You don’t have to travel much more than an hour, from anywhere in the Las Vegas area to reach Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, but it boasts some of the finest canyon hikes in our region. One in particular will please most anyone or any group. Pine Creek Canyon it is not only pleasing to the eye but also offers historical interest.
Like most of the really popular trails in Red Rock, Pine Creek Canyon is located along the 13-mile Scenic Drive. This involves extra driving and an entrance fee, but this loop road offers some of the finest views in the park, so enjoy the ride.
Pine Creek is often done as a 2½-mile round-trip hike, which includes a loop portion, but can be shortened or extended depending on your desires or abilities.
From the trailhead, located at about 4,053 feet in elevation, just follow the well-worn path west toward the canyon. It is pretty easy hiking here, and you might see some wildlife, especially if you are out in the first light of morning. Look for white-tailed antelope ground squirrels, cottontails, jackrabbits and once in a while a wild burro or two. The plant community here consists of blackbrush, Mojave yucca and cholla cactus, but you will soon start seeing scrub oak, willow and juniper.
After about three-quarters of a mile from the trailhead, on the south (left) of the trail you will find an obvious, worn spur trail that leads to the foundation of a 1920s homestead. Here, Horace and Glenda Wilson built a two-story house with a fireplace and also planted an apple orchard. They sold it eight years later but stayed on the property for an additional eight years as caretakers. When the Wilsons eventually moved to Las Vegas, the house remained empty, fell into disrepair and was vandalized. In the mid-1970s the Division of State Parks took control of the property.
Just after the homestead you will find the turn that begins the 0.9-mile loop portion of the hike. Go left, travel through the open meadow and you will find yourself going over the Pine Creek drainage itself. This time of year, through spring, you might find a steady flow of water. Mud can be a problem, so wear footwear appropriate for water and mud — perhaps a pair of shoes or boots that you won’t mind getting dirty or permanently stained.
Follow the path as it ascends a hill and travels along the creek’s south side. This area is highly vegetated, there are drop offs, and footing becomes more uneven, making it a bit more difficult and even dangerous for children or those unsure of foot. The trail swings right and you will descend slightly, to make another crossing of the creek. Here, after perhaps a wet and muddy crossing again, you go right to continue the loop back to the trailhead.
For more adventure you can travel up the canyon as far as you are comfortable. A monolith, named Mescalito, divides the canyon into two forks, both worth exploring. The south left fork is easier to ascend, but they both involve rock scrambling and route-finding.
Many of Deborah Wall’s columns have been compiled in the book “Base Camp Las Vegas, Hiking the Southwestern States.” She is also the author of “Great Hikes, a Cerca Country Guide” and a co-author of the book “Access For All, Seeing the Southwest With Limited Mobility.” Wall can be reached at Deborabus@aol.com.
From Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area’s main entrance, take the 13-mile Scenic Drive 10.2 miles to the well-signed parking area and trailhead on the right.