11 Must-Do Activities in Valley of Fire State Park
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Valley of Fire State Park is a stunning landscape in the middle of the Nevada desert. It’s most known for vibrant red rock formations that’ll make you feel like you’re on another planet. With day hikes, wildlife, and plenty of photo opportunities, there’s something for everyone. Here are some of the top things to see and do!
Valley of Fire is Nevada’s first state park. It’s also one of the state’s most-visited destinations. I recently spent a couple of days exploring the park and it was incredible.
Wind and rain sculpted these Aztec sandstone formations over millions of years. Now, bighorn sheep, ancient petroglyphs, wildflowers, and spectacular hikes fill the area!
Where is Valley of Fire State Park?
Valley of Fire State Park is about 55 miles northeast of Las Vegas, Nevada. It takes about an hour to get to the visitor’s center by car.
I live in Utah, and while spending some time hiking in St. George, I made the trip down to the Valley of Fire from there. Valley of Fire is about 93 miles southwest of St. George, Utah and the drive took us about 1.5 hours.
Facilities and Hours
Valley of Fire State Park is open all year round. The park is open from 8 am to sunset daily. You must be out of the park by sunset (unless you’re camping) so make sure you plan for that. This seems to be a very strict rule.
The Visitor Center is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. In the visitors center, you’ll find exhibits on the geology and history of the park.
Important Note: Nevada States Parks are rolling out a timed entry system sometime in 2023. I visited in March 2023 and the system was not yet implemented. I was unable to get any information on when it will be. If this goes into effect, you’ll need to pre-schedule your entry time in advance.
Check out the State Park map for reference and planning as you read on.
When to Visit the Valley of Fire
While the park is open year-round, certain times of the year are better than others. I would recommend visiting the park in the Spring or the Fall.
In the Spring and Fall, temperatures are mild and days are long enough for you to explore all the trails. For example, in April, the average high is 79°F and the average low is 55°F.
Winter is also a nice time to visit the Valley of Fire, but the days are much shorter and the temperatures can dip below freezing in the evenings. Remember, you have to be out of the park by sunset, so the shorter days might limit how much you can see and do. The Winter months are the least crowded.
I would definitely avoid visiting in the summertime. The temperature can get hot. The average high in July is 106°F – yikes!
There’s hardly any shade and being outside and hiking in these temperatures is intense. In fact, one of my favorite trails in the park, the Fire Wave/Seven Wonders Loop, closes from June 1st through September 30th due to high temperatures.
I visited the park in March and the weather was perfect – not too hot for hiking during the day, and not too cold for camping at night. The best part? It was not crowded!
Top Things to Do in Valley of Fire State Park
Between the red sandstone formations, colorful landscapes, hikes, wildlife, and ancient petroglyphs, there’s so much to see and do in Valley of Fire State Park.
During my time in the park, I went on all the hikes, camped under the stars, and had fun taking photos of the features and scenic viewpoints. Here are the top things to check out on your visit!
#1 Take a Scenic Drive
Since the landscape is so stunning, one of the best things to do in the park is a scenic drive!
My favorite part of the park is White Domes Road (also known as Mouse’s Tank Road on Google Maps). Start at the Visitors Center and drive to the White Dome Loop parking lot at the end. This is about 11 miles out and back.
Stop along the way at all the scenic parking lots. This drive is unbelievable. I live in Utah and see a lot of red rock and desert landscapes, but this area was different. The colors in the rock are so beautiful. Take it all in and enjoy the drive.
Keep your eyes open for wildlife like desert bighorn sheep and lizards!
#2 Camp in Valley of Fire State Park
Camping in Valley of Fire State Park is the way to experience the park at night and get a glimpse of the star-studded night sky!
While all other park visitors must be out of the park by sunset, you can enjoy the quiet evening hours at camp.
There are two campgrounds in the park with a total of 72 sites. Each campsite has a fire pit, water, and a picnic table. RV Camping and showers are available in Atlatl Rock Campground, which is the larger campground.
After a day of exploring, we stayed at the smaller Arch Rock Campground and loved it. It was a little quieter and the campsite spaces are more spread out. We enjoyed watching the sunset and having a fire after a full day of hiking.
Currently, all campsites are first-come, first-served. If you want to camp, plan on getting to the park early to snag a spot. We went mid-week and got a nice campsite, but on the weekends, I think things fill up quickly.
Valley of Fire is in the middle of nowhere, which means there’s very little light pollution and you can see so many stars on a clear night.
#3 See the Fire Wave
The Fire Wave is the most notable landmark in Valley of Fire State Park, resembling the popular Wave hike in Arizona but with easier accessibility as no permit is required.
The Fire Wave is a colorful sandstone rock formation that looks very wave-like.
Keep in mind that due to extreme temperatures, this area closes from June 1st through September 30th.
