Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area: The Complete Guide

Detail of Ancient Native American Petroglyphs at Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area, Nevada
Federica Grassi / Getty Images
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Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area

Address
Nawghaw Poa Rd, Henderson, NV 89052, USA
Phone +1 702-515-5000

There’s something affirming about a wilderness area that stays wild—no driving, barely trammeled trails, few paved roads, a visitor center (aka contact station) that occupies a double-wide trailer. As many designated monuments, parks, and conservation areas as there are near Las Vegas, it seems almost impossible that there could be a 48,438-acre area within spitting distance of the Strip that most people don’t even know exists.

The Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area certainly doesn’t get the press that, say, the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area does, or even the dramatic Valley of Fire State Park. Yet here it is, fewer than 20 miles south of the Strip, anchoring the southern end of the city of Henderson. It’s not for lack of drama that Sloan is less well-known than some of its counterparts: more than 300 rock panels contain nearly 1,700 petroglyphs from the Puebloan, Patayan, and Southern Paiute people from the Archaic to historic times. And many of the people who love this area prefer that it stay a little under the radar.

Sloan Canyon sits on the southeast border of the Las Vegas Valley; you’ll recognize it by its black volcanic mountains and ridges that you can see from the southern end of Las Vegas. It’s a hiker’s paradise, with terrain so varied it includes a dry lakebed and volcanic peaks that rise above 5,000 feet in elevation. It is best known for its Sloan Canyon Archaeological District (Petroglyph Canyon). In fact, the National Conservation Area contains an entire wilderness—the 14,763-acre North McCullough Wilderness—where you’ll find lava flows, ash falls, and shiny, sharp obsidian.

The area was designated a National Conservation Area (one of only 17 in the nation) nearly 20 years ago and is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Even though it’s been called the Sistine Chapel of Native American rock art, you’ll be on your own when it comes to finding the art treasures out here. The Sloan Petroglyph Site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, but to preempt vandalism, the BLM doesn’t identify the exact locations of the petroglyphs. To protect the area, it also doesn’t allow camping, shooting, and off-roading. However, hiking, biking, and horseback riding on its existing trail system (unpaved) are all encouraged.

Although it would sound as though you won’t get much help navigating the area, there are resources out there. The Friends of Sloan Canyon, who man the contact station and can help direct you to guides to the area, are happy to direct you to the area’s rich prehistoric and historic-artistic treasures. And plans are underway to build an access road close to the trailhead to cut the roundtrip hike into the area from up to 12 miles to 3 or 4 miles, and to make it partly reachable by car. Until there are signs, a center, or paved roads, here’s a little direction on what to do and see in Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area.

Things to Do

Many of Sloan Canyon’s petroglyphs can be found in its Petroglyph Canyon, entry to which is free, and available between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. The hike is a 4.1-mile loop of rocky trail, along which you can see stunning petroglyphs and pictographs. You’ll need to check in at the Sloan Canyon Visitor Contact Station before getting to the trail and entering Petroglyph Canyon. For the best experience, you might want to consider joining a BLM guided hike, where a BLM ranger will tell you about the biological, geological, and historical features of this area. It’s also a way to ensure that you’ll actually be able to get into this area: Petroglyph Canyon limits its visitors to 20 people in the canyon at a time to protect the wilderness area. The best times to go are weekday mornings; you may have to wait on weekends and holidays, particularly in the spring and fall when temps are perfect for a hike.

Keep your eyes peeled as you hike the Petroglyph Trail or any of the other trails in the area. Sloan Canyon NCA protects desert bighorn sheep, bobcats, jackrabbits, desert kangaroo rats, endangered desert tortoise, chuckwallas, kit foxes, and even mountain lions (a good reason to vacate before sundown).

