Valley of Fire State Park is just one hour from Las Vegas by road. It therefore makes for the perfect day trip from Vegas. Read on to discover what to see and do in Valley of Fire in one day!
The first state park to be established in the state of Nevada, all the way back in 1935, Valley of Fire is a place of astonishing beauty. If you are a nature lover, outdoor enthusiast, or landscape photographer, you’ll especially love your visit to this park. Even if you do nothing other than just drive through the park, enjoying the beautiful vistas, it’s still worth the drive from Vegas!
VALLEY OF FIRE: THE BEST THINGS TO SEE AND DO IN ONE DAY
Valley of Fire gets its name from the bright red Aztec sandstone formations you see everywhere in the park. When bathed in sunlight, the rocks literally look like they are on fire! The sandstone formations at Valley of Fire were created more than 150 million years ago. While red is the predominant rock color in the park, you’ll see shades ranging from off-white to tan and yellow apart from shades of pink, red, and rust.
At 40,000+ acres, the park offers a variety of activities, and also the opportunity to just relax in the wilderness, just a few miles from the bright lights of Sin City. Our day at Valley of Fire was one of the highlights of our most recent trip to Las Vegas.
Here’s what to see and do at the Valley of Fire State Park on a one day visit:
#1 Drive the Scenic Valley of Fire Road through the Park
The road that links the west and east entrances to Valley of Fire State Park is designated a Nevada Scenic Byway. And with good reason! Every curve in the road opens up new “ooh-aah” vistas to admire. Get a map at the paybooth as you enter, so you will know where to stop along the way to explore points of interest.
The road is just under 25 miles end to end, but only 10 miles of it is actually within the park. Inside the park, the road traverses areas of some of the most colorful rock formations, dipping and curving through the landscape. With so much to see and explore, we started at 8.00 a.m. and didn’t hit the end until 5.00 p.m., just after sunset when we visited in late December.
Rainbow Vista is a scenic viewpoint where you should definitely stop. From here, you can see a panorama of multicolored rock that looks stunning. Valley of Fire Road is paved for its entire length.
#2 Admire Awesome Rock Formations
Although you will be awestruck by almost every rock formation in Valley of Fire, you should stop to take a closer look at the particularly stellar rocks marked on your map.
Near the west entrance to the park, stop to admire the Beehives. Can Nature really have created these perfect shapes? These rocks are stunning examples of a geologic phenomenon called cross-bedding, which creates those ringed layers you see.
Check out Arch Rock, with the delicate curve at the top formed by centuries of erosion. It’s just steps from the parking lot to view the fragile formation.
You can see Balanced Rock, another eye-catching formation, from the Visitor Center, but take the short walk to look at it up close.
Elephant Rock, near the Valley of Fire east entrance, is definitely a must-see. Park and make the short .25-mile trek to see the rock from the correct angle. Get behind the rock to take that perfect photo of Elephant Rock.
#3 View the Ancient Petroglyphs
Valley of Fire has been inhabited since ancient times. The Anasazi, who lived in the park eons ago, carved petroglyphs into the rock at Valley of Fire. During your day here, look for some of these ancient drawings at various places.
Near the west entrance, stop at Atlatl Rock: it’s one of the best places at Valley of Fire to see petroglyphs. Climb the steps to the top of the rock for an up close look. You’ll see drawings of ancient weapons, tools, trees, animals, and scenes of everyday life in those times.
But the top of the rock is not the only place to look for petroglyphs at this spot. Walk a few feet in either direction and look closely at the rock face: you’ll see lots of drawings, even higher up in the rock face!
At the Mouse’s Tank trailhead stop, a walk will lead you through Petroglyph Canyon, where you can see more fine examples of the ancient rock drawings.
#4 Hike the Fire Wave and White Domes Trails
Valley of Fire has a number of hiking trails of varying length and difficulty, but for a day trip, my top two choices are the Fire Wave and the White Domes trails.
If you enjoy hiking, you will love these two trails at Valley of Fire. Either is a great choice if you only wish to do one, but we did both and loved them both. I’d suggest hiking the Fire Wave early in the day, because there’s no shade. Another advantage to doing it early in the day is that you will probably be able get some photos without people in them.
The Fire Wave trail is an out and back trail a little over one mile in length. It’s a new trail, so if you don’t see it on the map, ask at the ticket booth or the Visitor Center. Start at parking lot #3 and walk down the sandy slope.
Walk around the huge red wall of rock you see in front of you, and you’ll come to a rock face that looks out onto the Fire Wave. The undulating striations in the red and tan rock are gorgeous: reminiscent of the Wave in Arizona. Only you don’t need to obain a permit for this one!
The White Domes trail offers a different but equally beautiful experience. It’s a one-mile loop that takes you through different scenery and even a short slot canyon. The trail ends at a viewpoint from where you can see the distant mountains and then returns you to the parking lot.
