Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park makes the perfect half-day trip destination from Las Vegas. Opened in 1934, Nevada’s first state park contains 40,000 acres of stunning multi-colored desert.
The key attraction are the park’s 2000 year-old petroglyphs, which provide a peek into an ancient society. Other highlights include the park’s many natural sculptures of rock and sand.
Valley of Fire is a great place for hiking, but there are plenty of attractions to see just a short distance from your car.
Located less than an hour northeast of Las Vegas, in the Mojave desert. Use I-15 north for about 33 miles. Get off at exit 75 and follow the Valley of Fire Hwy for 14 miles to the park entrance.
If you have a full day, consider making a circuit and tying in a half-day at Hoover Dam. The Valley of Fire is less than 1.5 hours from the Hoover Dam.
- (A) Las Vegas to (B) Valley of Fire – 50 minutes
- (B) Valley of Fire to (C) Hoover Dam – 1 hour 20 minutes
- (C) Hoover Dam to (D) Las Vegas – 45 minutes
Hiking At The Valley Of Fire
When you enter the park, make sure to pick up a state park map. These provide good information on the hikes available and where to find them.
There are 11 official trails, however we did notice a few trails not on the map. For example, Fire Wave Trailhead on Mouse’s Tank Road. This one way trail is short, but leads out to Fire Wave, one of the more impressive sites in the park. Just follow the yellow markers.
If you are short on time, or have a scorcher of a day like we did, you’ll be pleased to know many sights are visible within just a short walk from the parking areas. 6 official trails in the park are 1.2 miles or less.
When To Go To The Valley Of Fire
The park is open daily year-round, from sunrise to sunset. The best time to go anywhere in these parts is when the weather is a bit cooler, fall through spring.
Summer in the Nevada desert gets painfully hot. Unfortunately, this was when we visited. Everyday was well over 100°F. We started off early to miss the heat of the day, but it was already hot by 10 am. You can still have a great trip if you are there in summer; just plan to be there in the early hours or later afternoon, and not in the heat of the day.
What To Bring With You
No matter the time of year, you want to bring plenty of water. In addition:
- Sun-screen – Don’t forget to reapply.
- Light but long-sleeve clothing – To protect your skin from the sun.
- Closed toed shoes – The soft sand is difficult to walk through. Not to mention, you do not want the blistering hot sand between your toes.
- Food and snacks – The park does not have food options, but there are a few shaded picnic areas. A couple of restaurants are 15 minutes away in the tiny town of Overton.
- Camera – How could you not.
Funny side story – On this trip we spent a week in Nevada with two other friends, in the heat of the summer. By the end of this trip, both Jeremy and one of our friend’s shoes literally melted! No joke, the soles just peeled right off. We lost our friend’s shoes here at the Valley of Fire, and Jeremy’s gave up in Death Valley. Don’t underestimate the heat and bring good shoes.
What To See At The Valley Of Fire
Atlatl Rock Petroglyphs
One of the less natural attractions in the Valley of Fire is also one of the most interesting. Created over 2,000 years ago by ancient tribes, Atlatl Rock gives a glimpse of the past, even though the meaning is unknown. The carvings are high on the rock, but there’s a good set of stairs that get you close. You’ll notice a few other carvings as you descend the stairs.
Arch Rock is a powerful example of erosion in the desert. You’ll see the arch just a short distance from the parking area.
Balancing Rock Trail
In the center of the park is the Visitor Center. From the Visitor Center’s parking lot is a short trail which leads to the Balanced Rock. You’ll get the best views a little further away from the rocks, so you can really see the balancing act.
Mouse's Tank Trail
This easy half-mile round trip trail includes more ancient petroglyphs. Look for them where the rocks are almost black.
The trail terminates at a natural rock basin where rain water collects. Named after “Little Mouse,” a fugitive who hid out in the Valley of Fire in the 1890s, after accused of killing two prospectors, along with other crimes.
It’s worth taking the short hike to the top of the rocks for a spectacularly colorful view across the desert. The path does have very soft beautiful red sand, so this is why we mentioned those closed toed shoes earlier.
Fire Canyon - Silica Dome
At the end of Fire Canyon Road is the most beautiful contrast of colors. The white sand here is almost pure silica. As it butts up against the sand containing iron, it produces the most vibrant red-rust color.
White Domes Loop
By the time we reached White Domes Loop, the day was already very hot. We tried walking the path, but the sand was scorching and very soft, so hard to walk in. We turned around and didn’t get any photos of this beautiful spot. At least this gives us a great reason to return one day. Hopefully it is much cooler next time we visit.
Bighorn Sheep And The Wildlife Of The Valley Of Fire
Keep a look out for Bighorn Sheep. We found a few grazing near the side of the road, but most we saw were climbing over the rocky terrain. The ones with the larger horns are the rams (adult males), the smaller horns are the ewes (adult females).
Also, be careful where you put your feet and hands when scrambling over the rocks. Plenty of wildlife take cover in the shade.
Another visitor warned us about a rattlesnake he saw on one of the trails, though we didn’t see it. However, if you look carefully in the shade of the third picture below, you’ll spot a Chuckwalla lizard hiding from the sun.
For more information on wildlife in the area, check out the Valley of Fire State Park Wildlife Guide.
Located down a well maintained dirt road, The Cabins are only a short distance from the parking lot. In the late 1930’s the Civilian Conservation Corps (C.C.C.) built these three cabins as shelter for campers and visitors to the park.
Though the cabins are very cool, take a moment to walk around here. The views are phenomenal.
Just before exiting the park at the East Entrance, there’s a parking lot with a short trail. Typically, I’m not that great at seeing figures in the rocks, but this one of an elephant is unmistakable.
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