One of the best hikes in Red Rock Canyon, the Turtlehead Peak hike is tough but rewards you with sweeping 360 views of Las Vegas and the surrounding La Madre mountains. The trail to Turtlehead Peak the shortest peak hike in Red Rock Canyon park, so be prepared for a workout and some crowds. It’s worth it, the views are incredible.
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 Turtlehead Peak 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
Turtlehead Peak is in the Mojave Desert, and it can get very hot in the summer and surpassingly cold in the winter, especially at the summit. The summit is often windy too, so having layers for the top is smart.
The hike is also very difficult, you will sweat on the way up, so you need water.
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.
Native Americans have been in this area since 11,000 BC. Today the Southern Paiute call this area home. There are also some petroglyphs in the park, which are kept hidden to stop vandalism and theft.
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. Turtlehead Peak is much older than the sandstone that’s below, but a tectonic shift 66 million years ago thrust the older stone (and peaks) up higher.
Red Rock Canyon is home to some interesting wildlife, including wild burros and desert tortoise. On the hike to Turtlehead Peak you’ll often see ground squirrels, and maybe if you’re lucky, bighorn sheep on the upper slopes.
Turtlehead Peak isn’t the highest point in the park; that honor goes to La Madre Mountain at 8,154ft. But Turtlehead Peak is the highest peak within the park that you can hike to.
On the lower slopes of this hike you’ll see some interesting sandstone formations. If you want to explore them, check out the Calico Tanks Trail hike.
The Turtlehead Peak trail is tough, climbing about 2000 feet in 2 miles. And the chute section is really tough, with stretch where you do about 700 feet in a half of a mile. I wouldn’t bring small (or inexperienced) children on this hike.
This hike is also popular, especially with beginners who go to the visitor center, get a map, see that this trail has views, and go for it. So don’t be surprised if you see hikers in sneakers holding a small water bottle, struggling as they hike the trail. I see it every time I do this hike.
There are parts of the trail, especially in the second half toward the summit, that split apart and join up again, a relic from when the trail wasn’t marked well and people just made their way up as best they could. All the of trails generally lead to Turtlehead Peak, so don’t stress if you see folks on a different trail as you hike.