Hey fellow climbers and thrill-seekers, welcome to my corner of the climbing community where I love to share tales from the vertical world. Today, I’m super stoked to take you through a journey that’s close to my calloused hands and chalk-dusted heart: the magnificent Red Rock Canyon.
Nestled just a stone’s throw away from the neon buzz of Las Vegas, Red Rock offers a stark contrast and an irresistible allure for us adventurers. This isn’t just any climbing spot—it’s a sanctuary where the desert silence is only broken by the sound of carabiners and the occasional cheer of a successful ascent.
My love affair with Red Rock started years ago, on a crisp autumn morning when the sandstone seemed to glow with an inner fire. Since then, the stunning array of peaks, crags, and canyons dyed in every shade of red and orange imaginable have been my second home. It’s a place that demands respect, both for its beauty and its challenges, and every time I return, I find new ways to test my limits and grow as a climber.
Over time, I’ve scaled the classic multi-pitch routes that make this area legendary, engaged in the meditative dance of bouldering in Calico Basin, and pushed my endurance on the sport climbs that dot this rugged landscape. If you’re imagining a desert wasteland, let me paint you a picture of Red Rock’s intricate canyons and towering walls that could give any verdant valley a run for its money in sheer awe.
During the day, it feels like civilization is a world away, with nothing but you, the rock, and maybe a curious lizard for company. As evening falls, the city lights of Vegas wink on the horizon, making it feel like you’re straddling two worlds—the wild and the wildly man-made. It’s this unique combo that makes trips here so memorable; you can crush your project by day and play your hand at the casinos by night. A gambler’s mindset? Maybe, but I like to bet on the red—a nod to the sandstone that has challenged and rewarded me countless times.
All right, before I get too carried away with my stories (trust me, there are plenty!), let’s dive into what makes Red Rock the climbing mecca that it is and how you can get the most out of your visit. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or new to the game of ascent, there’s something in the canyon’s embrace for everyone.
And with that little teaser, I’m going to hit pause on our journey. Gear up, chalk up, and get ready to explore the wonders of Red Rock Canyon with me. We’ve got a lot to cover, and I can’t wait to share it all with you. Let’s get psyched!
Discovering Red Rock Canyon
Ah, Red Rock Canyon, the climber’s oasis amidst the Nevada desert. Let me take you on a tour of this geological wonderland, a place that seems to have been hand-crafted by the gods of climbing themselves for our sheer pleasure.
Geographical Location and Landscape
Imagine, if you will, a realm sculpted out of Aztec sandstone with a rich palette of reds that could rival the most vibrant sunset you’ve ever seen. This is Red Rock Canyon, positioned in the heart of the Mojave Desert, about 15 miles west of the ever-bustling Las Vegas. It’s not just the proximity to Sin City that makes this spot a jewel in the climbing world—it’s the variety of landscapes that truly captivates.
Each visit, I’m amazed by the sight of those walls and peaks; they stand like sentinels guarding the silent beauty of the desert. There are times when I’m clambering up a crag, I feel like an artist adding my own brushstrokes to this natural masterpiece. From the towering monoliths to the intricate canyons and everything in between, the topography here is a buffet for climbers of all tastes.
And let me tell you, the diversity of spots here is unparalleled. You’ve got your high walls for those epic traditional climbs, cozy little sport crags tucked away in corners that catch the golden sunlight just right, and a boulder field in Calico Basin that’s like a playground for grown-ups. It’s not every day you get to navigate through a landscape that tells the story of time itself, with each layer of rock a testament to the aeons gone by.
When to Visit
Timing is everything and Red Rock is no exception. The park itself graciously welcomes climbers with open arms from dawn till dusk, adjusting its embrace as the seasons change. But when’s the best time to lace up those climbing shoes and pull on those crimps? Well, let me break it down for you.
You’ll want to avoid the sweltering heat of the summer months when the mercury can soar to a sizzling 100-plus degrees Fahrenheit. Trust me; it’s more than just the holds that get greasy then. Unless you fancy climbing in a furnace, I’d steer clear of June through August.
Spring and fall are the crème de la crème of climbing seasons here. The temperatures are just perfect—not too hot, not too cold. I’ve spent countless March and October days where the cool breezes complement the warm sun, creating that climber’s paradise where friction feels like it’s been dialed up just for you.
Winter can be a bit nippy, especially in the shade of those magnificent canyons, but on a sunny day, the crisp air can be invigorating, and the rock offers that extra bit of grip that can make all the difference. So long as you’re prepped for it, winter climbing here can be utterly sublime.
