Calico Tanks Hike in Red Rock Canyon

Start of Calico Tanks Trail

Less than 20 miles from the glittering lights of the Vegas Strip, a group of red rocks rise up out of the desert floor and tower above all who stand in their midst. Formed by sandstone, the towering rocks in the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area are a sight to see.

Calico Tanks Trail facing West towards Turtlehead Peak
View from Calico Tanks Trail

Calico Tanks At a Glance

Round Trip Mileage2.2 miles
Elevation Gain ~390 feet
Highest Elevation4,720 feet
Average Time1.5 – 2.0 hours (Total)
DifficultyModerate
Entrance Fees$15 per vehicle or America the Beautiful Pass, plus $2 reservation fee required (after 8 a.m. from October 1 – May 31)
Rating 4 Mooses

Why do they call it Calico Tanks?

The Calico Tanks trail hold a hidden 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, make sure you visit in early spring.

Calico Tanks filled with water
Calico Tanks filled with water | Photo by BLM Nevada CC by 2.0

Calico Tanks Trail Map

The Calico Tanks trail is mostly well marked. The trailhead starts at the Sandstone Quarry parking lot within Red Rock Canyon park. The trail is considered an out-and-back path that has several trail markers along the path. We found the trail to be mostly well marked, but even if you get off the trail, we found it easy to get back on track. We also recommend downloading Alltrails to help you find your way. We’re big fans after our incident on the Upper Gateway trail in Calico Basin.

Related: Read the things we do to increase our safety in the desert

Calico Tanks Trail Map
Calico Tanks Trail Map

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)

Know before you go:

Calico Tanks Trail Head Sign

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!

Lizard in Red Rock Canyon on Calico Tanks trail
Calico Tanks Lizard

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!

Calico Tanks Trail Weather
Average Temperatures in Red Rock Canyon area for Calico Tanks Trail

Safety Considerations

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.

Views at Calico Tanks Summit

At two miles round trip, you’ll reach the view point in no time. The views at the top are spectacular on a clear day.

Calico Tanks Trail summit view
View of Las Vegas from the Calico Tanks Trail summit

Visit or Stay home?

Rating: 4 Mooses

4 Mooses Rating

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.

Verdict: A trail not to be missed when you’re visiting Red Rock Canyon.

More Information for your Trip to Red Rock Canyon:

Red Rock Canyon (within the park on the scenic loop)

Calico Basin (entrance is currently free)

Along NV-159 (outside the scenic loop)

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