At the beginning of our ride at Red Rock Canyon.

Red Rock Canyon Bike Ride turned Ugly.

We took a beautiful bike ride in Las Vegas through Red Rock Canyon on the wrong day. It had all the ingredients for disaster, and we retreated not even halfway into the ride because it wasn’t fun anymore. I have wanted to ride bikes through Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area since November 2018. It would be a great bike ride and perfect for our e-bikes.

Red Rock Canyon

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is located west of Las Vegas. We have visited before as full-time RV travelers. In 2018, we had an up-and-running blog but didn’t write about our visit to the Red Rock Canyon. I had something more important to write about. Tami’s Birthday was the subject of that week’s entry. Her birthday beat out our story and photos about a drive and hike by a wide margin. Here is a link to the birthday story, including a surprise she wasn’t expecting. Tami’s birthday

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

Since we had been to Red Rock Canyon six years prior, we didn’t do much planning. Putting the bike in the car was about the extent of the preparation. The weather in Las Vegas was nice, nearly 80 degrees. I didn’t think the weather to the west of Las Vegas would be any different. That was the first planning mistake on our trip.

View from parking area including some blue sky. We hoped the blue sky would push the clouds further to the northwest. We were wrong, it was a standoff.
View from parking area including blue sky. We hoped the blue sky would push the clouds further to the northwest. We were wrong; it was a standoff. The blue sky remained to the east, and the storm stayed to the west. The weather in the parking lot was excellent, but we were heading west.

Red Rock Canyon changed.

Over the last six years, Red Rock Canyon has exploded in popularity. It now gets two million visitors yearly, nearly all during the cooler months. The road, parking areas, and hiking trails were not designed for this many visitors. The road’s one-way design makes it challenging to accommodate the visitors. Once you enter, you can’t exit without making the thirteen-mile drive since it is a one-way road. Before entry to Red Rock Canyon was limited, you might be unable to park at the visitors center, trailheads, or overlook areas.

Timed Entry

Red Rock Canyon has turned to a timed entry system to enable people to enjoy the park. Reservations are required for the Scenic Drive between October 1 – and May 31 for entry between 8 a.m. – and 5 p.m. This limits access to the road and goes a long way to eliminating traffic jams. I have an article that discusses the National Parks passes at this link. America The Beautiful Pass

The timed entry system surprised us, and we had to turn around as we approached the gate. You must purchase a Timed Entry slot even if you have a National Parks entry pass. Since there is no cell service at the location, you must buy your Timed Entry reservation online, either by phone or Internet, before arriving at the gate. Before entering and starting our bike ride, we had to drive far enough away to get a cell phone signal and buy a time slot. By the time we started riding, after an hour’s delay, we had some clouds to worry about.

The thirteen-mile “Loop.”

Red Rock Canyon Loop
The one-way scenic drive at Red Rock Canyon makes for a nice drive, but describing it as a loop isn’t great because, as anyone can easily see, the starting and ending points are not at the same location. You must add a 1.7-mile section on Nevada Highway 159 to make it a loop.
Bike rider on the shoulder of Nevada Highway 159
On Nevada Highway 159, the shoulder is paved and ample for cyclists to share the road with cars, but it is not ideal, and a bike path not on the road would make the ride much better.

Calico Hills

The Calico Hills divide the normally visited area of Red Rock Canyon with the less visited northern section of the National Conservation Area. The red sandstone band of rocks in most of these photos is the remnant of dunes turned into rocks that covered most of the southwest of the United States. Over time, water moved through the dunes and carried away much of the red color, leaving calcium carbonite and turning the dunes into rock.

Sandstone cliffs at Red Rock Canyon
Sandstone cliffs at Red Rock Canyon, Calico Hills

The process is still happening even though it started 180 million years ago. The red color remains in many locations, and these colorful rocks are the main attraction at Red Rock Canyon. The sandstone is brilliant red or more of a cream color, depending on where you look.

