Juniper Canyon | Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Nevada
Overview | Juniper Canyon | Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Nevada
This page will guide you from the North end of the Arnight Trail to the summit of Juniper Canyon. There you will emerge from a boulder field onto the sandstone slab that marks the beginning of the final Juniper Peak summit approach. See these pages for the full Juniper Peak route:
- Arnight Trail (from Oak Creek Canyon Trailhead)
- Juniper Canyon
- Juniper Peak Summit (currently in revision process)
Juniper Peak, the most popular and frequently summited peak in the Rainbow Mountains, is attainable only by successfully navigating Juniper Canyon. For this reason, and because it consumed an entire adventure just getting to the top of Juniper Canyon, I’m devoting an entire adventure page to navigating Juniper Canyon. Through videos, route descriptions and images, this page will get you to the top of Juniper Canyon where you can then complete your trip to Juniper Peak’s summit!
Like the other canyons at the Eastern base of the Rainbow Mountains, Juniper Canyon can be a challenging experience. Between walls of brush, huge boulders, ledges and multiple route choices along the way, successfully navigating Juniper Canyon is a remarkable feat in itself.
Three Approach Trails to Juniper Canyon
There are three approach trails you can take to get to the base of Juniper Canyon where this adventure description will begin. The links below will take you to the pages where these trails are documented. The three trails are listed in the order of my preference:
- The Arnight Trail: Beginning at The Oak Creek Canyon Trailhead, The Arnight Trail is the most direct approach to the base of Juniper Canyon, trailhead parking area less likely to be full, and the return trip is downhill all the way when you are tired after summiting Juniper Peak. Note that there is a half-mile of good unpaved road from The Red Rock Scenic Drive to The Oak Creek Canyon Trailhead.
- The Knoll Trail from Pine Creek Canyon: Like The Arnight Trail, The Knoll Trail is also a great option. However, get to the Pine Creek Canyon Trailhead parking area early in the morning or you risk not finding a parking space! The Knoll Trail page covers the trail from South to North. Just reverse the direction to take that trail from The Pine Creek Canyon Trailhead.
- The Knoll Trail from The Oak Creek Canyon Trailhead: This is way longer as an approach trail to Juniper Canyon. The only reason you’d select this option is to enjoy hiking along the Eastern base of the Rainbow Mountains. It’s beautiful, it will get you to Juniper Canyon, but will nearly double your approach time.
Trail Loop Option
If you have lots of energy and want to create a total day of non-stop immersive wilderness adventure, approach Juniper Canyon via option 3 above, summit Juniper Peak, then return via option #1, The Arnight Trail.
Best Time of Year for This Adventure
If you’re just practicing how to get to the top of Juniper Canyon, mid-Fall through mid-Spring is best due to the cooler temperatures during these months. Summer temperatures can easily rise to 110 degrees or higher!
If you’re goal is to summit Juniper Peak, you may want to avoid Winter and early Spring, unless you’re prepared to navigate snow and ice on the summit approach.
Trailhead Directions | Juniper Canyon | Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Nevada
There are 2 trailheads in Red Rock National Park that are closest to Juniper Peak:
- Pine Creek Canyon Trailhead, the second to the last turn-off on the Red Rock Park Scenic Drive Loop.
- Oak Creek Canyon Trailhead the last turn-off on the Red Rock Park Scenic Drive Loop.
Adventure Description | Juniper Canyon | Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Nevada
Finding the Route Through Juniper Canyon
The first navigation challenge is finding the route up Juniper Canyon. I made a couple not-so-successful attempts before nailing the route up the canyon.
- One Gully Too Early: There’s a gully on the North side of the canyon before the narrow canyon opening. Thinking that this was the route to Juniper Peak summit, I headed up this gully. It had a good approach trail. In reality, it was a rock climber’s approach trail. As I began to ascend, the angle of ascent increased until I was at the limit of class 3 climbing and facing some vertical ledges. This may indeed be a route to Juniper Peak summit, but more appropriate for experienced rock climbers with technical gear. See the initial exploration video on the linked page.
- Rainbow Mountain’s Eastern Cliffs: For my next attempt, I began heading up a very nice trail on the South side of Juniper Canyon. Soon, it was evident that the elevation gain was taking me way out of the canyon. This turned out to be the rock climber’s approach trail to the Eastern cliffs of Rainbow Mountain. However, what a spectacular view over all or Red Rock Canyon! I could look down into Juniper Canyon and see the entire Juniper Peak summit approach route through the canyon and on to the summit. In addition, I had fun watching insane rock climbers scaling the impossible high vertical cliffs of Rainbow Mountain!
Granted, most people setting out to summit Juniper Peak probably get there on the first attempt. In my defense, I was hoping for a route that might avoid the thick brush, boulders and ledges in the base of the canyon, so I aimed high along the North and South edges of the canyon. In addition, I don’t use GPS and instead, like to explore and get the feel of an entire area. It takes me longer to discover the route to a summit, but in the process I end up discovering much more. For example, how else would I have heard of the Myster Z Rock Climbing Route? Just about every cliff in the area has a it’s own name for advanced rock climbers.
