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Fossil Canyon - Fossil Ridge Loop
Hiking Around Las Vegas, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
Fossil Canyon Route
Fossil Canyon Loop
Cowboy Trail Rides Trailhead Parking (view E)

Overview

The Fossil Canyon-Fossil Ridge Loop makes for a nice 2.5-mile hike on the northwest side of Blue Diamond Hill where the walls of the canyon are full of interesting fossils such as sponges, gastropods, and corals.

The route runs up Fossil Canyon (sometimes called Echo Canyon) to near the head of the canyon, then climbs out of the canyon to connect with trails that run back to the trailhead. Hikers can take any of several routes back down, or hike farther up the mountain on one of the other Blue Diamond Hill Bike Trails. Hiking back down the Rock Garden Trail along Fossil Ridge makes for a scenic return route with plenty of fossils and a variety of cactus species.

Link to map

Fossil Canyon Loop

Watch Out

Other than the standard warnings about hiking in the desert, ...this is a fairly safe hike, but be careful if you climb around on the boulders or cliffs looking at fossils. There is one, short but interesting 3rd-class scramble-up at a pour-over.

While hiking, please respect the land and the other people out there, and try to Leave No Trace of your passage. Also, even though this hike is short, be sure to bring what you need of the 10 Essentials.

Getting to the Trailhead

This hike is located in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, about 30 minutes from town, but not on the Scenic Loop Road. Drive out West Charleston Blvd, past the entrance to the Scenic Loop Drive, to the Cowboy Trail Rides Trailhead on the left. Park here; this is the trailhead.

Fossil Canyon Loop
Inside the gate, three trail options (view SE)

The Hike

From the trailhead (Table 1, Waypoint 01), the route runs southeast on the dirt road that leads to the horse corrals. Passing the first corrals, the dirt road curves to the right and runs into the deep canyon on the northern flank of Blue Diamond Hill. The first set of cowboy corrals are located about 200 yards down the road, and the second set is located at the end of the dirt road, just inside the canyon (Wpt. 02). At the end of the road, pass the corrals to the left, but don't disturb the cowboys or their horses, at least not too much. Just past the corrals, a wide trail drops into the wash and crosses to the other side.

The route follows the trail for a few hundred yards to where the canyon splits (Wpt. 03). The wide trail curves left to go east and up into Cave Canyon. There are some interesting limestone caves and fossils up the main canyon that are worth investigating but a bit of a challenge to get to.

fossil canyon route
Trail from parking rejoins dirt road (view SE)

At the curve, a smaller use-trail forks off to the right and runs south into Fossil Canyon. Starting up Fossil Canyon, the route follows a faint use-trail heading south. There is no sign, but the trail junction is fairly obvious. The use-trail cuts across Cave Canyon Wash, then across Fossil Canyon Wash, and eventually runs along the hillside on the west edge of the canyon. The use-trail drops into the wash from time to time, crosses to the east side, scrambles up little cliffs and pour-overs, and otherwise heads up the canyon. Watch for fossils in the limestone rocks along the wash.

Near the top of the canyon (Wpt. 04), watch for the use-trail or just pick a safe place, and climb the low ridge on the right (west) to get out of the canyon (Wpt. 05). The Fossil Trail runs right on the lip of the canyon through here. The farther up the canyon you go, the easier is the scramble-up the canyon wall, and eventually the Fossil Trail even crosses the wash.

Fossil Canyon Loop
Beyond corrals, trail drops into wash (view SE)

Atop the ridge, the Loop runs back down the Fossil Trail, still watching for fossils, to a trail junction (Wpt. 06). The Fossil Trail bends to the left and heads northwest down the hillside, while the Rock Garden Trail continues atop the ridgeline. The ridgeline is scenic, but the horseback riders use it, and parts are pretty trashed. Following the ridgeline, when just above the corrals, the trail forks again (Wpt. 07). Either follow the horse trail down to the corrals and walk back on the dirt road, or continue straight off the end of the ridge (Wpt. 08) towards the parking lot (Wpt. 01) on the Rock Garden Trail.

Fossil Canyon Loop

In 2005, a fire burned several hundred acres the area between the Fossil Trail and the Rock Garden Trail. The firefighters used the trails as firelines, so for a few hundred yards the hillside between the trail is burned, while outside the trail is unburned. It is interesting to see the plants that survived, and it will be interesting to watch the vegetation recover over the years.

