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White Rock Loop Trail
Hiking Around Las Vegas, Red Rocks National Conservation Area
White Rock Loop Trail
White Rock Loop Trail
Hikers at Willow Springs Trailhead (view NE)

Overview

This well-maintained trail makes a 6.3-mile loop around the White Rock Hills. Along the way, the trail passes through a variety of vegetation zones, provides grand views out across Red Rock Valley, displays particularly interesting geology, and even visits several archaeological sites.

Link to map or elevation profile.

White Rock Loop Trail
Rocky Gap Road trailhead sign (view NW)

West of the White Rock Hills, the trail follows Red Rock Wash past Willow Springs and "lush" riparian vegetation. North of the Hills, the trail runs up a canyon between the White Rock Hills and the La Madre Mountains where the vegetation is typical of higher-elevation Pinyon-Juniper Woodlands. East and south of the hills, the trail traverses a dry bajada with vegetation typical of the Mojave Desert Scrub. Overall, this is an interesting hike through some beautiful country.

With some planning and two vehicles, this hike can be done from the Willow Springs picnic area to the White Rock Spring parking area, or visa versa, hiking the northern or southern halves of the loop. I've described the hike as starting at Willow Springs, running north around the White Rock Hills to the White Rock parking area, then looping back along the south side of the White Rock Hills to the trailhead.

White Rock Loop Trail
Rocky Gap Road sign

Watch Out

Other than the standard warnings about hiking in the desert, ...this is a fairly safe hike. Water is available at White Rock Spring and at Willow Springs, so hikers might want to bring a water filter rather than carry enough water for the entire loop. The entire loop might be a bit long for kids, but otherwise this is a good trail for kids.

While hiking, please respect the land and the other people out there, and try to Leave No Trace of your passage. Also, this is a fairly long hike, so be sure to bring the 10 Essentials. The trail runs up into the La Madre Mountain Wilderness Area, so pay particular attention to respecting the land.

White Rock Loop Trail
A second trail sign (view NW)

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 drive about half-way around the Scenic Loop Road to White Rock Trailhead or Willow Spring Trailhead. Park here or there; these are the trailheads.

The Hike

From Willow Springs Picnic Area (Table 1, Waypoint 01), the trail runs north on the unpaved Rocky Gap Road, parallel to Red Rock Wash. To the left are Red Rock Wash and the Red Rocks Cliffs (red-and-white banded sandstone that formed about 135 million years ago; MYA). To the north is the La Madre Range (gray limestone that formed about 400 MYA), and to the right are the White Rock Hills (mostly white sandstone that formed about 135 MYA). Running up the canyon, the road passes ancient kitchen sites (agave roasting pits) and eventually crosses Red Rock Wash (Wpt. 02).

White Rock Loop Trail
second trail sign (view NW)

Continuing across the wash and up the other side, the hike follows the road for another 500 feet to the La Madre Trailhead parking, on the left. At that point, the hike leaves Rocky Gap Road, turning right onto the La Madre Spring-White Rock Loop Trail (Wpt. 03). A few yards farther, a sign announces entrance into the La Madre Mountain Wilderness Area, and from there, the trail follows an old road northward.

On the old road, the trail climbs at a fairly steep grade before turning east and leveling out considerably. In this area, the trail runs through a geologically interesting valley where the sides of the valley are faulted, tilted, and twisted. The White Rock Hills are geologically young sandstone, and the La Madre Range is geologically old limestone.

The limestone formed in the bottom of the ocean, but geologic forces pushed it up above sea level. As the ocean receded and the land dried out, rivers deposed silt and gravel in a delta, but they too eventually dried up. The area became a desert (much like the Sahara Desert in Africa) with huge sand dunes covering vast area of land. Over time, sand dunes were covered by more sand dunes, and eventually the ones on the bottom solidified into sandstone.

White Rock Loop Trail
Hikers on Rocky Gap Road (view NW)

After the sandstone formed, geologic forces cracked the surface of the earth and pushed the older limestone mountains up and over the younger sandstone (thrust faulting), resulting in an unusual situation where older rocks lie on top of younger rocks. Over time, much of the limestone and some of the sandstone eroded away, leaving the landscape as we see it today.

The valley is also interesting because it is heavily forested (at least for a desert) with many singleleaf pinyon pine and Utah juniper trees, which is unusual for this low-elevation desert area. This vegetation is typical of the Pinyon-Juniper Woodland, but the forest here is particularly dense with lots of desert shrubs between the trees.

After following the old road for about 0.5 miles, the trail reaches a junction (Wpt. 20). Here, the La Madre Spring Trail continues left up the old road, while the White Rock Loop Trail turns right and runs south towards Red Rock Wash.

White Rock Loop Trail
Rocky Gap Road at Red Rock Wash (view NW)

From the junction (Wpt. 20), the White Rock Loop Trail runs on an old road for a few minutes and curves left, but the road quickly ends and the rest of the hike follows a foot trail. About 0.24 miles past the La Madre-White Rock junction, the trail reaches another trail junction (Wpt. 21). Here, a side trail goes left up to La Madre Spring, while the White Rock Loop Trail continues straight.

