Red Rock Canyon Part 3: Hiking the Calico Tanks Trail

Red Rock Canyon Visitor CenterThe Calico Tanks Trail is a moderately strenuous two and a half mile (round trip) out and back hike through the valley and up the Calico Ridge. It took us about two and a half hours to complete the hike, including photo and rest stops. Your mileage may vary. I would recommend wearing hiking boots, though it is possible to traverse in sneakers. At minimum, you should bring plenty of water, a snack, a flashlight, a camera, and a hiking buddy. This time of year, early morning is probably the safest and most comfortable time to go – it can get very hot during the day and there is limited shade along this trail. You may just want to save this hike for when things cool off a bit.

Red Rock Canyon Calico TankWe did the hike one afternoon in early February. Weather-wise, Spring or Fall would be the best time for this hike. That gives you plenty of time to plan. Refer to the Red Rock Canyon Interpretive Association website for park hours and admission rates.

Upon arrival, it’s worth stopping at the visitor center before you start so you can use the facilities and get up to date information and advice from one of the friendly and informative guides. That’s how we found out about this fantastic hike in the first place. We asked for an easy to moderate hike that could be accomplished in 2-3 hours in sneakers. After getting an idea of our fitness and experience levels the guide told us about the Calico Tanks Trail. She said that visitors from outside of Las Vegas tend to enjoy the view at the end of this out and back hike. I think she may have downplayed it a bit.

Red Rock Canyon Calico Tanks TrailYou can access the Calico Tanks Trail from the Sandstone Quarry Trailhead. This is the third parking area past the visitor center, off of the scenic loop road. Like most hikes in Red Rock Canyon, Calico Tanks Trail provides interesting biology and geology with beautiful panoramic views along the way. The hike follows a sandstone path, then climbs towards the Calico Ridge over slick stone and boulders. There are a few mild ridges, and the trail requires some scrambling. There are stairs cut into the steeper sections.

The reason I recommend this particular hike is the payoff at the end. The Calico Tank is kind of neat. It’s large pool of collected water in the middle of the desert. Maybe you could get a cool photo with the mountains reflecting off the surface or something. You might see some small fish in the tank, or a larger desert animal stopping for a drink. But, this isn’t the real reason for hiking all the way out here. When you reach the tank, don’t turn back yet – the best is yet to come. Hike up around the saddle to the right and just beyond the tank…

The ultimate picnic spot!

The ultimate picnic spot!

For the most amazing panoramic view of Las Vegas! You can see the valley below, you can see the downtown Fremont Street casinos. You can see the strip from end to end. It’s breathtaking! There are a couple of well placed flat rocks that are perfect for a little picnic (don’t forget, leave no trace). It’s not the easiest or the shortest hike in Red Rock, nor is it the highest or most challenging. But as far as effort / reward ratio, this hike is a jackpot win! Plan some time to soak it all in, get some photos and relax a bit. Just remember to turn back before it gets too hot (especially in summer), or too near to closing time. I hope they will offer a guided night hike out here so I can take in the view at night!

Click to view the full-size panorama (8000 x 1166 pixels)!

Click to display full-screen and click again to view the full-size panorama (12883 x 1878 pixels)!


  • Really, if you haven’t already done so, click the panoramic image above. If that doesn’t convince you to go on this hike, nothing will!
  • The Bird and Hike website offers a great detailed trail guide for this and many other Las Vegas area hikes. Print it out before you go.


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Red Rock Canyon Part 1: Driving the Scenic Road
Red Rock Canyon Part 2: Guided Night Hikes

Welcome to LasVegasOffStrip!

On October 1, 2012 a new blog will launch, LasVegasOffStrip.

Las Vegas is the most American of cities, a melting pot of cultures from around the country and around the globe. It is a city passionate about freedom, full of beauty, talent and spirit.

Many tourists never venture far from the spectacle known as the Las Vegas Strip, but that is only one part of what makes the city great. Join me as I chronicle the bars, restaurants and attractions of the rest of Las Vegas. Eat Chicago style pizza for lunch, Vietnamese home-cooking for dinner and Hawaiian style oxtail soup for a hearty late-night snack. Get a steak dinner for $8 (with beer), or a bucket of shrimp for $4.50. Drink an authentic Zombie in a tiki bar or a Brandy Alexander in a modern speakeasy. Enjoy free concerts on the street and talented performances in the bars. Then venture a little farther afield and enjoy the serenity of the mountains or take in a free tour at a world famous American automaker.

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