Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area, Las Vegas, Nev.
Living in Canada, for far too much of the year we dream of warm trail runs without the need of using spiked shoes on icy trails or slogging through the snow. Fortunately, there is an alternative, and its just one cheap flight away
Las Vegas, well-known for its casinos and all-night partying is also a mecca for trail running. With a large selection of cheap f lights from most Canadian airports, some of the most inexpensive car rentals in North America and a myriad of accommodation options, Las Vegas is a winter trail running vacation destination.
The elevation of Las Vegas is 610 m, and most of the trails are located closer to 900 m which provide a perfect training environment. Winter temperatures average 11–16 C, and there are 294 sunny days a year in Las Vegas; there is rarely a day that you won’t be able to find a trail to run.
Following a day of running there are unlimited options for non-running activities with the Vegas Strip just a short drive away.
Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area
Just a quick drive west of Vegas, the landscape becomes an outdoor playground. Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area is the most notable outdoor area near Vegas. The park sees 2 million visitors a year, but most of those visitors barely leave the parking lot. There is an abundance of quality trails with various lengths and difficulties to suit every taste. There are shorter options that take you to hidden watering holes like Pine Creek Trail, steep in-your-face running on Turtlehead Mountain or a more extended tour of the park on the Grand Circle Trail.
Red Rock Canyon is a National Conservation Area and has an entrance fee. There is a 21-kilometre scenic loop that is one way, and only open during certain hours of the day. Make sure that you time your run within the hours that the scenic loop is open as there is a fine for staying too late in the park.
Red Rock Canyon offers some of the best trail running in the Las Vegas area. There are lots to choose from, so here are some options that are worth checking out.
Calico hills trail is one of the busiest trails of the group. It is located close to the scenic loop and passes by the pullouts used by a significant portion of the people visiting the park. The busyness is warranted though as you move by the red rock features, it feels like you can just reach out and touch them. There are numerous opportunities to explore further, dropping down to scramble amongst or on top of the rocks. If you don’t want to do the necessary 21-kilometre scenic loop drive, you can also access this trail from Red Springs in the Calico Basin, but it adds a bit more to the run.
Turtlehead Mountain is one of the gems of the area. It gets you to a summit with impressive views and is a great workout too. At 7. 4-kilometres long, it’s not the longest trail around, but the 577 m elevation gain will slow all but the fittest runners on the upper tier of the trail. At 1,904 m, the summit of Turtlehead Mountain is the highest and most challenging run in this selection of trails. Make sure to take lots of water for this one.
The Grand Circle Loop trail links multiple trails together to take you through the heart of Red Rock Canyon. Clocking in at 18.2 kilometres, it’s the longest of the trails in this selection. The trail starts at the visitor centre, then skirts the outside of the northern part of the park and takes you across desert foothills and sandy washes leading to Whiterock, the Sandstone Quarry and then back along the Calico Hills trail to return to the visitor centre.
At 2.5 kilometres, Pine Creek Trail is the shortest run in this group, taking you directly into the rock formations at Red Rock Canyon. The trail leaves the parking lot and heads straight towards the Mescalito Rock formation that has some of the most popular rock climbs in North America. The farther you explore into the canyon, the more rock-hopping you will have to do, but it’s interesting to explore the different f lora and watch the climbers and find small watering holes. You can easily link this run with one of the nearby canyons, too, possibly exploring Ice Box Canyon at the same time.
Outside of Red Rock Canyon
Not all of the trail running in the Las Vegas area is found in Red Rock Canyon. If you only have a short amount of time to get a trail run in then Red Rock Canyon might not be the best option. For those looking for a faster day there are many options outside the park that do not require you to drive the scenic loop just to go for a run.
Located just off Highway 160 heading west from Vegas are numerous trailheads to access the Cottonwood Valley trail system. This trail system has been built up and improved over the last several years with multiple trails on both the north and south side of the highway. The most developed trailhead is just off the 160 and is called the Late Night Trailhead; it has a bathroom and paved parking lot. From this trailhead, you can access the Cottonwood North and South trails.
The Late Night Loop trail, 7. 4 kilometres, is one of the most popular in the area but its name is a bit deceiving as you have to connect it with another trail to make it a loop. Initially, the trail parallels the highway, and then after a couple of kilometres it turns northward, and the views begin to improve. The trail features great views and smooth, f lowing trails. There is an option to take a cut-off to shorten the trail distance and several other options that depart from the same trailhead. The Beginner Loop that leaves from the same parking lot is 6.3 kilometres and makes a circuitous route around the hill feature to the north.
One of the most scenic runs in the area is Goat Roper. Unlike Turtlehead Mountain, this trail is entirely runnable and offers outstanding views the whole way. You have to link the Goat Roper with Kibbles-n-Bits in the Cowboy Trails system to access the ridge where Goat Roper is located. It is six kilometres one way to the end of Goat Roper with a decent amount of elevation gain, too. All the trails in the area are well-built and smooth, allowing a moderate running pace even when going uphill. This path provides some of the best views of the Red Rock Escarpment and makes for a fabulous early-morning run. The next time you are thinking about a winter trail running escape consider Las Vegas as a top contender. The running scene is top-notch, the desert landscape is beautiful, and it is a fun and affordable option.