Published on: 05/14/2023
In terms of things to be famous for, the state of Nevada has two things going for it: the city of Las Vegas and Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Both of which are conveniently located in the same place.
If you are planning a trip to Red Rock, keep reading. Below you’ll find all the information you might need to enjoy a climbing trip of a lifetime in one of the Western United States’ best climbing areas.
Brief History of Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
In 1990, special legislation transformed Red Rocks’ status to a National Conservation Area (1). At the time, it was Nevada’s first National Conservation Area and the seventh to be designated in the nation.
Now the area is visited by more than two million people each year. Visitors enjoy Red Rock Canyon because of its 13-mile scenic loop, hiking trails, rock climbing, horseback riding, mountain biking, road biking, picnicking, wildlife observing, visitor center, and book store.
Red Rock Canyon is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the largest administrator of public lands in the West. The BLM adheres to the “multiple use mandate” (2) and is in charge of providing recreational opportunities and protecting natural and cultural resources, including wildlife.
The geological history of Red Rock Canyon (3) is wildly interesting and diverse. It’s so impressive that Red Rocks is more than just a climbing destination – it’s an area of worldwide geologic interest.
Within the boundaries of the conservation area, you can find Aztec sandstone, limestone, dolomite, dinosaur tracks, and one of the best exposures of the Keystone Thrust Fault– a fault line that was first exposed in the Mesozoic Era and can be traced to Canada.
Native American History
For thousands of years, native people lived in the area (4) and the surrounding Mojave desert. There is evidence of their existence in the form of agave roasting pits (ancient kitchens), petroglyphs (art sketched on the rock), and pictographs (art painted on the rock).
The springs and many natural catch basins in the Red Rock Canyon Range sustain an abundance of plants and animals, which attracted Southern Paiute Indians, ancestral Puebloan Indians, Desert Archaic peoples, and Paleoarchaic peoples.
Desert tortoises, rabbits, bighorn sheep, mule deer, and quail were among the animals hunted and harvested. Many plants were used as food and medicine, including pinyon pine nuts, manzanitas, prickly pear cactus fruits, agave hearts, yucca fruits, and many other plants.
The Native American people of the Red Rock Canyon Range lived in the desert valley in the fall and winter and migrated to the hills and mountains in the spring and summer.
How To Get There
For those who do not live nearby, the easiest way to get to Red Rock Canyon is to fly into Las Vegas International Airport.
From there, you can rent a car to get to and from your accommodations and the superb climbing in Red Rock.
However, due to its location in Southern Nevada, Red Rock is also a common destination for road trippers and van lifers from nearby major cities.
For example, it’s only five hours from Los Angeles, San Diego, and Phoenix and less than seven hours from Salt Lake City and Tucson.
However, because Red Rocks is one of the finest rock climbing areas in the country, climbers drive from even further away to sample the stone.
Where To Stay
Because Red Rocks is so close to Las Vegas, there is no shortage of places to stay. You can find any accommodation for any budget.
If you want a cheap hotel room, you can stay on the Las Vegas strip. Indeed, most places have vacancies for less than $100 per night. Just be ready to deal with the shenanigans that come with staying downtown.
However, if you want the most “authentic climber-friendly experience” (in my opinion), I would recommend camping. There are two popular camping areas nearby that climbers frequently stay at.
- Red Rock Canyon Campground (7): camping at Red Rock Canyon Campground is reservation and fee-based.
The campground is well-kept, super close to the entrance of the Scenic Drive, and has everything you need– picnic tables, shelters, fire rings, bathrooms, and water.
However, there’s no reliable cell service in the campground.
- Lovell Canyon: the most popular and somewhat nearby area for free dispersed camping (8) is Lovell Canyon. These sites are first-come-first-serve and are considered primitive. Lovell Canyon does not offer any resources or facilities, like bathrooms or water. However, the area is quiet, and beautiful, and does get decent cell service.
Climbing at Red Rock
There are thousands of rock climbs in Red Rocks with easy, moderate, and expert routes and boulders, ranging from mega classic 5.6 all the way up to 5.12+.
The climbing in Red Rocks is predominately comprised of traditional and sport routes. The multi-pitch routes are found deep within the various canyons, while the sport routes are just a few minutes from the road on well-established trails.
