Epicenter: Vegas, America’s Playground

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With countless red rock canyons to explore, Nevada's desert is a climber's paradise.

Scream “Vegas, baby!” and most people envision loose slots, buffet binges, R-rated pool parties, or some version of The Hangover. But climbers are a different breed. ...Right? We imagine the dozen stellar pitches of 5.11 patina face climbing, T-shirt bouldering in January, or full days ascending massive red and gold desert peaks. There's a reason it's routinely among the most-searched areas on Mountain Project.

A short drive from the Strip proper plops one at the mouth of Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, one of the country’s premier climbing destinations. It’s a beautiful section of the Nevada desert and home to climbing opportunities of every discipline, from single-pitch sport climbing at The Gallery to all-day multi-pitch adventures in numerous canyons. Boulderers will enjoy a huge selection of incredibly aesthetic sandstone in Calico Basin and Black Velvet Canyon. If you’re craving something a little steeper, drive an hour north to Mt. Charleston for harder bolt-clipping out massive limestone caves. Whatever your vice, Vegas Red Rocks aims to please.

The 10 Best 4-Star Routes

As ranked by Mountain Project users

The famous chimney pitches of Epinephrine (5.9) | Photo submitted by MP user Christian Lanley

Dark Shadows (5.8)
Pine Creek Canyon, Red Rock
“Great route! Cool creek and crystal-clear pools at the base. We got to watch mountain goats defy gravity on the cliffs across the way. Is anybody else amazed that an international epicenter of hedonistic pleasure, vice, and grime is so close when back in these beautiful canyons? I always am.”

Epinephrine (5.9)
Black Velvet Canyon, Red Rock
“Holy smokes! This climb delivers a little bit of something for everyone! The chimney pitches are just the price of admission for an unbelievable upper section. Do not underestimate the descent. We did car to car in 12 hours, and I’m confident that we spent three hours of that on the descent.”

1057 (5.10)
Mt. Charleston
“This is a great climb that reminded me of Owens River Gorge, California. Big holds that are easy on the hands.”

The third pitch of The Nightcrawler (5.10b)| Photo submitted by MP user Jason Halladay

The Nightcrawler (5.10b)
Juniper Canyon, Red Rock
“Great route and nice views of the Rainbow Wall. Highly recommend topping this out. We climbed a route on Jackrabbit Buttress to get to The Nightcrawler, and then did the scenic walk-off down Gunsight Notch. My toes were tired the next morning from all the stemming!”

Levitation 29 (5.11b/c)
Oak Creek Canyon, Red Rock
“Deserves every bit of the hype it gets. Pitch after pitch of amazing climbing, great exposure, and a remote feeling. Views were awesome. If you commit to the approach, finish the route and walk off—it’s worth it.”

Mr. Choad’s Wild Ride (5.11b)
Calico Basin, Red Rock
“Extraordinarily good route, one of the best sport routes I’ve ever done at the grade. Unlike any other route in the area. Long moves, big holds, and somewhat spicy if you’re pumped!”

Colorado climber Andy Hansen on Cloud Tower | Photo submitted by MP user Ryan Strong

Cloud Tower (5.12-)
Juniper Canyon, Red Rock
“This is a great route, climbed it when I was 17 and 135 lbs. with little stick fingers, and again at 26, same height, 165 lbs. with sausage fingers. I hope to climb it every few years until my old ass can’t make it out there anymore.”

The Original Route (5.12-)
Juniper Canyon, Red Rock
“One of the most amazing free climbs I have ever done, and climbers should not be scared away by the lofty grade. Every move approaching 5.12 on the route is protected by a nice shiny bolt, allowing you both the comfort of safety and the foresight that a crux may follow. Very accessible for the grade. Great pro, tons of face holds, not a hand jam in sight (literally), rap anchors everywhere—I guess what I’m trying to say is anyone clipping bolts at the Gallery can, and certainly should, go clip some bolts on the Rainbow Wall instead!”

