Red Rock Canyon State Park in California is a hidden desert gem for desert hiking and camping. Just outside of Los Angeles, this secret spot is amazing! If you are visiting Red Rock Canyon soon, here are all of the details you need for hiking Red Rock Canyon, camping Red Rock Canyon, and driving through this beautiful desert park!
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I absolutely love the desert. Any desert. I could (and have!) spent long spans of days in various deserts around the world, from the Arabian Desert, to Southwestern USA, and the Sahara, to name a few. I can’t get enough.
So when I stumbled across Red Rock Canyon State Park, on the border of the Mojave Desert, I wondered why I had never heard of it before?
Somehow, Red Rock Canyon State Park has largely escaped detection, even from those who have lived in Southern California their entire lives.
As someone who goes hiking and camping fairly frequently, this obscure spot – roughly two hours north of Los Angeles – is a hidden gem. Red Rock is a rugged and mountainous park, situated where the El Paso Mountains and Sierra Nevada mountains collide. It showcases colorful and unique red rock formations jutting out in cliffs that you won’t soon forget.
I have never experienced a crowded day here, which is part of the appeal. I love the solitude. Hiking alone or with your own friends, you will probably feel like you have the park to yourselves.
Red Rock Canyon State Park Basics
First, some basics.
➳ Nomatter what time of year you visit, definitely pack your sunscreen. The sun is fierce and there is little to offer any shade midday while you explore the trails.
➳ The park is pretty remote, so be sure to bring your own water bottle or, better yet, bring a Camelbak backpack with a water bladder that will last you for hours.
➳ Don’t forget to check out my complete recommendation on desert hiking essentials. You’ll thank me for sure!
➳ Dogs are allowed on the trails (leashes are a must), and horses are permitted, as well.
➳ The California desert landscape is flat, occasionally rocky, and sometimes home to spiky desert vegetation. Closed toe shoes are a good idea.
Desert Hiking Trails in Red Rock Canyon State Park, CA
There are a number of trails to choose from. Whether you consider yourself a beginner hiker or want something more challenging, Red Rock Canyon State Park provides it.
Easiest and Shortest Hike: The Red Cliffs Trail.
- Distance: 1 mile
- Type: Loop
- Time: This hike takes roughly 30 minutes to complete, offering beautiful views of – you guessed it – gorgeous red cliffs.
Moderate Short Hike: Ricardo Camp South Loop Trail
- Distance: 1 mile
- Type: Loop
- Time: Roughly 30 minutes to complete. The scenery is breathtaking, and the trail is moderate.
Moderate, Long Hike: Nightmare Gulch Loop Trail.
- Distance: 8.8mile
- Type: Loop
- Time: It took me roughly 4.5 hours to hike, stopping here and there to admire the scenery, take photos, or grab a drink (what did I tell you about that Camelbak?!) Avoid this one in summer and check for closures beforehand.
OHV Driving Trail: The Last Chance Canyon OHV Trail.
- Distance: 14 miles
- Type: Out & back
- Time: Depends on your driving. I wouldn’t recommend taking this trail by foot, though if you do, bring A TON of water. It is a beautiful stretch of land, but don’t get caught out here after sundown. There are no lights and the park is technically closed at sunset.
Whichever hike you choose, the vast California desert landscapes will not let you down.
Red Rock Canyon State Park provides a very useful document for first-time hiking and camping visitors. Page one of this document lists various rules and fun facts about the park, and page two provides a map indicating where the trails, off-roading, and campgrounds can be found.
Click here to access and print out this document before your trip. Cell service can be spotty, so this is good to keep on hand.
Desert Camping in Red Rock Canyon State Park, CA
After a long day of desert hiking, you may be ready for some camping at the Ricardo Campground. Pro Tip: Access to the Ricardo Camp South Loop Trail is next to the campground.
As far as I know, this is the only campground in the area, and it is super convenient as it is inside the park. The campground toward the western edge of the park, near the Red Cliffs Trail hike mentioned above. You will wake up to some stunning scenery if you camp here!
Advance reservations are not accepted, which – given how sparsely visited this park seems to be – has never been an issue for me. However, on a holiday weekend, perhaps it’s best to plan ahead and arrive early.
50 camping spaces are available on a first come, first serve basis, and the cost is $25 per vehicle. An additional $6 is added for a second car. A maximum of 8 people are allowed per campsite.
Know in advance that these are primitive campsites; there are no RV hookups and no showers (I know, that’s the worst part). My advice is to take some biodegradable body wipes like these, because trust me – after a day in the desert heat, whoever is sharing your tent will thank you!
If camping is not for you, there are a couple of hotels in California City, about 20 minutes south of the park. These are the closest accommodations with four walls. The nearest convenience stores and gas stations are also found in California City. Plan ahead for anything you may need.
Should You Visit Red Rock Canyon Over Other Popular California Parks?
This largely depends on what you’re looking for.
My absolute favorite park in all of California is Joshua Tree National Park, due to it’s otherworldly rock formations and vegetation. The Joshua Tree sunrise can’t be beat. Red Rock Canyon doesn’t have quite the same array of landscape and scenery that Joshua Tree offers throughout the large park.
So if you are looking for alien-like landscapes and don’t mind potential crowds, Joshua Tree is definitely worth visiting.
However, if you’ve already been to Joshua Tree and are craving a more peaceful hiking and camping adventure in the California desert, I would actually suggest you stick with Red Rock Canyon State Park.
The red cliffs are stunning and remind me of what I’ve seen in Arizona and Utah more so than anywhere else in California. This is where you want to go if you’re trying to escape the LA crowds.
(Bonus Tip, there is a FREE Desert Tortoise Research Natural Area nearby, which is a 40 square mile area of protected land for the reptiles. You can learn about desert creatures here as well, and they gladly accept donations. Please note that pets are not allowed here).
- Park hours are sunrise to sunset.
- Pack Sunscreen nomatter what season you plan to visit. California desert sun is no joke.
- Bring LOTS of water – many say bring twice what you think you will need. Again, a Camelbak backpack is a great idea.
- Wear closed-toe shoes if you plan on hiking.
- Bring your tent, sleeping bag, and any other gear you like to have when camping.
- No showers are available, so biodegradable body wipes are necessary, in my opinion.
- Dog are okay, as long as they are on a leash.
- Horses are allowed.
- Some trails are approved for offroad-driving, as indicated in the Park’s map and rules brochure I mentioned above.
And finally, have a great time, because Red Rock Canyon State Park, CA is a beautiful place to visit! Let me know how it goes in the comments below.
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If camping is not your thing, OR, if you plan to stop here as part of a larger road trip, there are a number of wonderful AirBnb rentals along the way. Click here to save on your first AirBnb reservation!