First thing’s first — this is NOT the well-known Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area near Las Vegas. This is the smaller, less-traveled, but still stunning Red Rock Canyon State Park in California, just off the 14 between Mojave and Indian Wells. If you’re trying to find information about this park, you will likely spend a lot of time hitting your back button and muttering about the Nevada park.
But it’s worth the effort to learn about California’s Red Rock Canyon State Park — a beautiful park in the Mojave Desert that you’ve almost definitely driven through on the way to Lone Pine and the Eastern Sierra or Death Valley.
I personally drove through this park dozens of times, often remarking at the beautiful rock formations along the way and swearing that someday I’d come back to explore a bit and maybe even stay at the campground. And hey, I finally did it!
This short and easy trail combines the Ricardo and Desert View Nature Trails into one longer loop from the Visitor Center, and provides a nice introduction to the park as well as a great family-friendly activity to do if you’re staying in the Ricardo Campground (sunrise and sunset here are both pretty dang spectacular).
Red Rock Canyon State Park sits near the southernmost tip of the Sierra Nevada range and the El Paso Mountains above the Mojave Desert. It has a surprising amount of desert wildlife, including roadrunners, kit foxes, bobcats, and coyotes. There are some Joshua trees here. But it’s the landscape that really grabs the eye for most visitors. Each tiny canyon has been carved into unique shapes by wind and water. Geological uplift creates angular peaks. Hoodoos abound. The scenery has been featured in many movies and TV shows, and the red rocks were a major landmark for the mule teams traveling from Death Valley with minerals.
Begin this hike at the Visitor Center, where you can get a map and helpful information from park staff. There is also a small exhibit there and a theater showing some videos on the park — including an episode of California’s Gold (you can’t get the ‘Amazing!’ out of your head). Make sure you’ve got lots of water and head on out.
Head south from the Visitor Center and look for a sign for the Ricardo Nature Trail.
You’ll follow this well-marked path through a small field of Joshua trees and other desert plants. If you visit in the late winter or early spring, you may have a chance of seeing some of the region’s terrific wildflower shows. If you visit in the late fall like I did, it’s probably just going to be creosote — but hey, I love creosote, so that’s OK by me!
It’s a quick lollipop loop on the Ricardo Trail, then pop back out onto the campground road and follow it south.
In the southern corner of the camping area, there are a few larger car park zones and picnic areas. There is also a fun little trail called the Desert View Trail that starts off right here. It’s also very well marked.
It’s a steep but short climb out of the trailhead, but that also means it doesn’t take very long for you to get some really phenomenal views of the topography of Red Rock Canyon State Park. To the north, the area near the campsites:
To the south, the greater Mojave desert, and the distant San Gabriel Mountains:
Spend as much or as little time up here as you’d like. There are some faint user trails that circle to the cliffs above the campsite as well as some additional viewpoints above Wistler Ridge.
Return back the way you came.