph and observe the burros.
- To protect resources, please do not collect plants, rock specimens, fossils, or disturb the wildlife.
- Let someone know where you will be hiking. There is a voluntary hiker's registration at the visitor center.
- Dress appropriately; wear footwear suitable for hiking and consider wearing a hat.
- Be aware of the weather. Mountain thunderstorms can cause flash flooding in the canyons and nearby washes.
- Please, if you pack it in, pack it out and dispose of properly.
- Be aware of the closure hours for the scenic drive.
The following is a brief list of the more popular hikes in the area. It is best to carry a map of the area. Topographic maps of the Red Rock Canyon are available for sale at the bookstore in the visitor center.
HIKING TRAILS IN THE SCENIC DRIVE VICINITY (Map of Hiking Trails)
1. MOENKOPI LOOP: Triassic fossils and various desert flora can be seen on this open country trail which starts at the visitor center just west of the weather monitoring station and traverses a prominent limestone ridge. In addition to panoramic views of the Wilson Cliffs, there are connecting trails to the Calico Hills area (2 mile loop, easy).
2. CALICO HILLS: This trail runs along the base of the Calico Rocks from Calico Basin to Sandstone Quarry. Distance is variable since the trail can be accessed at either end or from either of the two Calico parking areas. A side trail runs from the fee booth parking lot and connects with this trail (distance variable, easy to moderate).
3. CALICO TANKS: From Sandstone Quarry the trail heads north from its junction with the Turtlehead Peak Trail to just past the Agave roasting pit site. Just beyond this site, the trail veers up a side canyon to the right where it follows ascending rock terraces to a large natural water tank (tinaja). Water may be present in the tanks after seasonal rains. (2.5 miles round trip, moderately strenuous, rock scrambling and route finding skills recommended).
4. TURTLEHEAD PEAK: From Sandstone Quarry the trail heads north over a narrow rise, in and out of a wash, then continues for a short distance along the northwest side of Turtlehead Peak. Scramble up a ravine to the saddle and follow the steep ridge to the top. The trail is intermittent and composed of loose rock. (5 miles round trip, very strenuous).
5. KEYSTONE THRUST: From upper White Rock Springs parking lot take the trail north across the wash, and up the hill. The Keystone Thrust trail " T's" off the La Madre Springs loop to the right approximately 1/4 mile from the parking lot. Take the right fork up the stairs to where it then joins an old jeep road, continuing uphill to the left. The trail traverses a low ridge, heads down into a small canyon, onto the Keystone Thrust Fault where the gray limestone meets the red and tan sandstone. (2.2 miles round trip, moderate hike).
6. WHITE ROCK TO WILLOW SPRINGS: From the upper parking lot at White Rock Springs, take the trail on the west side to where it splits. The trail to the right descends to a guzzler (man made water hole). The trail to the left heads downhill and through a wash, then climbs over a ridge and drops you into the Lost Creek area (2 miles). From there it is only a short distance to Willow Springs. Starting from Willow Springs, just reverse the previous instructions. (4.4 miles round trip, easy to moderate hike).
7. WHITE ROCK/LA MADRE SPRINGS LOOP: This trail can be started at White Rock Springs or Willow Springs, and can be done in either direction. By starting at Willow Springs, hikers can deal with the steep climb to White Rock near the beginning of the hike, rather than at the end. When you come to a fork with a sign reading "White Rock Springs 2.2 miles", take the uphill trail to the left. Follow it to White Rock upper parking lot, continuing east from the lot. When the trail forks, go left and follow the trail until it intersects an old dirt road. Follow that road downhill to where it forks to the left, returning you to Willow Springs, or right to La Madre Spring. (6 miles round trip, moderate).
8. LOST CREEK CHILDREN'S DISCOVERY TRAIL: From the Lost Creek parking area, take the trail to the right. The Willow Springs Loop intersects this trail and shares it until it splits off at Site #3. Continue on this loop until just beyond Site #4, where another path heads uphill to a seasonal waterfall. Return by the same route. This popular trail may be crowded at times as it is used by many school groups. (.7 mile round trip, easy).
9. WILLOW SPRINGS LOOP: From the parking lot, follow the trail by the pit toilets south. This takes you past a pictograph site and Agave roasting pits, to the Lost Creek Parking lot. There the trail heads to the right to where the two trails fork, at Site #3. Bear to the right and continue to the Willow Springs Parking lot. Part of this trail is paved and is readily accessible from the parking lot. (1. 5 miles round trip, easy).