You cannot see the Fire Wave from the road. You do need to hike to it and the shortest way is a 1.5-mile out-and-back hike. More on Valley of Fire hikes below.
If you could only see one thing in the park, I would make it the Five Wave!
#4 See the Historic Cabins
These historic cabins were built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). They are easy to access and I loved to imagine what it would be like to wake up in those cabins with such an incredible view! This can be a quick stop as you’re driving along the Valley of Fire Road.
#5 Landscape Photography
As photographers, Nick and I love taking photos on our adventures! We had so much fun with the landscape in Valley of Fire, especially since we got to see the sunrise and sunset.
The landscape seems to go on forever and the different colors throughout the day are fun to see.
Where are the best photo spots in Valley of Fire State Park?
From wave-like rock formations to winding roads and hidden canyons, there are plenty of unique photo opportunities!
My favorite area is definitely the drive along White Domes Road (aka Mouse’s Tank Road) and any of the hikes or viewpoints that branch off from there.
When you look up images of Valley of Fire State Park, photos of Mouse’s Tank Road weaving through the landscape often come up. (pictured above)
The Fire Wave is another popular photo spot. Head out in the early morning for the least crowds and the best light for photos! Sunset is also great for photos but tends to be a little more crowded.
#6 Walk through a Slot Canyon
Since I live in Utah, I love a good slot canyon! The slot canyons in Valley of Fire State Park are easy to access and a fun experience, especially if you’ve never been in a slot canyon before.
A slot canyon is a narrow channel with tall rock walls on either side that eroded into the sandstone. They are much taller than they are wide and it can be fun squeezing between the slot canyon!
There’s a nice slot canyon along the White Domes Loop hike, which is one of my favorite hikes in the park.
Important Note: You should always check the weather before you hike into a slot canyon in the desert. Flash floods are a real concern and warnings need to be taken seriously. You can check with the visitor’s center before your hike for the most accurate information and any current warnings.
#7 Climb the stairs to see Atlatl Rock up close
To see Atlatl Rock you climb up the steep staircase to a viewing platform. This activity won’t take you long, but it’s definitely worth the stop. The petroglyphs are thought to be more than 2,000 years old. I can’t believe that after all those years, they’re still there.
The Atlatl Rock panel features a depiction of a tool used before the bow and arrow, the atlatl.
#8 Take a Hike
The hiking in Valley of Fire exceeded my expectations. While many of the trails are very short, the views are incredible. My two favorite trails are the White Domes Loop Trail and the Fire Wave/Seven Wonders Loop.
It’s best to avoid the mid-day sun and instead plan your hikes for early morning. There is very little shade on the hikes and the sun on the sandstone can get intense. See below for more trail details from my favorite hikes in the park.
#9 See Petroglyphs
Petroglyphs are ancient carvings on rocks, and the Valley of Fire has several places where you can see them. You can see them at Atlatl Rock mentioned above, and along the Mouse’s Tank trail.
The Mouse’s Tank is an easy walk from the car. The Basketmaker culture carved the petroglyphs into the rocks about 2,500 years ago, followed later by the Early Pueblo culture. Mouse’s Tank is a rock formation that’s said to have been a watering hole for wild animals centuries ago. Here I saw petroglyphs depicting bighorn sheep and other animals.
#10 Look for Bighorn Sheep
I love Bighorn sheep. They are one of my favorite animals and believe it or not, it’s very common to see them in Valley of Fire State Park!
We first saw them eating along the road. Then, the following morning, we saw a ram walk right through our campground! This was definitely a highlight of my trip!
The ram sat on the red rock overlooking the campground for over an hour and we got to watch him while we made coffee and breakfast. Bring binoculars if you have them and be on the lookout for the Bighorn sheep as you’re driving and hiking.
While we did see sheep in the middle of the day, generally animals are more active in the early morning and evening hours, so get out then for your best chance at spotting one.
#11 Check out Elephant Rock
Elephant Rock is a rock formation that looks like an elephant’s head. Can you see it in the photo above? The walk to the viewpoint is only 0.2 miles roundtrip from the parking lot, so it’s a quick stop close to the East Entrance.
We also did the Elephant Rock Loop hike which was beautiful and fun, but not my favorite hike in the park. See more on my favorite hikes below!
Top 3 Valley of Fire Hikes
As I mentioned above, there are some great hikes in the Valley of Fire! The maintained hikes in the park are all pretty short and easy.
Here are my top three hikes in the park:
1. Fire Wave/Seven Wonders Loop
This is the most popular trail in the park and it did not disappoint! I did the entire loop starting at P3 and hiking in a counterclockwise direction from the Seven Wonders to the Fire Wave. The loop is about 1.8 miles in total and not too challenging.
You’ll start by hiking down into a canyon, cross the road halfway, and then hike up into the Fire Wave and back to the P3 parking area. The trail was easy to navigate and beautiful the entire time. I stopped to take so many photos. We hit one spot with a lot of water but were able to climb up and around to avoid it.
