How many times have you gone to Vegas? At least once, right? Most people have. I bet most people have never left the city, let alone the strip. Hey, I don’t blame them; it’s easy to get in a cheap and fun vacation in the City of Sin! I have been to Vegas twice (now three times) and never knew there was much beyond the strip.
Now that I’m fully immersed in the climbing world (I own a guiding business after all), I know there’s so much more to Vegas. It’s now crazy to me how many people visit Vegas and have no idea there’s a beautiful National Conservation Area just minutes away. To each their own, I suppose; the outdoors is not for everyone!
If you are an outdoors enthusiast or looking for a side trip, just 15 minutes away from the Vegas strip (that’s even closer than visiting the Hover dam – which is still worthy of a visit) is an outdoor mecca waiting to be explored! Next time you are in Sin City, take a break from the nightly debauchery and explore this outdoor desert paradise!
From Vegas, take Charleston Blvd West.
That’s really it! It’s about 15 miles from the strip to the visitor’s center.
Things to do:
-TONS of climbing; literally 100’s of routes! I won’t get into climbing too much. If you are a climber, you know what resources to use to find an ideal route (friends, Mountain Project and a guidebook). Let’s just say if you are a climber and have NOT been here, you’re missing out.
-Hiking: there are a ton of trails spattered all over the place! Pick a pull out off the road and start hiking.
-Visit the visitor center: I do have to say this is probably one of the best visitor centers I’ve seen. They have a earth, wind, water and fire display (all centered around what created the desert) and it’s pretty cool.
-Look for a desert tortoise: They have one living at the visitor center but try and see if you can spot this elusive creature in the park. Just please stay on the trails. (No, I have not seen one myself.)
-Take a drive: and pull over in every single pullout. There are some really unique views all over this 13-mile scenic drive. My favorite is the Calico Hills.
-Go horseback riding: Check out Cowboy Trail Rides.
-Camp: There’s only one campground in the area, the Red Rock Campground. It’s $17/night (I believe) and it’s first come, first served but it’s decent. It can get really crowded with dirtbags (I was one of them for a week). 😉
-Bike: You can road bike on the scenic drive and there are a few dirt trails for mountain bikers. Check in with the Visitor’s Center for trails open to mountain bikers.
-Bring a map or a person that is really good at remembering which way you went on the trail. I do have to say, some of the trails as not marked very well and there’s a lot of braided trails all over. It’s easy to get going on the wrong one.
-If you’re camping, get there EARLY and be okay with dirtbags. There’s only one campground and it’s first-come-first-served and it’s full of dirty climbers! Many times, multiple groups are sharing one site, so it tends to be very crowded and occasionally noisy. (There are no showers, just pit toilets. There is potable water).
-The park has some pretty strict hours. If your climbing takes you past 5pm, make sure you leave a message with the rangers with your car’s info, where you’re climbing and when you’ll be out. In fact, if you are climbing, especially if you plan on being nighted; just read all the rules and regulations yourself.
We were there for about a week and got a lot of climbing in, a race and hiking. Here’s what we did:
Day 1: Visited the Visitor’s Center and then climbed a route called Olive Oil, a 665 ft, 5.7 rated route, with 5 pitches and a 2.5ish mile hike in and out. I only cried once when I got stuck in the chimney (Backstory: if you know me in real life, I tend to cry a lot while climbing. It’s getting better.) We got started a little late and ended up hiking out in the dark.
Day 2: Climbing a little bit in the Calico Hills before the storm came rolling across the desert. We didn’t get much in before the storm rolled through. We then went to the host hotel for the race to check in and get my packet.
Day 4: Climbed Mescalito, a 1000ft, 5.7 grade peak with 7 pitches. The climb itself was fun and had a lot of fun features like a chimney, step arounds, ledges and some exposed slabs, but the more “fun” part was our descent. We were aiming for the hike out but ended up in this gulley with about 5 rappels and down climbing. It was miserable. We would be down climbing and then all of a sudden hit a drop off and see the rappel rings. Over and over and over. The sun was going down and we were tired. We touched the bottom of the peak just as the sun fully set, turned the headlamps on, and started the 3-mile hike to the car. Despite the hike out and down climb, this was probably the hardest full day of climbing I’ve ever expereience and I actually learned a lot and enjoyed the whole experience.
Day 5: Rest day! We found some easier climbing back in the Calico Hills and I led my first pitch!
We also camped at the red rock canyon campground for most of our nights except the night before my race. We stayed at the race’s host hotel, the Sun Coast Casino and had fun exploring the giant casino and did some bowling. It was also nice to get a shower in after the race before we had to check out and get back to camping life.
Next time you visit Las Vegas, I highly suggest taking a day trip to this National Conservation Area! It’s beautiful and so close to town!
Park hours (vary per season)
Fees: $15/vehicle (or free with a National Park’s Pass!)