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Calico Tanks Trail
Hiking Around Las Vegas, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
Calico Tanks
Calico Tank Trail
Sandstone Quarry Trailhead

Overview

This fairly strenuous, 1.2-mile hike runs up a canyon and over sandstone slickrock to a large natural depression (a "tank" or "tinaja") near the top of the Calico Hills ridge. The tank sometimes holds water, and there are great views of Calico Basin and the Las Vegas Valley from a saddle just beyond the tank.

Link to map.

Calico Tank Trail
Entering Sandstone Quarry historic area

Watch Out

Other than the standard warnings about hiking in the desert, ...this is a moderately strenuous hike. After the trail ends, the route requires some 2nd-class scrambling over and around boulders and up slick-rock terraces. The route also requires some route-finding skills. Be careful if you get high enough to fall and hurt yourself, and watch for wet or icy rocks in the canyon and around the pool during winter. Don't drink the water without treating it.

While hiking, please respect the land and the other people out there, and please try to Leave No Trace of your passage. Also, even though this is a short hike, be sure to bring what you need of the 10 Essentials.

Calico Tank Trail
Trail sign (Wpt. 03)

Getting to the Trailhead

This hike is located along the Scenic Loop Road in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, about 45 minutes west of Las Vegas. Drive out to Red Rocks, pay the entrance fee, and drive up the Scenic Loop Road for about 3 miles to the Sandstone Quarry Trailhead. Park here; this is the trailhead.

Calico Tanks Trail
Trail junction (Calico Tanks right)

The Hike

From the trailhead (Table 1, Waypoint 01), the trail runs north and then east around the northern end of the sandstone quarry hills, then cuts back up a canyon that leads southeasterly into the Calico Hills.

This hike starts on the old road that runs northward into the historic quarry area where evidence of the old stonework remains. As the route enters the open quarry area, it passes a signed Grand Circle Trail junction (Wpt. 02) on the left and continues across the open area towards a second trail sign (Wpt. 03) ahead on the left.

Calico Tank Trail
Trail junction sign (Wpt. 04)

Passing the Calico Tanks - Turtlehead Peak trail sign (Wpt. 03), the route bends left into the wash and heads upstream past an enormous sandstone boulder on the left. The trail resumes across the wash, and in about 3 minutes, reaches a signed trail junction where the Turtlehead Peak Trail forks off to the left (Wpt. 04).

The Calico Tanks Trail stays right heading northeast, passes an agave roasting pit with a sign on the left, and drops back into the wash. The trail follows the wash upstream through a narrow spot between sandstone cliffs crowded with canyon live oak trees.

At the first opportunity, the trail leaves the wash (Wpt. 05) and turns up the major side canyon on the right, now heading southeast.

Calico Tanks Trail The side canyon leads into the heart of the Calico Hills. The lower part of the canyon is wide and sandy, but higher up, the canyon narrows and the trail runs on red and white sandstone slickrock. The route is not always obvious, but it works its way up the canyon following use-trails and traversing slick rock. The route is marked with cairns, and the trail crew has done a lot of work here to improve the trail: they even cut steps in solid sandstone rock and built stone stairs on the steeper parts.

After climbing steeply for a fair ways and then crossing a long flat area with singleleaf pines (Wpt. 06), the trail eventually drops into Calico Tanks (Wpt. 07), a large natural depression. The tank sometimes holds water, and there might be sedges, needlegrass, and cattails growing along the margin.

Calico Tanks Trail
Info sign at agave roasting pit (view N)

When there has been sufficient precipitation, the tank provides water for wildlife such as bighorn sheep. I have even seen relatively large fish in the pond. One fish looked like a 10-inch largemouth bass that someone brought up here and released. Lucky for the environment and the native insects and frogs, the ponds always dry out and fish are eliminated. Look carefully in the water for fairy shrimp who have a life-cycle for thriving is places like this.

The tank can be passed fairly easily along the south side, and hikers can scramble along and up to a saddle (Wpt. 08) with a view down the cliffs to the east and great views out over Calico Basin and the Las Vegas Valley.

There are various options for returning to the trailhead, but the safest is to follow your footprints back down the trail.

calico tank
Trail drops into wash; goes through gap (view NE)
Calico Tanks Trail
Entering gap
Calico Tanks Trail
Oak trees in the sandstone gap
Calico Tanks Trail
Trail leaves wash to the right
Calico Tanks
Sandy valley bottom (view SE)
Calico Tanks
Hiking onto red sandstone slickrock (view SE)
Calico Tanks Calico Tanks
Calico Tanks
Stairs carved into the rock face (view SE)
Calico Tanks
Stone stairs (view SE)
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Calico Tanks
Trail goes onto steep, sandy soils with lots of rocks (view S)
Calico Tanks
Sandy trail (view SE)
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Calico Tanks
Stone stairs (view SE)
Calico Tanks
Hikers near a highpoint
Calico Tanks
Highpoint overlooking Calico Tank (view SE; note route to the right)
Calico Tanks
Calico Tank (view NE)
Calico Tanks
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Calico Tanks
Route across rocky hillside to saddle (view S)
Calico Tanks
Rock hillside
Calico Tanks
Hikers out at the overlook (view E)
Calico Tanks
Overlook (view SE)
Calico Tanks
Hikers out at the overlook (view E)
Calico TanksLooking back at hikers above Calico Tank (view NW)
Calico Tanks

Fossil Ripple Mark from the Shore of some Ancient Lake

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Hiking Back Down

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Calico Tanks Calico Tanks

 
Table 1. Hiking Coordinates Based on GPS Data (NAD27; UTM Zone 11S). Download Hiking GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.

Wpt. Location UTM Easting UTM Northing Elevation (ft) Point-to-Point Distance (mi) Cumulative Distance (mi) Verified
01 Sandstone Quarry Trailhead 639471 4002862 4,367 0.00 0.00 Yes
02 Grand Circle Trail Junction 639483 4002979 4,305 0.07 0.07 GPS
03 Calico Tanks Trail Junction 639461 4003002 4,311 0.02 0.09 GPS
04 Turtlehead Peak Trail Junction 639419 4003159 4,379 0.11 0.20 GPS
05 Calico Tanks Canyon 639636 4003359 4,405 0.20 0.40 GPS
06 Flats with Pines 640138 4003008 4,557 0.45 0.85 GPS
07 Calico Tanks 640557 4002755 4,732 0.31 1.16 GPS
08 Saddle above Calico Tanks 640599 4002718 4,752 0.05 1.21 GPS
01 Sandstone Quarry Trailhead 639471 4002862 4,367 1.21 2.42 Yes

 
Note: All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
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© 2014 Jim Boone; Last updated 140211

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