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Grand Circle Loop Trail
Hiking Around Las Vegas, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
Great Circle Trail
Great Circle Loop
Grand Circle Trailhead (view west).

Overview

The Grand Circle Trail is an 11.6-mile loop that starts at the Visitor Center and roughly parallels the Scenic Loop Road. From the Visitor Center, the trail runs up along the base of the Calico Hills to Sandstone Quarry, cuts out across the desert to White Rock Spring, the highpoint on the loop trail, then follows the White Rock Loop trail down towards Willow Springs, finally turning off and heading back down along Red Rock Wash to the Visitor Center. The trail passes red sandstone crags and rock art, all the while traversing open desert with grand vistas in all directions. Parts of the trail aren't laid out as well as one might wish, but the trail makes for a good winter workout in the desert.

Link to map.

Great Circle Trail
Grand Circle Trail at Moenkopi Trail (view north)

Watch Out

Other than the standard warnings about hiking in the desert, ...this hike is fairly safe, even for kids, but there are some short, steep scrambles through rocky areas near the Calico 2 parking area. Always be extra careful when you get high enough to fall and hurt yourself. Most of this trail is relatively well groomed, relatively free of rocks, and makes for easy walking. Be careful crossing the paved roads.

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 is a short hike, be sure to bring what you need of the 10 Essentials.

Great Circle Loop Trail
Trail along the Calico Hills (view north).

Getting to the Trailhead

This hike is located along the Scenic Loop Road in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, about 30 minutes west of Las Vegas. Drive out to Red Rocks, pay the fee, then drive up to the Visitor Center Trailhead. Park here; this is the trailhead.

Great Circle Loop Trail
Leaving Sandstone Quarry area (view north).

The Hike

Visitor Center to Sandstone Quarry -- 2.9 miles

From the trailhead (Table 2, Waypoint 01), the trail runs southwest past several picnic tables, a memorial, and information signs to the first trail junction at an old road (Wpt. 01a). The trail then runs northwest along the old road for several yards to a second trail junction (Wpt. 24). This point marks the start and end of the loop part of the Grand Circle Trail.

At the second trail junction (Wpt. 24), the Moenkopi and Grand Circle trails both turn right and run north out around the edge of the Visitor Center complex. The vegetation along here is dominated by low-growing, widely spaced creosote bush, red brome grass, and few other species.

Great Circle Loop Trail
Approaching White Rock Hills (view north).

The trail runs north past the Visitor Center, then drops into a wash. In the wash, notice the difference that a little extra water makes in the desert. Here the creosote and grass are fairly dense and robust compared to those growing on the flats above.

Just across the wash (Wpt. 02), the Moenkopi Trail branches off to the left and heads up the hill to the north. The Grand Circle Trail turns to the right and runs east along the wash towards the Calico Hills. This segment of the trail runs west for 0.43 miles, crossing the Scenic Loop Road, and ending at a signed junction with the Calico Hills Trail (Wpt 03).

The Grand Circle Trail turns north and runs concurrent with the Calico Hills Trail to Calico 1 Parking area (Wpt. 04). For details of this segment, see the Calico Hills Trail.

Great Circle Trail
Leaving White Rock trailhead (view west).

From the Calico 1 Parking area (Wpt. 04), the Grand Circle Trail continues north on the Calico Hills Trail. Starting at the east edge of the Calico 1 Parking area by a Calico Hills Trail System sign, the trail runs east down the ridge, then turns north and crosses a wash. The trail climbs onto and follows a ridge (Wpt. 5), then drops, crosses the wash again, and climbs towards the Calico 2 parking area. At a trail junction marked with a trail sign to the parking area (Wpt. 6), the Grand Circle Trail continues north towards Sandstone Quarry, while the Calico Hills Trail turns south and runs up to the Calico 2 parking area, about 150 yards away. For details of this segment of the trail, see the Calico Hills Trail.

Great Circle TrailBeyond White Rock Spring, the trail turns south.

From the Calico Hills-Grand Circle trail junction with the sign (Wpt. 6), the Grand Circle Trail runs north, crosses a ridge, and drops into a narrow, closed-in canyon adjacent to the Calico Hills rocks. Shortly, the trail passes an enormous boulder and several other huge boulders out away from the cliffs. Native peoples left rock art here. Some of the petroglyphs are unusual in that they are located on the top surfaces of the boulders -- please don’t walk on these rocks, as you will hasten erosion and loss of the artwork. For details of this segment of the trail, see the Calico Hills Trail.

From the rock art site, the trail continues north through the canyon, climbs the hillside, crosses over a red slickrock ridge, and runs down to the southeast corner of the Sandstone Quarry parking area (Wpt. 7). The trail continues to the north edge the parking area (Wpt. 8). For details of this segment of the trail, see the Calico Hills Trail.

Great Circle Trail

Sandstone Quarry to White Rock -- 3.0 miles

From the north edge of the Sandstone Quarry parking area (Wpt. 8), the Grand Circle Trail runs north on the Sandstone Quarry Trail. Right when the trail enters the big, open gravel area with the Sandstone Quarry exhibit and big square quarried boulders (Wpt. 9), the Grand Circle Trail turns left to head west and out across the wash. The Turtlehead Peak Trail exits the open gravel area closer to the Sandstone Quarry exhibit, so be sure to get on the right trail. Look to the west to see the Grand Circle Trail as it climbs the bank on the far side of the wash.

The trail climbs the bank at a moderate grade and turns out of the wash on a ridge just below sandstone crags. The trail continues west, crosses a flat, open area, crosses another low ridge, and drops into a gravel wash. The trail turns north following the wash, turns west again, and runs out to the Scenic Loop Road (Wpt. 10).

