Just 20 miles away from Las Vegas and in the Mojave Desert lies the climbing mecca known world wide as Red Rocks!! Known for it’s world class sandstone and it’s convenient location next to Las Vegas, one of the cheapest places to travel and stay, it’s no surprise that it is a climbing hot spot. Red Rocks is known primarily for it’s stellar sport and trad climbing, offering thousands of both single and multi-pitch climbs to satisfy any climber. Not to mention, this place also offers some pretty spectacular views and is a popular hiking and tourist attraction, so make sure to take a couple seconds at the top of your climb to take in the view.
As for bouldering, it has just recently started to grow in popularity. Since Red Rocks is close to other popular bouldering spots (in California and Utah), this slightly overshadowed the bouldering potential in Red Rocks. But, not for long! Recently, there has been crazy development going on (as in thousands of problems!) and there is still an enormous amount left just waiting to be developed.
The climbing potential in Red Rocks is vast and development still continues in both routes and bouldering. If you want to immerse yourself in a rocky dream of technical faces, cracks, edges, jugs, views, and sandstone then what are you waiting for? Red Rocks awaits!
Type Of Climbing
Red Rocks has arguably some of the best sandstone climbing in all of the US, and fortunately it offers bouldering, sport climbing and trad climbing so this stellar rock can be enjoyed by virtually every rock climber. Plus, to top it off, regardless what type of climbing you’re into, you’ll be faced with loads of climbing with classics at almost every grade.
Red Rocks is predominantly known for it’s incredible sport and trad climbing. Both disciplines have single and multi-pitch climbs available. Bouldering on the other hand has just recently started to gain a lot of popularity in Red Rocks. Luckily, for all of us obsessed boulderers, the development of bouldering in this area over the past couple years has completely exploded! And the good news is there are still tons and tons of new problems going up each and every year. 🙂
Like I mentioned above, Red Rocks has some of the best sandstone climbing in the US (or even the world!). But, to be a bit more specific, the exact type of rock is called Aztec Sandstone and this distinction is quite important for climbers. This type of sandstone is different from other types of sandstone that you may have had experience climbing on. It is typically more dense than the other forms of sandstone that are found in the west ares like Zion Canyon or Canyonlands (which are both in Utah).
Another interesting feature about the sandstone in Red Rocks is that a lot of the exposed rock faces have a layer of desert varnish, which appears as a thin red or black coating over the rock surface. Not only does this coating serve as a form of protection to prevent the rock from weathering as quickly, providing very clean rock faces, but also makes it very aesthetically appealing.
However, that being said, there are some downfalls when it comes to climbing on this type of sandstone and some IMPORTANT pointers that climbers must absolutely be aware of. One of the downfalls of this type of sandstone is that it is very porous and therefore absorbs moisture and water very easily. When this type of rock is wet, it becomes extremely brittle and holds can break off very easily. It is very important that climbers allow the rock to dry before proceeding with any climbing. A general rule of thumb followed by climbers in this area is that if the ground around the climb you want to get on is at all damp, then DO NOT CLIMB. Breaking holds off climbs is extremely uncool when it can be avoided.
When To Go
Red Rocks is located in the desert, which means that the weather can vary drastically from season to season, and even from morning to night. Typically, the spring and fall provide the best conditions for climbing. During the summer it’s common for the temperature to reach or surpass 38°C (100°F), so don’t bother venturing this way from June through to August (although the temperature in the canyons is generally significantly cooler). Even the neighbouring months of May and September are often too hot for some solid climbing. Late October to April is generally the ideal time frame, with the most popular time being in the spring. It’s important to keep a watch on the weather. Snow storms occur right during the October to April climbing season and can leave snow in the canyons for days.
The climbing in Red Rocks is vast. So vast, that areas are broken up by canyon instead of by wall, as it normally is in most climbing areas. There is also still a lot of untouched rock, so as you can imagine the potential for more climbing in each canyon is most definitely possible. Thousands of routes already exist, and in spite of the bolting restrictions in place there are still new routes currently in development.
Similarly, with respect to bouldering, there is a massive opportunity for development. Bouldering has just recently started to increase in popularity and make it’s mark in Red Rocks, and although a lot of development has already occurred in this area, the potential for more is mind blowing.
The bouldering and route climbing in Red Rocks is so extensive that putting it within this blog post would result in some serious information overload. Rockclimbing.com has done a great job of providing an overview of the route climbing and bouldering as well as summarizing each area and listing the climbs within each area with their respective grades.
There are a bunch of guidebooks for this area, more so for route climbing since that was the predominant form of climbing in the past. The guidebooks are listed below:
- The Red Rocks of Southern Nevada – The original Red Rocks climbing guide by Joanne Urioste. First published in 1984 and 250 pages of classics routes especially trad routes that are not described in other guidebooks. Said to be a must-own book for any serious Red Rock climber.
- Red Rock Canyon – The Red Book Supplement by Joanne Urioste – This is the supplementary update Joanne released in 2003 to her original book (see above). Not a necessary book unless you are running out of things to do in Red Rocks 🙂
- Supertopo: Red Rocks Climbing by Greg Barnes – Great choice for visiting climbers. Within it are 2-3 hundred top quality routes that mainly focus on trad classics, but also has enough short routes and sport climbs for someone who’s on a short visit.
- Rock Climbing Red Rocks by Todd Swain – The latest 3rd edition has over 400 pages with more than 1100 routes, both trad and sport. Noteworthy for its listing of sport climbs in the Calico Hills and Sandstone Quarry areas.