Remember, the canyon works on a schedule with the Scenic Drive opening at different hours throughout the year, so plan ahead. You don’t want to be chasing the sunset only to find yourself locked in (which comes with a hefty fine, by the way). The park’s opening times usually range from 6 AM to between 5 PM and 8 PM, depending on the month.
So, there you have it—a snapshot of the where and when of Red Rock Canyon. Whether you’re looking for an all-day endurance fest or a quick morning send before the desert heat kicks in, this place has got you covered. Now, let’s gear up and get into the meat of what you came here for—climbing ’till your heart’s content and your fingers are begging for mercy.
Preparing for Your Climbing Trip
Before you even touch rock, let’s chat about the nuts and bolts of getting into Red Rock Canyon and making sure you’re set up for a safe and sweet time and pack the essentials like your belay devices if you’re planning on trad climbing. The last thing you need is a hiccup when you’re psyched for sending.
Entry Requirements and Fees
First things first, you can’t just stroll into Red Rock without showing a little green. That’s money, not chalk, although you’ll be using plenty of the latter. Entry fees are a part of the deal here, and they go towards keeping this climbing haven pristine. You’re looking at $15 per vehicle, which is a small price to pay for the quality of climbing you’re getting. If you’re rolling in on two wheels or hoofing it, it’s $5.
Now, if you’re anything like me and can’t get enough of the place, the annual pass is the way to go. For $30, you get a year’s worth of access. It’s an absolute steal if you’re planning to be a regular. Trust me, once you get a taste of these climbs, you’ll be back for more.
No matter how many times you’ve danced up a crag, safety’s something you can’t compromise on. Out here in the desert, the rocks aren’t the only thing that can bite—the critters can too. We’ve got snakes and scorpions that aren’t too fond of being stepped on, so watch where you’re putting those hands and feet, especially when you’re off the beaten path.
And boy, speaking of paths, sticking to them is more than just good manners. It’s your safety line. The trails here are well-marked, and wandering off can lead you into dangerous territory real fast. Plus, preserving the fragile desert environment is part of our duty as climbers.
In the rare case you find yourself in a jam, 911 is your friend, but remember, cell service is spotty. If you’re heading into more remote areas, a buddy system is golden, and always let someone know where you’re planning to be.
Travel and Accommodation
Alright, getting here. Most likely, you’re flying into Vegas. From McCarran International Airport, you’re a mere half-hour drive from the crag. Grab a rental car—maybe not a flashy convertible like they drive on the Strip, but something with room for gear—and you’re good to go. Zip over on the 215 beltway, hang a left on Charleston Blvd, and follow that road till you hit the canyon.
Camping’s the real deal if you want the full climber experience. You’ve got the “13 Mile Campground” with basic amenities like toilets and water, but don’t expect any fancy showers or electric hookups. It’s $20 per night for a spot, so split that with a buddy, and it’s cheaper than any casino hotel. Remember, this place fills up quick, so get there early to snag a site.
If you’re after something a bit more remote and free, Lovell Canyon’s your spot. Just be ready for the wild, no services, no fees, just you and the stars. It’s a bit further out, but for some, that’s the allure.
Hotels, you ask? Vegas has no shortage. If you’re looking to treat yourself after a hard day of climbing, the city’s got every type of accommodation from luxury to budget. Pro tip: check out deals online before you go—there’s always something.
And that’s the lowdown on getting prepped for your Red Rock rendezvous. Just remember, a good trip starts with good planning, so take a cue from your climbing: always have a solid foundation. Now let’s move on and get into the climb of it all—after all, that’s why we’re here, right?
Climbing at Red Rock Canyon
Ah, the meat of our climbing sandwich, the reason we’re here: the prime cuts of Red Rock’s climbing offerings. This is where we get our hands dirty (and our souls a little touched by the angels of grip and granite).
Boulder at Calico Basin
Calico Basin, now there’s a spot that holds a special place in my callused heart. It’s a little slice of bouldering paradise just outside the conservation area—which means no entry fee, folks! This place is like the community center of Red Rock, where climbers of all stripes come to test their mettle against the mighty sandstone.
The landscape here is a bit different from the main loop—rustic, more open, and wildly beautiful with its crimson rocks set against the Nevada sky. And the bouldering? Stellar. It’s a veritable buffet of challenges that cater to newbies and crusty bouldering vets alike. The rock quality is superb, grippy when you want it to be and slick enough to keep you honest.
