Calico Tanks

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Nevada

Trip Date: Friday, November 9th, 2018
Last Updated: Wednesday, February 20th, 2019
By Ricky Holzer

Hike Information

Rating ★★★★☆(4/5)
Overall Difficulty Moderate
Navigation Difficulty     Medium
Distance 2.2 miles roundtrip
Time 1.5 hours
Terrain Hilly
Best Seasons Spring, Fall, Winter
Family Friendly Yes
Dog Friendly Yes
Accessible No

Highlights

Hike Walkthrough

While most people associate Las Vegas with gambling and partying, not far from that epicenter of indulgence you'll find amazing hiking at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. One of the most popular trails is this scenic route in the Calico Tanks, named for the rock formation with alternating patches of red and white color. At the end of the trail, you'll enjoy views of the Strip's towering hotels. In addition to incredible scenery, the Calico Tanks Trail is adventurously fun as you follow stone cairns across giant slabs and climb rocky steps to the final viewpoint where you can choose to scramble even higher up the massive rock formation. Whether you're trying to sweat out the previous night's mistakes or looking for a healthy alternative to buffets, this hike will leave you satisfied.

From the parking lot, follow the trail into the desert. On the right you'll see blobby beige and rusty brown rock formations -- the Calico Tanks. Behind you, you'll see the tall cliffs with the colorful bands of alternating rock layers Red Rock Canyon is known for, as pictured below. Pay attention to the trail as it trail crosses the gravelly wash or you may lose your way. Worst case scenario, you can follow the wash north and you'll eventually find the trail again. Shortly after crossing the wash, continue going straight at the intersection with the Turtlehead Peak Trail.

The sun setting with the walls of Red Rock Canyon in the distance

The sun setting with the walls of Red Rock Canyon in the distance

After traveling alongside the Calico Tanks, the trail turns right and enters a gorge between two of the giant rock formations. It's all uphill from here on out, and the trail can be quite steep with some segments of stair-like rocks. In a couple areas, the trail travels on top of solid rock, as pictured below, and you'll have to determine the best route, though you may find some stone cairns to help guide you.
The trail travels on top of these red and white rocks

The trail travels on top of these red and white rocks

Just before the end, the trail descends shortly and then you'll climb a rocky route to the notch between the two rock formations. Your reward awaits at the top! You'll be able to see all the way across the Las Vegas Valley with the skyline prominently rising above the desert floor, as shown in the first picture below. Further to the right, you can see mountains rising beyond the rust-colored rocks, as shown in the second picture below. If you're feeling adventurous, feel free to scramble higher up the rocks for a better view.
The skyline of the Vegas Strip and downtown beyond the calico colored rocks

The skyline of the Vegas Strip and downtown beyond the calico colored rocks

Red rocks and mountains in the distance

Red rocks and mountains in the distance

The way back is straightforward, but take your time on the steep downhill sections and when routefinding on solid rock. Once out of the gorge, you'll really enjoy the view of the red rocks in the distance as pictured earlier.

The Calico Tanks Trail is just one example of the spectacular hiking near Las Vegas, so on your next trip step away from the Strip to somewhere natural and beautiful! You'll love the colorful rocks and the fun but challenging trail to a great city view. Let me know what you think in the comments section below and be sure to use #nocoastbestcoast on Twitter and Instagram!

Important Information

Dogs are allowed on leash. This trail is short enough that it should be doable for kids, and the opportunity for adventuring on rocks at the end will be especially fun. Summer temperatures are brutally hot, so hike this trail in the fall, winter, and spring when the weather is nice. In any season, bring plenty of water and wear sun protection. This is one of the most popular trails in the park, so expect a crowd.

Directions

From Las Vegas, take Clark County Highway 215 west and take the exit for Charleston Boulevard in Summerlin. Turn left and continue straight. Turn right on Red Rock Canyon Drive, signed for the park and visitor center. Pay your fee at the drive-up station ahead, then continue onto Scenic Loop Drive. Turn right to park in the Sandstone Quarry parking area.

Google Maps Directions

Parking, Fees, and Facilities

Vehicle entry fees are $15 per day or $30 for an annual pass (a serious bargain if you think you'll come here at least one more time this year). Federal Interagency Passes (i.e. America the Beautiful Pass) are also accepted here. More information is available at the park's "Planning Your Visit" page under "Fees and Passes". This trailhead is extremely popular, so finding a spot may be difficult -- come early! There are pit toilets and a map kiosk here.

External Links

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