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Children's Discovery Trail
Hiking Around Las Vegas, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
Children's Discovery Trail
Children's Discovery Trail
Children's Discovery trailhead (view NW)


This is a pleasant 0.61-mile loop trail with nine numbered signposts that correspond to information in a brochure (Children's Discovery Trail; a journey into nature) about the Red Rocks area. The brochure is available at the Visitor Center, not at the trailhead. From the trailhead, the trail runs northwest across Red Rock Wash and climbs onto the hillside below the red and white sandstone cliffs. The trail turns south and winds along the hillside (passing a rock-art site) to a spring in a dense willow thicket with a boardwalk. From there, the trail runs back across Red Rock Wash and returns to the trailhead. A variation of the loop runs up a side canyon to Lost Creek Falls. This is a good, easy trail where kids (and perhaps their parents) can learn about plants and other things in the desert. The cliffs above the trail are the best place in Red Rocks to look for bighorn sheep.

Link to topographic map. or aerial photo map.

Children's Discovery Trail
Marker #1. Red Rock Wash (view N)

Watch Out

Other than the standard warnings about hiking in the desert, ...this is a safe hike, although the trail on the hillside is rocky and might be unsuitable for people with walking difficulties. Care should always be taken on wet or icy rocks, and if you get wet sand on your feet, the smooth sandstone rocks in the trail can be slippery. In fact, the dust-covered rocks along the trail near the boardwalk seem more slippery than they ought to be. Always watch for flashfloods when crossing desert washes.

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.

Children's Discovery Trail
Marker #2. Coolness of the canyon (view S)

Getting to the Trailhead

This hike is located along the Scenic Loop Road in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, about 1 hour west of Las Vegas. Drive out to Red Rocks, pay the fee, and then drive about half-way around the Scenic Loop Road to Willow Spring Road. Turn right and drive north 0.2 miles to the Lost Creek Trailhead. Park here; this is the trailhead.

Children's Discovery Trail
Marker #2. Pinyon and agave-roasting pit (view W)

The Hike

Two trails run west from the paved parking lot. The Lost Creek Trail starts on the west side of the parking lot (near the middle) and runs straight (southwest) across Red Rock Wash towards a big willow thicket, a tall pine tree, and the mouth of Lost Creek Canyon. The Children's Discovery Trail starts at the northwest corner of the parking lot (by the big sign) and angles upstream and across the wash (northwest).

From the Children's Discovery trailhead (Table 2, Waypoint 00), the well-defined trail runs up and across the canyon for 0.15 miles to the edge of Red Rock Wash and Marker #1 (Wpt. 01). Here the brochure discusses desert washes (normally dry streambeds), mentioning that during summer thunderstorms, washes can quickly fill with a raging torrent of water that is strong enough to move big boulders down the wash. Long after the water is gone, the evidence of past flashfloods can be seen by the scattered boulders and debris caught in shrubs along the wash. The water is not actually gone, it just runs underground most of the time.

Children's Discovery Trail
Marker #3. Manzanita (view SW)

From Marker #1, the trail crosses the wash, climbs onto the bank on the other side, and turns south (left), running behind some large shrub live oak “trees” to Marker #2 (Wpt. 02). Here the brochure discusses the coolness of the canyon and the high water table, which combine to form favorable conditions for shrubs and trees in the desert. The brochure mentions that singleleaf pinyon pine, a tall specimen of which can be seen up the trail, is one of the Nevada State Trees. Pinyon pine can be recognized because they have one short pine needle per bundle (most pines have 3 or 5 needles per bundle). The “pine nuts” that we buy in grocery stores are the seeds of pinyon trees. To see the other Nevada State Tree, the bristlecone pine, you would have to drive to the end of the road in Lee Canyon on Mt. Charleston.

There is an agave-roasting pit under the tall pinyon tree. This is a place where native Americans dug a pit, filled it with wood and burned it down to coals, then put food (including agave plants) into the coals, covered it up, and let the coals slow-cook the food for a day or two. The bits of charcoal on the ground are hundreds of years old. A sign along the trail explains this prehistoric kitchen.

Children's Discovery Trail
Marker #4. Rock art (see inset) (view south).

From Marker #2, the trail turns west (right) and runs about 15 yards to the pinyon trees and agave-roasting pit, then turns north (right) and starts up the hillside on a steep, rocky trail. The trail passes between another large pinyon pine and a large, shaggy-barked Utah juniper tree before turning west towards the cliffs. The trail crosses a gully, passes under another large shrub live oak, and arrives at Marker #3 (Wpt. 03). Here the brochure discusses manzanita bushes. Manzanita can be recognized by the bright red bark and green leaves. The name, in Spanish, means “little apple,” a reference to the small, apple-like fruits that are eaten by coyotes and small mammals. The vegetation on this east-facing slope is lush for a desert, with lots of pinyon, juniper, and shrub live oak trees, plus manzanita and many other shrubs.

Children's Discovery Trail
Marker #5. Desert Meadow (view N)

From Marker #3, the trail runs south along the hillside, not up the hillside on the Willow Springs Loop Trail. After winding around boulders and through the shrubs, the trail arrives at Marker #4 (Wpt. 04), which is located by a wooden fence. The brochure mentions that the water and coolness of the canyon attracted native Americans (Anasazi and Paiute people) to this area, and that they left their marks on the rocks. Look for the pictograph, a native American rock painting, on the rock face behind the fence. In addition to shrub live oak, there are lots of banana yucca and prickly pear cactus here. There is nearby rock art on the Willow Springs Loop Trail and on the Petroglyph Wall Trail.

