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I don’t think I’ve ever been somewhere more appropriately named than Valley of Fire State Park.
As the sun reflected off red Aztec Sandstone, Nevada’s oldest state park glowed in warm light, the surrounding rocky outcrops resembling huge masses of burning embers.
The landscape instantly grabbed my interest and held tight throughout the entirety of our half-day visit to Valley of Fire State Park. Whether we were hiking, driving, or visiting one-of-a-kind rock formations, Valley of Fire’s scenery had me mesmerized, feeling like I was looking at another planet and not hardened sand dunes more than 150 million years old.
The fiery terrain energized me and I was motivated to make the most of our short day trip to Valley of Fire State Park.
Visiting Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada
There are so many great things to see in Valley of Fire of State Park that at first I thought half a day wouldn’t be enough time. It turns out that you can experience much of what the park has to offer in only a few hours.
The points of interest in Valley of Fire are along two main roads, so if you just want to do a scenic drive through the park, you’ll pass by many of the notable sites.
However, to truly get to know the area, we recommend doing a few hikes in Valley of Fire State Park. Most of the trails are not too long or difficult, so it was easy to complete some of Valley of Fire’s best hikes in an afternoon.
Although it would have been nice to spend more than half a day in Valley of Fire State Park, it’s still worth visiting if you’re short on time.
What to See and Do in Valley of Fire in Half a Day- The Best Hikes and Scenic Spots
Since we were coming from Zion National Park, we arrived at the east entrance. Our sightseeing in Valley of Fire primarily focused on the scenic White Domes Road, but we also made one stop on the Valley of Fire Highway, which links the east and west entrances.
Here’s a look at how we spent an afternoon in Valley of Fire State Park. We were so impressed with the hikes and sites we chose, that we consider them all must-see spots in Valley of Fire during a short visit.
The first attraction in Valley of Fire State Park we visited was Elephant Rock. The name describes it pretty well and you don’t have to use any imagination to see that it’s an elephant shaped rock formation.
Elephant Rock is considered to be the most attractive feature in Valley of Fire of State Park and I’d have to agree. The large formation looks just like an elephant slowly roaming across the rough desert landscape.
I had so much fun photographing Elephant Rock from different angles and levels, all the while wondering how long it took for erosion to sculpt this rocky masterpiece, and how long it will remain as it looks today. The “trunk” looks quite delicate and we felt totally justified in yelling at some people who started to climb on it for a photo opportunity.
There’s a short hiking trail that loops around Elephant Rock showcasing both the formation and surrounding petrified sand dunes. Since we only had half a day in Valley of Fire State Park, we opted to walk only a portion of the route so we’d have more time to enjoy some longer hiking trails in Valley of Fire.
Details: Elephant Rock is located directly on the Valley of Fire Highway, near the park’s east entrance. Even though you can see Elephant Rock from the highway, it’s best to park in the nearby lot and follow the trail closest to the road for quick access and up-close views of the formation. The entire Elephant Rock loop is 1.9 km/1.2 mi and the terrain is sandy.
Balancing Rock is located near the Visitor Centre and was worth walking over to after we picked up some information about Valley of Fire State Park.
Much like Elephant Rock, the name says it all and once again I wondered how long until forces of nature change this rock formation forever. The boulder that’s balancing on top looks as though it could roll down at any moment!
We stopped short of walking around to the rock’s west side and later discovered, as we were driving past on White Domes Road, that Balancing Rock looks best from the west. We should have stopped to take a picture!
Details: Balancing Rock is located right by the Visitor Centre, near the junction of Valley of Fire Highway and White Domes Road (also called Mouse’s Tank Road). There’s a short trail that leads to it from the centre.
Fire Wave Trail
Fire Wave Trail is one of the most popular hikes in Valley of Fire State Park thanks to its colourful sandstone vista.
The out and back trail starts off by approaching a dramatic outcrop, called Gibraltar Rock, looming above the landscape. While not the main attraction of this trail, Gibraltar Rock was my favourite formation along the route.
Just past Gibraltar Rock, the sandy trail disappears into smooth sandstone, the route now loosely marked by piles of stones and metal posts.
While traversing across the slickrock, it’s easy to become fascinated by the ribbons of orange and beige sandstone. All the leading lines were a photographer’s dream and I happily took photo after photo of this intriguing landscape.
At the end of the route is a wonderful panoramic view and the trail’s namesake, Fire Wave. At the time, we were unaware that Fire Wave was actually a rock formation and not a name for the general area we just hiked.
This lack of knowledge meant that we didn’t walk down to Fire Wave to get an up-close view of its curving stripes and smooth curves. I thought it was just another rock people were crawling all over, but should have clued in knowing how people always feel the need to stand directly on the main attraction of a place.
Even though we only admired Fire Wave from afar, I feel satisfied knowing this hike is as much about the surrounding landscape as it is the destination. The striking scenery on Fire Wave Trail makes it one of the best places to see in Valley of Fire State Park!
