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Calico Hills Loop
Hiking Around Las Vegas, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
Calico Hills Loop
Calico Hills Loop
Red Spring Parking Lot and Picnic Area

Overview

Calico Hills Loop is 6-1/4-mile hike that circumnavigates the Calico Hills. The hike can be considered a series of trail segments that start and stop at any of 6 trailheads (3 along the Scenic Loop Road and 3 in Calico Basin). Most of the loop runs on easy, gently sloping trails, but there are a few steep parts, some off-trail in a wash, and the Ash Canyon segment requires a fair bit of Class-2 and Class 3 scrambling getting down and around boulders and pour-overs.

Views from many parts of the loop are grand, with those on the west side of the hills spreading out across all of Red Rock Canyon, and those on the east side looking southeast across Calico Basin and points south. For hikers who have only driven along the Scenic Loop Road, this hike offers an up-close and personal encounter with the Calico Hills that is quite different from the road-side perspective.

Link to map.

Calico Hills Loop
Use-trail departing the picnic area (view SW)

Watch Out

Other than the standard warnings about hiking in the desert, ...this hike is fairly safe and usually not far from a road or trailhead. Ash Canyon requires a bit of Class 3 scrambling, so be extra careful when high enough to fall and get hurt.

While hiking, please respect the land and the other people out there, and please try to Leave No Trace of your passage. This is a long hike, so be sure to bring what you need of the 10 Essentials. The Ash Canyon segment of the loop goes into the La Madre Mountain Wilderness Area, so pay particular attention to respecting the land.

Calico Hills Loop
Passing the fenced area and nearing the old road

Getting to the Trailhead

This hike is located in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, about 30-45 minutes from town, depending on the chosen trailhead.

As described here, the loop starts at Red Spring Picnic Area in Calico Basin, which is not in the Scenic Loop fee area and therefore provides free access. Other free trailheads in Calico Basin are the Assisi Road and Sandstone Road trailheads. Inside the fee area, Calico 1, Calico 2, and Sandstone Quarry serve as trailheads.

For Red Spring, drive out West Charleston Blvd, turn right towards Calico Basin, then drive into the Red Spring Trailhead. Park here; this is the trailhead. The parking area closes at sunset, so park outside the gate if you expect a late return.

Calico Hills Loop
Saddle (view south into Calico Hills Canyon)

The Hike - Red Spring to Calico 1

From the edge of the parking area adjacent to the picnic tables (Table 1, Waypoint 01), the trail runs south, staying on the dirt use-trail outside the wooden fence.

The route runs south past Red Spring and merges with an old road (Wpt. 02) that climbs steeply to the top of the ridge (Wpt. 03) ahead. Along the old road, several use-trails cut off into the boulders, but it is easier to stay on the road, bending to the right near the top, and climbing onto the saddle (Wpt. 03).

The saddle provides great views north across Calico Basin to Kraft Mountain, Gray Cap Peak, and off to high peaks in the La Madre Range. From the saddle, a spur trail runs east along the ridgeline to a highpoint, which provides slightly better views than does the saddle.

Calico Hills Loop
Use-trail leading towards huge boulders (view SW)

Hiking down the south side of the ridge, the immediate goal is reaching the huge boulders in the bottom of the canyon. Several use-trails cut off to the right, all of which lead to the huge boulders, but it is easier to stay on the old road as it runs down and left, and then bends back to the right. A bit past the bend, a use-trail crosses the old road (Wpt. 04) and runs down and across the hillside towards huge boulders.

The boulder area (Wpt. 05) is criss-crossed by use-trails, but the route winds through the boulders heading west, staying close under the cliffs and above the wash.

Beyond the boulders, the use-trails converge and wrap around the south end of the Calico Hills, following along the wash and now heading up the canyon.

Calico Hills Loop
Area with huge boulders (view W)

The loop trail passes a trail junction (Wpt. 06) to the left that can be used to hike over to the visitor center. Staying right (straight) at the junction, the loop trail continues to curve northward and eventually drops into and crosses the wash (Wpt. 07).

Beyond the wash, the trail climbs onto a rocky knob (Wpt. 08). There are several use-trails in this area, but all seem to converge on the knob. The higher trail might be easier.

Beyond the rocky knob, the trail climbs towards Calico 1 Trailhead (Wpt. 09). There are many use-trails in this area, but trails staying low are better unless hikers want to exit the trail system.