From Marker #4, the trail continues winding along the hillside, eventually reaching the Lost Creek Trail junction. The Children’s Discovery Trail turns east (left), while the trail to the west (right) runs a short distance up the canyon to the waterfall that flows in the winter and spring. At the junction, the shrubs are shrub live oak, sagebrush (unusual at this low elevation), and ashy silktassel (look for the clusters of hanging flowers and fruits).

Children's Discovery Trail
Marker #6. Lost Creek below the boardwalk (view S)

From the trail junction, the trail runs east for about 20 yards to a boardwalk. A few feet down the boardwalk, the trail arrives at Marker #5 (Wpt. 05) on the left side of the trail. Here the brochure discusses desert meadows and unusual desert vegetation: wild grape and smooth horsetail. These species require moisture all year. Wild grapes produce fruit in late summer that are eaten by birds and small mammals. The brochure mentions that horsetails grew to the size to trees during the time of dinosaurs.

From Marker #5, the trail runs down the boardwalk for a few feet to a platform with benches where you can look down on Lost Creek under with willow thicket. This is Marker 6 (Wpt. 06). The brochure discusses the sounds of the desert, suggesting that we sit quietly and listen to the sounds of flowing water -- quite unusual in the desert. While listening, we might also hear the sounds of birds singing on breeding territories in the spring or just chirping at other times of year. Watch for little yellow birds with black caps (Wilson’s Warblers) in the springtime, and watch for Gamble’s Quail and Western Scrub-jays (similar to Blue Jays, but no crest) year-round.

Children's Discovery Trail
Marker #7. Ponderosa pine and live oak (view SW)
From Marker #6, the trail runs west down off the boardwalk towards a tall ponderosa pine tree on the south (right) side of the trail. Just before the ponderosa, Marker #7 (Wpt. 07) sits by another trail junction. This short spur trail leads around the scrub oak thicket to the back of the pine tree. The brochure discusses the ponderosa pine (recognized by long needles in bundles of three), the bark of which smells like butterscotch (sometime vanilla). It is unusual to see ponderosa pine growing at this low elevation; they usually grow high in the mountains in such places as Kyle Canyon on Mt. Charleston where there is more water and the temperatures are cooler. Here, the tree has tapped underground water from Lost Creek, and the cool breezes the come down Lost Creek Canyon from the high country are sufficient for the tree to grow here. There are more ponderosa pine up the canyon towards Lost Creek Falls, and even more grow in Pine Creek Canyon.
Children's Discovery Trail
Marker #8. Desert willow in the wash (view E)
From Marker #7, the trail continues down the hillside to Red Rock Wash. Marker #8 (Wpt. 08) sits off to the south (right) side of the trail, just across the wash, proper. Here, the brochure discusses desert willow “trees.” This species is often found along washes where they can send roots down to get water flowing deep below the surface. Desert willows, which get to the size of a small tree, have long, narrow leaves and long, narrow seedpods. In spring, they also have tubular, orchid-like pink flowers. Desert Willow are well suited to life in washes because they have deep roots and stems that bend under the force of flashfloods.
Children's Discovery Trail
Marker #9. Desert-adapted plants (view N)

From Marker #8, the trail climbs out of the wash and back onto the broad flats in the middle of the canyon. The trail passes the SMYC Trail junction and continues east to Marker #9 (Wpt. 09). Here, the brochure discusses the variety of shrubs that grow on the flats and that they differ from plants that grow in the wash and on the hillsides. Here, where there is less water and little shelter from the wind and heat, the plants tend to be low growing, have stiff stems, and small leaves. The brochure mentions Mojave yucca, blackbrush, Mormon tea, desert almond, and Indian rice grass; Look around and see what else you can see; there are a number of shrub and cactus species here.

From Marker #9, the trail continues east for a few more yards to the parking area (Wpt. 10).

Table 2. Hiking Coordinates Based on GPS Data (NAD27; UTM Zone 11S). Download Hiking GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.

Wpt. Location Site Time Easting Northing Elevation (ft) Point-to-Point Distance Cumulative Distance
00 Trailhead Trailhead 14:53 635554 4002272 4,451 0.00 0.00
01 Marker #1 Wash 15:03 635323 4002316 4,481 0.15 0.15
02 Marker #2 Cool pines 15:08 635296 4002259 4,486 0.05 0.20
03 Marker #3 Manzanita 15:15 635242 4002260 4,520 0.06 0.26
04 Marker #4 Pictographs 15:23 635293 4002180 4,511 0.07 0.33
05 Marker #5 Meadow 15:29 635306 4002131 4,498 0.07 0.40
06 Marker #6 Spring 15:31 635310 4002124 4,485 0.01 0.41
07 Marker #7 Ponderosa 15:37 635371 4002158 4,465 0.04 0.45
08 Marker #8 Wash 15:40 635389 4002176 4,455 0.02 0.47
09 Marker #9 Flats 15:47 635524 4002244 4,446 0.11 0.58
10 Trail end Trail end 15:48 635572 4002256 4,442 0.03 0.61

Happy Hiking! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
copyright; Last updated 120427

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