The White Rock Trail is a lesser-known hiking trail at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Put this on your must-hike list — the views are spectacular, you are at the higher elevations right at the start of the hike, and you can even camp at certain points on this trail. Your adventures start at the White Rock Springs Trail Head. While driving around the Red Rock Scenic Loop, just past mile marker 6, heading off to your right, is the White Rock Road (dirt road, no 4×4 required). Follow the White Rock Road for about one half mile to the north where it finally ends at a parking lot with marked trail head and signs.
From this trail head, you can do several different hikes including: White Rock Loop Trail, White Rock Springs Trail, and the Keystone Thrust Trail. We hadn’t much noticed this dirt road leading off of the Scenic Loop in the dozens of times we had visited Red Rock Canyon. But then, I purchased a 1:24 topo map of Red Rock and payed particular attention to the terrain contours and elevations as I searched for new trails to explore. That’s when I came across the White Rock Trail (Keystone Thrust) — The trail head is 4,857 ft of elevation, and the Keystone Junction on the trail is at 4,956 ft of elevation. This makes it one of the highest trail heads in the Park and… most significant to us… is that within the first half-mile or so of hiking, you find yourself above 5,000 ft elevation. That is the magic number that allows you to camp — in other words, according the Red Rock Canyon rules, you can only camp above 5,000 ft elevation. Prior to discovering this trail, the only other place in the park that was easily accessible to camping (and also was above 5,000 ft) was on the Rocky Gap Trail (4×4 required). Now, according to my new map, I could hike a short distance up this trail and backcountry camp.
On this particular day, we set out to hike the trail, enjoy the view from this elevation, and verify if the area above 5,000 ft was camping-friendly.
My two young boys and I started hiking up the White Rock Loop Trail, and after about 100 yards past the first wash, the we turned up a flight of steps made of rocks onto the Keystone Thrust Trail. Right away, we noticed the beautiful view of the White Rock Hills and La Madre Mt. in the background – highlighted against a perfect blue sky. The views on this trail expose a lot of ancient limestone formations with large striations – a different scene than the deep red sandstone down at Calico I and II. I could make out the large mound of rocks called Hogback Ridge off to the northeast and figured it to be above 5,000 ft elevation somewhere adjacent that ridge.
The Keystone Thrust portion of this hike starts with a giant set of man-made steps created by piling rocks on an incline. Then, you are on a dirt path leading uphill with small desert shrubs and grasses all around you. All you see is the tall, distinct, La Madre Mountain ahead of you, forming a natural limestone skyline. The Keystone Thrust is an earthquake fault where the older limestone rocks have been pushed up and out of the way by the younger (red) sandstone below. This particular fault is one of the few that is actually accessible by hiking – the end of the trail leads you onto a narrow finger of red rock and soil with views of Calico Basin below and various parts of Vegas and the Strip visible in the distance. The first thing I thought of was how pretty the lights of Vegas would look from this vantage point when we came back and camped here.
On this particular day, as we followed the trail past Hogback Ridge, there was snow and ice accumulation on the ground – including some larger patches. We took a detour off-trail and started climbing the rocks of Hogback Ridge. Quickly, we ascended half-way up the mound as we curved towards the east – for a better view of Vegas in the distance. Although completely unplanned, we were lucky to have the late afternoon sun providing dramatic lighting as I took photos and the kids played on the rocks with their action figures and toy trucks. Yep, this would definitely be a great campsite – as soon as the evening temperatures rose a bit. Our backcountry camping sleeping bags were only 600-fill down bags and the 30-degree nights were too cold.