Calico Hills Loop
Wrapping around S end of Calico Hills (view NW)

The Hike - Calico 1 to Calico 2

From the Calico 1 trail sign (Wpt. 09), the route continues north on a well-used trail. Shortly, the trail descends towards a wash, and just before the wash, the trail forks (Wpt. 10). All trails in this area lead north towards Calico 2, so either fork will do. The right fork, part of the Calico Hills Trail, climbs higher (better views, harder route), and the left fork stays low (easier and shorter).

Staying left (Wpt. 10), the trail runs low along the west side of the wash. The trail eventually begins to climb, merges back together with Calico Hills Trail (Wpt. 11), and climbs into the Calico 2 area, which also has many use-trails. At a signed trail junction (Wpt. 12), the loop trail stays right (more-or-less straight), while the trail up to the Calico 2 Trailhead turns hard to the left.

Calico Hills Loop
Climbing towards rocky knob (view NW)

The Hike - Calico 2 to Sandstone Quarry

Staying right at the Calico 2 trail junction (Wpt. 12), the loop trail (Calico Hills Trail) climbs gently towards a saddle (Wpt. 13) on a well-used trail. Looking into the distance from the saddle, the trail can be seen dropping towards the wash, passing a set of large boulders, and climbing the hillside towards a saddle. While hiking, look for petroglyphs on the boulders.

The Calico Hills Trail runs up the valley and climbs onto the saddle at a point where Sandstone Quarry parking can be seen in the distance. In this area, several use-trails cut up the hillside and others drop into the canyon, but the main trail stays more-or-less on the level before dropping into the south end of the Sandstone Quarry parking area (Wpt. 14).

Calico Hills Loop
Climbing towards Calico 1 (view NW)

The Hike - Sandstone Quarry to Ash Canyon

The Calico Hills Loop Trail continues north across the Sandstone Quarry parking area to the north end, which has a restroom. Continuing on the Calico Tanks Trail (Wpt. 15), the old road leads into the historic quarry area, passes a signed trail junction to the Grand Circle Trail (Wpt. 16), and passes a Calico Tanks Trail sign (Wpt. 17).

Continuing north, the trail stays right at the signed Turtlehead Peak Trail junction (Wpt. 18) and now heading northeast, starts to wrap around the north end of the Calico Hills. The trail passes an info sign about agave roasting pits, drops into the wash, and runs up into a narrow sandstone canyon. When the narrows open, the Calico Tanks Trail turns out of the main wash (Wpt. 19) heading southeast into Calico Tanks Canyon, but the Calico Hills Loop (now just a route) stays in the wash heading northeast.

Calico Hills Loop
Calico 1 trail sign (view E)

Following the wash, the route continues northeast, passes through red sandstone narrows, passes a minor wash to the right that leads to Red Cap Peak, and turns up a white sandstone narrows (Wpt. 20).

Continuing up the wash, the route eventually climbs to a highpoint where the trail crosses off sandstone and onto limestone (Wpt. 21); this is the Keystone Thrust Fault, seen elsewhere on the Keystone Thrust Trail. This marks the highest point and north-most point on the loop.

Continuing along the sandstone-limestone interface, a use-trail runs down to a trail junction with the Gray Cap Peak route (Wpt 22). Staying to the right, the use-trail drops directly towards the top of Ash Canyon to a trail junction (Wpt 23) that forms a triangle with the Gray Cap Peak route.

Calico Hills Loop
Trail in burn area north of Calico 1 (view N)

The Hike - Ash Canyon

Near the top of Ash Canyon, the use-trail fades out as the route runs onto sandstone. The route passes through a cleft that opens onto an overlook (Wpt. 24) with nice views down Ash Canyon, and beyond the overlook, a well used use-trail runs down the canyon.

At a trail junction down the canyon (Wpt. 25), the loop stays right and drops past white sandstone crags into what looks like might be narrows with pour-overs. Fortunately, there are no difficult pour-overs, but the route provides plenty of scrambling and route finding as it descends the canyon. Keep an eye out for use-trails on the west side of the canyon.

Eventually the canyon ends at Ash Spring (Wpt. 26), and use-trails fan out southward. At a trail junction (Wpt. 27), the left trail runs out to the Sandstone Road Trailhead, while the loop trail stays right (straight) along the base of the Calico Hills.

Calico Hills Loop
Trail in burn area north of Calico 1 (view N)

The Hike - Ash Canyon to Red Spring

From the trail junction (Wpt. 27), a plethora of trails fan out along the hillside. Staying generally under the sandstone cliffs, trails run south towards Red Spring, which can be seem from this area. Staying more of less under the cliffs, the loop trail passes a trail junction to the Assisi Road Trailhead (Wpt. 28) adjacent to a large rock used by climbers (Cannibal Crag). Continuing in the same general direction, several trails descend across the hillside into the Red Spring Parking Area (Wpt. 29).

