The Calico Tanks Hike in Red Rock Canyon is one of our favorites!
Less than 20 miles from the Las Vegas Strip, you’ll find this popular 2.2 mile round trip hike located along the scenic loop drive. Red rocks, wildlife and epic views await along this fun trail.
Calico Tanks At a Glance
|Trail Description||Out and back|
|Trail Start||Sandstone Quarry Parking Lot, Red Rock Canyon Scenic Loop|
|Round Trip Mileage||~2.2 miles|
|Elevation Gain||~390 feet|
|Highest Elevation||~4,720 feet|
|Average Time||1.5 – 2.0 hours (Total)|
|Entrance Fees||A daily fee applies to enter the park or an America the Beautiful Pass is accepted. See current rates here. Reservations are required between October 1 and May 31st.|
Our Experience on the Calico Tanks Trail
We arrived in the late morning to tackle the Calico Tanks trail. The Sandstone Quarry parking lot had plenty of stops and boasts restrooms along with trail information for both Calico Tanks and Turtlehead Peak.
The trail starts out flat and passes through the gorgeous red sandstone walls the park is known for.
Many visitors stop to check out this area, so don’t be too discougared if there are a ton of people along this portion of the trail. Many of them won’t continue along the full Calico Tanks trail.
This first portion of the trail is shared with the Turtlehead Peak Trail. Not long up the trail, the Turtlehead Peak trail splits to the left, and the Calico Tanks trail splits to the right.
Follow the signs as it leads you to the right and through the sandstone rocks.
As you follow the trail, you’ll traverse up carved stairs and do some light scrambling (which required us to use our hands and feet).
Unfortunately I didn’t grab a photo of it, but as someone who is afraid of heights, I never felt like I was in any real danger.
Be careful though, especially if the sandstone is wet as it can get slippery.
You’ll reach the tanks after only 1.1 miles of hiking. The trail officially ends, but most hikers continue past the tanks to partake in the Las Vegas City views.
We found the easiest way to reach the viewpoint was to stay to the right of tanks and follow a faint trail up to the viewpoint. It was much easier to climb up this than back down.
If you’re not sure exactly where the trail is (we were a little confused), you might consider waiting for other hikers to come back down or head up and follow them.
After enjoying the views (and a few fun lizards), we hiked back out the way we came in.
Should you hike Calico Tanks?
Rating: 4 Mooses
Short and sweet, this trail offers a nice pay-off without a lot of work. It’s also the worst kept secret in the Vegas area which means you’ll be sharing the trail with all your closest friends.
Despite the crowds, the short distance and great pay-off brings a 4-Moose rating and it’s worth checking out, especially if you’re low on time.
What we liked:
- The cityscape pay off at the end of the trail
- The short distance and fun mini-scrambles along the way
- Plenty of parking at the Sandstone Quarry lot
What we didn’t like:
- This a popular trail and there were plenty of people when we visited
- There’s no shade on the trail which makes visiting in the summer challenging
- The seasonal tanks were empty the day we visited
Verdict: A trail not to be missed when you’re visiting Red Rock Canyon.
Practical Information for your Calico Tanks Hike
Why do they call it Calico Tanks?
The Calico Tanks trail hold a pocket of water during certain times of the year. The Calico Tank trail officially ends at the tanks, however hikers usually continue up a small scramble to view the picturesque overlook of the Las Vegas Cityscape. If you’re looking to see the tanks filled with water, try visting in the spring.
Calico Tanks Trail Map
You can find the route we took in the map below.
After leaving the parking lot, we headed north towards Turtlehead Peak, and followed the trail signs through the wash.
From there, we went through the canyon wall until we reached the Calico Tanks. The trail official ends at the tanks, however most hikers climb up the sandstone rocks just behind the tanks to reach the sweeping cityscape views of the Vegas valley.
We do recommend downloading Alltrails to help you find your way. We have no affiliation with them, but we’re big fans after our incident on the Upper Gateway trail (nearby in Calico Basin).
It does work best if you purchase the full version to download the offline maps. Cell service in Red Rock Canyon is spotty.
Related: Read the things we do to increase our safety in the desert
Directions to Calico Tanks Trail
From Las Vegas:
- Head West on Highway 592 for approx 8 miles
- Take Exit 26 to Merge onto NV-159 W for 5 miles
- Follow signs to the Red Rock Canyon Visitor Center
- Head down the one-way 13 mile loop trail around the park
- The Calico Tank trail is approx 3 miles into the park at the Sandstone Quarry parking lot (the third parking lot as you enter the park – 4th parking lot if you include the turn-off to the visitor center)
Crowds at Calico Tanks
Due to it’s short distance, little elevation gain and great views at the end, this is a super popular trail. Unless you start at daybreak, you’re going to be sharing the trail with a lot of fellow hikers.
Wildlife at Calico Tanks Hike
If you’re lucky, you might spy a lizard climbing around on the rocks. Snap a picture quickly before they scurry off!
Average weather in Red Rock Canyon area
The weather varies greatly over the course of a year to below freezing temperatures in the winter and soaring in the high 90s in the summer. Red Rock Canyon also occasionally gets snow!
This is a desert hike and with any hike, there are inherent dangers on the trail. Use caution and take appropriate steps to keep yourself safe.
The park recommends the following:
- After desert rain, do not climb sandstone for 24 hours.
- Flash flooding may occur during/after desert rain.
- Stay on designated trails.
- Cell phone service is unreliable.
- Do not disturb or feed wildlife.
- Bring food/water, hiking shoes/boots, hat/sunscreen, and check in/out with family or friends.
More Information for your Trip to Red Rock Canyon:
Red Rock Canyon (within the park on the scenic loop)
- Frequently asked questions about Red Rock Canyon
- Red Rock Canyon Visitor Center
- Quick Stops:
Calico Basin (entrance is currently free)
- Red Spring Boardwalk (Picnic area / photo spot, short walk and jumping off point for other hikes).
Along NV-159 (outside the scenic loop)