Eventually the trail winds among some odd boulders (Wpt. 22 to Wpt. 23) that stick up out of the ground. Looking closely, the boulders are composed of polished gravels: these are the gravel beds left behind in the drying delta, although here they have been tilted on their side.

Some parts of this valley are dry, but as the trail approaches the top of the canyon, the vegetation becomes progressively more lush. The pinyon pines near the top of the canyon grow relatively tall and straight, and they even start to look like real pine trees (at least for a desert).

White Rock Loop Trail
Hikers departing Rocky Gap Road (view NW)

The trail climbs onto a saddle between White Rock Hills and La Madre Mountain (Wpt. 24) with nice view back down Red Rock Canyon. After passing the saddle, the vegetation quickly reverts to more-typical Mojave Desert Scrub, although even here the shrubs are fairly dense and much of the ground surface is covered with vegetation.

Beyond the saddle, the trail runs downhill at a fair grade and hikers get great sweeping views to the east (towards Turtlehead Peak, Blue Diamond Hill, and Las Vegas). At a signed trail junction (Wpt. 27), the Keystone Thrust Trail turns left and runs east to a place where hikers can touch the Keystone Thrust (the contact between gray limestone rock overlying red sandstone).

Continuing downhill a few minutes farther, the trail reaches White Rock Trailhead (Wpt. 29). Use the restroom if necessary, then exit the parking area to the west (not down the road) by another set of trailhead signs (Wpt. 30).

White Rock Loop Trail
Trail leaving Rocky Gap Road (view north)

 

From the White Rock Trailhead (Wpt. 30), the trail runs due west and down the hill towards White Rock Spring, which is about 5 minutes out. At a fork (Wpt. 31), the White Rock Spring Trail goes right a few yards to the spring. Visit the spring if desired, then backtrack to this point and continue hiking southwest. The White Rock Loop Trail descends the bajada through nice stands of buckhorn cholla and eventually drops into, and crosses, a major wash.

From the wash, trail continues west as if to circle around the base of the White Rock Hills, but it hits a switchback (Wpt. 36) and turns back to the east. the trail climbs onto a bench and circles around to the west again. The trail reaches another trail junction (Wpt. 37) at the south-most point of the White Rock Hills. Here, the Grand Circle Trail turns left, while the hike continues to the right.

The trail curves around to the northwest and drops back into Red Rock Canyon, touching the bottom near the Lost Creek Trailhead at a trail junction with the Willow Springs Loop Trail (Wpt. 38). Continuing north, the trail runs up the canyon where historically it has been easy to spot Bighorn Sheep.

White Rock Loop Trail

The trail passes an archaeological site with an agave roasting pit (Wpt. 39) and some rock art (painted hands), which are described for the Willow Springs Loop Trail, at the south end of the Willow Springs Picnic Area (Wpt. 40).

Wandering up through the picnic area, the hike passes the restrooms and returns to the trailhead (Wpt. 01).

