Red Rock Canyon State Park
You’ll find Red Rock Canyon State Park at the southern tip of the mighty Sierra Nevada, where the mountains meet the Mojave Desert. It’s an extraterrestrial landscape of steep canyons and painted rock formations — a place that attracts rock hounds, artists and adventurers alike. Hiking in the cooler months is superb. After the sun goes down, grab a blanket and prepare to be hypnotized by the stars.
ABOVE: Shaped for eternities by wind and water, the sedimentary rock here is not only colorful, but has been sculpted into dramatic columns, buttes and pillars that make you wonder whether some ancient civilization carved their home into the cliffs long before our time.
ABOVE: Here in California, camping doesn’t cease in winter. We just pitch our tents in the deserts rather than the mountains. These sanctuaries offer vast landscapes, dark skies and a surprisingly diverse array of plants and wildlife — all without the crowds you may encounter elsewhere. Can you believe Red Rock Canyon State Park is just a two hour drive from the megalopolis of LA? This is a great place to escape to; the perfect spot to appreciate the drama and enormity of California’s natural world.
A Stargazer’s paradise
ABOVE: This 63-second exposure proves a profound thing: That even on the blackest of nights over the darkest of deserts, if you stare long enough into the void, you will find too many stars to fathom, and far more light than darkness.
ABOVE: Ricardo Campground is a wonderfully unique spot to pitch a tent in the fall and spring, when it’s not too hot. But winter is my favorite season to camp here. While the temperature can dip below freezing at night, I often have the whole campground to myself. And it is quite a place to be alone at night — you can almost feel the distant stars burning.
ABOVE: Deserts are not always the barren, sweltering hellscapes we tend to think they are, at least not here in California. This is Nightmare Gulch, a vast box canyon in Red Rock Canyon State Park. The vibe here can only be described as extraterrestrial. But instead of aliens, this area is home to raptors that require peace and quiet to breed. So in order to appease the lovebirds, park officials close the canyon to visitors from February through June. The rest of the year, hikers are free to poke around. It’s a pretty neat compromise that respects the ecosystem while giving everyone the opportunity to take a peek at a surprisingly vivid and vertical part of California’s magnificent desert.
ABOVE: Whether you’re exploring dirt roads within the park or just passing through on Highway 14, driving through this slice of California is an experience to be savored.
ABOVE: Looking south across Red Rock Canyon State Park and Antelope Valley, where the Sierra Nevada meets the Mojave Desert.
ABOVE: Not many campgrounds offer the chance to pitch your tent tucked against otherworldly rock formations. If you’ve never spent a night here, I highly recommend it. Plan your visit to Red Rock Canyon State Park around the new moon if you want to see stars, but this is also one of the best places to watch a full moon rise. When that glowing orb begins to peak over the horizon, it’s something else.
A Stargazer’s Paradise
Not many campgrounds offer the chance to pitch your tent tucked against otherworldly rock formations. If you’ve never spent a night here, I highly recommend it. Plan your visit to Red Rock Canyon State Park around the new moon if you want to see stars, but this is also one of the best places to watch a full moon rise. When that glowing orb begins to peak over the horizon, it’s something else.
directions to red rock canyon state park
The mission of California State Parks is to provide for the health, inspiration and education of the people of California by helping to preserve the state's extraordinary biological diversity, protecting its most valued natural and cultural resources, and creating opportunities for high-quality outdoor recreation.