Overview | Upper Calico Hills Loop | Calico Basin & Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Nevada

The slide guide will appear on this page early on the week of January 28th, 2024!

If you enjoyed the Lower Calico Hills Loop, you’ll love the Upper Calico Hills Loop. This loop completes your general introduction to the spectacular Calico Hills in Red Rock Canyon and the Calico Basin. In the process of traversing both of these loops, you’ll  discover many additional side adventures in the Calico Hills you’ll want to return and explore!

What Are the Calico Hills?

The Calico Hills are ancient Jurassic Era sandstone hills that form the colorful North/South ridgeline border between Red Rock Canyon and Calico Basin. The Northern end of the Calico Hills is located around the Sandstone Quarry trailhead area on the Red Rock Canyon Scenic Drive. The Southern end of the Calico Hills is located near Highway 159 “Red Rock Canyon Road”. 

How Are the Calico Hills Divided into a Northern and Southern Region?

Wonderfully, there is a beautiful passageway, the Black Corridor, through the center of the Calico Hills between Red Rock Canyon and the Calico Basin. This passageway neatly divides the Calico Hills into a Southern and a Northern region. As mentioned above, you can make a loop around each region: The Lower Calico Hills Loop, you’ll love the Upper Calico Hills Loop.

What is the Upper Calico Hills Loop Route?

The Upper Calico Hills Loop route begins at the Kraft Mountain Trailhead, ascends spectacular Ash Canyon, traverses incredibly beautiful upper Calico Hills terrain below the popular Calico Tanks, then descends to the Grand Circle Loop Trail. Finally, you’ll traverse the beautiful hidden Black Corridor between Red Rock Canyon’s scenic drive and the Calico Basin before returning to your starting point at the Kraft Mountain Trailhead. It’s quite the memorable adventure!

What 9 Trails Link Together to Form the Upper Calico Hills Loop?

  1. Ash Springs Trail
  2. Ash Canyon Trail (semi-pathless passageway)
  3. Rattlesnake Trail
  4. Calico Tanks Trail
  5. Turtlehead Peak Trail
  6. Calico Hills Trail
  7. Grand Circle Loop Trail
  8. Black Corridor (semi-pathless passageway)
  9. Girl Scout Trail

What Are Two Fun Side-Trips on the Upper Calico Hills Loop?

  1. Ash Spring: This is an astonishingly beautiful, unexpected oasis in the vast surrounding desert. The oasis is at its best during the Spring season, but still remarkably beautiful while dormant in the Winter.
  2. Calico Tanks: This includes a spectacular ascent through a sculpted sandstone corridor to two beautiful high desert ephemeral pools and an incredible overlook. 

What Are the Spectacular Views Along the Upper Calico Hills Loop?

Along this incredible loop you will see the following (this is a short list):

What is the Best Time of Year to Traverse the Upper Calico Hills Loop?

Spring and Fall are best. Winter may bring rain and some snow which create slick conditions on the sandstone you will be traversing. However, I did this loop in late January. The sandstone was a bit damp in places, wet sand clinging to shoes adding a bit to slickness, but experience and care in those conditions made the traverse without even a minor loss of stability.

Winter also brings shorter days. It’s advised you complete this loop in daylight so you can avoid traversing the pathless canyons on either end in the dark!

Summer temperatures can rise into the upper 90s and beyond!

Trailhead Directions | Upper Calico Hills Loop | Calico Basin & Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Nevada

From Hwy 215 in the Summerlin area, take the Charleston Blvd exit, turn upward (West) on Charleston Blvd toward the mountains. Charleston Blvd becomes Blue Diamond Rd. (159) as you leave the city. Take the Calico Basin exit off 159 (right turn) onto Calico Basin Road. Continue on Calico Basin Road to the end of the road. On the way you will pass the Red Springs Desert Oasis parking area as the road veers right and becomes Calico Drive, then Sandstone Drive. Sandstone Drive ends with the Kraft Mountain parking lot, on the left.

Route Description | Upper Calico Hills Loop | Calico Basin & Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Nevada

Identify Ash Canyon as Your First Target

Your first reference point is Ash Canyon. You can see and identify Ash Canyon from the Kraft Mountain Trailhead parking area. As you’re looking at Kraft Mountain, two passes are visible on the left side (West side) of that mountain. Immediately to the West is the Pink Goblin Pass with it’s Hell Hill Trail, part of the Kraft Mountain Loop. The next pass visible further to the left (West) is Ash Canyon. That’s your first target.

Two Ways to Reach the Lower Opening of Ash Canyon

  1. You can take the upper pathway along the base of the ridgeline between Pink Goblin Pass and Ash Canyon, or you can take the lower pathway through Ash Spring. In a previous adventure I took the upper pathway. It seems more direct, the views are better, but there are a few ridges and gullies to traverse along the way.
  2. You can take the lower pathway through Ash Spring. I took this pathway today for variety. Ash Spring is beautiful, worth the experience and does not take any longer than the upper pathway route to Ash Canyon. 

