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Oak Creek Canyon Trail
Hiking Around Las Vegas, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
Oak Creek Canyon Trail
Oak Creek Canyon
Hiker at trailhead (view SW)

Overview

This is a delightful hike that leads into one of the narrow canyons that slices into the Red Rocks (Wilson) Cliffs. This hike has two parts: an official trail and a scramble up the canyon. The official trail makes for a good, easy hike that leads to the mouth of the canyon in about 1.1 miles with an elevation gain of less than 300 ft. From there, however, the route follows poorly defined use-trails and the boulder-choked wash up the canyon. The canyon gets some full sun, but generally this is a cool place to hike. Hikers can scramble and boulder hop up the canyon almost forever, but this is an in-and-out hike.

Link to map.

Oak Creek Canyon

Watch Out

Other than the standard warnings about hiking in the desert, ... this is an easy hike to the end of the official trail, but the trail is rocky, and hikers will need to watch their step to avoid twisting an ankle. Past the end of the official trail, the hike is a moderately strenuous scramble up the canyon that requires climbing over and around boulders. Be careful when high enough to fall and hurt yourself, watch for wet rocks, and watch for ice during winter.

While hiking, please respect the land and the other people out there, and 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.

Oak Creek Canyon

Getting to the Trailhead

This hike is located along the Scenic Loop Road in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, about 1 hour west of Las Vegas. Drive out to Red Rocks, pay the fee, and then drive most of the way around the Scenic Loop Road to the Oak Creek Canyon Trailhead, located at the end of Oak Creek Canyon Road.

Oak Creek Canyon

The Hike

From the trailhead (Table 2, Waypoint 1), the trail runs more-or-less directly towards the mouth of Oak Creek Canyon, heading southwest and up the bajada at a gentle angle for about 1.1 miles. The trail runs on an old road and is well defined, but watch for intersection with official trails (with signs) and unofficial use-trails (without signs; Wpt. 02). The Knoll Trail (Wpt. 03) branches off about 0.8 miles from the trailhead. The walking is easy, but the trail is rocky, and you will need to watch your step to avoid twisting an ankle. This, however, is difficult because the Wilson Cliffs, and Mt. Wilson in particular, just seem to get taller, more vertical, and more spectacular the closer you get to the cliffs, and you will want to watch the scenery rather than your feet.

Oak Creek Canyon
Some parts of the trail are rocky

Along this lower part of the trail, the habitat type is Mojave Desert Scrub with lots of low-growing shrubs dominated by blackbrush, Mojave yucca, buckhorn cholla, and a other things mixed in.

The official trail ends in the mouth of Oak Creek Canyon at the end of the old road (Wpt. 05). There is a nice little viewpoint on the bench just before the end of the road (Wpt. 04) with views up into the canyon (spectacular cliffs) and down into the wash (heavily vegetated). You can recognize this point because just past the viewpoint, the old road passes through a cut-bank with bright red dirt, bends sharply to the south (left), and drop steeply towards the wash. If you don't intend to boulder-hop up the canyon, this viewpoint is a good place to stop.

Oak Creek Canyon
Some parts of the trail are smooth

Along this upper part of the official trail (closer to the cliffs) the vegetation is more robust and more diverse, with cliffrose, buckwheat, bunchgrass, yerba santa, Utah juniper, and Ephedra joining the mix of common species. In addition, from the viewpoint, you can look into the canyon and see shrub live oak, ashy silktassel, pinyon pine, and desert willow. Also watch or listen for white-tailed antelope squirrels and various species of birds near the water (e.g., Juniper Titmouse, Western Bluebird, Western Scrub-jay, Common Raven, and House Finch).

Continuing up the canyon, the old road curves to the south (left) and then loops back to the east (left). From the western-most point on the old road, follow a use-trail that drops off the bench and into the wash. A few feet down the trail, a sign announces the boundary of the Rainbow Mountain Wilderness Area.

Oak Creek
Hikers on trail below Mt. Wilson (view SW)

There are use-trails across the north side of the canyon above the wash, but for the most part, these use-trails are just routes across a rocky hillside with scattered cairns to guide the way (the way to where?). It probably is easier to just drop into the wash and stay in the bottom. If you stay on the use-trails, the canyon will narrow, the use-trails will end, and you will be forced into the wash. In the wash, boulder-hop up the canyon for as far as you want. Higher up, the canyon is narrow and deep, and travel is more difficult, but the surrounding cliffs are spectacular. A seasonal stream flows through the canyon forming a series of pools and little waterfalls.

As usual, return to the trailhead by following your footprints.

Oak Creek Canyon
Some parts of the trail are rocky
Oak Creek Canyon
Hiker at Oak Creek Cutoff trail junction (view SW)
Oak Creek Canyon
Hiker just beyond Oak Creek Cutoff trail junction (view SW)
Oak Creek Canyon
Large cairn at Oak Creek Cutoff trail junction (view SW)
Oak Creek Canyon
Hiker at use-trail to Wilson's Pimple
Oak Creek Canyon
Rocky trail
Oak Creek Canyon
Approaching Knoll Trail junction (view W)
Oak Creek Canyon
Knoll Trail junction sign (view W)
Oak Creek Canyon
Knoll Trail junction sign (view W)
Oak Creek Canyon
Hiker on trail at canyon mouth (view W)
Oak Creek Canyon
Use-trail drops into wash
Oak Creek Canyon
Scrambling up the wash (view W)
Oak Creek Canyon
Varnished wall above the canyon bottom (view N)
Oak Creek Canyon
Hiker in the canyon (view W)
Oak Creek Canyon
Hiker in the canyon (view W)
Oak Creek Canyon
Cliffs towering above Oak Creek (view N)
Oak Creek Canyon
In the canyon looking out (view E)
more to come ...

Table 2. Hiking Coordinates Based on GPS Data (NAD27; UTM Zone 11S). Download Hiking GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.

Wpt. Location Easting Northing Elevation (ft) Point-to-Point Distance (mi) Cumulative Distance (mi) Verified
01 Oak Creek Trailhead 638109 3997129 3,933 0.00 0.00 GPS
02 Oak Creek Cutoff Junction 637340 3996372 4,021 0.70 0.70 GPS
03 Knoll Trail Junction 637160 3996333 4,104 0.11 0.81 GPS
04 Viewpoint 636785 3996232 4,190 0.26 1.07 GPS
05 End of Old Road 636707 3996232 4,179 0.09 1.16 GPS

Happy Hiking! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
© 2014 Jim Boone; Last updated 130316

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