- Red Rock Canyon: A Climbing Guide By Roxanna Brock and Jared McMillen – One of the more recent additions to the collection of guide books for Red Rocks. This book covers more than 1500 trad and sport routes with star ratings from 1 to 5.
- Red Rocks: A Climbers Guide By Jerry Handren – Published in 2007, this is the most recent guide book published for the area. It covers thousands of trad and spot routes, several hundred of which cannot be found in any other guide book.
- Southern Nevada Bouldering – Published in 2010, it covers over 2000 problems in full detail with high quality photos. This book basically set the standard for all bouldering guide books and is the default guide book for all bouldering in the area.
- Vegas Bouldering – Published in 2008, it was the first official guidebook for bouldering in the Red Rocks area. Has coverage for basically all the main bouldering areas.
Getting There and Getting Around
Depending where you live and how much you enjoy road tripping, driving is always a cheaper, albeit more time consuming option. Besides that, all your left with is to travel by air. Lucky, since Vegas is a hot spot and really wants to put your cash in their wallets, they make getting there pretty affordable. If you plan ahead and search for some good deals you’ll usually be able to find a set of tickets for a decent price. You’ll want to fly into McCarran International Airport and plan to have a car rental there ready for you. Just like the flights, rates for car rentals are often cheaper in Vegas.
From Vegas, Red Rocks is about a 20-30 minute drive towards the west. Having a car is necessary, even if you’re camping, since the area is so vast and there is already quite a bit of hiking involved from the parking areas to the climbs.
Most of the climbs in the northern half of Red Rock Canyon are accessed through Scenic Loop Drive, a 13 mile one-way road that loops around the area. This road is gated and has an entrance fee of $7 per car or $30 for an annual pass. This road is also only open during specific hours and any vehicles that fail to make it out in time are faced with a pretty hefty fine. In October and March the scenic loops hours are from 6:00am – 7:00pm, from November to February it’s from 6:00am – 5:00pm, and from April to September the hours are from 6:00am – 8:00pm.
There are late exit permits available ONLY for climbers on multi-pitch routes, which provide an additional 3 hours after the closing time. Permits are issued by phone (call 702-515-5050) as long as you call before 4:30pm. Also, keep in mind that even with a late exit permit, if you are still inside after the 3 hour mark you can still get hit with that nasty fine.
In addition, there are bivy permits available for multi-pitch climbers that will be spending the night on the wall, however, it is only available in certain areas, some of which allow up to three nights on the wall. The areas that qualify for bivy permits are Mt. Wilson, Levitation Wall, Rainbow Wall, Bridge Mountain, Hidden Wall, and the Buffalo Wall.
There is also a mass amount of climbing that is not within the scenic loop and does not have any time restrictions or entrance fees. Just know that there is still quite a bit of hiking involved and making sure you have enough water for the day is essential in this climate.
For directions, current rates, current operating hours and more information just click here.
If you’re in to camping or like the idea of saving some money, there is a campground available, however it is also the ONLY campground nearby. The Red Rock Canyon Campground has 72 individual campsites and 7 group campsites for climbers that are ok with really ‘roughing it’ since there are no showers or hook-ups for electrical, water or sewer, although there are showers available (for a small fee) less than a mile away at the Red Rock Climbing Centre and the Veterans Memorial Leisure Services Centre.
The individual campsites are not reservable, cost $15 per night, and have a limit of 10 people and 2 vehicles per site. Finding a campsite during the peak season can be difficult so the campground limits stays to a maximum of 14 days to make availability fair for all.
The group campsites are available through reservation, but keep in mind that there are only 7 sites and they can fully book up to 6 months in advance. These sites cost $40 per night and have a limit of 10 -20 people and 8 vehicles per site.
Camping is prohibited anywhere else in the National Conservation Area and violators will be fined.
Your other option, which also happens to be pretty economical, is the nearby Vegas strip. Here you can get a pretty decent hotel at pretty incredible prices. Plus, you’ll also be close to food and basically anything else you could ask for……like showers and toilets. 🙂
Seeing as Red Rocks lies just 20 minutes outside of Las Vegas, there are literally countless of ways you can choose to spend your rest days. Here are just a couple suggestions:
- The obvious, The Las Vegas Strip! An entire area dedicated to providing you all sorts of entertainment. Roller coasters, gondola rides, swimming with dolphins, or perhaps you’d like try your hand at craps or roulette and see if you can cover the cost of your trip! Or not…
- Go out and experience some of the incredible hiking and take in the spectacular views.
- Rent some bicycles and go explore.
- Check out Lake Mead and the endless water activities it has to offer.
- Rent a dune buggy and experience the sand dunes of the desert.
If you’re considering taking the unforgettable trip to Red Rocks, here is some additional information to keep in mind:
- Watch for speeding around the campground. It is a common area for speed traps.
- As I mentioned above, the scenic loop road closes at specific times in the evening and vehicles that remain inside are subject to a hefty fine.
- You’re in the desert, carry more water with you than you think you need.
- Understand the weather conditions. The temperature can vary greatly throughout the day and also differs greatly depending on where you are. The temperature in the canyons can be significantly colder than what you experience on your hike there. Make sure you have appropriate clothing with you.
- Who doesn’t love some free wifi? You can find free wifi at Whole Foods (8855 W Charleston Blvd), Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf (10834 Charleston Blvd) and the Sahara West Library (9600 West Sahara Ave)
Have you climbed in Red Rocks? Share your comments and thoughts below!