Turtlehead Peak Hike in Red Rock Canyon

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Clocking in at 4.6 miles round trip and 1,988 feet 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 the valley.

Wherever we go in the mountains,

we find more than we seek.

John Muir

Turtlehead Trail Peak Quick Facts

Round Trip Mileage4.6 miles
Elevation Gain1,988 feet
Highest Elevation6,322 feet
Average Time3.5 – 4.5 hours
DifficultyModerate
Entrance Fees$15 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass, plus $2 reservation fee required (after 8 am)
Rating5 Mooses
Our HikeIt took us 2 hours 10 minutes to reach the summit and 1 hour 30 minutes to come back down.
Turtlehead Peak Sign board on trail
View of Turtlehead Peak

Why do they call it Turtlehead Peak?

Red Rock Canyon was founded as a conservation area in 1967 by the Bureau of Land Management. Around 10,000 acres were designated as the “Red Rock Recreation Lands.” Along with over 600 species of plants in the area, the area is a protected habitat for the desert tortoise. You can also find a habitat at the Visitor Center that houses several tortoises.

Tortoise at Red Rock Visitor Center
Tortoise at Red Rock Visitor Center

Fun Fact: The Tortoise is Nevada’s official state reptile.

From a distance, the Turtlehead Summit looks like the head of a tortoise with it’s hard shell extending back into the distance.

Turtlehead Peak as seen from Cottonwood Canyon
Turtlehead Summit

Know before you go:

Turtlehead Peak Trailhead Sign
Turtlehead Peak Trail Head Sign

Trail Quality

The first half mile of the trail is easy terrain. Gravel or light rocks line the trail and the path is clearly marked with official signs.

Turtlehead Peak trail marker
Official Trail 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. 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.

Red arrow on rock marking the Turtlehead Trail
Red dot & arrow trail markers
White dot on rock marking the Turtlehead Trail
White dot trail markers

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 even intentionally take a more straight up path 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.

Supplies

It’s always advisable to have the “ten essentials” whenever you’re hiking and this is no exception. You can learn more about what we do to keep our safe in the desert here.

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 my favorite salts pills 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.

Ridge line of Turtlehead Peak
Shade near ridge line

Sun protection is also a must on this trail. There is almost zero 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!

Crowds

The Turtlehead 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 8AM, you don’t need a reservation!

Feet relaxing on Turtlehead Summit
Relaxing at the top

When to visit

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.

Snow on Turtlehead summit trail
Snow on the Turtlehead peak trail

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 when we hiked up in mid-November. 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

Average Temperatures for Red Rock Canyon

The summit of Turtlehead 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!

Desert flowers covered in snow on Turtlehead Peak
Desert flowers covered in Snow

Views at the Top

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.

Woman looking across Red Rock Canyon valley on Turtlehead Peak
Sweeping views from Turtlehead Summit

If you’re looking for a fun day-trip outside of Las Vegas, check out Red Rock Canyon for a great desert hiking experience!

Las Vegas cityscape seen from Turtlehead Peak
Cityscape view of Las Vegas from Turtlehead Peak

Visit or stay home?

Rating: 5 Mooses

5 Mooses Rating

Sweeping views and a great workout makes this a top notch place to visit and earns this trail 5 Mooses! Highly recommend a visit!

Verdict: If you’re up for a challenge, great rewards await at the summit!

More Information for your Trip to Red Rock Canyon:

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The information contained on this website is for entertainment purposes only and references only opinions of the author. Nothing contained within should be considered professional advice, including but not limited to, health, safety, financial, legal, or psychological advice.

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