Hitting the road bright and early, we had our sights set on one of the best day trips from Las Vegas: Valley of Fire State Park. This underrated destination in Nevada is packed full of hikes and trails and provides the ideal escape from the partying of Las Vegas or a great stop on a broader American Southwest National Parks Road Trip. Plus, it’s the perfect alternative to The Wave in Arizona if you didn’t manage to score a permit.
As we neared the toll booth, a cheerful ranger greeted us with “someone about 60 cars in front of you paid your $10 fee, would you like to keep it going?” The chain had yet to be broken, so we continued the good deed for the next car and went on our merry way. Not an uncommon occurrence in the great outdoors, the camaraderie and respect for fellow adventurers is what keeps us coming back.
The toll booth was out of maps, but the visitor center still had a few in stock. This presented little inconvenience as we love to make the visitor center one of the first stops at any national or state park. It’s an opportunity to gather history on the park, check trail and weather conditions, as well as stock up on needed supplies.
VALLEY OF FIRE HIKES AND VIEWPOINTS
We zig zagged our way through the park and soon our attention was immediately drawn to the fire red rocks lining the road.These alien-like sandstone rock formations, resembling the shape of a beehive, were created by wind erosion. Over hundreds of years, sand carried throughout the desert forming sand dunes, eroded rocks, such as these, along the way.
We highly recommend making a stop at this destination either for a quick lunch break at the picnic area or by hiking through the winding path. It’s the perfect introduction to the Valley of Fire as it quickly reveals the reason behind the park’s name.
ELEPHANT ROCK TRAIL
After driving through the stunning Beehives, further down the road, we approached a sign indicating Elephant Rock was coming up on our right. A rock in the shape of an elephant definitely caught our attention and before we knew it, we were hitting the 1.2 mile loop trail.
This trail is mostly sand, so we recommend coming prepared with the proper shoes, meaning, please don’t wear sandals. The sand was difficult to navigate and quite tiring, but we found the view at the end to be worth the struggle.
MOUSE’S TANK ROAD
Rocks jet out from the ground, piled high, and lining the long, winding road. It’s as if one stepped out onto Mars without having to make the 9 month trip.The photo of all photos in Valley of Fire, I had missed this Instagram famous spot on my last trip to Valley of Fire, but was determined to photograph it the second time around. The reason I missed it? I drove the wrong way and it was behind me the entire time.
For the perfect photo and safest route, leave your car at the Elephant Rock trailhead and walk down the road to the giant rock pile on your right. Rangers in this park are quite strict about parking on the side of the road, so always be mindful of only parking in designated lots.
FIRE WAVE TRAIL
While planning our trip here, the Fire Wave, Valley of Fire trail found its place at the top of the list — weather permitting of course. Once Mouse Tank and Elephant Rock were crossed off, we had our sights set on witnessing the natural fire wave rocks. As we made our way down the 1.5 mile out and back trail, giant, vibrant red sandstone structures towered over us on our left. The trail began to split, but all ended at the same destination, some involving a bit more sand than others.
As we approached the final, uphill stretch, swirls of beige and red appeared in the 150 million year old sandstone and hills of nearly every color rose in the distance. A sight straight out of sci-fi film, Fire Wave is a must do trail for all visiting the park. Pack a lunch and take in the multi-color destination found at the end of the trail, but be sure to check the weather before heading out to the Valley of Fire Wave. Temperatures often find themselves over 100°F and hiking the trail is not recommended in these sorts of conditions. Head to the visitor center prior to hitting the trail for the latest updates on conditions.
WHITE DOMES TRAIL
Once Fire Wave was complete, we were on a hiking high and knew we needed to find another trail. White Domes Trail 1.1 mile loop seemed the perfect option as it features a variety of sights including slot canyons, sweeping vistas, historical western sets, and more.
Entering the parking lot, we feared finding a spot might present a challenge, but boy were we lucky — we found a spot on the first loop around the lot! Although this lot may appear packed, hang tight as many hikers are constantly coming in and out of the trail. Trust us, you will find one!
The location for the 1966 movie The Professionals, this trail features a leftover set from the western film, starring Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster and Claudia Cardinale and is one of the first sights we approached along the way. Little did we know, the slot canyon ahead would prove to be even more brilliant. As we rounded the corner, both sides of the red canyon walls shot high up, inviting us in. We wandered in awe as the cool air provided relief from the hot desert. Hues of purple, pink, and turquoise popped from the hills in the distance as we exited the canyon and caves along the trail reminded us of scenes straight out of Star Wars. It was as if every turn on the trail revealed a different sight. One of the best bang for your buck Valley of Fire hikes, we highly recommend this quick little loop.
Heading back to the front of the park was our goal for the remainder of the day, but we knew we needed to make a stop and take in the stunning vista we passed on the way to White Domes.
We parked at a trail head near the beginning of the vista and walked a bit for a closer look. Hues of purple, pink, brown, and beige dance across the landscape as the black asphalt winds through the hills providing a practically perfect contrast. A sight straight out of stock photo, be sure to save a moment in your day for this spot.
VALLEY OF FIRE CABINS
We still weren’t ready to head out of the park, but were a bit tired from the many trails we trekked, so a bit of history seemed ideal. Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression, these three cabins provided refuge for travelers visiting the park. Still standing today, we wouldn’t mind spending the night in one if offered! Taking up just a few minutes of your day, we recommend making a quick little stop to witness a piece of the park’s history.
A group of seven tall, eroded rocks, this spot provides the perfect picnic area, as well as an escape from the desert heat. We didn’t hop out of the car here, but rather did a slow drive by for a glance of these beautiful sandstone structures.
Valley of Fire’s smaller size makes this park easy to accomplish in just one day. Nevada’s first ever state park is a must do when looking for a way out of Vegas for a bit!
INTERACTIVE VALLEY OF FIRE MAP
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
- The park entrance fee is $10
- Open daily sunrise to sunset, with 24-hour access to campgrounds
GETTING THERE AND AWAY
- Valley of Fire is only 45 minutes from Las Vegas!
- Take the 15 North, then exit the 75 toward Valley of Fire E/Lake Mead; follow the road for 15 miles and you’ll hit the toll booth entrance
CAMPING IN VALLEY OF FIRE
- Spring and Fall are the most ideal times to camp in the park. There are three campgrounds in Valley of Fire: Atlatl Rock, Arch Rock, and one group campground. Atlatl Rock and Arch Rock are both first come, first served, and bookings are not accepted.
- All sites are $20 per vehicle, per night, which includes the $10 park entrance fee