Riding the loop at Red Rock Canyon

After difficulty getting into the park, we parked our car at the visitor center and started our ride. The weather at the visitor center was nice. Riding the loop looked easy enough for us on e-bikes. It isn’t a flat ride, and overall, the loop includes more than a 1300-foot climb and descent. The trail map (pictured above) shows that the highest point is also the northernmost. It is an exciting ride with many rolling hills, up one hill and down the other. Repeat for thirteen miles of fun with incredible scenery.

Scott at the beginning of the bike ride at Red Rock Canyon
Scott at the beginning of the bike ride at Red Rock Canyon

On our ride, as we went to the northwest, we were going into the storm. The clouds were stationary instead of clearing. What we didn’t know in the parking lot was that it was also raining to the north, and as we continued our climb northwest, the tiny raindrops turned into small icy snow-like grapnels, melting immediately when they hit the road. Since we only ride bikes in nice weather, we don’t have fenders, so we started kicking up more water to spray our backsides. After about four miles, it wasn’t fun anymore.

Scott and Tami at the Red Rock Canyon
Scott and Tami riding bikes at the Red Rock Canyon

Not enough juice

We also didn’t start our ride with full batteries and didn’t anticipate using the batteries on all the small hills. By the time we were in the icy rain, we started realizing that we would have to put in some serious effort if our batteries ran out before we were finished. Each little hill could become more challenging if the batteries were out of juice.

Tami frequently will stop and get to the side of the road when she hears a car approaching... and she has very good hearing.
Tami frequently stops and pulls over to the side of the road when she hears a car approaching, and she has excellent hearing. In this photo, she stopped so I could take a picture.

Going the wrong way on a one-way street.

By the time we reached the highest point of the climb, we decided (because of the rain) that we wouldn’t finish the loop and instead would go against traffic back to the visitor center. So we risked getting caught and rolled back down the hill, going the wrong way. It wasn’t an issue because it seemed that most of the traffic had stopped and were waiting for the rain to stop before continuing the scenic drive in the rain. I’m glad we didn’t get caught.

We thought that this storm would not come our way but we were wrong.
I thought this storm would not come our way, but I was wrong. Our ride took us into the storm.

Back at the parking lot

The weather at the parking lot was still fine, even though we were wet and cold. I am thankful we had some dry clothes in the car.

On our previous trip to Red Rock Canyon I don't remember seeing these signs.
I don’t remember seeing these signs on our previous trip to Red Rock Canyon. We didn’t see any tortoises on our trip, and I am pretty sure they are not talking about the speed of my bike riding.

Finishing the loop in the car

Finishing the loop at Red Rock Canyon isn’t optional. If you enter, you will exit by driving the thirteen-mile one-way street to the exit. So, after loading the bikes on the car, we finished the lap in the car.

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Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area Organization

America The Beautiful Pass

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8 thoughts on “Red Rock Canyon Bike Ride turned Ugly.”

  1. Brenda G Taylor

    Very informational as always. And I heade the warning about once you’ve entered the 13 Mile you must complete it. I need to search your site to read more about your e-bikes. thanks as always take care

  2. Scott…. You both are Amazing… still young enough for challenges…. And good outcomes! Plus Tami’s Birthday was such a Gift not only for her but for her siblings also! Please give her big hugs and tell her she will always be younger than me… That should make her day or year! And Scott you are definitely a keeper as Tami’s husband and best bike rider! Much Love Always for you Both! Debi🤓

  3. It’s been a while since we’ve been to Red Rocks. I didn’t know they have a reservation system now. Thanks for the info! Take care

  4. This was super helpful! We are staying at Red Rocks for a couple of nights this November, and I knew about the timed entry. I did not know that the bike loop included 2 miles along the Nevada State Highway, which immediately takes it out of my consideration set. Just won’t ride on the shoulder of a road I’m sharing with cars…old EMT here and seen too many distracted drivers!

  5. I’m always terrified that it will be a massive downpour far up the canyon or in the mountains that drain into the canyon, and I’ll be caught in a flash flood. Of course, I’m now too old and decrepit for such adventures and don’t have to worry 🙂

    I’m glad you guys got out with your hides intact… wet but all in one piece.

  6. It sounds like you actually had a wonderful day! You made a good decision to head back and still had (mostly) fun. Nothin’ like a wet backside as you are slogging through the hills! Thanks for another fun blog!

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