When I first rolled up to Calico Basin, my eyes were wide, taking in the sea of boulders each calling out like sirens to be climbed. I’ve spent countless days here, and let me tell you, the problems are as diverse as they are plentiful. You want overhangs that’ll test your core strength? Got ’em. Crimps that’ll make your fingers sing? Plenty. Dynos that’ll have you flying like a superhero? Suit up.
A few of my personal favorites? Well, you’ve got to hit up The Pearl (V4) —it’s just iconic, with a line that’s as beautiful as it is bruising on the skin. For something a bit easier, but equally rewarding, try out the Perfect Poser (V1), which is a perfect warm-up or a cool project for those new to the game. Looking for a tough customer? Fear of a Black Hat (V9) won’t disappoint. It’s a testpiece that’s served me a slice of humble pie more than once.
If you’re hunting for something a bit more off the beaten path, Kraft Boulders is where it’s at. This hidden gem features problems with names that sound like they were taken straight out of a climber’s fever dream, and they climb just as wildly.
Remember, bouldering is as much about the community as it is about the climb. So, don’t be shy to ask for beta, share a crash pad, or just cheer on a fellow pebble wrestler. Out here, we’re all in it together, chasing that next hold and that perfect send. Calico Basin is more than just a climbing spot; it’s a testament to the climbing spirit—supportive, tenacious, and endlessly passionate.
Alright, now that you’ve got a taste of the bouldering scene, let’s chalk up and dive deeper into the other climbing treasures Red Rock has to offer. Whether you’re eyeing those highballs with trepidation or itching to leave your mark on a new problem, Calico Basin is the place where bouldering dreams are born and conquered. Let’s get to it!
Routes and Sectors to Explore
As much as I adore the playful artistry of bouldering, there’s nothing quite like the symphony of a well-plotted route up the side of a towering wall. Red Rock Canyon is a mecca for routes that weave their way through the sandstone canvas, and there are sectors here that have captured my soul like no other.
Let’s talk classics. When you’re in Red Rock, you owe it to yourself to visit the monumental walls of Black Velvet Canyon. Epinephrine (5.9) is one of those all-day adventures that stays with you for a lifetime, with its chimney system that’ll test your endurance and your technique. Then there’s Crimson Chrysalis (5.8+), over in Cloud Tower with its nine pitches of pure, unadulterated climbing joy. It’s like a dance with the rock, and when you reach the summit, the desert spreads out beneath you like a promised land.
For those who lean towards the bolted lines of sport climbing, the First Pullout is your jam. The Gallery features a collection of routes that’ll have you grinning ear to ear, with face climbs that require precision and a head for problem-solving. The second pullout offers climbs like Yak Crack (5.9) and Running Man (5.11d), which are just begging for your quickdraws and quick thinking.
Now, I could wax poetic about the routes here for days, but I’ll leave you with a teaser: Magic Bus at the Second Pullout. You’ll find sport routes aplenty that beckon with their siren calls, and if you’re feeling bold, try tackling The Gift (5.12d) for a slice of humble pie served fresh on the wall.
Essential Climbing Gear and Rentals
Let’s gear up because that’s what keeps us safe and sends us up. If you’re coming into Vegas empty-handed or just looking to upgrade your kit, swing by Desert Rock Sports. It’s a climber’s haven, brimming with everything from the latest cams and quickdraws to the trusty guidebooks that’ll be your sherpa on the rocks.
As for pricing, these folks are fair, and they know climbers aren’t made of money. You can rent a crash pad for around $10 a day, which is perfect for those Calico Basin sessions. Need some shoes that’ll stick to those slick slabs? They’ve got you covered for about the same price.
Here’s the beta:
Desert Rock Sports
8221 W Charleston Blvd, Ste 106
Las Vegas, NV 89117
Call ahead or shoot them an email, especially if you’re looking to reserve some gear. Their staff are climbers themselves, so don’t hesitate to ask for some local tips—they might just point you towards your new favorite route.
So whether you’re threading your way up a classic trad line or clipping bolts on a sporty face, Red Rock has something to get your heart racing and your forearms pumped. With the right gear in your pack and the desert sun on your back, the climbs here aren’t just ascents; they’re experiences. Time to tie in and take on the walls we were all born to climb. Let’s get after it!
