Pine Creek Canyon is the second to the last trailhead parking area on the Red Rock Park Scenic Loop Drive. This entire side of Red Rock Park is often overlooked by those who spent their time at the more popular Red Rock Park Visitor Center, the Calico Hills, Turtlehead Peak, upper viewpoint, Willow Springs and Ice Box Canyon. However, Pine Creek Canyon is definitely worth a day or two. It is more wild, untouched and the plant life more varied and abundant. And the creek with its wild picnic area is a beautiful quiet escape from the more crowded areas in Red Rock Park. In addition, a trip up the canyon reveals some rare spectacular scenery.
Be prepared for a maze of trails. There is a .9-mile loop about a half mile in that branches off to the left to a beautiful creek side picnic area where the landscape is being restored from earlier fires. Another 1/8th mile in there is a trail that branches off to the right and left and skirts the base of the mountains along that side of Red Rock Canyon. You can take a left and use this trail to cross over to the Oak Creek parking area and the Juniper Peak approach (about 2 miles) without having to take the unpaved Oak Creek approach road. Alternately, you can take a right and in about 2 miles reach Ice Box Canyon.
However, our main goal was to travel up Pine Creek Canyon and reach Gunsight Notch Canyon and Gunsight Notch Peak in the area behind Juniper Peak and Rainbow Mountain. In the middle of Pine Creek Canyon stands the impressive pyramid-shaped Mescalito Peak. You can’t miss it. Mescalito Peak divides Pine Creek Canyon into a left and a right branch.
As you reach Mescalito Peak and take the left branch of Pine Creek Canyon you soon enter a pretty dicey stretch of boulders and brush before descending to Pine Creek. A trail appears and disappears a few times and branches off into a number of rabbit trails. Continue left and upward over to Pine Creek and up the canyon. Eventually, after crossing branches of Pine Creek a couple times you will descend to the main creek channel between Mescalito Peak and Juniper Peak.
The canyon narrows at this point and the only way to avoid the abundant brush on either side is to travel up the creek. Prepare to wade through long stretches of flowing water and get your feet wet when the creek is running high from late Fall to late Spring! And realize that you may be encountering huge slippery cold wet slanted sandstone surfaces with heavy soggy shoes after you pass through this area and begin to ascend Gunsight Notch Canyon.
Though Pine Creek is only ankle or shin-deep and not dangerous (unless perhaps during a downpour) I was not prepared on this day to travel through water and so turned around where the route descended to Pine Creek in the narrow area between Mescalito Peak and Juniper Peak. However, I’ll return with waterproof footgear to forge upward through Pine Creek to the beautiful Gunsight Notch Canyon.
On the way up Pine Creek Canyon, keep a mind to your return trip down Pine Creek Canyon as it’s easy to take a wrong turn and end up struggling through heavy tangly brush! Turn around often on the way up Pine Creek Canyon to see how different the route will look on the return trip.
When you reach Mescalito Peak you can take a right and travel up that side of Pine Creek Canyon for what I understand are additional spectacular scenes.