Hike Turtlehead Peak for unbeatable view of Vegas

The summit marker on Turtlehead Peak. Photo by Johnie Gall

The summit marker on Turtlehead Peak; photo by Johnie Gall

There's something to be said for skipping the bright lights of the busy Las Vegas Strip in favor of world-class climbing close by in Red Rocks Canyon National Conservation Area. But just in case you miss naming all of the casinos, reserve a day to hike the iconic Turtlehead Peak trail, a moderate but steep hike to a limestone peak, where you'll be able to spot our favorite city structures.

What: A moderate-to-strenuous five-mile, out-and-back hike with sweeping views of Red Rock Canyon and the Vegas Strip.

Where: Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Scenic Loop Drive, Las Vegas, Nevada, 89161.

A view of Turtlehead Peak from the Sandstone Quarry parking lot area. Photo by Johnie Gall

A view of Turtlehead Peak from the Sandstone Quarry parking lot area; photo by Johnie Gall

How to get there: From the Vegas Strip, head south on Las Vegas Boulevard and turn right on E. Flamingo Road. Merge onto 215 North/Clark County 215 North, then take exit 26 for Charleston Boulevard. Merge onto Huge Park Drive East and make a left onto W. Charleston Boulevard, continuing onto NV-159 W/ Red Rock Canyon Road. Turn right onto Scenic Loop Drive and pass through the entry fee station. Scenic Loop Drive is a one-way, 13-mile road. Park at the Sandstone Quarry parking area.

Exploring creek beds near the Turtlehead Peak trail. Photo by Brandon Scherzberg

Exploring creek beds near the Turtlehead Peak trail; photo by Brandon Scherzberg

What to do: From the Sandstone Quarry parking area, take the trailhead for Turtlehead Peak (this is also the starting point of the Calico Tanks trail) and walk along an open, sandy stretch until the trail curves you right and up toward the peak. The first half of the trail winds through creek beds and is well traveled. When you begin your steep ascent toward the peak, the trail is less defined so use caution when deciding which route to take as some paths are strewn with really loose rock. The home stretch is clearly marked and there are multiple routes to the top--we suggest branching to the far left so you can see the Las Vegas Strip area as you walk the final ridgeline to the summit, which is marked by rock cairns and an American flag. This hike shouldn't be a problem for regular hikers, but keep in mind it's not an easy one--you'll be gaining close to 2,000 vertical feet in two-and-a-half miles.

An alternative summit view on Turtlehead Peak. Photo by Johnie Gall

An alternative summit view on Turtlehead Peak; photo by Johnie Gall

What to bring: Hiking shoes, layered clothing, a windbreaker or rain shell, and warm layers in the fall and winter, sunglasses, sunscreen, snacks, a camera, a guidebook if you have one, $7 for your park entry, and lots of water, especially in the hot summer months.

Do: Plan on camping close by at the Red Rock Canyon Campground--the friendly community of rock climbers, the smell of fire, and the bark of coyotes in the distance almost make you forget about the Britney Spears residency show you're missing.

The home stretch to the summit of Turtlehead Peak. Photo by Brandon Scherzberg

The home stretch to the summit of Turtlehead Peak; photo by Brandon Scherzberg

Don't: Forget to check with the visitor center for the park closing time, which varies by season. You must be out of the park by closing, unless you've applied for a special permit ahead of time. Call (702) 515-5367 for hours of operation.

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