The Calico Tanks Trail hike is one of the most popular in Red Rock Canyon. The scenery is spectacular–red, orange, and yellow sandstone formations with mountains towering above you. At the end of the hike is a watering hole (the Calico Tank) that has views of Las Vegas. It’s challenging without being too hard, suitable for all skill levels. It’s a great change of pace from the Las Vegas strip.
How To Get To the Calico Tanks Trail
The Calico Tanks Trail is located in the popular Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. It’s about 35 minutes from the Las Vegas strip and a great option if you need a break from the city. There’s a fee to enter Red Rock Canyon, or you can use a National Parks Pass to get in for free.
When you first enter Red Rock Canyon, the Visitor’s Center is worth a stop. They have interpretive displays that explain the geology and wildlife. They have some nice exhibits and a decent gift shop with hiking books, water, and snacks. There are also bathrooms here.
The Red Rock Canyon road is a 13 miles one way loop. The Calico Tanks Trail is a few miles in, and there are many other trails you can do as well (guides to some of the best ones are at the end of this guide). Even if you don’t do other hikes, I recommend stopping at some of the scenic overlooks. You could easily do the better part of a day at Red Rock Canyon.
When planning your visit, my advice would be to come early. This is one of the most popular hikes in the park and can get crowded.
What You Need For The Hike
The Calico Tanks Trail hike is in the Mojave Desert, the summers can be dangerously hot and the winters can be cold. Prepare appropriately and bring plenty of water either way. Otherwise fitness clothing is fine, you don’t really need any specialized hiking gear.
A snack (note that aside from the gift shop, there’s no place to buy food in the park)
There’s poor cell phone reception in the park, you you might want to take an emergency beacon if you have one.
If you want hiking gear recommendations, check out my full gear list. I only recommend and review gear that I actually use. No company pays me to push their product. Everything on my gear list is battle tested on the trails, and should work well for you too.
What To Know Before You Hike the Calico Tanks Trail
Native Americans have been in this area since 11,000 BC. Today the Southern Paiute call this area home, and you can see an agave roasting pit used by the Paiute hundreds of years ago. There are also some petroglyphs in the park, which are kept hidden to stop vandalism and theft.
A sandstone quarry along the hike was one of the first industries started in Las Vegas by settlers. It dates back to 1905 and used to ship 10-ton sandstone blocks to San Francisco and Los Angeles for building facades. The quarry didn’t make money and was shut down in 1912.
Red Rock Canyon became a protected area in 1967 and in 1990 became a National Conservation Area, managed by the BLM. 2 million people visit every year. On some days it feels like they’re all there on the same day as you.
The rocks you see have an interesting history. The higher mountains around you (like Turtlehead Peak) are much older than the sandstone that’s abundant on the Calico Tanks Trail, but a tectonic shift 66 million years ago thrust the older stone (and peaks) up higher.
Usually animals stay a fair distance away from the trails but you might get lucky and see something. Keep your eyes out for wild burros, desert hares, ground squirrels, and lizards. Tougher to spot are bighorn sheep and desert tortoises, but they’re out there.
When you’ve had your fill of exploring Calico Tanks, just head back the way you came. The scramble can be tricky in reverse, so take your time and make sure you’re going the right way (the GPX file helps). Don’t be ashamed to shimmy down some rocks on your butt if you have to. It’s all part of the fun.
You can help other hikers. If you do this hike and something has changed, snap a few photos and email me the details. I’ll update the guide so that others can do the hike safely.