Ash Spring Route to Ash Canyon

Head to the upper end of the Kraft Mountain Trailhead parking area where you will see the Ash Spring Trailhead. Follow the good trail markings into Ash Spring. Once in Ash Spring you’ll be confronted with numerous off-splitting “rabbit trails”. You can wander around or stay to the left (South) side of the Ash Spring area for the main trail. This will take you to the lower entrance of Ash Canyon.

Ash Spring Observations

It was late January. Water was running through the Ash Spring area–easy to jump over the streams. There was a beautiful little waterfall. The area was carpeted with brown, dormant grass (imagine it green, waving in the wind during the Spring months). There were scattered dormant Gamble’s Oak trees throughout. Imagine them with green foliage. In addition, there were the largest desert holly trees I’ve ever seen…green throughout the year. Ash Spring is a beautiful oasis in the desert!

Navigating into Ash Canyon

At the upper end of Ash Spring begin heading up into Ash Canyon. At first the small boulders were easy to navigate. As they became larger and more difficult, I headed up the right side onto an upper ridge where I located the Ash Canyon Trail.

Navigating Lower Ash Canyon

It was not long before the Ash Canyon Trail descended again into the base of the canyon wash. The boulders there were larger and more difficult to navigate, slowing progress. So, I navigated up to the left (West) side of the canyon where the going was easier for a bit. Note that an earlier passage through Ash Canyon was much smoother than today’s passage because I seemed to have found more of the Ash Canyon Trail during that adventure.

The upper West side route made navigation easier for a bit, but then the route again descended into the base of the wash with its large boulders! There were two other small hiking parties who, like me, were confused about the best route up the canyon. That is a good commentary on Ash Canyon. It’s likely you will get off track and wander around a bit in search of the best route up the canyon. Not to worry: Whether you remain in the wash with its large boulders or find a bypass trail (during my earlier trip I discovered it again further up on the right side of the canyon), a little trial and error will get you through Ash Canyon without exceeding some light class 3 bouldering. It’s fun and challenging either way.

And, remember to look back down the canyon often for expanding views of the Calico Basin and beyond!

Navigating Upper Ash Canyon

Further up Ash Canyon, as large Aztec red boulders gave way to smaller white rock, navigation will easier. The most challenging navigation is now behind, and a small trail will appear to help guide the way. Eventually, at a high point you will see the previously missing Ash Canyon Trail ahead. Navigate to that trail. The Ash Canyon Trail will take you through a beautiful upper pass lined with sculpted Aztec red sandstone cliffs and pillars, artistically dotted with bonsai-like pines and yucca plants. Enjoy! You’ve deserved this!

There’s a huge white rock ridge above to your left (West). The Calico Tanks and its trail are on the other side of that ridge. On the other side of the huge Aztec red rock ridge on your right is Pink Goblin Pass and Kraft Mountain.

Connecting with the Rattlesnake Trail.

Soon the Ash Canyon Trail will “t” off at the Rattlesnake Trail. If you head to your right on the Rattlesnake Trail you’ll eventually end up in Gateway Canyon (which you can now see) at the Northern base of Kraft Mountain, and on the Gateway Canyon Loop trail.

Today, head to the left on the Rattlesnake Trail, which will soon disappear. To stay on track and reconnect with the Rattlesnake Trail once you lose it, watch for a white sandstone formation ahead. Head for the right side of that formation where you will again find the Rattlesnake Trail.

Continue down the Rattlesnake Trail toward Red Rock Canyon. You’ll be traversing some sandstone slabs during which the trail will again disappear and re-appear. Just keep heading downward using the white sandstone cliffs to your left as your guide.

Connecting the the Calico Tanks Trail

You want to connect with the Calico Tanks Trail and there are two approaches:

  1. Continue downward along a gully that will eventually lead to the Calico Tanks Trail. However, that gully becomes narrow in places and is sometimes blocked by a 2-foot deep narrow ephemeral pool. No chance of keeping your feet dry there!
  2. Continue downward until you reach the first tiny ephemeral pool, before the deep narrow one. Just after that tiny ephemeral pool a hard left will lead you along a brief pathless route until the Calico Tanks Trail appears ahead!

Calico Tanks Trail Side Trip

I can’t connect with the Calico Tanks Trail without going to the summit of that beautiful trail to the Calico Tanks and the spectacular viewpoint beyond. This is only a brief half-mile side trip (each way) and well worth the effort! I believe, but have not confirmed, that at the upper viewpoint you are looking straight down into the Black Corridor, which you will be traversing later today. Beyond, you can see Blue Diamond Hill, Calico Basin, the Las Vegas Valley and Strip and points beyond all the way into Arizona. 

