Las Vegas, Nevada Climbing Destination Guide

For climbers, “America’s Playground” goes well beyond the Strip
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For climbers, “America’s Playground” goes well beyond the Strip

This article originally appeared in the March 2015 issue of our print edition.

red rocks

Thin but bomber: Peter Vintoniv finds small gear on Straight Shooter (5.9+), the namesake route on this wall. Photo: Andrew Burr

Scream “Vegas, baby!” and most people will envision loose slots, buffet binges, topless pool parties, or some version of “The Hangover.” But climbers are a different breed. We see a dozen stellar pitches of 5.11 patina face climbing, T-shirt bouldering in January, or full days ascending massive red and gold desert peaks. Truth is, a short drive from the Strip proper plops one at the mouth of Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, one of the country’s premier climbing destinations. It’s a beautiful section of the Nevada desert and home to climbing opportunities of every discipline, from single-pitch sport climbing at the Gallery to all-day multi-pitch adventures in numerous canyons. Boulderers will enjoy a huge selection of incredibly aesthetic and climbing-conducive sandstone in Calico Basin and Black Velvet Canyon. If you’re craving something a little steeper, drive an hour north to Mt. Charleston for harder bolt-clipping out massive limestone caves. Whatever your vice, Vegas aims to please, and with climbing like this, you don’t even have to play your cards right to hit the jackpot.

red rocks climbing guide

Tommy Caldwell bears down on the steep but clean Crystal Dawn (5.13c), an eight-pitch route on Buffalo Wall. Photo: Andrew Burr

Where to Eat/Drink

The Strip and surrounding sprawl offer no shortage of buffets, restaurants, and fast food joints, but a little foresight can satisfy your palate while saving your wallet. For breakfast, the Red Rock Casino offers a legendary buffet (voted best in Las Vegas) just 10 minutes from the Red Rock camping. The cost is $10 for the general public or $7 when you sign up for their Players’ Club (free, 21+). This grants you the unique opportunity to play slots with a side of poached eggs. For lunch or dinner, stop by Bachi Burger in Summerlin for souped-up, Asian-inspired burger creations. Grass-fed beef along with toppings like yamamomo peaches and garlic-chili aioli make this an exceptional culinary experience. Sushi spot Osaka is an upscale favorite for local climbers. Ask to sit in the back Tatami room for the most authentic dining experience. Most options outside of fast food are relatively expensive, so a grocery store is the smart choice for those balling on a budget. There’s a Whole Foods 15 minutes from Red Rock on West Charleston Boulevard, or, alternatively, a Sunflower Market on South Rainbow Boulevard offers the same products at more reasonable prices.

Ten minutes from the Red Rock campground (in the same casino as the aforementioned breakfast buffet), the Yard House restaurant offers a drink selection with something for everyone. Think: rotating specialty and seasonal beers on tap and happy hour specials on the hard stuff from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 10 p.m. to close, Sunday through Wednesday. If you’re looking to sample the best of local microbrew culture, check out the Chicago Brewing Company to pair award-winning drafts with Chicago-style, deep-dish pizza. We recommend the Honey Bru Bru, a Belgian-style pale brewed with sweet desert honey.

Where to Stay

The 13-Mile Campground, two miles east of the visitor center off of West Charleston Boulevard, is the only campground in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. It provides easy access to all of the climbing in the area. First-come, first-served two-vehicle campsites are $15/night, with vault toilets and water spigots included. The campgrounds are closed each summer, typically between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Visit redrockcanyonlv.org for information on campground rules, plus details on reserving group sites. Another option: Las Vegas boasts some of the cheapest hotel rates nationwide, especially if you’re rolling with a crew willing to split the cost.

Where to Buy Gear

Desert Rock Sports is an awesome gear shop just 15 minutes from Red Rock. Staffed by climbers and a few doors down from the local gym Red Rock Climbing Center, the store offers an array of climbing paraphernalia, including gear, apparel, and guidebooks. They are also an excellent resource for climbing, camping, showering, eating, and boozing beta—they are definitely the locals that know. You can even rent crashpads there for $15/day. With free Wi-Fi, a comfy couch, and a staff that won’t get mad when you and your dirtbag friends hang out in their shop for the better part of a day, what’s not to love? The store recently took on a guiding service as well, providing half- and full-day excursions into the Calico Hills for groups of all sizes and ability levels. Check out their website for information on rates, permits, passes, and weather, along with answers to pressing questions like: “Why are the rocks so RED?” 

We cannot stress enough the value of a good shower after a few days camping in the desert, sleeping in the dirt, and being blasted by a sand-filled wind. Lucky for you, Red Rock Climbing Center has showers for just $4 in an environment that welcomes and understands the sandy, sweaty, chalky-fingered type.

