Overview: Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Park, Nevada
Desert climbing is addictive. Red Rocks is a gift for all climbers able to make it through the chaotic life on the strip of Las Vegas. It is an amazing escape that can feel so isolated yet you’re only twenty minutes from the bright lights of the city. The rock is impressive and beautiful. The Aztec sandstone has been given amazing shapes, formed from an ancient dune field. Tall walls inside the canyons present incredible crack climbing. They also offer cool conditions even in the desert heat and very cold conditions in the winter for bouldering on solid darkly varnished blocks inside the canyons. Many consider this the best quality sandstone in the western States, and I wholeheartedly agree. The Canyons vary from moderate approaches to very long, but this creates a somewhat ideal barrier to crowds. Calico Basin and the Kraft Boulders offer the other part of the bouldering experience. Short approaches and a huge variety of excellent quality climbs from lowball to highball, easy to hard, and crimpy to slopey make these areas impossible to miss out on. Sport climbing is scattered along with the bouldering as well as on large crags hidden from view to those who do not know where to look. One of the large attractions to sport climbing in Red Rock Canyon are the large multipitch sport climbs that allow climbers without the money for cams to reach the summits as well. Some of the most incredible features formed in the area are massive or happen to be over terrible landings. Rather than opting for the solo, sport climbing in Red Rocks has opened up incredible lines that were only dreamt of beforehand. The atmosphere of Red Rocks climbing scene has been consistently exciting. The development of four-star easy to very hard climbs is continuously being found and developed. Recently, long-term projects have been seeing multiple ascents in short succession, and every year trips to Las Vegas seem to become more intriguing to climbers.
Specific description of climbing style
High quality trad, sport, and bouldering are all within walking distance of each other. Each style shares the similar fine grit sandstone climbing that forces very specific body positions and a combination of balance with pure power.
Between October and April holds the best conditions for climbing. The heat ramps up quickly, and while there are colder canyons to escape to, the desert environment becomes harsher. December and January show the opposite side of the spectrum, so be ready for the cold. Rain becomes more likely between January and March, and because most of the rock is sandstone—climbing can be limited. Depending on the size of the storm, the rock will be too fragile to climb for a day or two until it is fully dry.
Climbing grade range
Red Rocks has been growing rapidly. The development of easy, moderate, hard, and really hard climbs have all been increasing. A novice climber will have excellent quality easy climbs to choose from and learn the nuances of sandstone. It is hard not to marvel at the amount and variety of rock climbing. With all the possibilities there is no issue in finding your perfect project.
Best local spot
The strip offers some amazing people watching, and it is not very hard to get a good deal on a hotel. While Red Rock Campground does not have the same luxuries as a hotel room, each site has its own picnic table, fire pit, nice overhangs for shade, and a well-kept shared outhouse for $10 a night. Red Rocks is outside of Las Vegas, there are plenty of sites to see and if you would like to drink, gamble, and rock climb, you have won the jackpot.
Top climbs in the Red Rock Canyon area
- Epinephrine (5.9) – Get ready for a full day full of chimneys and extremely fun crack systems from bolted belays. One of the most popular and best ways up the 1600’ canyon walls of Black Velvet Canyon.
- Levitation 29 (5.11b/c) – Possibly the best route in all of Red Rocks. A mixture of sport and trad creates a well-protected opportunity to climb very steep terrain way off the deck.
- Potato Chips (V2) – In the center of the most popular bouldering, Potato Chips is the stiff short and awesome and iconic line with perfect crimps up a slight overhang.
- Pork Chop (V3) – You don’t get a chance to climb a gigantic pork chop very often, and this is defiantly the most fun one to climb. Balance your way up the right arête and reach!
- Jack of All Trades (V4/5) – Tucked back in Getaway Canyon, this line requires a versatile climber. Beginning on crimps you have to pull through pinches, two finger pockets, and slopers.
- The Angel Dyno (V7) – It is just so cool; go try it!
- Fear of a Black Hat (V9) – As you walk into the Kraft Boulders, you will almost immediately see a giant block asking to be climbed. The left arête presents a stellar highball that is easily padded out and low in the grade.
- Stand and Deliver (V10/11) – Hidden in a canyon filled with Juniper trees, Stand and Deliver stands on a platform as an immaculate test piece of Juniper Canyon.
- Wet Dream (V12) – Wet dream is a beautiful water polished, bullet hard endurance test piece of Black Velvet Canyon, that offers rad gymnastic movement. No move is harder than V9, but 14 moves of steep powerful climbing makes this a must do challenge.
Best kept secret
The development is far from over in Red Rock Canyon. The approaches can be long but for the adventurous climber, the potential is amazing.
How stiff is the grading?
Tom Moulin has taken an interesting approach on grading Red Rock bouldering by paying close attention to how the difficulty feels depending on your height. Certain climbs are given a grade range like V4/V6 if they feel very height dependent. Like many areas there are plenty of climbs that felt soft and plenty that felt stiff, but the climbs are so good you will not care either way.
Where to stay?
If you are not feeling like staying in a crowded campground or under bright neon lights, there is camping on dirt roads past the turn off for Black Canyon and Mustang Canyon. Most climbers stay in the campground near the turn off for Calico Basin.
Now to you
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