White Rock Loop Trail
Hikers on the steep part (view N)
White Rock Loop Trail
Grand view up Red Rock Canyon (view NE)
White Rock Loop Trail
Trail junction: White Rock Loop turns right (view NE)
White Rock Loop Trail
Trail junction sign (view NE)
White Rock Loop Trail
Trail junction: White Rock Loop turns right (view SE)
White Rock Loop Trail
Entering the La Madre Mountain Wilderness Area (view SE)
White Rock Loop Trail White Rock Loop Trail
White Rock Loop Trail White Rock Loop Trail
White Rock Loop Trail
Triassic-age Shinarump Conglomerate boulders
White Rock Loop Trail
Triassic-age Shinarump Conglomerate boulders
White Rock Loop Trail
Triassic-age Shinarump Conglomerate boulders
White Rock Loop Trail
Triassic-age Shinarump Conglomerate boulders
White Rock Loop Trail
Hikers on Triassic-age Shinarump Conglomerate boulders
White Rock Loop Trail
Hikers on Triassic-age Shinarump Conglomerate boulders
White Rock Loop Trail White Rock Loop Trail
White Rock Loop Trail
High in the canyon (view E)
White Rock Loop Trail
Arriving at the saddle (the highest point on the loop; view S)
White Rock Loop Trail
View back into Red Rock Canyon (view W)
White Rock Loop Trail
Trail starts down (view SE)
White Rock Loop Trail White Rock Loop Trail
White Rock Loop Trail White Rock Loop Trail
White Rock Loop Trail
Unnecessary trail sign #1
White Rock Loop Trail
Unnecessary trail sign #2
White Rock Loop Trail White Rock Loop Trail
White Rock Loop Trail
Keystone Thrust Trail junction (view S)
White Rock Loop Trail
Keystone Thrust Trail junction (view E)
White Rock Loop Trail
Keystone Thrust Trail junction (view N)
White Rock Loop Trail
Keystone Thrust Trail junction (view E)
White Rock Loop TrailCrossing a wash (view S) White Rock Loop Trail
Information sign: agave roasting pits on the right (view S)
White Rock Loop Trail
Hiker arriving at White Rock Trailhead (view S)
White Rock Loop Trail
Exiting White Rock Trailhead (view W)
White Rock Loop Trail
Hikers on trail (view W)
White Rock Loop Trail
White Rock Spring trail junction (view W)
White Rock Loop Trail White Rock Loop Trail
White Rock Loop Trail White Rock Loop Trail
White Rock Loop Trail White Rock Loop Trail
White Rock Loop Trail White Rock Loop Trail
White Rock Loop Trail White Rock Loop Trail
White Rock Loop Trail
Atop bluff overlooking wash (view SW)
White Rock Loop Trail
Trail descends into wash (view NW)
White Rock Loop Trail
Trail turn to run down along wash (view S)
White Rock Loop Trail
Trail finally crosses wash (view SW)
White Rock Loop Trail White Rock Loop Trail
White Rock Loop Trail White Rock Loop
White Rock Loop Trail White Rock Loop Trail
White Rock Loop
Trail turns and switchbacks up hillside (view SE)
White Rock Loop
Trail climbs across hillside (view SE)
White Rock Loop
Trail climbs to edge of bluff (view SE) ...
White Rock Loop Trail
... then turns back to the west (view S)
White Rock Loop Trail White Rock Loop Trail
White Rock Loop Trail
Great Circle Trail junction (view W)
White Rock Loop Trail
Great Circle Trail junction sign (view W)
White Rock Loop Trail
Great Circle Trail (view S)
White Rock Loop Trail
Continuing on White Rock Loop Trail (view NW)
White Rock Loop Trail
Trail crests ridge (view NW into Red Rock Canyon)
White Rock Loop Trail
Trail drops back into Red Rock Canyon (view NW)
white rock loop
Willow Springs Loop Trail junction (view NW)
white rock loop
Willow Springs Loop Trail junction sign (view E)
white rock loop white rock loop
white rock loop
Arriving at archaeological site (roasting pit and 5-Hands pictograph)
white rock loop
Hikers on cement trail heading towards lower restroom (view NW)
white rock loop
It becomes easier to just walk back up the road to the trailhead
more to come ...

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

Wpt. Location Time Easting Northing Elevation (feet) Point-to-Point Distance (mi) Cumulative Distance (mi) Verified
01 Willow Springs Trailhead 1056 635112 4002653 4,568 0.00 0.00 GPS
02 Crossing Red Rock Wash 1109 634408 4003038 4,701 0.53 0.53 GPS
03 Trail leaves the road 1112 634312 4003150 4,744 0.09 0.62 GPS
04 Crossing a wash 1118 634261 4003442 4,871 0.21 0.83 GPS
20 La Madre Trail junction, return 1317 634462 4003819 4,911 0.00 1.11 GPS
21 Unmarked trail junction 1324 634763 4003982 4,932 0.24 1.35 GPS
22 Conglomerate rocks, adjacent 1339 635131 4004834 5,171 0.67 2.02 GPS
23 Conglomerate rocks, east end 1340 635163 4004828 5,189 0.03 2.05 GPS
24 Saddle 1359 635654 4005222 5,453 0.55 2.60 GPS
25 Lunch, start 1409 636184 4005052 5,286 0.00 2.60 GPS
25 Lunch, end 1426 636184 4005052 5,286 0.00 2.60 GPS
26 Crossing wash 1428 636267 4005033 5,235 0.44 3.04 GPS
27 Keystone Thrust Trail 1444 636955 4004268 4,944 0.73 3.77 GPS
28 Crossing a wash 1445 636968 4004163 4,902 0.07 3.84 GPS
29 White Rock trailhead, north 1446 637007 4004060 4,883 0.07 3.91 GPS
30 White Rock trailhead, west 1448 636979 4004051 4,876 0.02 3.93 GPS
31 White Rock Spring Trail 1450 636874 4004072 4,842 0.07 4.00 GPS
33 Trail junction 1506 636430 4003683 4,645 0.38 4.38 GPS
34 Old road ends 1512 636319 4003427 4,549 0.19 4.57 GPS
35 Toe of ridge 1522 636369 4002801 4,457 0.46 5.03 GPS
36 Back of switchback 1530 636176 4002518 4,429 0.30 5.33 GPS
37 Grand Circle Trail 1536 636044 4002353 4,519 0.25 5.58 GPS
38 Willow Springs Loop Trail 1546 635583 4002350 4,472 0.32 5.90 GPS
39 Agave roasting pit 1552 635240 4002555 4,538 0.28 6.18 GPS
01 Willow Springs trailhead 1555 635112 4002652 4,568 0.11 6.28 GPS

Note: All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
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© 2014 Jim Boone; Last updated 140420

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