Many don’t stray far from the strip when coming to Las Vegas. The densely-packed city center encourages visitors to spend as much time and money at the casinos, clubs and restaurants. After spending a few days on Freemont and then Las Vegas Boulevard, we decided to venture outside the area and take in a piece of the beautiful Nevada countryside.
About 30 minutes from the strip you can make your way to the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. This nearly 200,000-acre park houses some dramatic sand stone cliffs known as the Keystone Thrust. The unique color striping of the rock provides an exceptional view that is very different from anything you will find in Las Vegas.
We traveled to the park via a rental car. It’s a very easy drive. Once you reach the entrance, you’ll need to pay a $7 fee per vehicle. They also charge $3 for pedestrians and bicycles so you won’t be able to sneak in that way. The line to enter the park was very long on a Saturday afternoon. We ended up waiting around 20 minutes to enter the park. Once in the park you start your journey down the 13-mile scenic drive loop that runs through the park. The speed limit is very slow and was very busy with cars, bikes and runners so make sure to plan for some time getting to your trailhead. It took us about 15 more minutes to go 3 miles to the Turtlehead Peak trailhead.
The parking lot was busy but we found a spot pretty easily. The trailhead is well marked and near the back end of the parking lot past the pit toilets. As we set out on the trail we were accompanied by many other hikers. A number of trails start at this location so the large groups of people tended to thin out as we made our way down the Turtlehead trail. It’s marked difficult and many of the other hikes were much easier.
I decided on this hike because I wanted a challenge. The hike is a 4.5 mile out and back with about 2000 feet of elevation gain. The first mile is gradual but once you reach the base of Turtlehead Peak, it quickly gets much steeper. The trail is well worn but poorly marked at times. From the state of the area surrounding the trail, people have a tendency to stray from it quite often making it hard to always follow the correct path. There are green trail markers but they are old and spaced out so they often don’t help. Many others have done this before so you can easily follow a trail map.
The hike offers increasingly dramatic views of the canyon and the red rocks near the base of the peak. The trail itself is gravel and can be tricky at times but overall is only difficult due to the grade. You will need to traverse a couple small to medium size boulders. We reached the summit in 1 hour and 8 minutes. Once at the summit, you’ll have a stunning panoramic of the range and can even see the strip in the distance.
We had a snack and met some Hawaiians that thought our Wisconsin ascent was funny and headed down the mountain. I decided to run and made it down in about 25 minutes. It took my friends another 20 minutes to descend. We hopped in the car and enjoyed the views for the last 10 miles of the scenic drive.
If you’re ever in Las Vegas, it would be a shame not to go out and visit Red Rock. Whether it be for a hike, to go rock climbing or simply cruise the scenic drive, it will be well worth your time.