The boundary lines we draw across wilderness areas are artificial. Nature does not draw such boundaries. For this reason it’s always an incredible experience to cross the boundaries from one wilderness area into another. In this adventure you will begin on the floor of Calico Basin, ascend a canyon and emerge into Red Rock Canyon. Then, you will ascend a canyon in Red Rock Canyon and emerge into another area of Calico Basin. Along the way you will see spectacular views of Calico Basin, Red Rock Canyon, the Rainbow Mountain Wilderness and the La Madre Mountains Wilderness. All these great wilderness areas are one, undivided massive wilderness. Crossing from one into the other dissolves the artificial lines humans have created.
Note that technically Calico Basin is in Red Rock Canyon, but Red Rock Canyon to many is the area with the visitor center, scenic drive and surrounding peaks. Red Rock Canyon actually includes a huge area reaching all the way over into Kyle Canyon on the edge of the Spring Mountains.
So, beginning at the Kraft Mountain Trailhead parking area in Calico Basin, you will locate and ascend the unmarked Ash Canyon Trail to the spectacular summit area of Ash Canyon. Then, descend along the unmarked Rattlesnake Trail to connect with the Calico Tanks Trail. To this point, on these unmarked trails there is little or no human contact. In places you may feel as if you are treading on ground upon which no human has ever stood. Then everything changes. When you turn onto the Calico Tanks Trail, you suddenly find yourself on perhaps the most popular trail in Red Rock Canyon. In places, especially at the summit of that trail around the upper Calico Tank, it can be something akin to a mob scene. However, it’s always rewarding to see people of all ages celebrating nature. Still, with all the activity in that place the Calico Tanks are an entirely different environment from the Ash Canyon and Rattlesnake trails.
Upon descending the Calico Tanks Trail and reconnecting with the unmarked Rattlesnake Trail, you’re suddenly once again in wilderness solitude. After passing through a series of washes and finally locating what actually looks like a trail, you’ll re-ascend the Rattlesnake Trail to where it connects with the Ash Canyon Trail. Only, on this return trip, rather than taking the Ash Canyon Trail back to the Kraft Mountain Trailhead, you’ll descend toward Gateway Canyon in the Calico Basin.
While still high in the canyon, we divert to skirt the a faint pathway created by humans in places, big horn sheep in other places just below the upper ridgeline between Calico Basin and Red Rock Canyon. Finally, you’ll arrive at a point a few hundred feet above Pink Goblin Pass to descend to the Hell Hill Trail just below Pink Goblin Pass and finally return to your starting point at the Kraft Mountain Trailhead parking area in Calico Basin.
In the process, you’re crossed the artificial boundary between Calico Basin and Red Rock Canyon twice and experienced both wilderness areas as one!
Views along the way include the Calico Basin, Calico Hills, Blue Diamond Hill, Potosi Mountain, Rainbow Mountains, Red Rock Canyon, White Rock Mountain, Turtlehead Peak, the La Madre Mountains along the Keystone Thrust, the Las Vegas Valley and Strip and much more. It’s a pretty extensive review of Southern Nevada and beyond!
The best time of year for this adventure is mid-Fall through mid-Spring. Mid-day Summer temperatures can easily rise above 110 degrees. As many of these trails tend to appear and disappear, there’s a bit of experimental trail-finding involved along with the possibility of heading up the wrong canyon and getting lost. On a hot Summer day searching for a trail and possibly getting lost in these canyons can be dangerous. At all times along the way I was familiar with the many natural reference points (ridges, canyons, peaks), and I always recognized numerous alternate routes to navigate out of any strange place and find my way back to the starting point.
From Hwy 215 in the Summerlin area, take the Charleston Blvd exit, turn upward (West) on Charleston Blvd toward the mountains. Charleston Blvd becomes Blue Diamond Rd. (159) as you leave the city. Take the Calico Basin exit off 159 (right turn) onto Calico Basin Road. Continue on Calico Basin Road to the end of the road. On the way you will pass the Red Springs Desert Oasis parking area as the road veers right and becomes Calico Drive, then Sandstone Drive. Sandstone Drive ends with the Kraft Mountain parking lot, on the left.
