||8.8 miles roundtrip
||Hilly, 1000 feet of elevation gain
||Spring, Fall, Winter
- Bathing in a natural hot spring
- Rugged desert scenery and views of the Colorado River
- View of Liberty Arch
I was expecting Arizona Hot Spring to be cool, but I never imagined that this hike would be one of the most memorable of 2019! In addition to nature's spa, you'll find a stone arch, absolutely beautiful views of the Colorado River, and desert scenery every step of the way. Forget the other attractions in Las Vegas, the nearby hiking is the real destination.
The hike starts by following a trail underneath the highway bridges and into the white gravel wash pictured below. The trail isn't well-defined here since the wash is wide and plants are spread thin, but the footsteps in the soft, crunchy rock underfoot will give you a general direction to head.
The wide wash at the start of the hike
Since this is a loop, you can choose to go either direction, but each way has its own pros and cons. In my opinion, going counter-clockwise and stopping by Liberty Bell Arch first is the best method since the descent is more gradual, you can visit the arch before you're too tired to consider it, and you can relax in the hot spring after a long trek; however, the split in the trail isn't obvious, and you may unwittingly end up going to the hot spring first (which is exactly what happened to me). That isn't the end of the world, and maybe you'll be thankful for the more gradual ascent from the river and out of the canyon.
I'll describe the remainder of the hike as I did it: going to Arizona Hot Spring first. Further down the wash, look for a neon streamer tied to a bush indicating where you leave the wash by going up a hill to the left. After some rolling terrain, you'll begin a steep descent into the canyon at around the point pictured below.
Looking down into the canyon
Due to the nature of the rocky steepness, the trail isn't always well-defined; look for neon streamers indicating the general direction and choose the safest route down the rocks. About halfway to the hot spring, the trail levels out at a dry creek bed at the bottom of the canyon. Occasionally, you'll have to descend some steep portions where there would otherwise be rapids or a small waterfall if the "creek" was wet. Keep following the "creek" and you'll eventually run into the hot spring, a series of pools flooding a slot canyon as pictured below.
The clear, steaming waters of Arizona Hot Spring
As recommended by a park ranger, keep your shoes on to prevent burning your feet on the hot rocks. The first pool you meet is the hottest, and they become cooler the further downstream you go. Take some time to relax and enjoy the nature's spa! And don't be surprised if you see a foreigner/old person entirely nude! One crucially important note: do not fully submerge your head to protect yourself from a rare but potentially lethal amoeba that only enters through the nose.
At the end of the hot spring, you'll find the 20-foot metal ladder pictured below. Carefully descend (especially since your shoes will be wet), and continue following the "creek" through the slot canyon. On the right, watch for a marker and some paint on the right side (which of course is hidden by a tree) pointing uphill. If you reach the campsite by the river, you've gone too far.
Descending this ladder in wet shoes is quite scary
Although the hot spring was pretty cool, as was the Liberty Bell Arch later on in the hike, this next section was my favorite part. Routefinding here is a bit of a challenge, but a series of brown markers staked into the ground and arrows painted on the rocks indicate the general direction -- as stated on the official park map linked at the bottom of the page, there are multiple "trails" here. The views here are nothing short of stunning: the water of the Colorado River is a surprising emerald color (as pictured below) and lined by incredible cliffs and rock formations. Another surprising phenomenon was the presence of what I assumed were local teenagers (on a Friday!) who each claimed their own spot alongside the trail to sit, read, and nap (can anyone else offer an explanation for this?).
The Colorado River is a bright green here
For most of this section, the river will remain on your left. A final brown marker will indicate where you turn into another dry creek bed leading to another slot canyon. Just as I had along the river, I encountered more teens reading or napping against rock walls around each bend in the canyon. This segment of the hike certainly will feel like the longest. Your legs will tire from the soft gravel as you meander through the never-ending shadows of the slot canyon, similar to the picture below.
The slot canyon and it's vertical rock walls
After an eternity, look for a sign on the left indicating the trail to Liberty Bell Arch -- this is one of the few well-defined intersections. (Also, I don't know if the sun or the endless canyon was getting to me, but I swear I saw a fully nude man walking up the hill here, without shoes or clothes in his hands and miles away from any body of water). Most of this trail is uphill, so hopefully your legs can handle it after an already long hike.
At some point after cresting a hill, you'll see the piece of old mining equipment in the first picture below. Up another hill beyond that, you'll reach the nice view in the second picture below, with the snaking trail clearly visible on the bottom right and the mountain hiding the arch directly in the center.
Old mining equipment on the way to Liberty Bell Arch
The rugged desert terrain with the arch in the distance
The trail follows the terrain down and then up again until you reach a viewpoint of Liberty Bell Arch from a distance. Continue on the trail for a closer look, as pictured below, and to ascend to a scenic view of the Colorado River.
The final stretch of trail between the arch and the viewpoint is steep with several switchbacks on rocky terrain. The uphill struggle is worth it though -- see the picture below of the southern view. To the north, you can see the arch of the Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge spanning the canyon. While the Grand Canyon is the Colorado River's greatest sculpture, the remainder of its works are still breathtaking.
The view of the Colorado River looking south
Retrace your steps back to the dry creek bed, then turn left and continue to the wash from the beginning of the trail. The highway bridge should be visible in the distance, taunting your inability to hike faster.
This hike is chock full of interesting scenery and worthwhile stopping points. Visit here when you want an escape from the excess of Las Vegas, and stop by the Hoover Dam on the way back for some less active fun! Let me know what you think in the comments section below and be sure to use #nocoastbestcoast on Twitter
While dogs are permitted on all trails in the park, they are not allowed in bathing areas, including the hot spring. In addition, a 20-foot vertical ladder would dogs from completing the loop. Instead, you can skip the hot springs and take the White Rock Canyon Trail to the Colorado River and back or go to the Liberty Bell Arch.
This is not a family-friendly hike, nor are any of the alternatives family-friendly due to the distance and elevation gain required (the shortest hike to Liberty Bell Arch is still over 5 miles!). You can hike here in the fall, winter, and spring, but this trailhead is closed during the oppressive summer heat from mid-May until the end of September. The hot spring makes this a popular destination -- on the Friday I visited, there were several groups sitting in the hot spring, and plenty more people near the Colorado River.
From Las Vegas, take Interstate 11/U.S. Highway 93 towards the Hoover Dam. After crossing over the Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge over the Colorado River into Arizona, watch for a sign indicating White Rock Canyon Trailhead Access. Use the left turn lane after the sign, and follow the road to the parking lot.
Google Maps Directions
Parking, Fees, and Facilities
Unlike the rest of the park, no fee or pass is required at this trailhead parking lot. There are no facilities here.