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Getaway Guide: Red Rock Canyon State Park
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Getaway Guide: Red Rock Canyon State Park

While it’s neither the biggest nor the busiest state park, Red Rock Canyon is still an incredible spot for a getaway full of adventures.

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5 min read

August 24, 2021

Nestled between the Angeles and Sequoia National Forests, Red Rock Canyon State Park offers stunning rock pillars and desert cliff views you might associate with Arizona or Utah rather than California. But then again, the Golden State’s diverse terrain could host any type of natural features and climates. While it’s neither the biggest nor the busiest California state park, Red Rock Canyon is still an incredible spot for a getaway full of scenic hikes, desert adventures, and true remote camping.

Red Rock Canyon State Park is located where the southernmost tip of the Sierra Nevada converges with the El Paso Range.

What to Know Before a getaway to Red Rock Canyon SP

Due to its setting in open desert terrain, there are a few things to keep in mind before visiting Red Rock Canyon State Park.

1. Don’t go during the hot summer months. There aren’t many places in Red Rock Canyon SP that get much shade, and the summer temperatures here can get scorching hot.

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2. Bring your own food. There aren’t any places to grab a bite to eat within the premises of Red Rock Canyon State Park. So, if you’re staying overnight, you need to pack your own camping food to avoid leaving the park for every meal.

3. Don’t forget to protect yourself from the heat. Even if you’re visiting in fall, the temperatures here can be more extreme than most places in California. Make sure you have enough hydration, SPF, and other essentials with you to avoid running into unforeseen difficulties.

Now that you’re all prepared and ready, let’s dive right into a fun weekend getaway at Red Rock Canyon State Park.

Historically, the area was once home to the Kawaiisu Indians, who left petroglyphs in the El Paso mountains and other evidence of their inhabitation.

Day 1

Arriving

The colorful rocks and desert cliffs will welcome you as soon as you arrive at the premises of Red Rock Canyon State Park. But don’t hop out of your vehicle just yet. The very first thing you should do as you arrive at this California state park is admire all the rock formations and geological features Red Rock Canyon State Park has to offer. Scenic overlooks and stunning scenery give you an overview of all the things you’ll get to enjoy for the next day and a half. 

The beauty of the desert, combined with the geologic features makes this park a camper's favorite destination.

Afternoon

Once you’ve soaked in all the scenic desert cliffs, buttes, and spectacular rock formations, it’s time to get settled. You’d better claim your Red Rock Canyon State Park camping spot as soon as you arrive or else you might miss out on your dream campsite.

Operated on a first-come-first-serve basis, the Ricardo Campground offers 50 sites at the bottom of a dramatic cliff. Here, you’ll find picnic tables, fire rings, and vault toilets, but no showers or dump stations. Your pets are also welcome on this campsite, but you must always keep them on leash.

After you claim your campsite and leave your stuff, it’s time to start tackling the Red Rock Canyon State Park trails. Because you’ve just arrived, your body is probably already going to be slightly worn out. So, we suggest trekking the Red Cliffs Trail as the hike to kick it all off. This easy one-mile jaunt takes you to the red cliffs made of sandstone, mudstone, and volcanic rock. And while it’s fairly short, several unofficial trails spur off of it, giving you the opportunity to venture out and explore further.

Miles of trails meander through the dramatic landscape of the park, and hiking is an intimate way to experience the desert.

Evening

Return to your Red Rock Canyon State Park camping spot after your hike and fix yourself a bite to eat before the next activity—you don’t want to burn out just yet. As you watch the sun set over Red Rock Canyon’s buttes and cliffs, the magical rock formations will start looking a little extra enticing.

So the good news is that activities at Red Rock Canyon don’t stop when the skies get dark. In fact, one of the most exciting parts of camping in Red Rock Canyon State Park is watching sparkling stars at night. Since Cantil is the only inhabited small town near the impressive desert state park, the night skies are free of light pollution here. On prime stargazing nights, the Ricardo Campground welcomes many astronomy bluffs with their telescopes set up. Seasonal astronomy programs are also offered at Red Rock Canyon State Park by local stargazing clubs. For a more immersive program, consider stargazing with these clubs.

The colorful rock formations in the park served as landmarks during the early 1870s for 20-mule team freight wagons that stopped for water.

Day 2

Morning

Wakey wakey, happy campers, it’s another beautiful day in Red Rock Canyon State Park. And what better way to get energized and raise your spirits than with a beautiful hike? On today’s menu of Red Rock Canyon State Park hiking trails is another short but mighty hike—the Hagen Canyon Nature Trail. Only 1.2 miles in length, this easy trail can be completed very quickly. But, if you’re actually exploring the cliffs, washes, and Hagen Canyon, you’ll spend a much longer time trekking.

Is the Hagen Canyon Nature Trail just too easy for you? Try trekking the Nightmare Gulch Loop. This 8.8-mile moderately rated trail gains approximately 1,200 feet of elevation and takes you along ridges that offer panoramic views before descending into Nightmare Gulch, which is filled with slot canyons.

Providing several unique, dramatic areas, and close to Los Angeles, Hollywood has frequently filmed at Red Rock Canyon since the 1930s.

Afternoon

What seems like an obvious extreme sport to try in a state park surrounded by rock formations? If you answered rock climbing, you’re correct. Red Rock Canyon State Park is heaven for those with a knack for climbing or bouldering, and if you’d like to try your hand at these sports, this is the ideal place to start.

Besides featuring one-pitch sport climbs for newbies, Red Rock Canyon State Park also boasts plenty of high-quality routes of moderate technical difficulty. Harder routes are also obviously available at the park, which can only be described as desert classics. So, whether you’re learning to climb or advancing your skills, you’ve come to the right place.

While you’re climbing and meandering through the park, make sure to keep an eye out for the prehistoric rock art sprinkled all around. Also known as petroglyphs, these distinctive rock carvings give you a peek at the scene that played out in the canyon around 800 years ago—they’re absolutely fascinating to follow.

Red Rock Canyon State Park now protects significant paleontology sites and the remains of 1890s-era mining operations.

Evening

As you catch another gorgeous sunset in Red Rock Canyon State Park, the realization hits that your thrilling getaway is almost over. Catch another dazzling stargazing show as you hang out at your campground and let your muscles relax from all the exciting hikes and adventures.

This was just one weekend out of many in the Golden State, which you can fill with awesome adventures. If you’re short on inspiration, check out a plethora of other fall road trip ideas and you’ll find yourself on the road again in no time.

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