Adventure Video
Peaceful Sights and Sounds of Water in Ice Box Canyon

Overview | Ice Box Canyon | Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Nevada

Adventure Slide Show – 4/6/2023

Ice Box Canyon is the second Northernmost canyon at the Eastern base of the Rainbow Mountains after Lost Creek Canyon. The trail is 2.2 miles with an approximate 2,000ft elevation gain. The approach trail is great, but the route through the canyon can be sketchy requiring ability to select from multiple route choices at various points. It’s not hard, and the navigation challenge can be fun.

Navigation Challenges in Rainbow Mountains Canyons

Are you interested in developing skills to navigate the canyons at the Western base of the Rainbow Mountains and other similar canyons throughout the world? For the best experience and skill development, ease your way into this type of canyon starting with a light experience and moving to more involved challenges. Why not just plunge into the most difficult canyon first? Here are the challenges you will need to master:

  1. Brush: You’ll face thick walls of brush up to 15ft high and more. Brush will impede your advance and block your view of potential options and risks ahead.
  2. Boulders: The sandstone boulders in the base of the canyon can be smooth, slick and, if wet, hazardous presenting risk of a fall and injury in this isolated environment.
  3. Water: There are flowing streams that must be crossed multiple times in order to remain on the best route through the canyon. You want to avoid getting your feet wet in order to keep your footing on the boulders ahead.
  4. Ledges: Though the canyons from a distance appear to have a gradual incline, up close there can be ledges 20-30ft high and higher. Now you’re facing class 3 rock climbing and more with exposure to a huge fall.
  5. Isolation: The more extensive canyons such as Pine Creek Canyon, Oak Creek Canyon and First Creek Canyon tend to have less traffic. I’ve gone an entire day in those canyons without seeing a soul.

Two Great Starter Canyons in the Rainbow Mountains

  1. Lost Creek Canyon to the North is a very tame introduction to the first 4 challenges above (minus the ledges), and you’re never too far from others navigating its short, popular route.
  2. Ice Box Canyon would be next on the list of difficulty. Here you face the above 4 challenges to a greater degree. Ledges can be avoided, and the distance is still relatively short to the upper waterfalls. It’s a good training canyon. You need to cross the creek numerous times, climb over boulders and try to determine the best of multiple course choices at a number of points. This is a great training canyon. And still, you’re never far from others. There are a couple class 3 ledges near the upper water falls that are difficult, but not serious. 

The Experience of Ice Box Canyon

Here are a couple of the reasons Ice Box Canyon is one of the most popular hikes in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

  • Spectacular Views: As you advance toward and into the canyon and turn around, you’ll see expanding views of Red Rock Canyon and its surroundings including White Rock Mountain, The La Madre Mountains Cliffs, Turtlehead Peak, The Calico Hills and Blue Diamond Hill. Looking up the sheer towering walls on either side and ahead, cliffs of Bridge Mountain are to your left and Buffalo Wall cliffs to your right. Ahead, you’re looking straight into the heart of the Rainbow Mountains.
  • Lush Green Canyon Environment: In the early Spring the creek in Ice Box Canyon continually sings as water cascades over rocks and boulders and into peaceful pools. You’re in a lush pine forest where the singing of birds adds to the orchestra. It’s such a contrast from the stark arid setting in the center of Red Rock Canyon.

Best Time of Year to Adventure in Ice Box Canyon

Plan your Ice Box Canyon adventure sometime between mid-Fall and mid-Spring. Summer temperatures can easily rise above 110 degrees, and the canyon can be pretty dry and bleak in the Summer. I prefer Spring when the water is flowing, the creek is singing and the falls at the upper end of the canyon are at their strongest. During the Spring, the brush is a little more tame in the canyon. It will grow and thicken throughout the Summer and be its thickest in the Fall.

It’s not wise to attempt Ice Box Canyon within 24 hours of a rainstorm as the rocks and boulders in the canyon can be as slick as ice!

Trailhead Directions | Ice Box Canyon | Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Nevada

From I-215 in Summerlin at the Red Rock Casino, take Hwy 159 (Red Rock Canyon Road) West toward the mountains. Red Rock Canyon is the 2nd turnoff to the right, about 4 miles after leaving Summerlin. You will need a reservation to enter the area and gain access to the scenic drive. Once on the scenic drive, the Ice Box Canyon parking area is half way around the Scenic Drive Loop just after the Willow Spring turnoff.

Adventure Description | Ice Box Canyon | Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Nevada

Start Your Adventure Early in the Day

I suggest getting to the Ice Box Canyon trailhead parking area early in the day. I was the first to arrive at about 7am on an April 1st Saturday…during the busiest season. Later in the day when I returned to my car about 2pm the trailhead parking was full and there was a line of cars waiting for my parking spot!

