Can you believe that natural beauty this awesome sits just an easy hour’s drive outside crowded, glitzy, FLAT Las Vegas???
I really couldn’t. I’d never heard of Valley of Fire State Park until fairly recently. I’m sure I’d seen a photo or two on Pinterest over the years, but it just wasn’t on my radar. And then all of the sudden over the past few months, I saw it everywhere. Or maybe it’s kind of like when you get a new car and then all you see on the road are other cars just like yours…?? But I digress.
When I discovered that I’d be headed to Vegas for a family event in February, I started doing some digging. Because guys?? I HATE VEGAS. It is the opposite of my happy place. It’s people and noise and tacky and smoke and just basically things I don’t enjoy. So I started digging into possible day trips, especially since I’ve made a commitment to explore the U.S.’s natural beauty more. And as soon as I found Valley of Fire I was hooked—I decided it was going to happen no matter what.
Something else I never realized: the view flying into Vegas is amazing! How did I not know that before?!
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So I’m here to tell you that Valley of Fire State Park is a total Nevada gem and the best Vegas day trip you can take…and to both inspire you and give you the details you need to know for an awesome visit.
Why is Valley of Fire the best Vegas day trip?
It’s so easy, and super flexible!! I’d intended it to be a true day trip, leaving early-ish in the morning and getting back late afternoon or early evening. Our family plans changed, though, so it was 2:00pm by the time my uncle and I grabbed the rental car and headed out. You have to be out of the park by sunset, which was at 5:30 at the time. It’s an hour drive each way so we only really had about two hours at the park, and we still felt like we saw and did SO MUCH.
I felt like we’d visited a mini Bryce Canyon or something similar. It’s very doable in a short time, as the park is not very large (in terms of driving distance).
I’ve included some detailed tips at the bottom of the post. The drive itself is super easy, mostly flat highway. Do make sure you have enough gas, as there are only a few gas stations along the highway. The ranger will give you a brochure with a really simple and easy to read map in it when you pay your entrance fee. You can check trail conditions, hours, and more at the official Nevada State Parks website.
Entering Valley of Fire State Park
Assuming you’re coming from Vegas, you’ll enter the park from I-15, driving along the Valley of Fire Highway for a few miles before reaching the West Entrance Gate. The drive into the park is really pretty, before you even get to the entrance gate or visitor’s center. We had snow, which was unusual. There are lots of places to stop off, but it gets EVEN prettier once you’re in the park, so make sure you don’t waste too much time stopping early on.
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One of the things I found really funny was these signs that told us about the heat warning for that day. It can get super hot in Valley of Fire, dangerously so. If you’re visiting in the summer you need to be prepared with lots of water and not hike in the heat of the day. But on the particular day we were visiting, it had snowed the day before—IN VEGAS—and so the sign with traces of snow behind it made me giggle.
We paid the $10 entrance fee (per vehicle) and drove through, then ended up stopping only a few feet down the road inside the park. These craggy red-orange cliffs just rise out of nowhere, and we couldn’t resist snapping a few pictures.
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The first real site is the Beehives, and we did stop there for a few minutes. They’re these odd-shaped, somewhat bulbous orange rocks with a pattern kind of etched in them. I’ll be honest and say they look more like UFOs to me 🙂 We only spent a couple minutes here and then moved on, since we were short on time.
We passed up the Petrified Logs and didn’t stop at the Valley of Fire Visitor’s Center, but hung a left onto what I believe is Mouse Tank Road (also White Domes Road). We skipped Mouse Tank Trail as well due to time, and because I’d heard it was a little lackluster compared to the other trails.
Rainbow Vista Trail
Our first major stop was Rainbow Vista Trail, and we did hike the entire trail. I didn’t check the time before we left, but it had to have taken us under an hour total (including tons of photo stops) given how little time we had overall. With only a few small exceptions, this trail is pretty flat and easy (though the sand can pull you down a bit).
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This hike was just absolutely beautiful…clear cool air, silence, and we only met a few other people along the trail. It was just the balm my introvert soul needed after the noise and smoke and crowds of Vegas.
One thing I was obsessed with was all the different colors in the park. You kind of think, well, desert…sure, there will be different shades of browns and reds, but that’s about it, right?? But there were so many different shades of greens, the silvery gray-green of the brush, the different reds and purples of the far-off mountains, and that BLUE SKY. I was so happy we ended up having a nice day, because the blue sky really made all the other colors pop.
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Finally we hit the trail end, which overlooks Fire Canyon. It’s hard to show the perspective and depth…not like it’s the Grand Canyon or anything, but it still is DEEP! I wouldn’t want to fall in, let’s just say that 🙂
Knowing our time was starting to run out, we headed back toward the car. I was just trucking along when my uncle put his arm out to hold me back and motioned me to be quiet…there was a big horn sheep (or at least so my research tells me) just trotting along and eventually climbing up the sheer side of a giant cliff.
THEN HE WENT ALL LION KING ON US. (Like this adorable ibex in Israel.)
It was super cool. Eventually we made it back to the car and on to our next stop. From here, you have two options…you can go ahead and snag your must-have photo of the hilly Valley of Fire road, or you can head on to Fire Wave Canyon. I’d use traffic and the light to dictate which you do. For us, I was worried we’d lose the light so we did the road pic first.
The iconic Valley of Fire road photo
Right before or after Rainbow Vista is a logical time to get that iconic photo of the road, OR on your way out of the park. If you’re in the Rainbow Vista Trail parking lot, turn left and head down the hill. The road bends to the right and begins to descend into the canyon.
Right after the bend there’s a gravel pull-off big enough for just one or two cars, on the right side of the road. Park here, climb the rock, and get your pic. What I learned is that there are actually two of these little pull-offs, and the SECOND one was my favorite.
It was getting REALLY late at this point, so we turned back around (going past Rainbow Vista Trail again) and then drove out to Fire Wave.
Fire Wave Trail and Pastel Canyon
This part of the drive was my favorite part of Valley of Fire, from Rainbow Vista to Fire Wave. So open and pretty, and the light was perfect. Once we arrived and parked at Wave #3, it was practically already sunset so we mostly just walked around a bit and tried to capture the gorgeous soft golden and pink light.
We wanted to find Pink Canyon (also called Pastel Canyon), but even though I tried to follow the instructions we didn’t quite get there. Not sure what I missed.
Regardless, this view doesn’t suck…
We walked back across the road and then decided to do just a bit of Fire Wave Trail. But we had to turn around after about 10 minutes so we didn’t end up getting a ticket for being in the park after sunset (not to mention turn an ankle walking at dusk).
If you were going to do the whole hike, it’s about 1.5 miles—assume 1-2 hours, but this one is very exposed in the summer so be very careful about the heat. It’s supposed to be a pretty easy hike…you hike past some rock formations on a sand trail, then over stacked rocks til you get to wave (which has stripes of red and white stone). The trail can be hard to find at times, so watch for various subtle markers.
You’re supposed to be out of the park at sunset, and they do enforce that. We saw rangers stopping people with their flashing lights on. We made a quick bathroom stop at the Visitor’s Center, then headed back toward Vegas as the sky lit up with the most gorgeous fiery sunset, as the sunset went from soft yellows and pinks to a totally fiery red, offset by mellowed purple mountains. That sunset definitely lived up to the “Valley of Fire” moniker.
What we didn’t have time to see and do:
- Petrified Logs
- Mouse Tank Trail
- Valley of Fire Wave Hike – I was bummed about this most of all
- The *real* Pastel Canyon – I wish I’d found the right one, but what we saw was gorgeous
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