But Red Rock is also famous for its bouldering. It has everything from classic v1 boulders in Calico Basin to Daniel Woods’ Return of the Sleep Walker (9), proposed at v17.
So whether you want to tick classic traditional climbs on black or varnished rock in Black Velvet Canyon (10), boulder in Kraft Mountain (11), or go single pitching at the Sandstone Quarry (12), there is good quality sandstone for all to enjoy.
Now, let’s take a closer look at some of my favorite areas in Red Rock Canyon.
Calico is one of Red Rocks’ most popular areas. That’s because it’s located outside the scenic drive and does not require a timed-entry reservation. Plus, the climbing is good too.
Many of the climbs in this area are classic but much shorter in length. You can sport climb at the monolithic Cannibal Crag, plug gear at Riding Hood Wall, or boulder in the Kraft Mountain Area. Just be ready for crowds and lineups for the most popular route locations.
Classic Routes in Calico Basin
- Physical Graffiti, 5.6 (4b)
- Big Bad Wolf, 5.9 (5b)
- The Fox, 5.10+ (5c)
- Caustic Cock, 5.11b (6c)
- Hotline, 5.12c (7b+)
First and Second Pullouts
If you are a sport climber, then you’ll want to check out the crags accessed from the First (13) or Second Pullouts (14). Many of the crags are a short distance from the car and come with impressive views of the surrounding conservation area.
Although technically two different areas, the First and Second Pullouts were the first climbing areas to be developed in the Calico Hills. Originally, they were less popular because the routes were not fully bolted. But now, thanks to modern bolting ethics, the Pullouts have something for everyone. There are even some hyper-moderate and classic harder trad climbs also.
Classic Routes in the first pullout
- Tuna and Chips, 5.7 (4c)
- Brief Encounter, 5.8 (5a)
- Divine Comedy, 5.10a (5c)
- Cujo, 5.11d (7a)
- Celebrity roast, 5.12d (7c)
Classic Routes in the Second Pullout
- Neon Sunset, 5.8 (5a)
- Haunted Hooks, 5.10c (6a+)
- Glitter Gulch, 5.11a (6b+)
- Yaak Crack, 5.11c (6c+)
- California 12a, 5.13a (7c+)
The Quarry is an easily accessible roadside sport climber’s dream. It’s named after several quarried blocks just north of the parking lot.
This area has a nice selection of crags with pleasant surroundings. Plus, it tends to see fewer crowds when compared to those located at the First and Second Pull Outs.
Classic Routes in the Quarry Area
- Chrysler Crack, 5.9 (5b)
- Friction Face Panty Waist, 5.9 (5b)
- Running Man, 5.11c (6c+)
- Agent Orange, 5.12b (7b)
- Monster Skank, 5.13b (8a)
Pine Creek Canyon
Pine Creek is a beautiful, lush drainage system with year-round running water, impressive desert flora, and incredible scenery.
Also, Pine Creek Canyon is home to some of Red Rock’s most accessible classic climbs, such as Cat in the Hat (16), Dark Shadows (17), and Birdland (18). Fortunately, there is a ton more to do, like great single pitches along the Brass Wall, and lesser-known (and harder) classics on Challenger or Jet Stream Wall.
Classic Routes in Pine Creek
- Cookie Monster, 5.7 (4c)
- Topless Twins, 5.9 (5b)
- Mushroom People, 5.10c (6a+)
- Out of Control, 5.10c (6a+)
- Adventure Punks, 5.10d (6b)
Compared to some of the other areas, Juniper Canyon is smaller in size, but there is no shortage of fantastic climbing and jaw-dropping scenery. Juniper Canyon is home to tons of classic routes on the Rose Tower (19), Brownstone Wall (20), Rainbow Wall (21), and Ginger Buttress (22).
Whether you want to climb exposed 5.6 with wild natural features, 5.7 slabs or send it deep into the backcountry for an attempt on the fabled Rainbow Wall, this canyon has it all.
