Clocking in around 4.6 miles round trip and almost 2,000 feet in elevation gain, the Turtlehead Peak Trail is sure to have your heart pumping with exertion as you make your way up the sweeping panoramic views of Red Rock Canyon.
Turtlehead Peak Trail Hike at a Glance
|Round Trip Mileage||~4.6 miles|
|Elevation Gain||~1,988 feet|
|Highest Elevation||~6,322 feet|
|Average Time||3.5 – 4.5 hours|
|Trail Start||Sandstone Quarry Parking Lot|
|Entrance Fees||$15 per vehicle (pricing subject to change) or America the Beautiful pass. Reservations are required (after 8 a.m.) during high season (October 1 – May 31)|
|Parking||Free after entrance to the park. The parking lot is fairly large and normally isn’t full.|
|Our Hike||It took us 2 hours 10 minutes to reach the summit and 1 hour 30 minutes to come back down.|
|Current Conditions||Red Rock Canyon|
Why do they call it Turtlehead Peak?
From a distance, Turtlehead Peak looks like the head of a tortoise with its hard shell extending back into the distance.
When you’re within the boundaries of the Red Rock Conservation area, you can see the tortoise head from multiple points throughout the park.
Red Rock Canyon is also a protected habitat for the desert tortoise which further solified the name.
You can find a special habitat at the Visitor Center that houses several tortoises.
Fun Fact: The Tortoise is Nevada’s official state reptile.
Practical Information for hiking Turtlehead Peak:
Where is the Turtlehead Peak Trailhead?
Located in the heart of the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation area, the Turtlehead Peak trail starts at the Sandstone Quarry Parking lot along the Red Rock Canyon Scenic Drive.
After entering through the ranger station (you’ll need either a day pass or an America the Beautiful Pass for entry, along with high season timed-reservations) continue along the one-way scenic loop for about 3 miles. The Sandstone Quarry lot is the third parking lot along the loop.
There is usually plenty of parking at this lot as it’s fairly large. If it’s extremely busy, you shouldn’t have to wait long for a spot to open up. We’ve been to the park countless times and have always been able to find parking at this lot.
If you need additional information about the reservation system, check out the link below.
More reading: Frequently asked questions about Red Rock Canyon
What is the Turtlehead Peak Trail like?
The first half mile of the trail is easy terrain. Gravel or light rocks line the trail and we felt the path was well marked with official signs.
There’s a clear demarcation of when the trail starts to get rougher. The official signs turn into red / white arrows or more commonly dots. Occasionally you’ll get a larger trail marker as well.
The rocks get larger and loose gravel becomes the norm. As you climb higher, the path becomes rougher and I found many times I would be doing minor scrambles up sharp rocks (requiring my hands for stabilization and leverage).
For the record, I’m not comfortable with heights or exposure on trails. I never felt unsafe on this trail. I didn’t feel like there were large amounts of exposure or huge drop-offs.
This would have been different if we went off the official trail or choose a route with more scrambling.
It’s easy to miss the trail dots both on the way up (and the way down) and we found that many hikers (including us) made several wrong turns.
The great news is, even if you go off trail, you’re likely to meet up with the intended trail at some point. Some hikers intentionally take a straighter path up and still made it to the top.
I would advise staying on the trail as much as possible to avoid getting lost. Plus, it’s easier and there was definitely more scrambling for those that went off trail.
More trails nearby:
What to bring on the Turtlehead Peak Trail?
It’s always advisable to have the “ten essentials” whenever you’re hiking and this is no exception.
Learn more about what we do to keep safe in the desert.
When hiking in the desert, I’ve found the need for extra water is critical to having an enjoyable day. Having salt is also a big deal.
I neglected to bring any electrolytes and my muscles started cramping near the top of the trail.
Mr. Moose and I joke sometimes about if the salt pills actually do anything, but for me, I’ve found they do alleviate cramps on the trail.
Sun protection is also a must on this trail. There is almost no shade on the trail. We found only a couple of trees and one rock area where there was a little shade. A sun hat and sun screen are the way to go!
How busy is the Turtlehead Peak Trail?
The Turtlehead Peak trail starts out from the same parking lot as the Calico Tanks Trail.
In fact, the first quarter mile or so is shared with Calico, until the fork where you go left for Turtlehead and stay right for Calico.
Since the trails are shared at the beginning, there is a lot of foot traffic. While Turtlehead is slightly less popular due to the length and elevation gain, it’s considered a heavily traveled trail and it’s advisable to get an early start.
Plus, if you enter the park before 8 a.m., you don’t need a reservation!
Best time to visit Turtlehead Peak
Turtlehead Peak caps out at 6,322 feet in elevation. In the winter, the trail gets snow and even in mid-November we found some snow on the ground.
The trail is open year-round but be cognizant of the various seasons.
The temperature was in the mid-60’s temperature at the Visitors Center the day we hiked up. While the temperature dropped as we climbed, we found it ideal for the level of exertion needed to get to the summit.
Keep in mind the temperature will be 10 – 15 degrees cooler at the top than at the desert floor.
Average Temperatures – Red Rock Canyon Area
The summit of Turtlehead Peak can be quite chilly. We found it to be very windy, with only a few places here and there to block the wind and enjoy our lunch.
A good rule of thumb to keep in mind for the temperature is that it drops around 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit for each 1,000 feet of elevation gain. Add in a potential wind chill factor and it can feel mighty cold up there.
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 the top of Turtlehead Peak
When you finally make it to the top, there are two main views from Turtlehead. The cityscape and other parts of Red Rock Canyon. It’s hard to choose a favorite.
The day we went, the skies were pretty clear and the summit was windy. If it’s hazy or overcast, I recommend trying a different day.
If you’re looking for a fun day-trip outside of Las Vegas, check out Red Rock Canyon for a great desert hiking experience!
Related: A map with other hikes we’ve been on in Red Rock Canyon and the Las Vegas area, or if you prefer lists, here’s a list of all the hikes we know about in the area. We’ve also made a hiking guide for the Las Vegas area.
Should you hike up Turtlehead Peak?
Rating: 5 Mooses
Sweeping views and a great workout makes this a top-notch place to visit and earns this trail 5 Mooses. We highly recommend a visit and every time we see Turtlehead Peak from the park or around the city, we love that we’ve been to the top.
What we liked:
- Sweeping views from the summit Turtlehead
- It’s a great workout getting to the top
- Seasonal wildflowers can be seen near the summit
What we didn’t like:
- The trail was hard to follow in several spots and we ended up back tracking to find the correct path
- It was a little chilly on the summit and blazing hot on our way back down
Verdict: If you’re up for a challenge, great rewards await at the summit.
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)