Located just an hour’s drive (fifty miles) northeast of Las Vegas, Valley of Fire is an absolute gem tucked away in the Mojave Desert. The area became known as the Valley of Fire roughly a century ago, when a AAA official traveling along the park’s primitive road at sunset witnessed the smoldering red sandstone. A decade later, in 1934, Valley of Fire officially opened as Nevada’s first state park.
Valley of Fire is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful state parks we’ve visited. Here, a vast expanse of Jurassic-period Aztec sandstone ignites the valley beneath a row of saw-toothed, limestone mountains. It’s absolutely stunning.
Having visited a host of state and national parks throughout Utah and Arizona, we had initially tempered our expectations. The desert isn’t really our place, and we kind of figured it would be just another somewhat scenic swath of red rock. However, we totally underestimated this one. The patchwork of colors, textures, and patterns woven throughout the rock here were easily some of the most eye-catching we’ve seen, and it was incredibly fun to explore and to photograph.
We visited Valley of Fire for a half day while road-tripping from Flagstaff to St. George, Utah. While the five or six hours wasn’t enough time to explore every nook of the park, we were able to see quite a bit in that amount of time. If you’re interested in meandering around some of the park’s short trails, we’d definitely recommend at least a half day to visit. We’ve detailed our experience below to help get you started. In addition to our hiking route, highlights, and slew of photos, you’ll also find some important tips for visiting as well as a list of popular spots we didn’t hit up. If this park hasn’t been on your radar, we’d definitely recommend checking it out.
Driving through the park
There are just two roads that traverse the Valley of Fire: the Valley of Fire Highway and Mouse’s Tank Road. The first is the main route through the park, running twenty miles east to west between I-15 (the quickest route from Vegas) and Northshore Road (which runs north through Lake Meade National Recreation Area). The two park entrances (east and west) are at either end of this road, and a number of scenic points can also be accessed directly from the highway: Elephant Rock, Seven Sisters, Fire Cave/Windstone Arch, The Beehives, and Atlatl Rock.
The second road in the park is Mouse’s Tank Road (according to Google Maps); it’s referred to as White Domes Road in the park brochure. This road runs six miles north to south off Valley of Fire Highway, ultimately dead ending at the White Domes Trailhead. The route is exceptionally scenic and provides access to White Domes, the Fire Wave and Seven Wonders Trails, as well as Fire Canyon/Silica Dome.
Elephant Rock sits off the Valley of Fire Highway, just beyond the park’s east entrance. We actually weren’t even looking for it when we first drove past it. I unexpectedly spotted its obvious shape from the passenger window as we cruised on by, and we promptly swung into a pull-off to walk the short path up to it.
Unlike a lot of rock formations, it doesn’t take a ton of imagination to spot the elephant’s form. We immediately recognized the pachyderm-like shape, with its long trunk and tiny stub of a tusk. Of course, with us having adopted Sanchez from Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, it was only fitting that she pose here for a bit of nostalgia.
White Domes – Seven Wonders – Fire Wave Loop
Located at the northern terminus of Mouse’s Tank (White Domes) Road sits an exceedingly stunning section of the Valley of Fire. Here, an interconnecting network of trails wraps around some of the park’s most impressive rock formations, including White Domes and the Fire Wave.
There are several opportunities for exploring here. You can choose to hike one of the shorter routes individually, such as White Domes Loop (1 mile), Fire Wave Trail (1.2 mile out-and-back), or the longer Seven Wonders/Fire Wave Loop (2 miles). Alternatively, you can create your own larger loop or pair of loops that – for all you biologists out there – takes the vague shape of a mitotic cell. We opted for the final option (the slightly asymmetrical cytokinesing cell), which allowed us to check out all the sites at this end of the park.
Our hike combined the following routes:
On our return to the White Domes Trailhead from the Fire Wave, we made a quick detour to the White Domes Viewpoint, and also hiked the center portion of the trail that’s not part of the larger loop. This is the part of the Seven Wonders/Seven Wonders Alt Trail that leads out to Fire Cave, Thunderstorm Arch and Crazy Hill (about a mile out-and-back from the junction with the Fire Wave Trail).
Because we visited the park during the afternoon, we hiked the route counterclockwise to save the Fire Wave for the latest part of the day. We were hoping that would afford us some nice light and fewer visitors. Much to our delight, we were correct on both accounts. Arriving at the Fire Wave a couple hours before sunset was just perfect, and we shared the space with just a few other people.