Classic Routes in the Juniper Canyon Area
- Olive Oil, 5.7 (4c)
- Ginger Cracks, 5.9 (5b)
- The Nightcrawler, 5.10+ (5c)
- The Original Route, 5.12- (7a+)
- Cloud Tower, 5.12a (7a+)
Oak Creek Canyon
This huge drainage is one of the premier climbing areas in Red Rock. Sandwiched between the breathtaking Rainbow Mountain and Mt. Wilson, Oak Creek is home to some delightful multi-pitch routes.
If you are ready for significant walking, you can send it deep to Eagle Wall (23). If you want moderate routes, head to the Solar Slab Area. But if you want to avoid other climbing parties, check out the Cactus Flower Tower (24).
Classic Routes in Oak Creek
- Johnny Vegas, 5.7 (4c)
- Beulah’s Book, 5.9 (5b)
- Eagle Dance, 5.10c A0 (6a+)
- The Warrior, 5.11a (6b+)
- Levitation 29, 5.11b/c (6c/6c+)
Mt. Wilson (25) is the largest feature and tallest peak in the Red Rock skyline. Therefore, this area contains many of the longest routes, all with very long approaches and technical descents.
Due to Mt. Wilson’s position, many existing routes have the feel and scale of alpine routes. Therefore, any attempt to do a route on Mt. Wilson should be considered a serious undertaking.
Classic Routes on Mt. Wilson
- Sentimental Journey, 5.9 (5b)
- Aeolian Wall Original Route, 5.9 A3 (5b)
- Inti Watana, 5.10c (6a+)
- Dogma, 5.11c (6c+)
- Resolution Arete, 5.11d (7a)
Black Velvet Canyon
The impressive walls of Black Velvet Canyon (26) contain a superb concentration of classic multi-pitch routes with exposed face climbing. That’s because Black Velvet has dependable rock and relatively short and easy approaches.
Some would even argue that Black Velvet is the crown jewel of Red Rock.
Classic Routes in Black Velvet Canyon
- Frogland, 5.8 (5a)
- Epinephrine, 5.9 (5b)
- Dream of Wild Turkeys, 5.10a (5c)
- The Delicate Sound of Thunder, 5.11b (6c)
- The Shuffle, 5.13a PG13 (7c+)
Recommended Guide Books and Other Resources
The climbing in Red Rock is incredibly expansive. Fortunately, there are a lot of reliable sources with extensive route information to help you gather beta.
In terms of written guidebooks, Red Rocks: A Climber’s Guide II (27), written by Jerry Handren, is the most up-to-date and helpful.
Rock climbers can also gather helpful information from the local climbing shops, for example, Desert Rock Sports (28) or the Red Rock visitor center.
As always, and as you’ve probably noticed from the hyperlinks in this article, there is extensive information to help your next climbing trip in Red Rock on Mountain Project (29).
10 Tips to Have the Best Experience in Red Rocks
- Climbing at Red Rocks can get busy. To avoid crowds, and the inevitable rushed and competitive morning scene in the parking lot, get up earlier than you think and have a plan B.
- Break-ins are somewhat common – Avoid leaving tempting or valuable items in your car.
- Don’t forget to get a late exit permit or a one-night permit for long backcountry routes.
- Avoid climbing on wet rock after it rains. Climb inside at Red Rock Climbing Center (30) instead.
- Visit the local climbing shop – Desert Rock Sports (31) – to replace an old piece of gear, rent a crash pad, buy a guidebook, or just get a feel for the local climbing community.
- Know before you go– approaches can be long, and descents can be convoluted, so doing research on your specific route ahead of time will help you avoid any unwanted epics.
- Even if you don’t think you’ll need it, bring a headlamp. And while you’re at it, pack extra water and food too.
- If you think you might be late to the car, purchase a late-exit permit (32). They’re free–much cheaper than the citation you’ll get.
- If you are road-tripping or van living, you can take a cheap shower at the Red Rock Climbing Center.
- When camping at the official Red Rock Campground, you will not have cell service. But you can get decent reception just up the hill at the Moenkopi Trailhead (33).
Other Climbing Nearby Red Rock
Once you’re in Las Vegas and if the weather is good, there is no reason to climb anywhere else.
But if the local forecast calls for rain, or if you want to stop somewhere for more pitches before or after your visit, I’d recommend any of the following nearby climbing areas.
