It’s hard to believe that just outside Las Vegas a place like this could exist. Some people call it out of the world, some call it mars, some even call it ‘nature’s art’. Whatever they name-it does not matter, because everyone has one word to describe this place ‘outstanding’. The first time I visited this place, I drove during the night. The moment I woke up, one word came out from my mouth ‘wow’. I saw the sun rising through this epic red rock formation, it looked like the rocks are on fire. They really named it right ‘Valley of fire’. This 40,000-acre state park is renowned for its bright red Aztec sandstone outcrops nestled in gray and tan limestone. Not only that, this park has ancient petroglyphs, petrified trees which date back more than 2000 years.
How you want to explore the park really depends on your choice. You can spend one or two hours just driving through the park, stopping only at the scenic overlooks and here and there. This could be the easiest way to enjoy the beauty of the landscape. You don’t even need to come out of your car, the drive simply is amazing specially the curvy Mouse’s Tank Road that exhibits the beautiful vistas of the valley of fire state park. But if you want to explore a little bit more than that, you may need a whole day. In our case, we spent the night and then a whole day exploring the state park. We hiked a few of the places, explored a few of the attractions and took stoppage wherever we want.
Elephant Rock: This arch rock formation near the east entrance of the park resembles the trunk of an elephant. Though the rock is next to the road, parking is limited on the valley of fire road. So, you can park in the nearby parking lot and walk to reach the formation.
Arch rock: The form of the arch rock that we see now is a result of the strong wind and rain that wash away the materials holding the sand grains together. Climbing is strictly prohibited on this beautiful fragile structure. It’s a must-see spot and if you want to see more interesting rock formation like arch rock and piano rock, there is a two-mile scenic loop.
Fire wave: If you search for the picture of valley of fire state park, you will probably see hundreds of picture of fire wave. This spot is one of the most photographed one in the whole state park where you can see a series of wave-like rings in the red and white sandstone. If you have only time for one hike, go for this 1.5-mile (round trip) hike. I am sure you will be amazed by the beauty of this colorful vistas.
White dome: This short one mile hike will lead you to the incredible dome like formation made of white sandstone. The white formation contrast to the red sandstone has created a stunning scenic view exhibiting the beautiful color combination. This trail leads you to the beautiful desert vistas, a slot canyon, caves, windows and a historic movie set.
Rainbow vista: This one-mile (round trip) hike leads to a panoramic view of multicolored sandstone. The best part of this hike is the viewpoint where you climb up on a large hill that reveals a vast area of multicolored rocks stretching for many miles northbound.
Pink Canyon: Pink Canyon or the pastel canyon is one of the less explored, hidden spots of the park. The place literally owns its name and it is one of the beautiful explored with no direction or no mark on the trailhead. The GPS coordinate of this place: 36o28’47” N, 114o31’36” W. From the parking lot, head east into the canyon. It’s a very short walk from the parking spot but there is a connecting trail that leads you to the fire wave.
Petroglyph: If you want to explore the prehistoric petroglyph, you should go for Atlatl Rock hike (0.1 miles round trip) or Mouse’ Tank Hike (0.7 miles round trip). Both of these hikes are short and easily accessible. The later one has petroglyphs and several natural water tanks amidst the sandstone formation.
There are some other attractions such as
- The beehives (located near the group are entrance of the state park)
- Petrified logs (there are two interpretive trails that leads to petrified logs)
- Balanced rock (From the visitor center, a very short hike to the viewpoint)
- Seven sisters (a group of seven tall, red, eroded boulders surrounded by sandy desert)
You can find the details in the state park website. If you are planning to hike, remember this place is wide open providing a little to no shade along the way. So, bring enough water, snacks, sunscreen, hat and whatever you feel necessary. While visiting the park, please be mindful about the structure and the rock formation.
At a glance:
Best time to visit: Fall, Winter and Spring. Check the weather before you plan to visit.
Hours: open daily from sunrise to sunset.
Entrance fee: 10 usd (as of 2020).
Camping: two campgrounds with total 72 units, all of them first come first served. RV sites are also available.
Group areas: three group areas that can accommodate 45 people, available for overnight camping and picnicking, reservation required.
Park website: Valley of Fire State Park | State Parks (nv.gov)