As you hike the White Domes trail, watch out for remnants of an old movie set from the film The Professionals. You’ll love hiking through the slot canyon, with the walls only a few feet apart in some places, almost blocking out the sky.
#5 Take Instagram-Worthy Photos!
Valley of Fire is a fabulous place to take photos that will make your social media feeds pop with color. From the time you enter till the time you leave, you’ll see great photo ops everywhere.
Some spots on the Valley of Fire Road are perfect for road photos, because you can see the black road winding through the red rocks and it looks absolutely gorgeous. Make sure there’s ample room to park off the road if you decide to make a quick stop for a photo, and obey park signs regarding parking.
The individual rock formations make wonderful subjects. I found that photographing the rocks in bright sunlight didn’t yield the best photos, so take your photos early or late in the day. The broader landscape also looks great in early or late light. Don’t miss the Rainbow Vista viewpoint on the scenic drive for great landscape photos. Close-ups of the striations and holes in the rocks also make for awesome photos.
And finally, if you are lucky and have clouds in the sky when you visit, stick around after sunset to capture those brilliant pinks and oranges in the sky, juxtaposed against the red of the rock. We didn’t have perfect conditions but my sunset photos still look good!
#6 Get Educated at the Visitor Center
For great exhibits on the geology, geography, and history of the Valley of Fire State Park and its surroundings, make a stop at the Visitor Center. It is located a ways into the park, and is open from 8.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. everyday. Restrooms and drinking water are available here, and rangers are available to answer questions.
You’ll find brochures, books, and souvenirs here. If you want to identify flora and fauna, browse for a book or brochure to help you. Look for Mojave Desert Wildflowers by Jon Mark Stewart, for beautiful photos and great information.
Sometimes, short indoor talks are offered at the front theater inside the Visitor Center, so you may want to see if one is being offered on the day you visit. You may also be able to join a short ranger-led hike if one is being offered when you visit. A one-hour hike to the Petrified Logs was being offered on the day we visited.
#7 Observe the Flora and Fauna in Valley of Fire
Valley of Fire is located in the Mojave desert. The vegetation you’ll see here is mainly creosote, and burrobush and brittlebush with their silver-gray leaves. You’ll also see lots of cactus. Spring brings lots of wildflowers, and is a particularly beautiful time to visit Valley of Fire.
Many of the fauna at Valley of Fire are nocturnal. During the day, you may spot bighorn sheep at Valley of Fire, smaller species such as ground squirrel or chuckwalla, or birds. Snakes are common in the park, so be watchful, especially during the warmer months.
TIPS FOR VISITING VALLEY OF FIRE
Here are some tips to help you plan and enjoy your visit to Valley of Fire:
Best Time to Visit
Avoid visiting in the summer. It’s the desert! Daytime teperatures can get up to 100-120 degrees Fahrenheit, and you’ll only be able to drive through in an air-conditioned car at best. Think winter, early spring, or late fall for a much more pleasant experience. We visited in very late December and daytime temperatures were in the 70s.
Fill up before you leave Las Vegas, if that’s where you are coming from. If you do need to fill near Valley of Fire, Overton, about eleven miles from the park, is your best bet.
FOOD AND DRINK
Carry fixings for a picnic lunch and snacks with you. We did see sandwiches for sale at the Visitor Center, but we enjoyed the food we brought from Vegas. There are several shaded picnic areas where you can relax over your lunch. We ate at the picnic area at Seven Sisters. Also carry plenty of drinking water. It’s important to stay hydrated through your day in the desert.
HAT, FOOTWEAR, SHADES, AND SUNSCREEN
I was glad I had taken along my wide-brimmed hat, because much of the park is unshaded! Make sure you also carry sunscreen, and sunglasses. Wear proper shoes if you plan to hike. You’ll be walking on sand, packed earth, or rock.
The park charges a modest entrance fee per vehicle. At the time of writing, the general entrance fee is $10.00 per vehicle.
The park is open everyday from sunrise to sunset, although the Visitor Center has specific hours: 8.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. There are camping facilities at the park if you plan to stay longer.
CELL PHONE RECEPTION
Cell phone reception is poor in most areas of the park. You may be able to get reception near the entrances.
Valley of Fire is a wilderness area. Follow all park regulations and guidelines for your safety! Obtain a safety brochure or get information at the Visitor Center.
IF YOU GO
Valley of Fire State Park
29450 Valley of Fire Hwy
Overton, NV 89040
Have you visited the Valley of Fire? If not, I hope you add it to the itinerary for your next visit to Las Vegas!
If you are looking for other day trips from Las Vegas you can do, read my post on 10 fabulous day trip destinations near Las Vegas. And if you are looking for things to do in Sin City that don’t involve gambling or partying, check out my list of 25 fun activities for a rocking time in Las Vegas!
MORE WONDERFUL STATE AND NATIONAL PARKS TO DISCOVER!
CALIFORNIA: The 7 Best Things to Do in Death Valley National Park
NEVADA: One Day in Valley of Fire State Park
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