- Mount Charleston (34): premier limestone sport climbing in the mountains outside Las Vegas.
- The La Madre Range (35): limestone climbing on the southern escarpment of the La Madre Range in the northwest corner of the Las Vegas valley.
- Moe’s Valley (36): sandstone bouldering outside the city of Saint George in southwest Utah.
- Lime Kiln Canyon (37): limestone sport area east of Mesquite, NV.
Final Thoughts — Red Rock Canyon is a One-of-a-Kind Climbing Destination
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is a world-class and one-of-a-kind climbing destination. The amount of high-quality climbing, from big sandstone walls to roadside boulders, is awe-inspiring.
And all of it comes with the modern luxuries of a nearby mega-metropolis.
Red Rock has it all–whether you are planning your first trip to climb outside or have been climbing for years and haven’t experienced the beauty of Red Rock yet, book a trip as soon as possible.
You will not be disappointed. And when you get there, remember, have fun, and check your knots!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Timed entry reservations (38) are required for the Scenic Drive between October 1 – May 31 for entry between 8 a.m. -5 p.m. If you plan to bivy overnight in the backcountry, you need additional night bivi permits.
Due to its location in the Mojave Desert, the best time to climb Red Rocks is the Fall, Winter, or very early Spring, typically from October through May.
No, overnight camping is not allowed. Neither is overnight parking. However, if you plan to do a route deep in the backcountry, you can purchase an overnight bivy and parking permit (39) online.
Check out next: The 5 Best Sport Climbing Areas in the US
Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area (retrieved on 05/12/2023)
BLM’s “multiple use mandate” (retrieved on 05/12/2023)
Red Rock Canyon geology highlights (retrieved on 05/12/2023)
Red Rock Canyon a to Z: N is for Native Americans (retrieved on 05/12/2023)
Airbnb Las Vegas vacation rentals (retrieved on 05/12/2023)
Vrbo Las Vegas vacation rentals (retrieved on 05/12/2023)
Red Rock Canyon Campground (retrieved on 05/12/2023)
Dispersed camping (retrieved on 05/12/2023)
The North Face Presents: “Return of the Sleepwalker” (9A/v17) (First Ascent) (retrieved on 05/12/2023)
Black Velvet Canyon Rock Climbing (retrieved on 05/12/2023)
Kraft Mountain Area Climbing (retrieved on 05/12/2023)
Sandstone Quarry Climbing (retrieved on 05/12/2023)
First Pullout (Calico I) Climbing (retrieved on 05/12/2023)
Second Pullout (Calico II) Climbing (retrieved on 05/12/2023)
Cat in the Hat (retrieved on 05/12/2023)
Dark Shadows (Full) (retrieved on 05/12/2023)
Birdland (retrieved on 05/12/2023)
Rose Tower Climbing (retrieved on 05/12/2023)
Brownstone Wall Climbing (retrieved on 05/12/2023)
The Rainbow Wall Climbing (retrieved on 05/12/2023)
Ginger Buttress Climbing (retrieved on 05/12/2023)
Eagle Wall Rock Climbing (retrieved on 05/12/2023)
Cactus Flower Tower (retrieved on 05/12/2023)
Mt. Wilson Rock Climbing (retrieved on 05/12/2023)
Black Velvet Canyon Rock Climbing (retrieved on 05/12/2023)
A Climber’s Guide II (retrieved on 05/12/2023)
Desert Rock Sports (retrieved on 05/12/2023)
Red Rocks Rock Climbing (retrieved on 05/12/2023)
R2C2 (retrieved on 05/12/2023)
Desert Rock Sports (retrieved on 05/12/2023)
Red Rock Canyon Backcountry Late Exit Pass (retrieved on 05/12/2023)
Moenkopi Trailhead (retrieved on 05/12/2023)
Mount Charleston Climbing (retrieved on 05/12/2023)
La Madre Range Rock Climbing (retrieved on 05/12/2023)
Moe’s Valley Bouldering (retrieved on 05/12/2023)
Lime Kiln Canyon Climbing (retrieved on 05/12/2023)
Red Rock Canyon Scenic Drive Timed Entry (retrieved on 05/12/2023)
National Conservation Area of Red Rock Canyon (retrieved on 05/12/2023)