Introduction to Calico Basin | Climbing the Grand Staircase
Calico Hills Overview
The Calico Hills form a boarder between lower Red Rock Canyon and lower Calico Basin in Nevada. These ancient sand dunes have been frozen into an artistic display of fantastic shapes, colors and designs. From a distance the Calico Hills are dwarfed by the larger surrounding formations. However looks are very deceiving as the closer you get these formations become huge with 30-40ft sheer drop-offs. They’re actually a great playground for those who like to weave around amidst their maze of formations seeking the summit with its incredible view of both Red Rock Canyon and Calico Basin.
Across Red Rock Canyon one can see Mt. Wilson, Rainbow Mountain, Juniper Peak, Bridge Mountain, Goat Rock/North Peak and the expanse of the Piedmont Ridge. In the other direction across Calico Basin one can see Damsel Peak and its ridge system. Looking up toward the upper ends of Red Rock Canyon and Calico Basins one can see Turtlehead Peak and the expanse of the Keystone Thrust cliffs with the South side of La Madre Mountain as the high point.
The main route up the Calico Hills is called The Grand Staircase. There’s also a route around the circumference of the Calico Hills called the Grand Loop. I’ve ascended the Grand Staircase a number of times, observed a spectacular lightning storm in the Henderson area, descended in the moonlight, gotten lost in the maze of rock formations more than once on the way down nearly getting “cliffed out”. In all, this is a hugely memorable fun place to explore. In the videos on this page I summited the Grand Staircase, descended and then took the Grand Loop–what a day!
In addition, there’s Red Springs Desert Oasis at the base of the Calico Hills with its peaceful boardwalk–a great place for a nice walk with friends and family who may prefer this lighter but truly rewarding nature experience over more rugged adventures.
Route Up the Grand Staircase in the Calico Hills
Park at the Red Springs Desert Oasis parking area (primitive restrooms, nice picnic grounds available). Note that the parking area is gated off at sundown, so don’t be up on the hills at that time watching the gate shut your car in for the night!
As you look closely at the hills you’ll see a natural diagonal route that begins in the mid section and angles up to the right and to the summit of the hills. This is the Grand Staircase. On the weekend there are usually a number of hikers on the Grand Staircase so it’s harder to get lost. However, you’ll want to be looking back often to see how the route looks on the way down because believe me, heading down this route you’ll swear you’ve never seen the same formations before and it’s easy to stray and end up at a cliff edge, then retrace your steps only to end up at another cliff edge with no apparent way down!
Take a picnic and a few friends up to the summit and enjoy a nice peaceful time lying on the huge sandstone shelves with their incredible view.
The best time of year is in the Fall, Winter and Spring months on a clear day. Don’t try this in the rain because when the sandstone gets wet it becomes a skating rink…very dangerous!
Route Around the Grand Loop
This route is a 5 mile loop and begins and ends at the Red Springs Desert Oasis or at the first viewpoint on the Red Rock Park scenic drive on the other side of the Calico Hills. You can take the loop in either direction. I began at Red Springs Desert Oasis and headed upward along the base of the Calico Hills. There’s a pass at the upper end of the hills that leads your through to the Red Rock Park side. Descending down the other side of the pass there’s a beautiful pool…water in the desert! The pass itself is the only rough part of the loop and requires some navigation through sandstone boulders and brush.
Once on the other side of the pass, at points a pretty good trail appears. However, it is not always clear, so circle around the Calico Hills formation keeping the overall formation as your main point of reference. Pass the first two viewpoints on the Red Rock Park scenic drive before circling around the lower end of the Calico Hills back to your point of origin at the Red Springs Desert Oasis. The rock formations and colors along the way are pretty spectacular and the best views are at sunrise and sunset as the light brings out the full beauty of the color in the hills adding to the overall display.