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