10. LA MADRE SPRINGS: From the Willow Springs Parking lot, walk the dirt road west up the canyon, cross a wash and go to the right when the road splits. Continue uphill to the dam, then follow the foot trail to the springs. Return to Willow Springs the same way. (3 miles round trip, moderate).
11. SMYC TRAIL: This trail can be accessed from either Lost Creek or Ice Box Trail. It follows the terrain at the base of the escarpment and connects the two trails mentioned above. (2. 2 miles round trip, moderate).
12. ICE BOX CANYON: From the parking lot, the trail heads down across the wash and up the other side toward the canyon. The trail is well defined as it leads you up the side of the canyon for approximately 1/4 of a mile. It then drops into the bottom of the canyon. From this point the trail becomes a route over or around boulders as it continues upstream. The official trail ends at the large ponderosa pine tree in the bottom of the canyon (2. 5 miles round trip). To reach the upper pool filled by a seasonal waterfall, be prepared for some tricky wall scrambling, and a 3 mile round trip. Return to the parking lot the same way. (moderately strenuous).
13. DALE'S TRAIL: This trail can be accessed from either Ice Box Trail or Pine Creek Trail. It follows the terrain at the base of the escarpment and connects the two above mentioned trails. (4. 4 mile round trip, moderate).
14. PINE CREEK CANYON: Take the trail downhill from the parking lot, following it toward the canyon. The trail is intersected twice by the Fire Ecology Trail and by Dale's Trail, then forks near the old Wilson homestead foundation. This part of the trail is a loop and is easier to follow to the left where it goes downhill, across a stream, then uphill to the intersection of the Arnight Trail. Continue up the canyon crossing the wash, and eventually return to the main trail on the opposite side of the homestead. Follow it back to the parking lot. (2. 9 mile round trip, moderate).
15. FIRE ECOLOGY TRAIL: This double-loop trail, accessed via the Pine Creek Trail, exits and enters the Pine Creek Trail from the south. Take the trail to the left heading toward the escarpment, across a bridge and over a rise to enter the second loop. Return across the same bridge and follow the trail back to the Pine Creek Trail. (.75 miles round trip, easy).
16. OAK CREEK CANYON TRAIL: Take the Oak Creek turnoff from the scenic loop drive to a small parking lot. The trail heads across the open desert to the mouth of Oak Creek Canyon. (2 miles round trip, easy).
17. ARNIGHT TRAIL: The Arnight Trail connects the Oak Creek parking lot with the end loop on Pine Creek Trail. Starting at the parking lot, across from the Oak Creek Trail head, it heads toward the escarpment gaining elevation until it joins the Pine Creek Trail just above the loop junction. Approximately 1/2 mile before the trail connects with Pine Creek, another trail called the Knoll Trail intersects it on the left. (2. 4 miles round trip, moderate).
18. KNOLL TRAIL: This trail links the upper sections of the Arnight Trail and the Oak Creek Trail, following the base of the escarpment and will eventually connect with First Creek Trail. (1.9 mile one-way, easy to moderate). You can combine this trail with the Oak Creek and Arnight Trails for a 3. 5 mile round trip, moderate hike.
19. FIRST CREEK CANYON TRAIL: Take Charleston Blvd. (State Route 159), south of the scenic loop terminus, for 2.6 miles to the First Creek Trailhead. The trail leads to the mouth of the canyon, following the left side of the wash for a distance; some rock scrambling is required thereafter. Seasonal waterfalls can be found in the canyon. (2 .5 miles round trip, moderately strenuous).
20. GRAND CIRCLE ADVENTURE: This trail starts at the fee booth parking area, heads toward the Calico Hills Trail and onto Sandstone Quarry, then continues on to the White Rock Springs upper parking lot. From there, it heads down the hill toward Willow Springs, but veers to the left at a junction on top of the ridge. It then crosses the scenic loop drive and continues downhill to the visitor center. (11 miles round trip, strenuous).
21. ESCARPMENT BASE TRAIL: A combination of the SMYC, Dale's and Arnight trails, this is a good one-way hike or a more adventurous round-trip. The one-way version requires parking a vehicle in Lost Creek and car pooling down to the Oak Creek parking area. (5. 2 miles one way; moderate). The round trip version can be done from either end. (10. 4 miles round trip, strenuous).
22. OVERLOOK TRAIL: This paved path leads to the top of a small hill behind the helicopter pad, and is easily accessible from the parking lot, providing a marvelous view of Red Rock Canyon and the escarpment. (.25 mile round trip, easy to moderate, wheelchair accessible).
23. BRIDGE MOUNTAIN TRAIL: This difficult trail is accessed from the summit of Rocky Gap Road. 4X4 vehicle is required.