I first discovered Red Rock Canyon State Park in California while I was researching more obscure places for desert hiking and camping, outside of Los Angeles. Here I will provide you with all of the details you need for hiking, camping, and driving 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, just outside 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. I have never experienced a crowded day there, 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.
As someone who goes hiking and camping fairly frequently, this obscure spot – roughly two hours north of Los Angeles – is a hidden gem. It is a rugged and mountainous park with colorful and unique red rock formations jutting out in cliffs where the El Paso Mountains and Sierra Nevada collide.
Desert Hiking Trails in Red Rock Canyon State Park, CA
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. You will thank me for this if you’re headed on one of the longer hikes, especially in the spring or summer!
Dogs are allowed in the park as long as they are on leash, and horses are allowed as well. California desert landscapes are usually flat, occasionally rocky, and sometimes home to spiky desert vegetation; closed toe shoes are a good idea if hiking.
There are a number of trails to choose from, so whether you are a beginner hiker or want something more challenging, Red Rock Canyon State Park provides it.
Easiest and Shortest Hike: The Red Cliffs Trail. This 1 mile loop hike takes roughly a half hour to walk, offering beautiful views of – you guessed it – gorgeous red cliffs.
Moderate Hike: The Opal Canyon OHV Trail. This is not a loop trail; this is an 8.5 mile “straight” trail that you will turn around and hike back upon reaching the end. It took me roughly four 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?!)
Hardest and Longest Hike: The Last Chance Canyon OHV Trail. This trail is a whopping 14 mile stretch that, frankly, is more popular for off-roading than hiking. But if you are determined to conquer it, start very early in the morning and bring A TON of water. It is a beautiful stretch of land, but you don’t want to get caught out here after sundown – there are no lights and the park is technically closed at sunset.
There are a couple of other hiking options within the 8 and 10 mile range in Red Rock Canyon State Park, and the vast California desert landscapes will not let you down.
Red Rock Canyon State Park, CA 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.
Desert Camping in Red Rock Canyon State Park, CA
After a long day of desert hiking, camping is thankfully allowed inside the park at the Ricardo Campground. As far as I know, this is the only campground in the area, and it is so convenient as it is inside the park. You will find the campground toward the western edge of the park, near the Red Cliffs Trail hike mentioned above.
Reservations are not accepted in advance, 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 spaces are available on a first come, first serve basis, and the cost is $25 per vehicle. An extra $6 cost is added for a second car, and 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, which is about 20 minutes south of the park. To my knowledge these are the closest accommodations, convenience stores, and gas stations to the park, so definitely plan ahead for what 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 probably Joshua Tree National Park, due to it’s otherworldly rock formations and vegetation. 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 that you’ll probably have 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 visit Red Rock Canyon State Park. The red cliffs are stunning and remind me of what I’ve seen in Arizona and Utah moreso 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 up to $55 USD on your first AirBnb reservation!