Valley of Fire: The best State Park in Nevada
Less than an hour away from Las Vegas, Valley of Fire is one of America’s most underrated State Parks, offering stunning hikes, ancient colourful rock formations and panoramic viewpoints.
Many people visiting Las Vegas add in trips to well-known attractions such as the Grand Canyon or Zion National Park, which are a few hours from the city. However, Valley of Fire is only 50 miles northeast of the city and can be the perfect addition or detour when visiting the area. The park is open daily from sunrise to sunset, and entry is just $15 per vehicle. Within the park, visitors will discover the iconic bright red rock formations which give the park its name, as well as prehistoric petroglyphs, unique wildlife and scenic drives. The park covers 40,000 acres and is Nevada’s largest state park. Its unusual scenery has led to many films being shot here, such as Con Air, Total Recall and Transformers.
The park has two main roads, the Valley of Fire Highway and Mouse’s Tank Road, along which sit almost all of the major sights and trailheads. The best time to visit is in May, June, September or October when the temperatures are slightly cooler, and the park is best avoided in the summer months, as temperatures can be dangerously hot and plenty of water and supplies are needed. A visit to the park can last anywhere from two hours to a whole day or even overnight; however, sunset or sunrise is one of the most stunning times of the day to visit, as the rocks glow a deep red and orange under the sun, hence the name ‘Valley of Fire’.
Mouse’s Tank Road Scenic DriveSimply driving along Mouse’s Tank Road provides some of the best views of Valley of Fire, with plenty of car parks in which to pull in and take photos or do short hikes. The road runs below sheer red rock formations, and just along the road, located shortly before Rainbow Vista, is one of the park’s most famous viewpoints, where the road stretches into the distance, surrounded by cliffs on both sides. Mouse’s Tank Road runs beside many of the park’s most popular attractions. Just before the road begins are the unique Seven Sisters – a collection of seven towering rocks by the side of the road, followed by the Balancing Rock, Rainbow Vista and the Mouse’s Tank trailhead. There are also smaller roads leading off Mouse’s Tank, such as Fire Canyon Road, Pastel Canyon and the White Domes loop, which lead to the park’s other famous sights and trails.
Atlatl RockLocated along the Scenic Loop Road, just off Valley of Fire Road, Atlatl Rock is one of the park’s oldest and most famous attractions, easily reached by car. The rock features 4,000-year-old petroglyphs drawn by ancient tribes, depicting the atlatl, a type of ancient bow and arrow. You can spot some of the glyphs from the ground, but there is also a large metal staircase which leads up into the rock to allow visitors to see them up close. From the top of the staircase, there are beautiful views over the surrounding area. This is an ideal place for those wishing to stay in the park overnight, as it has the park’s largest campground, with 43 spaces for tents and RVs.
The Fire Wave
The Fire Wave is a unique rock formation which has swirling shades of red, orange and pink that can be reached via a short 1.5-mile hike. This hike is particularly popular for those unable to secure a permit for the world-famous The Wave in neighbouring Arizona. The hike begins from the trailhead located towards the end of Mouse’s Tank Road, and only takes between 30-60 minutes. Fire Wave is one of the park’s most popular hikes, especially for photographers, so if you visit in the middle of the day or on the weekend, it may be crowded. The best time to go for the golden light and fewer crowds is sunrise or sunset when there are fewer visitors. Due to extreme heat, the trail is usually closed between June 1 and September 30.
Rainbow Vista is one of the best viewpoints in Valley of Fire, which is quickly reached just five minute’s drive from the start of Mouse’s Tank Road. Some of the best views across the park can be seen from the roadside, or alternatively, you can follow the short 1.1-mile trail to Rainbow Vista Point. The sign posted here says, ‘You are looking at 1.5 million years of time.‘ The great maze of canyons, domes, towers, ridges, and valleys before you are carved from sand deposited during the time when dinosaurs walked the earth. This is wild, virtually untouched wildernesses. Once again, sunrise and sunset are the best time to see the view, but on a clear day, the view stretch across the park. It is also one of the most common areas to spot the local bighorn sheep, which usually travel in packs and frequently wander across the roads. The park is also home to foxes, coyotes, lizards and snakes, which you should watch out for when hiking.
White Domes LoopThe White Domes Trail is a short, moderate 1.1-mile hike, which begins at the very end of Mouse’s Tank Road. Along the way, you can see panoramic views across the desert, slot canyons, a selection of caves, arches and rock formations, plus an old abandoned movie set where many famous movies were filmed, including Star Trek and Austin Powers. Although you can complete the hike in one loop, it can also be combined as a longer hike with the Fire Wave (1.5 miles) and Seven Wonders (1.8 miles) trails for a longer day trip.
There are plenty of other sights within the park, such as Elephant Rock, the Petrified Logs, Historic Cabins, Lone Rock and the Beehives, all of which can easily be seen by spending a whole day here. The park is around a 30-minute detour from either the 1-15 North to Zion, or the I-15 South to Las Vegas, making it an easy detour from either location. Lake Mead is just a short drive away, and the Hoover Dam is a one-hour drive from the park, which is another of Nevada’s most well-known attractions that could be added into to create a longer road trip.