Fossil Ridge is an amazing place for cactus, and almost all of the common species found in southern Nevada can be see along the trail. There are lots of California barrel cactus and buckhorn cholla, and there are nice examples of silver cholla, cottontop cactus, beavertail pricklypear, and pincushion lower on the trail. Higher on the trail, there are nice examples of old man pricklypear.

Fossil Canyon Loop
Sponge fossils along the trail
Fossil Canyon Loop
Trail approaches fork in the canyon (view SE)
Fossil Canyon Loop
Hiker approaching fork in the canyon (view SE)
Fossil Canyon Loop
Cave Canyon - Fossil Canyon trail junction (view SE)
Fossil Canyon Loop
Cave Canyon - Fossil Canyon trail junction (view SE)
Fossil Canyon Loop
Fossil Canyon use-trail crossing Cave Canyon Wash (view S)
Fossil Canyon Loop
Fossil Canyon use-trail on east side of Fossil Canyon Wash (view S)
Fossil Canyon Loop
Fossil Canyon use-trail crosses Fossil Canyon Wash (view S)
fossil canyon route
Hiker by Mormon Tea and fossil encrusted boulder (view S)
Fossil Canyon Loop
Trail on west side of canyon (view SE)
Fossil Canyon Loop
Trail on west side of canyon (view SE)
Fossil Canyon Loop
Trail drops into Fossil Canyon Wash (view SE)
Fossil Canyon Loop
Unusually tall and skinny Mojave Yucca
Fossil Canyon Loop
A low pour-over in the wash (view S)
Fossil Canyon Loop
Another low pour-over in the wash (view SE)
Fossil Canyon Loop
Somewhat more interesting low pour-over (view SE)
Fossil Canyon Loop
Scallop-like shell fossil
Fossil Canyon Loop
Scallop-like shell fossil (close-up)
Fossil Canyon LoopFossilized algal mat Fossil Canyon Loop
Use-trail bushwhacks up the canyon (view SE)
Fossil Canyon Loop
Approaching exit from the canyon bottom (view SE)
Fossil Canyon LoopExit from the canyon bottom (view SE)
Fossil Canyon Loop
Fossil Trail above Fossil Canyon Wash (view N)
Fossil Canyon Loop
Lots of cactus atop Fossil Ridge (view N)
Fossil Canyon Loop
Buckhorn Cholla atop Fossil Ridge (view N)
Fossil Canyon Loop
Rock Garden Trail atop Fossil Ridge (view NW)
Fossil Canyon Loop
The west side of the trail burned in 2005 (view NE)
Fossil Canyon Loop
Burned Rock Garden Trail atop Fossil Ridge (view NW)
Fossil Canyon Loop
Burned Mojave Yucca (Winter 2005)
Fossil Canyon Loop
Burned California Barrel Cactus (Winter 2005)
Fossil Canyon Loop
Burned Mojave Yucca (Winter 2005)
Fossil Canyon Loop
Crinoid fossils atop Fossil Ridge (cross-section)
Fossil Canyon Loop
Crinoid fossils atop Fossil Ridge (long-section)
Fossil Canyon Loop
Corrals below toe of Fossil Ridge (view N)

Table 1. Hiking Coordinates Based on GPS Data (NAD27; UTM Zone 11S). Download Hiking GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.

Wpt. Location UTM Easting UTM Northing Elevation (ft) Point-to-Point Distance (mi) Cumulative Distance (mi) Verified
01 Trailhead 641052 3998352 3,594 0.00 0.00 GPS
02 End of Dirt Road 641403 3998050 3,628 0.33 0.33 GPS
03 Canyon Splits 641676 3997821 3,681 0.24 0.57 GPS
04 Exit the Canyon 641957 3997065 3,923 0.57 1.14 GPS
05 Fossil Trail 641933 3997048 4,102 0.03 1.17 GPS
06 Trail Junction 641888 3997083 4,114 0.05 1.22 GPS
07 Trail Junction 641283 3998058 3,891 0.87 2.09 GPS
08 Toe of the Ridge 641241 3998146 3,887 0.06 2.15 GPS
01 Trailhead 641052 3998352 3,594 0.21 2.36 GPS

Happy Hiking! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
copyright; Last updated 150925

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