Calico Tanks Trail at Red Rock Canyon

Calico Tanks Trail at Red Rock Canyon

In This Guide
  • Turn by Turn Hike Directions
  • Maps For the Hike
  • What You Need For the Hike
  • Parking Info & Directions
  • What To Look For on the Hike
  • Other Fun Hikes in Red Rock Canyon
Distance2.3 miles (3.7 km)
Time2 Hours (Total Time)
DifficultyModerate
Total Climbing570 feet (174m)
Highest Elevation4,720 feet (1439m)
Dog FriendlyLeashed
Park NameRed Rock Canyon
Park Phone702-515-5350

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.

The trailhead address is: Sandstone Quarry Overlook, Las Vegas, NV, 89161, USA.

Cris Hazzard With Red Rock Sign
Don’t forget to stop at the Red Rock Canyon entrance sign for photos. Everyone does it.

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.

There’s poor cell phone reception in the park, you you might want to take an emergency beacon if you have one.

See All The Gear I Use

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

Calico Tanks Trail
There’s some good wildlife spotting on the hike. Stay quiet and keep your eyes on the area off the trail for your best chances at spotting something.

Calico Tanks Trail Maps

Fenix 5x Hiking Review

I highly recommend bringing a good paper map with you, and then using it in conjunction with a GPS device. You can see the navigation gear that I use here (I’m currently using the Fenix 5x Plus and love it). Just download the GPX file below and load it onto your GPS.

Many people also print out this web page for the turn-by-turn images. And if you really want to get tricky, YouTube Premium lets you download videos for offline use, so you can download the hike video and save it.

Download the Hike GPX File

View a Printable PDF Hike Map

Hike Calico Tanks Trail 3d map
The trail heads up the wash, then turns off and makes its way up into the Calico Hills.
Hike Calico Tanks Trail elevation
This chart is a little deceiving because the distance is so short. You’ll hike and scramble up about 500 feet as you make your way to the Calico Tanks.

Calico Tanks Trail Directions

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Turn by Turn Hike Directions

turtlehead peak trail parking
The Sandstone Quarry parking lot is easy to find and is on the map you get at the visitor’s center.
turtlehead peak trail parking
There are bathrooms in the parking lot here.
turtlehead peak trail
A few trails leave from the trailhead at the end of the parking lot. The Turtlehead Peak and Calico Tanks share the same trail in the beginning.
turtlehead peak trail
The trail is wide and easy to spot.
turtlehead peak trail
Head up the trail with Turtlehead Peak looming in front of you.
turtlehead peak trail
Shortly after the start of the hike, you’ll reach the Sandstone Quarry. The quarry is on your right, the trail to your left.
turtlehead peak trail
The quarry has some abandoned blocks and an interpretive display. It’s worth a look. Continue back to the trail when you’re finished.
turtlehead peak trail
The trail is clearly marked to the left the Sandstone Quarry area. Head towards Turtlehead Peak and Calico Tanks.
turtlehead peak trail
Another trail marker makes it easy to follow the path.
Calico Tanks Trail
Shortly after that, the trail splits. Head right to Calico Tanks.
Calico Tanks Trail
The trail is well defined and easy to follow in the beginning.
Calico Tanks Trail
Shortly after the split, you’ll see the Native American roasting pit interpretive sign to your left. The trail continues to the right, but the pit is worth looking at for a minute.
Calico Tanks Trail
The agave roasting pit is not much to look at, but neat none the less. It was used by the Southern Paiute. Roasted agave allegedly tastes like steamed asparagus. Please respect the site and don’t touch or disturb anything.
Calico Tanks Trail
After the agave pit, continue on the trail, avoiding heading up the wash by following the signs and markers.
Calico Tanks Trail
Here you start to get a preview of the sandstone formations that you’ll soon hike through.
Calico Tanks Trail
One last trail marker before you enter the Calico Hills proper.
Calico Tanks Trail
Head to the left here. Or you can head to the right. You’ll find that from here on out, there can be trail splits that come back together eventually. Defaulting to the trail that looks the most used is usually a good bet.
Calico Tanks Trail
The sand trail starts to end and it gets more rocky with multi-colored sandstone.
Calico Tanks Trail
Here’s where the scrambling starts. Climb up the rocks. Sometimes there are cairns to help you pick the route out. In general, look toward the left for a path up on the scramble sections.
Calico Tanks Trail
There’s always a path up the rocks as you scramble. If you dead end or encounter an extreme climb or wall, backtrack and try another route. There are no mandatory walls to scramble up over 4-5 feet in general.
Calico Tanks Trail
As you climb, keep your eyes open for the incredible rock formations. It feels like you are in another world. Most of the smooth rock and different formations are a result of water pouring down this canyon during deluges over thousands of years.
Calico Tanks Trail
Pick your way up through the boulders, looking for smaller boulders to step up as you hike.
Calico Tanks Trail
Occasionally you’ll have a nice stone staircase to hike up. This shot gives you a good idea of the typical scramble that you have to do.
Calico Tanks Trail
At the point where there’s a high red sandstone cliff, look to the left for the staircase up. Remember this on the way back down, this part can be tricky to find on the way back.
Calico Tanks Trail
After that intense section of scrambling, the trail becomes more of a trail again.
Calico Tanks Trail
Look for rock stairs or heavy use to pick the right route.
Calico Tanks Trail
One last stretch before you reach the Calico Tanks.
Calico Tanks
You made it! Depending on the water height, you can explore around the Calico Tank. Tank is the anglo version of ‘tinaja’ which is term originating in the American Southwest for surface pockets formed by water erosion.
Calico Tanks
As you explore the area, there are a few highlights. There is a bluff to the left that offers nice views. The trail on the right heads down to the water. The gap at the far side offers views into Las Vegas. Be quiet as your arrive, you might spot some wildlife. There are desert bighorn sheep who visit here occasionally (I only saw this once very early). The pool often has tadpoles and small minnows.
Calico Tanks
Here’s a view into Las Vegas from the gap at Calico Tanks.

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.

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