Beginning at the Kraft Mountain Trailhead, follow the signed trail to Ash Spring before taking a sharp right and turning up toward Ash Canyon. As you head up toward Ash Canyon, a faint trail will appear. The higher you ascend, the more pronounced the trail becomes until, as you reach the summit of Ash Canyon you find yourself on a very clear path. You will find no trail signs for the Ash Canyon Trail or the Rattlesnake Trail. You just need to figure out where they are. The video on this page will help you discover the route.
In this adventure and in the video I attempted to angle upward to the Northwest from the Kraft Mountain Trailhead along what the map indicated was the Ash Canyon Trail. However, there was no trail sign that indicated “Ash Canyon”, and any trail along the route I took appeared, disappeared and reappeared. Surprisingly, even though I did not know exactly where Ash Canyon was, it seemed there was only one best way over the ridge between Calico Basin and Red Rock Canyon. I headed for that opening, and as I preceded and reached a point above Ash Spring, a faint trail began to appear. This is why I suggest heading to Ash Spring and then turning North up into Ash Canyon.
I marked both routes on the map on this page.
Ash Canyon itself is beautiful and wild. In places you will feel as if you are the only person who has ever stood there. At first, you’ll be navigating huge boulders in the canyon wash. Work your way to the right (East) above the wash to find a faint trail that circumvents the boulders and pour-over ledges at the base of the wash. Turn around often to see Ash Spring, the Calico Hills and Blue Diamond Hill opening up below. Since Ash Canyon rises dramatically and is fairly straight, near the summit of the canyon you can look all the way down the length of the canyon to Ash Spring and beyond. It’s pretty spectacular!
Near the summit of Ash Canyon the trail becomes much more pronounced. The summit area is marked by huge calico sandstone boulders, ridges and cliffs dotted with beautiful bonsai-like pines. That area has a deep spiritual feel. It seemed so familiar, I thought at first I had arrived at the summit of the Calico Tanks Trail. However, the Calico Tanks area is on the opposite side of the huge white cliffs to your right (West).
Continue weaving through the colorful sandstone and pines on the now distinct upper Ash Canyon Trail. Eventually the Ash Canyon Trail will “T” out at the intersection with the Rattlesnake Trail. A right turn on the Rattlesnake Trail will take you down into Gateway Canyon in the Calico Basin near the beginning of the Hell Hill Trail. However, to reach the Calico Tanks Trail, you will turn left onto the Rattlesnake Trail and descend into Red Rock Canyon. Just remember this intersection and the dark red peak above, which will be your reference point on the return trip.
After turning left onto the Rattlesnake Trail you begin to descend a canyon toward the base of the Calico Tanks Trail. This canyon is one canyon to the East of the Calico Tanks canyon, which is just over the high white rock sandstone cliff to your left (West). If you were a rock climber, you could ascend that sandstone cliff and descend into the upper Calico Tanks area. However, for the rest of us, we need to descend all the way to the base of the white cliffs, then circle around and up the other side of the cliffs toward the Calico Tanks.
As you near the Calico Tanks Trail, the Rattlesnake Trail begins to become sketchy amid a number of lower canyon washes. Just keep the huge white cliffs to your left (West) as your reference and head toward the base of those cliffs where you see your first trail sign since the Kraft Mountain Trailhead. The sign reads “Calico Tanks Trail”!
Now, begin to ascend the well-marked and rather heavily populated Calico Tanks Trail toward the Calico Tanks at the trail’s summit. The scenery is incredibly beautiful with spectacular sandstone cliffs on either side and sandstone under your feet. There are sandstone stairways artfully placed along the way to make a few steep stretches easy. When wet, the sandstone is slick, so it’s best to be here at least 24 hours after the last rainstorm. During the Winter and early Spring, you’ll need to navigate stretches that have become flowing streams. For the most part, there are bypasses above the streams (mostly on the right as you reach the Calico Tanks).
