Just got back from a wonderful spring break trip to Red Rock Canyon, just outside of Las Vegas, NV. While there, we sought out some of the more accessible moderate climbs. My daughter is now a teenager and can hike anything we can, but on two occasions we were with children and it made me think about what parents who bring their kids to Red Rocks will need to know.
Hazards for Kids at Red Rocks
First of all, the desert can be HOT and shade is often not available. Bring plenty of water, some to drink and some to pour over heads if a child gets close to overheating. My daughter doesn’t sweat much and is very susceptible to overheating. She brings a bandana to soak with water and wrap around her neck to keep her cool. We also picked up a cheap umbrella halfway through the trip to provide some portable shade during approaches. If you do this, make sure it has a wrist strap so it won’t get lost if rock scrambling is required. Avoid dark clothing and wear lightweight fabrics. Sweat wicking fabrics didn’t seem to really be as important here because the air was so dry, we barely noticed any sweating, because it evaporated almost immediately.
There aren’t many easily accessible areas with moderate climbs. The climbs in the canyons require at least a 40 minute hike across shade-free desert to get from the parking areas to the canyons. Therefore I don’t recommend any of the canyon areas unless your kid is very good at longer hikes and the weather is cooler. Most of the sport climbing areas require some sketchy rock scrambling, which may include drop offs or reachy down climbs where longer legs really help. It’s important to plan ahead and read the approach descriptions for whichever area you plan to visit, and judge whether your child can handle it. Climbing guidebooks are written for climbers, not kids, and what may seem like a casual scramble for adults can be very difficult for a kid. Ask for some beta from others if you’re not sure. Also, if you’re concerned about your child scrambling around and hurting themselves while you climb, then it’s best to have at least 3 adults in your party so there’s someone to watch any children while the other two adults are climbing/belaying.
Here’s my take on some of the areas we visited:
This was by far my vote for best area for moderate trad climbs and for kids. The trail goes up and down a little, but is a short approach (maybe 10 minutes) and doesn’t require scrambling.
There’s a trail at the base of the climb with a few wider level areas for kids to hang out. There is an abundance of moderate 1 pitch trad climbs in the 5.4 to 5.11 range and most can be set up for top-roping after leading.
On our most recent trip in late March of 2015, we met up with my friend Dierdre (also known as Alex Honnold’s mother) who was there with her cousin and his 10 year old daughter. This petite young lady had no trouble hiking to the crag, and impressed us all with her successful ascent of the 1st pitch of a classic 5.7, “Ragged Edges,” this being her first trip climbing outdoors! Then again, she is actually related to Alex Honnold, so perhaps it’s genetic! The big hand jams required at the top of climb proved to be no big challenge for her, as she figured out how to stack her hands and ascend.
Another climb at Willow Springs that’s a nice climb is a 5.5 named “Tonto.” However, the direct finish is an awkward grunty 5.7 chimney, and the 5.5 finish wanders off to the right and is harder to set up as a top-rope for young children who may not be up to re-clipping directionals on the way down.
There are plenty more moderates on this cliff. Take a look at the Willow Springs section in Mountain Project to see what else is there.
Calico Basin has many varied areas for sport or trad climbing, and one of the advantages is that it’s outside of the park, so you don’t have to do the entire loop road to leave this area. There is a 10-20 minute hike in, mostly on a well trodden mostly level trail. However, some of the climbs are on crags higher up off the trail and could be challenging for young children. There are a couple of 2 pitch classics on the Riding Hood Wall, but it’s a uphill slog of perhaps 15 minutes to the base of the climbs which my daughter overheated on during one hot day. There are a couple of nice 5.7’s on Gnat Man Crag, but it required some 4th class climbing up from Dickies Cliff to get there, and there are no fixed anchors so the last one down has to find the descent route down.
Immediately across from Gnat Man is Cow Lick Crag. It’s right off the trail without any steep uphill approaches and has 2 bolted sport lines that go at 5.7, and anchors on top so other climbs on this formation can be top-roped. This is a good choice if you have small children, as the base of the cliff is flat.
There are 3 very popular sport climbing areas in the Calico Hills that have moderate climbs, 5.9 and under. However, they could be tricky to get to, so you’ll have to determine whether it’s worth it based on the age and ability of your kid(s).
At the First Pullout is the Panty Wall. It’s very popular and in the sun all day. You can always see climbers on it from the First Pullout parking area. While the climbs are easier, the approach does require some scrambling and the base of the climb is a ramp which is wide enough for a comfortable belay, but is on an angle and drops off. It may not be suitable for very small active children.
The Magic Bus
The Magic Bus is another popular area with a number of moderate sport routes. It’s a 15-20 minute hike from the Second Pullout parking lot, but does require some scrambling and walking up and down exposed slabs. When we were there, a 5 year old boy was climbing with his parents next to us. They were a bit worried because he was scrambling around when they were climbing, but the base of the crag is nice and flat. Again, it’s not going to be an easy approach for small children, but older and agile kids should be OK.
The Black Corridor
This very popular sport climbing spot is literally a narrow corridor and in the shade all day, making it climbable even in the summer. There are a number of 5.9s and harder here and the grades tend to be soft for us Gunks climbers. However I wouldn’t recommend this area if you have young kids. The corridor itself is flat and fine for kids if they don’t get in the way, as it’s crowded in there! But the approach has some tricky spots, walking across slabs over pools of water, and one tricky little climb (and down climb on the way back) that could be too much for a young child. I have enough trouble with this little climb when I’m wearing a pack! There’s another easy scramble or two to the Corridor, but the maneuvering around the sides of pools is what I think could be a problem for little ones.
I’m sure there are other areas in Red Rocks you may know of with a reasonable approach, moderate climbs and a safe cliff base for young kids but these are the ones I’ve personally had experience with. Please add other possible kid-friendly areas in the comments.