Great Circle Trail
Turnoff from White Rock Loop Trail (view south)

From the Scenic Loop Road (Wpt. 10), the trail continues west across the hillside and runs up onto another low ridge. From there, the trail turns south and begins a long, gradual descent across the hillside into the bottom of the wash (Wpt. 11).

The trail continues across the hillside to another wash (Wpt. 12) where the trail was washed out during the winter storms of 2005. The trail drops into the wash, turns north, and runs up the wash following cairns for about 50 yards. The trail turns out of the wash by a large, round Utah Juniper tree (Wpt. 13) and continues northwest across the hillside to intersect the Scenic Loop Road at the White Rock Road intersection (Wpt. 14).

From the road crossing, the trail follows the graded-dirt White Rock Road up the bajada for 0.5 miles to the White Rock Spring trailhead (Wpt. 15), which is on the west side of the parking area at the end of the road.

Great Circle Trail
Trail along Red Rock Wash (view southeast).

White Rock to Road Crossing -- 2.1 miles

From the White Rock Spring trailhead (Wpt. 15), the trail runs due west and down the hill towards White Rock Spring, which is about 5 minutes out. The White Rock Loop Trail forks off from the White Rock Spring Trail (Wpt. 16) a few yards before the spring. Visit the spring (Wpt. 17), then backtrack to the White Rock Loop Trail and continue hiking southwest. The trail descends the bajada on an old road that eventually ends. From there, the trail drops into and crosses a wash (Wpt. 18). The trail climbs onto a bench runs up into a side canyon before switchbacking up to the broad ridge at the southern-most edge of the White Rock Hills. Near the top of the ridge, the Grand Circle Trail turns south at a trail junction (Wpt. 19) with the Willow Springs Trail. From the trail junction, the Grand Circle Trail runs south and crosses the Scenic Loop Road for a last time (Wpt. 20).

Great Circle Trail
Crossing Red Rock Wash.

Road Crossing to Visitor Center -- 3.6 miles

From the road crossing (Wpt. 20), the trail runs south down a low ridge where the vegetation is dominated by blackbrush, cliff rose, Mojave yucca, and banana yucca. From here to the Visitor Center, the trail runs down an old dirt road. Early on, the trail parallels the Scenic Loop Road, but shortly after passing a trail to the Icebox Canyon Trailhead, the trail angles away from the road.

As the trail descend the bajada, the vegetation becomes more typical of Mojave Desert Scrub, with creosote bush becoming the dominant species. The trail finally runs out on a ridge between Red Rock Wash and another large wash to the east, then drops fairly steeply off the toe of the ridge towards the wash. The trail continues in the same direction on high ground between the two washes until it is forced to cross the wash (Wpt. 21) near dirt cliffs that are on the far side of Red Rock Wash.

Great Circle Trail
Approaching the Visitor Center (view east).

The trail turns east and starts across the wash (Wpt. 21), which is about 300 yards wide here. There are some scraggly desert willow growing in the wash, which tells you that there is water down there somewhere. Parts of the trail are washed out, but it is easy to follow the route through the wash and up the other side (Wpt. 22).

Past the wash, the trail runs east, joins up with the Moenkopi Trail (Wpt. 23), and continues towards the Visitor Center. The trail (now an old road) runs back to the trailhead on the exit road from the Visitor Center.

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

Wpt. Location Easting Northing Elevation Point to Point Distance (mi) Cumulative Distance (mi) Verified
01 Moenkopi Trailhead 641502 3999883 3,780 0.00 0.00 GPS
01a First Trail Junction 641375 3999812 3,773 0.11 0.11 GPS
24 Visitor Center Junction 641321 3999828 3,743 0.12 0.12 GPS
02 Moenkopi Trail Junction 641404 3999997 3,769 0.14 0.26 GPS
03 Calico Hills Trail Junction 641719 4000529 3,814 0.43 0.69 GPS
04 Calico 1 Parking 641256 4001106 3,951 0.48 1.17 GPS
05 Hilltop 640992 4001666 4,041 0.49 1.66 GPS
06 Calico 2 Parking 640619 4001858 3,985 0.34 2.00 GPS
07 Sandstone Quarry Parking Area 639535 4002785 4,308 1.08 3.08 GPS
08 Sandstone Quarry Trailhead 639472 4002881 4,305 0.08 3.16 GPS
09 Trail Junction 639483 4002979 4,305 0.06 3.22 GPS
10 Road Crossing 638452 4003558 4,606 0.97 4.19 GPS
11 Cross Wash 638154 4003146 4,481 0.40 4.59 GPS
12 Enter Wash 637580 4003029 4,544 0.49 5.08 GPS
13 Exit Wash 637558 4003073 4,550 0.03 5.11 GPS
14 Road Crossing 637237 4003241 4,643 0.24 5.35 GPS
15 White Rock Trailhead 636979 4004051 4,876 0.56 5.91 GPS
16 White Rock Spring Junction 636874 4004072 4,843 0.06 5.97 GPS
17 White Rock Spring 636799 4004100 4,811 0.06 6.03 GPS
18 Wash Crossing 636369 4002801 4,457 1.09 7.12 GPS
19 Willow Springs Trail Junction 636044 4002353 4,519 0.54 7.66 GPS
20 Road Crossing 636281 4001864 4,450 0.35 8.01 GPS
21 Enter Wash 639607 4000068 3,905 2.40 10.41 GPS
22 Exit Wash 639934 4000119 3,885 0.22 10.63 GPS
23 Moenkopi Trail Junction 640868 3999968 3,792 0.59 11.22 GPS
24 Visitor Center Junction 641321 3999828 3,743 0.29 11.51 GPS
01 Trailhead 641503 3999777 3,765 0.13 11.64 GPS

Happy Hiking! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
copyright; Last updated 170606

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