Monster Skank (5.13b) | Photo submitted by MP user Tyler KC

Monster Skank (5.13b)
Sandstone Quarry, Red Rock
“World-class! Fun start through very cool rock features. For me there were two cruxes: one near the beginning with a pinky jam and the mandatory all-points-off dyno farther up.”

Wet Dream (V12)
Black Velvet Canyon, Red Rock
“One look and the name is evident. A singular line up a monster of hard, compact sandstone sitting in the middle of a dried-up riverbed. Water-sculpted holds and stellar movement. One of the best in the country. Period.”

Live Like a Local

Photo submitted by MP user Tyler KC

[Food/Bevies] The Strip and surrounding sprawl offer no shortage of buffets, restaurants, and fast food joints, but with a little forethought, you  can easily satisfy your palate on the cheap. For breakfast, the Red Rock Casino offers a legendary buffet (voted best in Las Vegas) just 10 minutes from the Red Rock camping. The cost is $10 for the general public or $7 when you sign up for their Players’ Club (free, 21+). This grants you the unique opportunity to play slots with a side of poached eggs.

For lunch or dinner, stop by Bachi Burger in Summerlin for souped-up, Asian-inspired burger creations. Grass-fed beef along with toppings like yamamomo peaches and garlic-chili aioli make this an exceptional culinary experience. Sushi spot Osaka is an upscale favorite for local climbers. Ask to sit in the back Tatami room for the most authentic dining experience. Balling on a budget? There’s a Sunflower Market on South Rainbow Boulevard offers Whole Foods-quality stuff at more reasonable prices.

Ten minutes from the Red Rock campground (in the same casino as the aforementioned breakfast buffet), the Yard House restaurant offers a drink selection with something for everyone. Think: rotating specialty and seasonal beers on tap and happy hour specials on the hard stuff. If you’re looking to sample the best of local microbrew culture, check out the Chicago Brewing Company to pair award-winning drafts with Chicago-style, deep-dish pizza. We recommend the Honey Bru Bru, a Belgian-style pale brewed with sweet desert honey.

[Camping] The Red Rock Canyon Campground (formerly known as 13-Mile Campground), two miles east of the visitor center off of West Charleston Boulevard, is the only campground in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. It provides fairly easy access to all of the climbing in the area. First-come, first-served two-vehicle campsites are $15/night, with vault toilets and water spigots included. The campgrounds are closed each summer, typically between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Visit redrockcanyonlv.org for information on campground rules, plus details on reserving group sites. Another option: Las Vegas boasts some of the cheapest hotel rates nationwide, especially if you’re rolling with a crew willing to split the cost.

[Local beta] Desert Rock Sports is an awesome gear shop just 15 minutes from Red Rock. Staffed by climbers and a few doors down from the local gym Red Rock Climbing Center, they are an excellent resource for climbing, camping, showering, eating, and boozing beta. You can even rent crashpads there for $15/day. With free Wi-Fi, a comfy couch, and a staff that won’t get mad when you and your dirtbag friends hang out in their shop for the better part of a day, what’s not to love? The store recently took on a guiding service as well, providing half- and full-day excursions into the Calico Hills for groups of all sizes and ability levels. Red Rock Climbing Center also has showers for just $4 in an environment that welcomes and understands the sandy, sweaty, chalky-fingered type.

[Rest Day] The Strip has enough casinos, stores, and restaurants to satisfy a lifetime, let alone a day to allow the skin to heal. If all of that sounds a little too touristy—or maybe you’re terrible at gambling—the entire Las Vegas region offers many beautiful hiking and biking opportunities as well. Try the four-mile hike up Turtlehead Peak, one of the tallest summits in Calico Basin that doesn’t require technical climbing, for killer panoramic views of the canyon. On a rainy day (there aren’t many), go see a movie or take a swim at the Red Rock Casino. Vegas truly has a little something for everyone, and it’s the only climbing area where a rest day could make you rich!

EPICENTER is a destination guide series highlighting America’s best climbing areas, produced in collaboration with Climbing magazine.

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