If I’m going to honest, Las Vegas has never been on my growing list of must-do family adventures. When I lay in bed at night I dream of exploring lush rain forests, paddling across smooth lakes, climbing epic rock walls and hiking flower dotted alpine trials with my family. Before this trip, the idea of visiting Las Vegas made me balk. Crowds? Flashy things? Crazy party people? Nope. Not interested. It’s just not me. I’d rather go for a polar bear swim in January.
But… my parents were going to be there, the flights were really cheap, and we scored free accommodations (bunking up with my parents in their new trailer!). Upon closer inspection we also discovered that there are some really neat natural wonder and outdoor activities to see and do just outside of Las Vegas. So we booked our flights and planned our quick ten day trip to Las Vegas over spring break.
If you’ve been to the Las Vegas McCarran International Airport you’ll know that it is: a) efficient and b) flashy (like flashing machines, adverts etc.). Kids love flashy things (I do not… unless it’s a camera) and it didn’t take long for my kids to ask:
Kids: “Mom are those video games?”
Me: “No they’re gambling machines.”
Kids: “Can we play?”
Kids: “Why not?”
This, of course, laid the groundwork for several interesting conversations about gambling as we made our way out of the airport, on the shuttle to the car rental and finally to meet my parents. Phew!
Red Rock Canyon
Red Rock Canyon is a National Conservation Area located 16 miles (25 km) west of Las Vegas. This large protected area is home to beautiful red, pink and tan Aztec sandstone, unique geological features, petroglyphs, and endangered species. The fees and passes to access this park are listed on their website.
We spent a good portion of our trip hiking and climbing in Red Rock Canyon. The colourful sandstone is a sight that you shouldn’t miss. There are numerous trails to explore that range from very easy to more difficult. And there are plenty or routes to rock climb too!
The 13 Mile Loop
After paying the entrance fee and passing the info center you start driving along a 13 mile one-way scenic loop through the park. There are about ten pull outs along the loop that bring your to various trails and climbing locations (park map). If you miss a pull out, or the pull out you want to stop at is full, you’re out of luck! Either choose a different pull out or go back through the entrance and do the whole loop again. It’s a pain!
Tip: If you’re visiting Red Rock during a busy time get there early!
Climbing Red Rock with Kids
Public Service Announcement! If you plan to climb at Red Rock Canyon please be aware that sandstone is porous (has holes in it) and these hole collect water when it rains. Wet sandstone is fragile and breaks easily. Don’t be stupid and climb wet sandstone. Depending on the weather (how much rain fell, how windy it is and how hot it is) you may need to wait 24 to 72 hours before the rock is safe to climb again. If you’re desperate to climb go into the Red Rock visitor center and ask the info desk for a map to the nearby limestone crags.
Where should kids climb at Red Rock?
It really depends on how old your kids are and what grades your kids climb. The other thing to consider is how easy is it to get to the rock (the approach) and how safe is it when you arrive (the landing).
We only had four days to explore different areas (due to rainfall). We went to:
- The Magic School Bus (tricky to get there for younger kids, not a great hang out spot for young kids (small landing with fall hazards) but fun easy/moderate climbs)
- The Gallery (tricky to get there for younger kids, decent landing, fun easy/moderate climbs). *our favourite spot*
- The Black Corridor (not too tricky to get there if you take the longer route, safe landing, narrow corridor, easy/moderate climbs).
- Calico Basin (easy approach to one easy crag that other families were climbing (we didn’t) and some other moderate/hard routes)
Did we miss out on a good climbing spot with our kids? Let me know where we should go next time in the comment section below.
Hiking Red Rock with Kids
If it’s drizzling at Red Rocks then go for a hike! Literally. There are lots of wonderful trails to explore. Just be aware that if it’s pouring rain flash floods are a serious concern.
There are many hikes in Red Rock that range from easy to difficult. Ice Box Canyon, Turtlehead Peak and Calico Tanks are a few of the more popular trails to explore. We explored a few trails and Ice Box canyon was one of our favourites.
Ice Box Canyon
This hike is rated as difficult because of its uneven terrain but my kids
loved hoping from boulder to boulder over the creek up to the waterfall at the end (they were ages 7, 9 and 11 at the time). Some people (online) cautioned that this hike wasn’t for kids. I disagree. If you have kids that have hiking experience, like boulder hoping and getting their feet wet then they’ll probably love this hike. Little kids (four and under) will probably need extra help and/or need to be carried a fair bit.
Valley of Fire State Park
We also had the chance to Valley of Fire State Park, a 40,000 acre (162 km²) park filled with of beautiful Axtec sandstone, petroglyphs and petrified trees. This park is located 50 miles (80 km) north-east of Las Vegas and there is an entrance fee (see website) to enter, but it’s well worth making the visit.
There are tons of trails to explore in this area and we only an afternoon to explore. We stopped at the visitors centre, chatted with the helpful staff and grabbed map. We hiked the popular White Domes trail and the Fire Wave trail. Both were interesting but the we preferred the Fire Wave.
Be aware that this park gets super hot. Even on a warm spring afternoon it felt sweltering on the trails.
Did we visit the Las Vegas strip? Nope.
We stayed clear of the strip. Ultimately, we would much rather stare at rock walls instead of fancy hotels and waterfalls instead of fountains. We thought about bringing our kids to see a show like Cirque du Soleil until we saw how much it cost – yikes!
Would we go back? Absolutely!
If your family enjoys exploring nature, Southern Nevada is a gorgeous place to visit in the spring and fall. I can only image how hot the summers must be. We only spent a short ten days exploring this area. Just enough to get our toes wet. We can’t wait to return for more climbing at Red Rocks, and to explore some of the other nearby natural wonders like the Death Valley National Park, Mojave Natural Reserve, Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument and Zion National Park.