Admittedly, before heading to Las Vegas for the Society of American Travel Writers Annual Convention, I was most looking forward to my time spent outside of the city limits. On my agenda during the five-day conference: A morning of hiking in Red Rock Canyon, which I figured would be a calming respite from the concrete jungle that is Downtown Las Vegas and the famous Las Vegas Strip. Typically I can only handle three nights of the bright lights in Las Vegas; communing with nature would be most welcome by day four.
Sure enough, sweating through a easy-ish moderate Pine Canyon Trail, with about 25 other conference-goers and a guide who kept us at a steady clip because we had limited time, was just what the doctor ordered. It was a quick hike — not much more than 90 minutes to cover about 3 miles on and out-and-back trail — but I thoroughly enjoyed walking on the sandy path (with just a few rock scrambles), admiring some cool rock formations and surprises along the way.
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is just 17 miles west of the Las Vegas Strip, but hundreds of miles away in natural beauty comparison. Here, nearly 200,000 protected acres are filled interesting sandstone rock formations amid 30 miles of hiking trails. A 13-mile scenic drive allows drivers to take it slow (35 mph speed limit) to enjoy the desert landscape, but with so many marked trails and trailheads right off the paved scenic drive, I think there’s no excuse not to park in one of the convenient lots and explore on foot for a while.
Pine Creek Canyon is unique, with its Ponderosa pines found at the mouth of the canyon; they’re able to grow thanks to the constant stream of water that flows here — highly unusual in this arid desert. We turned around once we hit a waterfall flowing from the canyon wall, and I couldn’t help but think of Native Americans or pioneers who must have been delight to find the water source on their travels and explorations. Another fun discovery hidden among some boulders and brush: ferns!
Also along the way we also came upon a concrete foundation from what was once the Wilson homestead, which was inhabited in the 1920s. All around us, we admired the looming rock formations, many of them striped due to the different kinds of sediment were alternately deposited in layers at the bottom of an ancient sea or lake (or so one theory goes).
With its relatively easy terrain and “things to discover” along the way, I think this out-and-back Pine Canyon Trail would be ideal for families with young children. Another kid-centric trail is Lost Creek, with a variety of plant life and number of cultural sites; this trail is less than a mile long. I’d like to return someday to explore more strenuous terrain with my husband and teens, say the 2.5-mile Ice Box Canyon with seasonal waterfalls or longer (but moderately rated) White Rock/La Madre Spring Loop which measures 6 miles. With car entrance fees just $7 per vehicle, visiting Red Rock Canyon is certainly affordably priced, and I think well worth a visit if you’re road tripping through the area or have access to a rental car during your stay in Las Vegas.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a shout-out to local hiking expert Branch Whitney, our guide on this group hike. He’s the author of Hiking Las Vegas, and is also the founder of the 52 Peak Club, which offers guided hikes of 52 peaks (based on 52 cards in a deck!) in Red Rock Canyon, Mount Charelston and Lake Mead. The club helps hikers set and accomplish goals with like-minded outdoor enthusiasts. I love the idea of this club, and would certainly look into joining if I lived anywhere close to Las Vegas. What a neat way to not only achieve some athletic/fitness goals, but also meet some cool people; the group offers more than 60 group hikes a month year-round.