I know a lot of people think taking kids to Las Vegas is a big parenting no-no. But we actually enjoy it. I think that’s because we always make time to head outdoors and explore what the area has to offer beyond the glitz and neon of the Strip.
When it comes to natural lands, the No. 1 most often recommended place to check out near Vegas is Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Hiking Red Rock Canyon in Las Vegas is very family friendly – and leaves you feeling like you’re a world away from the Strip, even though you’re not. It’s truly breathtaking. Trust me.
This roughly 200,000-acre national conservation area is a public land administered by the Bureau of Land Management. It features some amazing geology that wows kids and adults alike. There’s lots here for families to check out including the 13-mile scenic drive, a beautiful visitor center, more than 30 miles of hiking trails and lots of opportunities for observing nature.
When we visited in December, we started at the Visitor Center, where the first thing you notice is the awe-inspiring view out the back window. Here you can pick up some information on hiking trails, talk to park staff and read about area plants and wildlife. Outside, there are some cool exhibits worth a look-see, divided up into themes of earth, wind, fire and water.
From the Visitor Center into the park, you’ll take the only road you can follow, the one-way, single-lane scenic drive. There are lots of stops to choose from along this road. For a close-up view of the iconic red rocks, plan to stop at the first turnout, Calico I. From here, the Calico Hills trail runs along the base of Calico Rocks and is an ideal spot for kids of all ages to put their rock scrambling skills to use.
This is a moderately difficult trail, but we found the rocks easy to grip and maneuver (they are made of sandstone), which afforded us some amazing views as we climbed higher and higher. Spend as much or as little time here as you like – the trail continues for 6 miles.
Our second stop was Lost Creek Children’s Discovery Trail, a .7-mile route located a little past the half-way point on the scenic drive. It’s a bit tricky to find the trail from the parking area – just be sure to take the path to the right of the parking lot.
Along the trail, there’s lot to see that offers insight into how the native people lived. There’s an agave roasting pit site, a pictograph (it takes a clever eye to spot), and (maybe) a waterfall if you visit between January and March. These cultural resources are considered precious artifacts to respect and protect, so stay on the marked trail.
The plant life here is lush and the area feels completely different from Calico Rocks. In enjoying both hikes, you really get a good sense of how varied Red Rock Canyon geology is.
We spent about 2.5 hours exploring Red Rock Canyon, and could probably have stayed longer. We were lucky enough to catch the sunset as we drove out.
If you time your visit like we did, you might want to treat yourself to a date night dinner at Red Rock Canyon Casino Spa Resort, just a few minutes’ drive away. The hotel hosts Kids Quest, a pay-by-the-hour childcare center (read: indoor playground and more) that our kids consider a real treat. And we don’t mind grabbing a bite to eat and some adult conversation at one of the many hotel restaurants while they play.
- There is a $7 day use fee; free entrance with the America the Beautiful Pass
- Red Rock Canyon is open 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. November through February, 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. in March & October, 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. April through September
- The Visitor Center is open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily
- Dress in layers during the fall and winter, since temperatures can change quickly
- Bring plenty of water if you plan on hiking – a gallon per day is recommended. This is especially important during the summer, when temperatures can average more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Restrooms are available at the Visitor Center; it’s portable potties at most turnouts along the scenic loop
- No restaurants or other food concessions available within the park
- If your kids are fans of the Junior Ranger programs, check out the free downloadable activity book to learn about the area and become a Junior Explorer
Red Rock Canyon is about 25 miles west of the Las Vegas Strip, which is about a 30-minute drive.
If you’re coming from the Vegas Strip, hop on the I-15. Head south until it meets up with the 215 West. After about 13.5 miles, exit Charleston Boulevard. Turn left and continue on State Route 159/West Charleston Boulevard for 5.5 miles. The buildings and development will eventually fall away as you approach the entrance to Red Rock Canyon on your right.
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is located at:
3205 State Route 159
Las Vegas, NV 89161
* This post originally appeared on GoExploreNature.com.