Details: Fire Wave Trail is located at Parking Lot #3 on White Domes Road. The hike is 2.4 km/1.5 mi round trip and takes 45 minutes to an hour to complete. I don’t recommend doing this hike on hot days since there is no shade.
White Domes Trail
White Domes Loop is one of the most beautiful places to go hiking in Valley of Fire State Park. The landscape looks out of this world, with huge rock formations of various shapes, textures, and colours.
Soon after starting the hike, there’s an extraordinary view of domes and ridges framing the desert floor. The trail descends into this colourful landscape via a rocky path wedged between tall sandstone formations.
The rest of the trail is varied with ever-changing scenery including the remains of an old film set, a slot canyon, dome-shaped formations, and distant ridges of red sandstone. There’s a lot of beauty packed into this short hike, so it’s a must-do during a half-day in Valley of Fire State Park.
Read more: Hiking White Domes Trail
Details: White Domes Loop is located at the end of White Domes Road. The loop is 1.8 km/1.1 mi and takes about 30 minutes to complete. The trail is a mix of sand, rock, and soil.
Mouse’s Tank Trail (Petroglyph Canyon)
The hike through Petroglyph Canyon to Mouse’s Tank is a great way to discover the human history of Valley of Fire State Park.
Along the trail are several collections of ancient petroglyphs carved into the rock faces. This Native American rock art dates back 2,500 years and conveys human figures, animals, and other symbols. The earliest petroglyphs in Valley of Fire State Park were carved by the Basketmaker culture and later works were left by Ancestral Puebloans who lived nearby.
The petroglyphs were etched into desert varnish, a black layer of rock on top of the sandstone, so this dark coating is a good indication of where you can find petroglyphs. We saw petroglyphs representing sheep, hunting tools, actions, directions, and weather.
While the highlight of this trail is the rock art, the final destination has an interesting history as well. Mouse’s Tank is a natural rainwater collection pool that gets its name from a renegade Paiute called “Little Mouse”. According to local legend, this canyon was one of his favourite hideouts until a posse found and shot him for refusing to surrender for his alleged crimes in the 1890’s.
Details: Petroglyph Canyon/Mouse’s Tank Trail is located on White Domes Road. The sandy, out and back trail is 1.1 km/0.7 miles and takes about 15 minutes to hike, but longer if you stop to admire the petroglyphs.
Final Thoughts About Our Day Trip to Valley of Fire State Park
I absolutely loved Valley of Fire State Park and was really glad we included it on our southwest road trip itinerary. It was so visually engaging with all the rock formations, mineral patterns, and petroglyphs, that I went overboard with the amount of photos I took.
Even though we only had a short visit, I feel like an afternoon was enough time to visit many of the best places in Valley of Fire State Park. Although we had a thorough introduction to Valley of Fire, I would definitely go back to explore the park more in-depth.
Interesting Facts About Valley of Fire State Park
During our visit we learned some interesting facts about Valley of Fire State Park:
- Valley of Fire State Park covers over 40,000 acres.
- Valley of Fire became Nevada’s first state park when it was officially designated in 1935.
- The name Valley of Fire was coined in the 1920s when a AAA official travelling through the area at sunset remarked that it looked like it was on fire.
- Several movies were filmed in Valley of Fire State Park including scenes from The Professionals (1966), Total Recall (1990), Star Trek Generations (1994), and Fools Rush In (1997).
Pictures of Valley of Fire State Park
I took way too many photos of Valley of Fire State Park, so here are a few more for you to enjoy!
Tips for Visiting Valley of Fire State Park
Location: Valley of Fire State Park is located in southeast Nevada, 26 km/16 mi from the town of Overton and 80 km/50 mi from Las Vegas.
Getting There: Valley of Fire can easily be visited as a day trip from Las Vegas. Go north on I-15 then take exit 75 onto Valley of Fire Highway. Drive time from Las Vegas to the Valley of Fire Visitor Centre is about an hour.
- If coming from Zion National Park (Springdale) in Utah, go west on UT- 9 to I-15 S. Go south west on I-15 to exit 93, then follow NV-169 south to Valley of Fire Highway. Drive time from Springdale to Valley of Fire Visitor Centre is about 2.5 hours.
Admission Fees: Entrance to Valley of Fire costs $10 per vehicle.
Park Hours: Valley of Fire is open from sunrise to sunset.
Visitor Information: The Visitor Centre is located at the junction of Valley of Fire Highway and White Domes Road (also called Mouse’s Tank Road). It’s open from 8:30 am- 4:30 pm and has exhibits about the park’s geology, ecology, and history.
Picnic Areas: There are shaded day use/picnic areas and restrooms at White Domes, Mouse’s Tank trailhead, the Cabins, Seven Sisters, and Atlatl Rock. The White Domes day use area is most popular, so parking and picnic tables fill up quickly.
Climate/ Weather: Temperatures in Valley of Fire in the summer usually exceed 38˚C/100˚F and may reach 49˚C/120˚F. Winter temperatures range from freezing to 24˚C/75˚F. We visited in the winter and were comfortable.
Accommodations Near Valley of Fire State Park
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