Explore California’s Red Rock Canyon State Park

Just because summer is over, doesn’t mean the family can’t get out and explore for the weekend.

In Red Rock Canyon the desert meets the southernmost end of the Sierra Nevada. Aptly named for its colorful 300-foot curtained red rock cliffs, Red Rock also displays unique scenic desert cliffs and buttes, along with the unusual rock forms.

Many photographers have dubbed this area as one of their dream locations. Early morning sunrises and evening sunsets offer especially great times to photograph the shadowing afforded by the landscape. While the colors are fascinating, dramatic black-and-white images portray this location in a whole different dimension.

California’s Red Rock Canyon should not be confused with Red Rock in Nevada. It is located just 25 miles north of Mojave. This 27,000-acre park is part of California’s State Park system.

Red Rock was once home to the Kawaiisu Indians, who some descendants of are now enrolled in the Tule River Indian tribe. Petroglyphs and drawings from the Kawaiisu, who inhabited the El Paso Mountain, are now protected.

Desert flora and fauna are well represented including Yuccas. Wildlife includes a variety of birds including hawks and roadrunners, as well as lizards and squirrels. Following a rainy winter, stunning wildflower displays are the highlight of spring.

There are miles of trails open for day use. Some are fairly easy and accessible for the whole family such as the one-mile loop trail, Red Cliffs Trail, which is open through the fall and winter. This is a great walk to see some of the magnificent rock formations and, in good weather, there are further unofficial trails and washes to explore. Geological slumping and possible faulting is evident here providing in-person visual geology lessons.

Likewise, the Hagen Trail is an easy 1.2 mile trail with the path winding close to the red rock sandstone cliffs. A film site, this area was home to more than 100 film backdrops including Jurassic Park, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Zorro and a multitude of Westerns. Again, in good weather, there are an abundance of off-trail sites to explore up close and personal to the rock formations.

For those in shape and seeking a longer trail, the Nightmare Gulch Overlook Trail offers a chance to see an abundance of wildlife along with rock formations. The trail offers little, if any, shade, so is best utilized in the fall and winter. It is, in fact, closed from February-June due to protection of raptor breeding areas. Once a site for off-road vehicles, this trail is under a temporary closure order for vehicles for protection of natural resources and public safety. It is open, like much of the park, for day horseback rides.

For those who enjoy off-road driving, there are other opportunities, such as the moderate Last Chance Canyon trail, which is 18.8 miles offers point-to-point driving through the desert. This road is open and accessible November through March, and highly recommended by off-road enthusiasts. It is also open for hikers, and drivers should be aware and share the roadways.

Red Rock Canyon does have one camp site – Ricardo Campground – with 50 primitive campsites, potable water, pit toilets, fire rings and tables. There are no RV hookups or showers here. Campers must bring their own firewood, or can purchase it at the Visitor’s Center – fires are only permitted within the metal fire rings provided. All natural resources are protected and cannot be taken from the site, or used for firewood.

There are no reservations – camping is first-come, first-serve. Dogs are allowed in the campgrounds and on many of the park’s trails, but must be kept on a six-foot leash at all times. Owners are expected to clean up after their dogs. There is no onsite facility for horses, and horses are not permitted in the campground.

For more information on Red Rock Canyon State Park, visit www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=631

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