Climbing Guides and Resources
Now, no climber worth their salt heads to a new crag without doing their homework. And in Red Rock, your study buddy comes in the form of climbing guides—those tomes of knowledge that are as vital as a trusty belayer. Let’s leaf through the pages of the best resources that’ll help you unlock this sandstone treasure trove.
The guidebooks for Red Rock are as varied as the routes themselves, and I’ve thumbed through more than my fair share over the years. Each guide has its own flavor, much like the climbers who swear by them.
Red Rocks Climbing by Greg Barnes
First up, “Red Rocks Climbing” by Greg Barnes is a classic and a must-have. It’s part of the Supertopo collection and focuses on the multi-pitch trad routes that have made this place famous. The illustrations are top-notch, it’s loaded with beta, and the photo overlays won’t lead you astray on the rock. You can snag it online as a PDF if you’re into that digital life, or get the physical copy that’ll endure the crag’s rough and tumble.
Red Rock Canyon: A Climbing Guide by Jerry Handren
If you’re the type who wants the whole shebang, “Red Rock Canyon: A Climbing Guide” by Jerry Handren is your bible out here. It’s a mammoth guide with over 2000 routes covered, from those hair-raising trad adventures to the bolt-clipping sport routes. The maps and descriptions are as detailed as they come, and the full-color photos are a godsend on complex approaches.
Vegas Bouldering by Seth Robinson
For the boulderers, Seth Robinson has you covered with “Vegas Bouldering”. It’s more than just Red Rock; it spans the entire region, but don’t think it skimps on detail. This book has crystal-clear maps and vivid photos with all the lines drawn in. Plus, it rates the landings (because we all know the spice of bouldering comes with its share of sketchy falls).
These sacred texts are available at most climbing shops around Vegas, but Desert Rock Sports is a solid bet—they usually have the full spread. If you’re the plan-ahead type, you can order them online from retailers like Amazon or directly from publishers like Supertopo and Wolverine Publishing.
Remember, while guidebooks are indispensable, they’re just the start of the conversation. Don’t be shy to chat up the local climbers, swing by the Red Rock Climbing Center for the latest beta, or hit up mountainproject.com for real-time route information and updates from the community.
Armed with knowledge and a dash of local wisdom, you’re ready to take on the routes of Red Rock Canyon. Because in climbing, as in any great endeavor, the right preparation paves the way for success (and saves you from wandering around the desert like a lost bighorn sheep). So load up your pack with the guides, lace up those climbing shoes, and let’s get to piecing together the puzzles that these rocks have laid out for us.
Downtime Activities and Entertainment
As much as we love the climb, the body and soul need rest days, and let me tell you, around Red Rock Canyon, a rest day is anything but dull. Whether you’re giving your fingers a break or your muscles a well-deserved respite, the surrounding area is your oyster. Here’s how to shuck it.
Rest Day Options
Just because you’re not clinging to a crag doesn’t mean you can’t soak up the desert’s splendor. Lace up those hiking boots and hit the trails that weave through Red Rock’s scenic landscape. Spots like Ice Box Canyon offer a respite from the heat with shaded paths and seasonal waterfalls that might just make you forget you’re in the desert.
If wheels are more your style, saddle up for some mountain biking or road cycling. The loop around Red Rock Canyon is a roadie’s paradise with views that’ll make those uphill grinds worth it. For the off-road crowd, Cottonwood Valley has a network of trails that’ll thrill both newbies and seasoned dirt shredders.
Now, if you really want to dial it back to desert cowboy times, horseback riding is the ticket. There are several local outfits offering rides that’ll take you trotting through the wilds in true Western style—just keep an eye out for those coyotes.
If you’re in the mood for educational entertainment, The Springs Preserve is not to be missed. It’s an outdoor playground with botanical gardens, walking trails, and interactive exhibits that delve into Las Vegas’ history and environment.
Exploring Las Vegas
A stone’s throw from our beloved rocks is the glitzy, neon jungle of Las Vegas. Sin City is a world away from the tranquil desert, but it’s a spectacle that has to be seen to be believed. Whether you’re into the high-stakes thrills of the casino tables, the endless buffets, or the world-class shows, Vegas is your playground.
Take a wander down the Strip and gape at the fountains of the Bellagio, ponder the pyramids of the Luxor, and maybe even take a gondola ride at the Venetian. Every casino has its own flavor, and part of the fun is finding the one that suits your taste.