Where to Spend a Rest Day

It’s not hard to find something to do in a place often referred to as “America’s Playground.” The Strip has enough casinos, stores, and restaurants to satisfy a lifetime, let alone a day to allow the skin to heal. If all of that sounds a little too touristy—or maybe you’re terrible at gambling—the entire Las Vegas region offers many beautiful hiking and biking opportunities as well. Try the four-mile hike up Turtlehead Peak, one of the tallest summits in Calico Basin that doesn’t require technical climbing, for killer panoramic views of the canyon. On a rainy day (there aren’t many), go see a movie or take a swim at the Red Rock Casino. Vegas truly has a little something for everyone, and it’s the only climbing area where a rest day could make you rich!

more red rocks

Angela Van Wiemeersch and Jewell Lund on the aesthetic Our Father (5.10c/d R), which climbs 300 feet to the top of the pillar. Photo: Andrew Burr

What to Climb: The 10 Best 4-Star Routes

As ranked by Mountain Project users

Dark Shadows (5.8)
Pine Creek Canyon, Red Rock
“Great route! Cool creek and crystal-clear pools at the base. We got to watch mountain goats defy gravity on the cliffs across the way. Is anybody else amazed that an international epicenter of hedonistic pleasure, vice, and grime is so close when back in these beautiful canyons? I always am.”

Epinephrine (5.9)
Black Velvet Canyon, Red Rock
“Holy smokes! This climb delivers a little bit of something for everyone! The chimney pitches are just the price of admission for an unbelievable upper section. Do not underestimate the descent. We did car to car in 12 hours, and I’m confident that we spent three hours of that on the descent.”

1057 (5.10)
Mt. Charleston
“This is a great climb that reminded me of Owens River Gorge, California. Big holds that are easy on the hands.”

The Nightcrawler (5.10b)
Juniper Canyon, Red Rock
“Great route and nice views of the Rainbow Wall. Highly recommend topping this out. We climbed a route on Jackrabbit Buttress to get to The Nightcrawler, and then did the scenic walk-off down Gunsight Notch. My toes were tired the next morning from all the stemming!”

Levitation 29 (5.11b/c)
Oak Creek Canyon, Red Rock
“Deserves every bit of the hype it gets. Pitch after pitch of amazing climbing, great exposure, and a remote feeling. Views were awesome. If you commit to the approach, finish the route and walk off—it’s worth it.”

Mr. Choad’s Wild Ride (5.11b)
Calico Basin, Red Rock
“Extraordinarily good route, one of the best sport routes I’ve ever done at the grade. Unlike any other route in the area. Long moves, big holds, and somewhat spicy if you’re pumped!”

Cloud Tower (5.12-)
Juniper Canyon, Red Rock
“This is a great route, climbed it when I was 17 and 135 lbs. with little stick fingers, and again at 26, same height, 165 lbs. with sausage fingers. I hope to climb it every few years until my old ass can’t make it out there anymore.”

The Original Route (5.12-)
Juniper Canyon, Red Rock
“One of the most amazing free climbs I have ever done, and climbers should not be scared away by the lofty grade. Every move approaching 5.12 on the route is protected by a nice shiny bolt, allowing you both the comfort of safety and the foresight that a crux may follow. Very accessible for the grade. Great pro, tons of face holds, not a hand jam in sight (literally), rap anchors everywhere—I guess what I’m trying to say is anyone clipping bolts at the Gallery can, and certainly should, go clip some bolts on the Rainbow Wall instead!”

Monster Skank (5.13b)
Sandstone Quarry, Red Rock
“World-class! Fun start through very cool rock features. For me there were two cruxes: one near the beginning with a pinky jam and the mandatory all-points-off dyno farther up.”

Wet Dream (V12)
Black Velvet Canyon, Red Rock
“One look and the name is evident. A singular line up a monster of hard, compact sandstone sitting in the middle of a dried-up riverbed. Water-sculpted holds and stellar movement. One of the best in the country. Period.”

red rocks climbing

Angela Van Wiemeersch nears the top on Wholesome Fullback (5.10b) on Whiskey Peak. Photo: Andrew Burr

Las Vegas, Nevada Climbing Metrics

Style
A playground for sport and a proving ground for trad.

trad metric

Difficulty
5.10 climbers shine.

difficulty metric

Quality
Sandstone doesn’t get any better than this

quality metric

Season
Warm winter wonderland

season metric
red rocks bouldering

Katharina Saurwein sends Slice N Dice (V9 R), on the appropriately named Plumber’s Crack Boulder. Photo: Andrew Burr

*Stats are for the immediate Vegas area. Get route beta, photos, and topos for the whole state at mountainproject.com.