If you’re thinking of doing this double loop route, the total distance is about 3.6 miles with 650 feet of elevation gain. Hiking the route as described above, the highlights include:
Thunderstorm Arch & Fire Cave
Unquestionably, our favorite three spots along the route were Pink Canyon, Fire Wave, and Crazy Hill. The rock colors and patterns here were absolutely incredible. Pink Canyon was aptly named, with vibrant layers of pink sandstone melding with even brighter shades of yellow. The Fire Wave’s silhouette – painted with swirling bands of pink and red sandstone – perfectly mimicked a cresting ocean wave. And Crazy Hill was perhaps the most unexpected surprise. The undulating streaks of rainbow-colored rock here were just so cool. After returning from our outing, I read a review that described Crazy Hill as ‘not much to look at other than a lot of sand.’ I kind of wondered what the hell the person was looking at; but hey, to each their own.
If you’re looking for a pup’s perspective on the trail, Sanchez was partial to the area around Pink Canyon, which was rife with scurrying fence lizards when we visited. She also enjoyed the few breaks of shade and cooler sand afforded to her as we navigated the tiny slot. Overall, all three of us had a great time here. If you’ve got time for just one hike in Valley of Fire, we were totally blown away with this circuit.
The Fire Wave and Seven Wonders Trails close regularly in summer due to extreme heat (June 1 through September 30). Even outside of summer, it can get EXCEEDINGLY hot here. When visited the third week in May, we were lucky enough to get a ‘cool’ day that was about 15°F cooler than the rest of the week. The temperature was a mere 90°F and it was still roasting. These routes have no shade, so bring plenty of water and sun protection, and be super careful with your pups. It may be a dry heat, but that desert sun is no joke.
Other scenic spots
While we felt quite satisfied with our half day in the Valley of Fire, we by no means combed the whole park. If you want to see most of the main attractions in the park, it’ll probably take you a full day to explore. Most of the trails here are short, flat and easy, with the biggest obstacle likely being that scorching desert sun. That said, there are also a few longer trails (Prospect, Pinnacles, Old Arrowhead Road and Charlie’s Spring) that are 5–6 miles one-way. Tacking on one or more of those would likely require a longer visit.
Other sites we missed that you may want to check out include: The Beehives, Atlatl Rock, Petrified Logs Loop, Fire Cave/Windstone Arch, and Rainbow Vista. With the exception of Rainbow Vista, all can be found at the western end of the park and all are just steps off the Valley of Fire Highway. Given how much we enjoyed our first visit, I wouldn’t hesitate to return if we again found ourselves in the area.
Know before you go
- The day-use fee is $15 for out-of-state vehicles and $10 for NV vehicles. Overnight camping is $25 for out-of-state vehicles, discounted to $20 for NV vehicles (additional fees apply for utility hookups).
- The park is open from sunrise to sunset only (unless camping).
- Dogs are allowed on all trails on a six-foot leash. This is an increasingly uncommon privilege. Make sure you pick up after your pup. Also, if exploring with your furry friend during the scorching hot summer months, make sure you check the temperature of the rock/sand and be mindful of your friend’s paw pads. Dog’s paws are quite vulnerable to the extreme heat, and protective booties might be a good idea. If it’s too hot for your hand, it’s probably too hot for their feet.
- Don’t underestimate the temperatures! It’s the desert. Temperatures here approach 110°F (43°C) on average during the months of June and July, with overnight lows averaging around 73°F (23°C). Hiking any time of year – though especially in summer – can be super dangerous with the risk of heat stroke and dehydration.
- Consider visiting during the cooler months (October to April). If your schedule allows, this time of year will be much more bearable and all trails should be open. No matter what time of year you visit, though, wear sun protection and carry water.
- The Fire Wave and Seven Wonders trails often close from June 1st through September 30th due to extreme heat. The park made this decision due to an increasing number of heat-related injuries and fatalities along the two trails. If these are on your must-do list, you’ll need to visit outside of summer months.
- Nevada State Parks will be launching a reservation system beginning sometime in 2023. Like many other parks, the new system is meant to better manage the drastic increase in visitation seen in recent years.
- Carry a GPS map. While most trails are well-signed, the markers can be hard to spot in places. It can be super easy to lose your bearings in the sea of swirling red rock.