Along the upper Calico Tanks trail watch for two Calico Tanks (large ephemeral pools), filled in the Winter, Spring and early summer, dry mid-Summer through Fall. The entire Calico Tanks Trail is beautifully lined with sandstone cliffs, artistically dotted with pines, yucca and other plants. For much of the well-marked Calico Tanks trail you are walking on beautiful sandstone slabs and, in places ascending artistic sandstone steps. All this makes the Calico Tanks trail very popular. You’re likely to see lots of hikers along the trail and a mob scene at the summit viewpoint. 

Connecting with the Turtlehead Peak Trail

Descend the Calico Tanks Trail to connect with a brief section of the Turtlehead Peak trail, finally arriving at that trailhead at the Sandstone Quarry trailhead on the Red Rock Canyon Scenic Drive. There are some spectacular, artistic views of Turtlehead Peak on the lower Calico Tanks trail. Great photo ops! Don’t miss taking a look at the Sandstone Quarry: Fascinating 2-ton blocks of sandstone cut from the white sandstone hills during the early 1900’s.

Connecting with the Calico Hills and Grand Circle Loop Trails

Continue to descend along the left (East) side of the Sandstone Trailhead parking area to connect with the Calico Hills trail. This is actually part of the Grand Circle Loop Trail, but unfortunately, you won’t see any sign here marking the Grand Circle Loop. You’ll see Grand Circle Loop trail signs further down the trail.

Locating the Black Corridor

As you continue down the Grand Circle Loop Trail, you can’t help but notice the majestic Aztec red Calico Hills to your left along with their countless sculpted shapes. You might even see rock climbers scaling the high cliffs. Your next goal is to locate the entrance to the unmarked Black Corridor. You’re almost there when you see a huge rectangular petroglyph boulder. Stop to notice and ancient petroglyphs lining the upper face and lower side of the boulder. There are additional petroglyphs in the surrounding hills. The black iron-oxide coating made for a great drawing medium. The ancients etched away the dark coating to reveal the lighter sandstone below, the process which formed their drawings. As you look at these enigmatic drawings you’re connecting with the ancient artists. For more on the petroglyphs, see and download the 74-page Master of Arts Degree in Archaeology thesis “Valley of Fire Petroglyphs: A New Perspective On An Old Idea” by Eric Pacl.

Following the petroglyph boulder there are two gullies leading upward through the Calico Hills. The first is narrow. You don’t want this one. You’ll know you’re in it when you immediately begin to be faced with class 3 bouldering that soon becomes more and more difficult. Leave that gully if you entered it by mistake and head for the next gully just to the South, which is the wider Black Corridor.

Navigating the Black Corridor

There is actually a trail leading up the Red Rock  Canyon side of the Black Corridor. That trail winds between huge boulders and sharp desert holly bushes and trees. But the trail makes upward progress fairly easy. You may lose the trail in places and end up climbing over a few brief class 3 areas, but the going is fairly easy all the way through the Black Corridor. Quick observation: Ascending the Black Corridor and Ash Canyon appears to be more difficult than descending, because during the ascent it’s harder to see the terrain and pick out the route ahead. During the descent it’s easier to see and to pick out the route ahead.

At the summit of the Black Corridor, take time to simultaneously view the expansive views of Red Rock Canyon and the Rainbow Mountains to the West and the Calico Basin to the East.

Where the pathway alternately wound along both sides of the Black Corridor during the ascent from Red Rock Canyon, during the descent on the Calico Basin side stay high and to your right for the most streamlined, boulder-free route.

Connecting with the Girl Scout Trail

At the base  of the Black Corridor you’ll see a large trailhead sign for the Girl Scout Trail. Take a left onto this well-marked trail which will soon lead you all the way back to your starting point at the Kraft Mountain Trailhead.

Upper Calico Hills Loop Summary

Congratulations! Today you’ve navigated two largely pathless mountain passes, linked together 9 amazing trails and experienced a wonderful day of immersion in the beautiful Calico Hills! In addition, you’ve probably identified numerous routes you’d like to explore during future adventures. Finally, on this great adventure day you’ve created memories that will last a lifetime!

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Upper Calico Hills Loop | Calico Basin & Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Nevada
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Upper Calico Hills Loop | Calico Basin & Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Nevada
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This spectacular 6-mile loop combines 6 or more trails to circle the upper Calico Hills in Red Rock Canyon & Calico Basin, Nevada. The trail passes through two beautiful wild passes in the Calico Hills: Ash Canyon and the mid-Calico Hills Black Corridor Pass. Click the image or title above for all the details.
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LasVegasAreaTrails.com
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