Red Rock Canyon NCA:Nevada's World-Class Rock Climbing Center

Just 17 Miles Outside Las Vegas, National Conservation Area Gets $23 Million Visitor Center to Welcome its Yearly One Million Visitors

Thursday, August 28 2008 20:18   Nevada
One of the Southwest's most popular places to visit, the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area (NCA), just 17 miles outside of the Las Vegas Strip, is getting a new $23 million visitor center, along with money to remove brush and improve landscaping.

Red Rock Canyon was designated Nevada's first National Conservation Area in 1990. More than one million people a year visit the 195,819-acre park unit, which includes a 13-mile scenic drive, 30 miles of hiking trails, picnic areas, campground, interpretive boardwalk, and visitor center.

It is a land of stark, desert beauty, of red- and cream-colored sandstone cliffs and jagged mountains, of ancient petroglyphs, and the land where as many as six different Native American cultures existed over thousands of years.

The property, operated by the Bureau of Land Management, has become one of the finest rock climbing areas in the world, and a favorite place for fans of the sport. The area offers a variety of routes and trails, and climbing courses that range from easy to difficult. The main type of rock is Aztec, or Navajo, sandstone.

With the number of visitors now reaching over a million a year, the BLM saw a need to make major improvements at the property.

The Red Rock Canyon NCA improvements are part of a $78.6 million package for conservation, restoration and recreation projects in Nevada that was announced Feb. 20 by Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne.

Kempthorne was at Red Rock Canyon to help break ground for the new visitor center. During the ground breaking, Kempthorne announced several major funding initiatives, including:

About $1.8 million was authorized for three landscape restoration projects in Eastern Nevada that will help restore valuable wildlife, forest, and rangeland habitat.

The $14.6 million authorized for wildfire prevention will fund 14 hazardous fuels reduction projects at Lake Tahoe; in the Carson Range in Northern Nevada; and in the Spring Mountains, including the Red Rock National NCA.

Recent wildfires in Nevada have caused considerable destruction of property and valuable wildlife habitat. Excess forest and brush fuels from decades of fire suppression have exacerbated and increased the intensity of these fires.

The new Red Rock Canyon visitor center project includes the redesign of the existing structure into an administration building, construction of a new fee booth area and related infrastructure and site work

Funded by a previous round of the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act, the project is expected to be finished in 2010.

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

Mostly a day-use only facility, Red Rock Canyon NCA is part of the Mojave Desert.

One of the most popular features is the 13-mile scenic drive, a Backcountry Byway. It is completely paved and offers opportunities to see desert wildlife, red and cream sandstone formations, waterfalls and petroglyphs.

The 13-Mile Drive is a one-way road. Bicycles are permitted to ride on the scenic drive, and must obey traffic laws. Sightseeing, photography, and hiking trails are accessible from the designated pullouts and parking areas.

The scenic drive is open daily from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Winter (November through February); 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the Summer (April through September); and from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the Spring (March) and Fall (October).

Visitors are asked to show courtesy towards cyclists and pedestrians, and to drive only on established roadways and park only in designated areas. All terrain vehicles (ATV's) and unlicensed vehicles are not permitted at Red Rock Canyon NCA.

Rock Climbing at Red Rock Canyon

Rangers suggest that if a visitor has have never climbed at Red Rock Canyon NCA, and is unfamiliar with route locations, there is a climbing guide available with photos, route descriptions, and directions that provide a brief idea of where to find established traditional and sport routes.

Routes in the Red Rock Canyon NCA are rated via the Yosemite Decimal System. All class V routes (those involving the use of protection) in Red Rock Canyon NCA range from 5.0 (easiest) to 5.14 (most difficult).

These ratings are based on the skills, abilities and opinions of those climbers that have ascended each specific route. Rangers point out that if a climber is not familiar with this rating system or is unsure of what level the climber and his or her abilities fit in, they be sure to choose the first ascents in Red Rock Canyon NCA with care.

Red Rock Canyon NCA offers hundreds of established sport and traditional climbs, from grade I (1-2 hours) to grade VI (spending 2 or more nights on the route).

According to the BLM, many routes in Red Rock Canyon NCA require significant walking, hiking and scrambling to reach them. Visitors should keep this in mind when planning for climbs, not only as a time constraint but also in terms of water. Red Rock Canyon NCA is located in the Mojave Desert, and even if it is not scorching hot, Rangers note, the air is still very dry. Visitors should always bring a surplus of water to stay hydrated.

For more information on climbing opportunities, contact the staff at Red Rock Canyon NCA by calling (702) 515-5138 or (702) 515-5042.

Camping Facilities

The one campground available to visitors has 31 campsites, but visitors wishing to camp should understand that it is dry facility, and sites are available only on a first-come basis.

Access to the campground is open 24 hours a day. There is no check-in, however, payment of fees must be made within 30 minutes of arrival at a self-registration station. The campground is closed late May to early September for the summer season. The campground will be closed each year in June, July, and August due to low use and extreme heat.

Back-country camping is allowed within Red Rock Canyon NCA above 5,000 feet. A permit is required and can be obtained by calling (702) 515-5050. The back-country area is remote with no drinking water or firewood for campfires. There is no developed trail system in the back country.

The visitor center hours are 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. The telephone number for the center is (702) 515-5350, and the telephone number for the campground manager is (702) 515-5371.

The Web site for Red Rock Canyon is

Information on all projects approved by the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act can be found at


Red Rock Canyon NCA


The most direct route from Las Vegas is if you are driving on Interstate 15 to take West Charleston Boulevard which turns into State Route 159. It will take you to the entrance to Red Rock Canyon NCA.

The Visitor Center hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The daily fee is $5.

The center is fully accessible. Accessible restrooms are available at the visitor center and most pullouts on the scenic loop. Wheelchair accessible trails are at Willow Springs Picnic Area, Visitor Center, and the overlook.

The Scenic Drive hours are:
November 1 through February 28/29; 6 a.m. - 5 p.m.
March 1 through March 31; 6 a.m. - 7 p.m.
April 1 through Sept. 30; 6 a.m. - 8 p.m.
Oct. 1 through Oct. 31; 6 a.m. - 7 p.m.