Calico Hills Loop
Calico 2 trail sign (view NE)
Calico Hills Loop
Trail beyond Calico 2 (view N)
Calico Hills Loop
Trail beyond Calico 2 (view N)
Calico Hills Loop
Petroglyphs along the trail
Calico Hills Loop
Rocky trail nearing Sandstone Quarry (view NW)
Calico Hills Loop
Dirt trail nearing Sandstone Quarry (view NW)
Calico Hills Loop
Saddle overlooking Sandstone Quarry (view NW)
Calico Hills Loop
Sandstone Quarry Trailhead
Calico Hills Loop
Sandstone Quarry trail sign (view N)
Calico Hills Loop
Trail junction sign
Calico Hills Loop
Trail drops into wash; goes through gap (view NE)
Calico Hills Loop
Wash departing Calico Tanks Trail (view NE)
Calico Hills Loop
Wash runs through red narrows (view E)
Calico Hills Loop
Hiker entering white narrows (view NE)
Calico Hills Loop
Route runs through white narrows (view S)
Calico Hills Loop
Open wash (view NE)
Calico Hills Loop
Trail dropping into Ash Canyon (view SE)
Calico Hills Loop
Top of Ash Canyon (view SE)
Calico Hills Loop
Viewpoint high in Ash Canyon (view SE)
Calico Hills Loop
Trail forks, right descends into narrow canyon (view S)
Calico Hills Loop
Approaching top of narrow canyon (view S)
Calico Hills Loop
Narrow canyon (view SE)
Calico Hills Loop
Boulders in Ash Canyon (view SE)
Calico Hills Loop
Hikers nearing bottom of Ash Canyon (view S)
Calico Hills Loop
Hikers descending out of Ash Canyon (view NW)
Calico Hills Loop
Exiting Ash Canyon (view SE)
Calico Hills Loop
Red Spring in the distance (view SE)
more to come ...

Table 2. 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 Red Spring South Trailhead 642319 4001153 3,583 0.00 0.00 GPS
02 Trail Junction 642242 4000927 3,656 0.17 0.17 GPS
03 Saddle 642250 4000753 3,759 0.11 0.28 GPS
04 Trail Junction 642306 4000682 3,668 0.07 0.35 GPS
05 Boulder Field 642237 4000591 3,621 0.08 0.43 GPS
06 Trail Junction 642015 4000625 3,665 0.15 0.58 GPS
07 Wash Crossing 641831 4000741 3,651 0.14 0.72 GPS
08 Rocky Knob 641623 4000887 3,831 0.18 0.90 GPS
09 Calico 1 Trail Junction 641324 4001168 3,895 0.29 1.19 GPS
10 Trail Junction 641280 4001206 3,868 0.03 1.22 GPS
11 Trail Junction 640678 4001845 3,968 0.59 1.81 GPS
12 Calico 2 Trail Junction 640618 4001855 3,996 0.04 1.85 GPS
13 Saddle 640609 4002022 4,060 0.12 1.97 GPS
14 Sandstone Quarry South Trailhead 639535 4002785 4,308 0.94 2.91 GPS
15 Sandstone Quarry North Trailhead 639468 4002876 4,367 0.08 2.99 GPS
16 Grand Circle Trail Junction 639483 4002979 4,305 0.06 3.05 GPS
17 Calico Tanks Trail Junction 639461 4003002 4,311 0.02 3.07 GPS
18 Turtlehead Peak Trail Junction 639419 4003159 4,379 0.11 3.18 GPS
19 Calico Tanks Canyon 639636 4003359 4,405 0.21 3.39 GPS
20 Start of White Narrows 639814 4003479 4,422 0.16 3.55 GPS
21 Highpoint at Keystone Thrust 639958 4003568 4,490 0.16 3.71 GPS
22 S Fork, Gateway Canyon Trail Junction 640314 4003484 4,544 0.23 3.94 GPS
23 Trail Junction 640433 4003364 4,518 0.11 4.05 GPS
24 Overlook 640520 4003275 4,481 0.09 4.14 GPS
25 Trail Junction 640632 4003146 4,360 0.12 4.26 GPS
26 Trail Junction near Ash Spring 641286 4002484 3,811 0.73 4.99 GPS
27 Trail Junction to Sandstone Rd Trailhead 641581 4002347 3,773 0.21 5.20 GPS
28 Trail Junction to Assisi Rd Trailhead 642006 4001427 3,690 0.69 5.89 GPS
29 Red Spring North Trailhead 642288 4001171 3,604 0.28 6.17 GPS

Happy Hiking! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
copyright; Last updated 121228

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