Ex­otic Des­ti­na­tion

Red Rock Canyon Con­ser­va­tion Area, Las Ve­gas, Nev.

Canadian Running - - DEPARTMENTS - Story and pho­tos by Tim Ban­field Tim Ban­field is a pho­tog­ra­pher and writer liv­ing in Cal­gary.

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.

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