If you’re going to take pictures and videos, you’ll get the best shots before the canyon is full of groups of hikers later in the day.

The Ice Box Canyon Approach Trail

The approach trail is deceptively easy and begins as a wide gravel pathway. As you approach the canyon opening rocks and boulders appear on and around the trail. These are covered with a thin film of sand making them slick even when dry, so watch your step! When the rocks here and in the canyon above are wet…forget it!

You gain a lot of altitude during the approach trail, so remember to turn around often to see the expansive view of Red Rock Canyon and its surroundings opening up behind.

Ice Box Canyon Entrance

As you approach the entrance to Ice Box Canyon, you’ll notice the peaceful creek below to your left. It’s inviting and there are a number of little side trails beckoning you to descend from the main trail to the creek at the base of the canyon. You might want to avoid the temptation on your first trip as navigation in the creek below is a lot slower with its rocks, brush and boulders. These could eat up the time you will need to get all the way to the upper end of Ice Box Canyon. Save the lower creek for a another adventure.

The main trail above and to the right of the creek is well marked and relatively easy to follow. At the entrance to Ice Box Canyon, the main trail takes a definite plunge to the creek bed below to the left, and you’re now navigating all the challenges characteristic of canyons in the lower Rainbow Mountains. Remember where you descend to the creek. On the way back, if you miss that unmarked route back to the main trail, you’re adding an extra quarter mile of creek, boulder and brush navigation, just when you thought things should be getting easier! 

Navigating Through Ice Box Canyon

Prepare to cross the creek in Ice Box Canyon numerous times in order to advance up the canyon. There are times that the best route is along one side of the creek, other times the best route is above the creek through a tunnel of brush on one side or the other. Often, you’ll be faced with multiple route choices. You may need to try one route, then retrace your way to where that route began in order to try an alternative route. During the higher water flow of April 1st I was able to keep my feet dry all the way up and down the canyon and emerged in the end with dry shoes, so with careful route choices, it can be done. Again, dry shoes give you much firmer footing on the rocks and boulders along the way.

Take time along the way to enjoy the peaceful serenity of the creek, the surrounding forest and singing birds!

Approaching the Falls at the Upper End of the Canyon

Not far below the Falls at the upper end of the canyon the route suddenly ascends onto the left canyon wall. It’s steep, the rock face is smooth, but there are enough good hand and footholds in the rocks and trees to make this a fun, challenging 20-30ft ascent. Above, you’re on a ledge. You can’t see around the corner, but there is a pathway along and around the right side of that ledge. You’ll be rewarded shortly with the spectacular sight of the double tiered waterfall at the upper end of the canyon. At least, it was flowing with force on April 1st. 

At the Waterfall

As noted, this is a double-tiered waterfall, and it cascades into a beautiful pool at its base. For some reason, it’s tempting to climb the first tier of the fall. I witnessed a few hikers making that attempt. The cliff face between the lower and upper section of the waterfall is pretty steep, smooth and presents quite a frightening exposure to a fall. It doesn’t look so bad from below, but the two hikers who successfully made it to the base of the upper fall became trapped there for some time as they attempted to descend the cliff down the side of the lower fall. Things look a lot more scary on the way down! One hiker actually lost control and began sliding toward the edge of the drop-off where he was fortunately stopped by the other hiker.

Unless you’re an experienced rock climber, it might be best to avoid the temptation to scale the cliff between the lower and upper waterfall.

Additional Options in the Canyon

Curiously, there did appear to be two additional side-canyon options near the upper Falls. I did not pursue them, but might on a return trip. The first option is up a side canyon to your left (South). You may see it more clearly by expanding the map on this page. The second option is up a channel to the right just before the waterfall. On the map, both look as if they might end at a pretty steep wall. However, if one could successfully find a route up one of these side canyons, the terrain will soon level out and you could successfully reach the upper crest of the Rainbow Mountains. However, I have not tested these routes and they might lead to hazardous drop-offs. There’s also an interesting side canyon that opens up just South of the lower opening of Ice Box Canyon. Again, these are untried and you may face thick brush and dangerous ledges.

Ice Box Canyon Summary

All that said, the route up Ice Box Canyon to the waterfalls is incredibly beautiful and just challenging enough to make it interesting. And, I found the return route down the canyon to be quicker and easier to follow! One could probably make it up and down the canyon in less than 2 hours on a first attempt. 

Ice Box Canyon | Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Nevada
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Ice Box Canyon | Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Nevada
Ice Box Canyon, located on the Eastern side of the Rainbow Mountains between Willow Spring and Pine Creek Canyon is one of the most popular hikes in Red Rock Canyon. The brief 2.2-mile hike introduces the beauty and challenge of traversing the brush, boulders, ledges and streams in the canyons on the Eastern side of the Nevada's Rainbow Mountains.
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