Best Hikes & Trails

The main entrance to Sloan Canyon has a paved road and a trailhead where you’ll find the contact station at the end of Nawghaw Poa Road (which means “Bighorn Sheep Road” in the Paiute language). You can get into Sloan Canyon’s trails from various neighborhoods in Henderson. Aside from the can’t-miss Petroglyph Trail, here are a few of the area’s best hikes:

  • Black Mountain Trail: This trail explores the famous volcanic mountain which, at over 5,000 feet in elevation is the highest peak in the North McCullough Range in Sloan Canyon. You’ll hike 7.5 miles roundtrip and make a tough summit. You can reach it from the Shadow Canyon Trailhead in Sun City Anthem.
  • McCullough Hills Trail: Make sure you have the day to complete this 16-mile out-and-back trail that has scenic views of Las Vegas and Red Rock and connects the McCullough Hills trailhead with the Anthem Hills Park trailhead to the west.
  • Anthem East Trail Loop: This is a good birdwatching trail and has good views of the conservation area. It’s a tough trail, and in its 11.6-mile loop, you’ll gain nearly 2,500 feet in elevation.

Where to Stay Nearby

There’s no camping in the Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area, but it’s just minutes away from the Strip, and from some great resorts in the Henderson and Lake Las Vegas areas.

  • Green Valley Ranch Resort and Spa: This Mediterranean-themed resort anchors Henderson and has a retreat feel (locals love to come here for a spa day). It’s also right next to The District at Green Valley Ranch, a mixed-use retail and dining pedestrian-only destination. Plenty to do after a hard day of scrambling around rocks and looking for petroglyphs.
  • South Point Casino: This resort sits south of the Strip and has tons of devoted repeat guests who come for its massive equestrian center (there’s an arena with 4,600 seats that hosts major equestrian events), 64-lane bowling center, and affordable restaurants. (Tip: It also has a really good spa with below-Strip rates.)
  • Lake Las Vegas: Two resorts anchor Lake Las Vegas, which is just 25 minutes north of Sloan Canyon. There’s the Med-inflected Hilton Lake Las Vegas Resort & Spa (with its faux Ponte Vecchio bridge right over the lake) and the Westin Lake Las Vegas Resort & Spa, designed to resemble a Moorish palace). Both are great getaways in the vacation town built around the picturesque manmade lake. 

How to Get There

Sloan Canyon National Area is about 15 miles south of Las Vegas and can be reached from I-15 and from the 215 Beltway. From I-15 exit St. Rose Parkway and head east, turning right at Las Vegas Blvd. Turn left on Volunteer Ave. and right on Via Inspirada. This road curves and turns into Bicentennial Pkwy. Turn right onto Anthem Highlands Drive and then right on Democracy Drive. Continue past Via Firenze and turn left at Nawghaw Poa Road. You’ll find parking for the contact station and the trailhead at the end of the road.

From the 215 Beltway, exit at Eastern Ave. and head south. When you enter Anthem, turn right into Sun City Anthem Drive. Make a right onto Bicentennial Pkwy, then left on Anthem Highlands Drive and right onto Democracy Drive, and follow the same directions from there as above.

Tips For Your Visit

As in any state park, national monument, or conservation area, there are a few rules you must follow (plus a few common-sense tips for the desert):

  • Parking at the Sloan Canyon Visitor Contact Station is limited. Reach out to the BLM, Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area before you arrive to make sure you can access it. There’s no other close parking.
  • Come prepared: There’s no fuel, sanitation, or water in the Sloan Canyon NCA. The BLM recommends bringing two gallons of water per day for each person. And be prepared to carry out all your trash.
  • Summer temperatures here reach over 110 degrees Fahrenheit and get even hotter in Petroglyph Canyon. This is not the time to eschew long sleeves, a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. The best times to visit are in the spring and fall when temperatures are milder.
  • Watch for snakes, particularly the Mojave Green Rattlesnake, which makes its home here. Don’t sit or step in a place you haven’t checked.
  • Cell coverage in Petroglyph Canyon is generally poor, so don’t rely on it.
  • Dogs are only allowed in some parts of the conservation area, and not in the Petroglyph Canyon. Check here for dog rules.
  • Finally: Don’t touch! Sloan Canyon has some of the most ancient and pristine rock art in Southern Nevada. Your skin oils can damage them, so admire them from a distance. You can take pictures, but rubbings aren’t allowed.
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Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area: The Complete Guide