Although there are spin-off rock climber’s approach routes along each side of Juniper Canyon and on its upper end, there is a nice, but winding, challenging route through the base of Juniper Canyon, an it’s marked by cairns at many points along the way.
From Arnight Trail to Juniper Canyon Landmark Boulder
During the return trip I refined the canyon approach route even more. Starting out at the Oak Creek Canyon Trailhead, take The Arnight Trail to Juniper Canyon. Here’s the refinement: Before The Arnight Trail intersects with The Knoll Trail you’ll notice an Arnight Trail marker sign and a trail splitting off to the left (West) up Juniper Canyon. Take that trail split. You’ll wind around in the canyon a bit on the way up, but eventually you’ll reach the huge Juniper Canyon Landmark Boulder. The boulder is hard to miss as it’s the largest boulder you will have seen in Juniper Canyon.
Notice that there is a narrow squeeze passage along the West (left) side of the boulder. Breathe in, perhaps take off your back pack and squeeze through that passage. I actually got stuck momentarily…but it wasn’t difficult pushing through.
Cairns Begin to Mark the Main Juniper Canyon Route
Once through the boulder, ascend to the North side of Juniper Canyon where you’ll find a trail marked with cairns (no trail signs). This is the official Juniper Canyon trail! Continue along this trail up the North (right) side of Juniper Canyon. Keep in sight where the canyon opening narrows far ahead. That is your target.
The cairn marked trail you are on will eventually split as you near the point where the canyon narrows. Take the left (South) split down into the base of the canyon. If you take the right split you’ll end up ascending the base cliffs of Juniper Peak way too early…and end up ascending a gully that gets steeper and steeper until you’re faced with class 4/5 cliffs. I know because I once made that mistake in an attempt to remain above the base of the canyon and avoid all the obstacles down there.
Descending Into the Base of Juniper Canyon
So, you took the left split descending into the base of Juniper Canyon. Now you’re in the canyon navigating brush, boulders and ledges. Prepare to travel through a few tunnels of brush. The good news is that the route is so popular, there is always a passageway through the brush without having to do any bush whacking. And, you’ll continue to see cairn markers at various questionable points. Another piece of good news is that the ledges in the canyon are MUCH more tame than in Oak Creek Canyon. Still, there are some challenges. Keep following the cairns along with the route that seems most traveled. The Juniper Peak route is very popular, and so it’s not so hard picking out the main route.
Passage Through Juniper Canyon’s Narrow Opening
After navigating the obstacles in the base of the canyon you’ll get to the narrow point in the canyon. Huge boulders all around! Here there are some ledges to ascend: Still in light/moderate class 3 territory, no hard class 3/4. Also, there’s no real exposure, but do be careful. You could slip off a boulder and have a minor injury if you’re not taking your time and maintaining 3 points of contact.
Over the Red Loose Rock Ridge on the Left (South) Side of Juniper Canyon
At the summit of the ledge area in the narrow canyon opening, you’ll notice a steep red dirt/cinder/loose rock pathway heading up the South side of the canyon. Take this route. It’s the only route as it bypasses some major obstacles in the canyon below. The red dirt route will rise to the summit of a ridge, then descend back to the a base of the canyon. There, for a brief space, you’re on the nicest trail you’ve seen today.
Ascending the Field of Huge Boulders on the North Side of Juniper Canyon
After a “too short” time on this nice trail, you’ll see a narrow trail heading through the trees and brush to your right up the North side of the canyon. Take this trail. Before you know it, you’ve ascended through the brush and are continuing to ascend through a field of large reddish boulders. Continue upward. You’re now at the upper end of Juniper Canyon, and at the beginning of the final summit approach to Juniper Peak.
Juniper Peak’s Final Summit Approach
I’ll describe the final summit approach in future details and video here. For now, here’s a quick summary of the final summit approach: Basically, you ascend the boulders to a white sandstone ledge, ascend that ledge heading to the right along the base of the tall red rock cliffs until you reach a “V” summit area. There you’ll take a left and continue to ascend to Juniper Peak Summit.
For now, see the videos and slide shows on The Knoll Trail Southern Stretch and Dales Trail. In these videos and slides you’ll see, at a distance from below, the final Juniper Peak summit approach both from the North and from the South. Soon I’ll post a video and slides on the final approach on The Juniper Peak page of this website.
Your Juniper Canyon Achievement!
But, congratulations! You’ve navigated to Juniper Canyon, along the main Juniper Peak Summit Route through the canyon, overcome some challenging obstacles and made it to the summit of Juniper Canyon!
Practice Canyons on the Eastern Base of The Rainbow Mountains
If you want to ease into navigating the canyons on the Eastern Base of the Rainbow Mountains, here is a progression from least to most difficult:
If you take the above canyons from 1 to 5, by the time you successfully navigate #5 you’ll have the skills necessary to navigate any canyon at the Eastern base of The Rainbow Mountains!