For shows, you’re spoiled for choice—Cirque du Soleil, magic shows, world-famous musicians, and more. There’s something happening every night of the week, so check the calendars and book yourself a seat for a night of entertainment.
And if Vegas’ razzle-dazzle isn’t your scene, don’t worry, there’s more to Nevada than slot machines and poker chips. Day trips from Red Rock can include the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, and even Area 51 for the conspiracy theorists among us.
So, whether you’re a climber, a cyclist, a cowboy, or a high-roller, your time off the wall in Red Rock can be as packed with adventure as your time on it. Rest days here aren’t just downtime; they’re an opportunity to explore, learn, and experience a different side of this multifaceted region. Now, go on, give those forearms a break and dive into the desert’s other delights!
Well, my fellow rock huggers, we’ve journeyed together through the ins and outs of Red Rock Canyon, and what a trip it’s been. From the sun-kissed boulders of Calico Basin to the dizzying heights of multi-pitch classics, this place has shown us that it’s more than just a climbing destination—it’s a full-blown adventure saga.
We’ve talked about gearing up at local climbing shops, poured over guidebooks, and even discussed how to fill those rest days with as much excitement as the climbs themselves. Red Rock Canyon isn’t just a collection of routes; it’s a story waiting to be written, a canvas awaiting our chalky brushstrokes.
So what are you waiting for? Whether you’re a seasoned climber with calluses as thick as the guidebooks or a newbie eager to feel that first jolt of adrenaline, Red Rock is calling your name. It’s a place where the climbs are as endless as the horizon, and the desert sky paints a backdrop you’ll find nowhere else on Earth.
Looking for more vertical tales and tips? Check out my other blog posts for a deep dive into climbing adventures that span the globe. From the hidden crags of the East to the sprawling sierras of the West, there’s a world of climbing out there, and together, we’ll explore every pitch and every problem.
Climb on, friends, and may your crimps be strong, and your spirits stronger. See you on the rock!
LOCAL CLIMBING EQUIPMENT STORES
There is a climbing equipment store with plenty of equipment in Las Vegas. It is called “Desert Rock Sports” and is about a 15 minute drive from Red Rocks. They have plenty of material, all the climbing guides in the area, they rent crash pads for $15 and climbing shoes for $10 a day. You have to call or send them an email to reserve.
In the same building they have a climbing wall that is pretty good in case you have several days of bad weather and need to kill the bug or just take a shower.
Red Rock Climber Center www.redrockclimbingcenter.com
It is open from Monday to Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. and Sundays from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
The rock is Aztec sandstone with red, orange and brown tones due to its iron composition.
If it rains, it is advisable not to climb until 24 hours have passed so that it has dried well, since this type of rock becomes fragile when wet and edges can split.
Apart from the sandstone there are areas of limestone with sport climbing routes. In case of rain, climb the next day.
Many of the long routes and cracks are unequipped, so it is necessary to bring friends and cracks. Red Rocks is a fairly old area and although many routes were retrofitted years ago with stainless steel parabolts, you may still find some somewhat deteriorated locks.
On the Supertopo guide website, you will find interesting information and reviews of the area:
The most recommended sectors and blocks
Fear of a black hat V9
A clockwork orange V12
Perfect poser V1
Bubble butt V7
Angel dyno V7
Progressive guy V10
The Pearl V4
Special K V6
Big K V8
Orange top blue sky V8
Classic monkey V6
Jack of all trades V4
The red wave V9
Smack shbwack V4
Spring board V3
Red Rocks Scenic Loop
Desert rain V10
Willow Springs Wash
Ride the white horse V10
Little pony V4
Ode to the modern mayor V10
Stand´n deliver V12
The most recommended sectors and routes are:
Cat in the Hat 5.6 (5 largos)
Heavy spider karma 5.6
Topless twins 5.9
Straight Shooter 5.9
Varnishing Point 5.8 (2 lengths)
Lotta Balls wall
Lotta balls 2.8 (4 lengths)
Rob Roy 5.10a
Crimson chrysalis 5.8 (9 largos)
Black Velvet Canyon
Epinephrine 5.9 (11 largos)
Sour mash 5.10a (7 largos)
Dream of wild turkeys 5.10a (11 largos)
Prince of Darkness 5.10c (6 largos)
Yellow brick road 5.10b (10 largos)
Solar slab wall
Black Orpheus 5.10a (11 largos)
Solar slab 5.6 (7 lengths)
Levitation 29 5.11c (9 largos)
Eagle dance 5.10c A0 (10 largos)