On this day, the trail through the upper Calico Tank was covered with water, but there was a high bypass trail to the right that ended at the spectacular summit viewpoint above the upper tank. There you could look down upon the Calico Tank, to the North to the La Madre Mountains cliffs, the Las Vegas Strip to the Southeast, Blue Diamond Mountain to the South, along with a view down toward the Kraft Mountain Trailhead; The Rainbow Mountains and Potosi Mountain to the Southwest. The view is amazing!
Here’s an alternate, shorter excursion: Park one car at the Kraft Mountain Trailhead in the Calico Basin, and a second car at the Sandstone Quarry Trailhead in Red Rock Canyon. The Sandstone Quarry Trailhead is just a little over a quarter mile from the intersection of the Calico Tanks Trail with the Rattlesnake Trail. This 2-car strategy will require a lot of driving as you’ll need to circle the entire Red Rock Scenic Loop twice in order to work the 2-car approach. You’d take two cars to the Sandstone Quarry Trailhead. Leave one at the trailhead and drive the other all the way around the scenic loop and then back to the Kraft Mountain Trailhead where your adventure would begin.
But, on this day, utilizing the single car strategy, I returned to the Kraft Mountain Trailhead via the Rattlesnake Trail and other intervening routes I’ll explain below.
Remember that sign on the lower Calico Tanks Trail where you emerged earlier from the Rattlesnake Trail. Take a right (East) at that sign and head up a series of washes. You will at first see no signs of a trail…you’re just in a series of lower canyon washes. Watch for the large reference points. You know you need to head far to the right of Turtlehead Peak and ascend more along the base of those huge white sandstone cliffs to your right (bordering the canyon you are in and the Calico Tanks area). As you weave your way through the washes a good trail will eventually appear. You’ve found The Rattlesnake Trail!
As you ascend the Rattlesnake Trail, watch for that large red peak. The base of that peak is were you will find the junction between with the Ash Canyon Trail. You could at this point turn right onto the Ash Canyon Trail and descend through Ash Canyon back to Ash Spring and the Kraft Mountain Trailhead.
On this day I decided to take a left at the dark red peak and descend on the Rattlesnake Trail toward Gateway Canyon.
I had a hunch that possibly I could avoid descending all the way into Gateway Canyon and instead take the higher ridgeline over to Pink Goblin Pass. So, part way on the descent toward Gateway Canyon I deviated to the right just below the upper ridgeline between Ash Canyon and Gateway Canyon.
Hindsight says it would have been easier and quicker to stick to the Rattlesnake Trail, descend all the way down to Gateway Canyon, take a right and then another right up the Hell Hill Trail to Pink Goblin Pass and then down to the Kraft Mountain Trailhead.
However, I was committed by now to the high ridgeline route. The route was non-technical, class 2 all the way, but required weaving around a number of intervening washes. There was no real trail. However, there was a faint trail that at times seemed created by humans, at times created by bighorn sheep.
Eventually I found myself looking down, hundreds of feed down below to the Hell Hill Trail. Arriving hundreds of feet above Pink Goblin Pass there was a definite but steep avalanche trail descending to that pass. I nicknamed it “Harder than Hell”…more challenging than the Hell Hill Trail! Still, I had been able to avoid any exposure and keep at the class 2 climbing level for the entire high ridge route. The time on the high ridge route was probably longer then the time it would have taken to stay with the Rattlesnake Trail and descend to the base of Gateway Canyon. Still, the view on the ridgeline route was better!
I’ve shown both the high ridge route and the Gateway Canyon route on the map on this page.
Once on the Hell Hill Trail just below Pink Goblin Pass it was an easy downhill trek back to the Kraft Mountain Trailhead.