Less than half an hour from the mega-resorts that make up the Las Vegas Strip, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is about as far from the strip as you are likely to get. Wildlife here comes in the form of lizards, burros and longhorn sheep. It’s quiet and peaceful here, and there is very little that is man-made. I have yet to spot a slot machine or a craps table here. So, if you’re looking for the perfect escape from the games, the resorts and the endless party that is the City of Lights – drive out here and you can get away from it all. It’s like a mini vacation. For the Vegas traveler, consider it a vacation from your vacation, so to speak.
The entrance to Red Rock Canyon is located just off Route 159 (West Charelston Blvd / Blue Diamond Rd) west of Summerlin. There is a small gate where you pay your entrance fee ($7 per car, $3 per motorcycle, cash only) and receive your park pass. Just past the gate to the left you will find a visitor center where you can pick up some souvenirs, learn a bit about the park and its wildlife, and get visitor information from one of their friendly, helpful guides. Restrooms and drinking fountains are available as well.
The best way to experience the beauty and serenity of Red Rock Canyon is to get out of your car and go for a hike, and there are numerous trails of varying lengths and difficulties for you to explore – when you have the time to do so. I plan to share with you a couple of the trails I have enjoyed in upcoming posts. But, if you lack the time or the mobility to go hiking, there is still much that can be seen from the road.The park loop road at Red Rock Canyon is one of the most beautiful drives I have ever been on. In fact, the photo I use for the Las Vegas Off Strip logo at the top of each page was taken while driving the park loop road (It’s okay, I was in the passenger seat at the time). The road is thirteen miles long, with lots of twists and turns and about a dozen scenic pullouts where you can stop, stretch, take pictures – even have a picnic. The speed limit ranges from 15-35 mph, and the road is one way, so plan at least forty minutes driving time – plus stops. I find that budgeting two to three hours gives me just enough time to stop and enjoy each of the scenic vistas along the way and get a few pictures. If you only have time to stop at one turnoff, make it the “High Point Overlook.” It will be the fourth turnout after the visitor center. This is a large parking and picnic area at roughly the northern-most point of the loop. From here you get a stunning panoramic view of the mountains, and if the sky is clear (it almost always is) you might spot a couple of those mega-resorts in the valley below.
If you plan to picnic, the Willow Springs Picnic Area would be an excellent choice. There are a quite a few tables set up under a fantastic willow tree. There are also toilet facilities here. Wide pathways and gentle grade make this area (at least somewhat) wheelchair accessible. To reach it, take the second right after the High Point Overlook.
If you need a break from the loud, smokey, perfumed, artificial atmosphere of the casinos, take in some fresh air and beautiful mountain scenery in Red Rock Canyon. The short ride and small admission fee are well worth it. The road is well maintained and easy to follow, with plenty of places along the way to stop and enjoy the view. And unlike the rest of Sin City, the photos you take here will probably be safe to show to Mom.
- While it may be tempting to pull off to the shoulder of the road, doing so is both dangerous and it’s against the rules. Use the designated pulloffs, there are plenty of them.
- Do not feed the animals. Wildlife can become dependent on human feeding, and feeding them can also be dangerous. Admire the desert creatures from a safe distance, and keep your food for yourself.
- If you are a fan of fast and exotic cars, keep your eyes and ears open. There is a sports car tour that comes through here regularly with Ferraris, Lamborghinis and other exotics. Go near sunset for your best chance to see them in action.
- Sunset is the best time to see, and photograph Red Rock Canyon. As the sun gets low on the horizon it casts amazing shadows over the mountains and the desert.
- Your admission is good for 24 hours, so if you miss something and want to go back you can simply re-enter the loop at the entrance gate.
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