Along this loop hike, you’ll also get to hike through the famous Pink Canyon, so if you have the time and you like to hike, I would do the full loop.
I recommend hiking this trail early in the morning to beat the crowds and the heat. Carry plenty of water and all your hiking essentials.
If you don’t want to hike the entire loop, you can see the Fire Wave as an out-and-back hike. Again, start at the P3 parking area and hike down to the Fire Wave. The out-and-back to the Fire Wave is 1.5 miles in total.
2. White Domes Loop
The White Domes Loop is only 1.1 miles, but in that distance, you’ll see a lot of incredible views! You even get to walk through a slot canyon. You can hike in either direction, but I did this trail clockwise. You’ll start hiking in the sand and then make a descent into the canyon.
The descent was one of my favorite parts! Then, you walk through a short slot canyon before you start to hike up and out of the canyon and back to the car.
3. Rainbow Vista
Lastly, we have the Rainbow Vista Trail. This is the shortest and easiest trail on my list so if you’re looking for a short walk that’s mostly flat, this trail is for you! This trail is only 1 mile in total and it leads to a nice colorful viewpoint.
Can you visit Valley of Fire on a day trip from Las Vegas?
Yes! Since the park is only about 1 hour from Las Vegas, it’s very reasonable to visit Valley of Fire on a day trip. If you get an early start, you can pack a lot into a day, but if you have more time to spare, consider spending a night camping in the park as I did.
If you don’t have your own vehicle, it’s also possible to take a tour into the park from Las Vegas.
How to Spend a Day in Valley of Fire State Park
If you only have one day in the park, here’s what I would do:
In the Morning
Get into the park right when it opens at 8 am and do the Fire Wave/Seven Wonders Loop hike. Take your time hiking because this area is so beautiful and unique. This is the top activity in the park.
After the hike, continue driving to the end of White Domes Road to the parking lot. There you’ll find picnic tables to relax and have a nice lunch or snack. If you’re still up for a little more hiking, hike the White Domes Loop.
In the Afternoon
Now you can start the drive back towards the visitors center stopping at all the parking areas and viewpoints that jump out at you.
Be on the lookout for Bighorn sheep as you drive because they’re very common in the park and so cool to see!
Along the drive back, stop at Mouse’s Tank to see the petroglyphs. You don’t need to walk far from the car before you start to see them on the red rock walls!
Next, stop at the Visitors Center for the bathrooms, water refills, and a look around the visitors center. There are some cool displays and lots of interesting information about the land and the history of the park.
They also have bird feeders out back and it was nice to watch and listen to the birds for a few minutes.
The park has two entrances the East entrance and the West entrance. If you’re coming from Las Vegas, you’ll enter and exit through the West entrance.
Heading in this direction, enjoy the drive and continue to look out for the Bighorn Sheep. Along the drive, stop at Atlatl Rock and climb the stairs to see the petroglyphs and then Arch Rock which is viewable from the road.
The Petrified Logs are cool to see as remnants of an ancient forest, but they’re encased in an ugly fence and hard to look at and enjoy.
Lastly, you can stop at the Beehives Rock Formations for some photos before heading out of the West Entrance.
If you’re heading in and out of the East Entrance, (or want to drive and check it out) I would stop at the Historic Cabins to have a look around. This is another cool photo spot as the surrounding landscape is unique!
Lastly, make a quick stop at Elephant Rock on your way out of the East Entrance.
My Top Picks in Valley of Fire State Park
If you don’t have a lot of time, these are the top 3 things I would do.
- Fire Wave/Seven Wonders Loop Hike
- Slot Canyon in White Domes Loop Hike
- Atlatl Rock
Additional Valley of Fire Travel Tips
- Summer highs often exceed 100°F. There is very little shade. You must make sure you stay hydrated with water and electrolytes.
- Always hike prepared with your hiking essentials. Too often people enter the desert unprepared because either they don’t know any better, or they think it’s “a short hike”. Be prepared with the right clothing and gear. Check the weather, watch out for any alerts (especially if you’re hiking in a slot canyon), and take good care of yourself as certain areas of the park are remote.
- Remember that you must be out of the park by sunset so plan your activities with that in mind.
- Pack enough food and snacks for the day. There are very few resources within the park, so plan ahead and pack a nice lunch to enjoy at one of the many beautiful picnic areas.
So, is Valley of Fire Worth Seeing?
I’d have to say YES! I had an amazing time exploring Valley of Fire State Park. Since I live in Utah and see desert landscapes all the time, I thought the park would be similar, but it was unique and I’m glad I went. I recommend a visit if you’re in the area.
From the incredible sandstone formations to the hidden petroglyphs and Bighorn sheep, there are so many things to experience.
Hiking and getting to see a huge ram in the morning at camp were my favorite parts!
Whether you’re looking for a short hike or a full-day adventure, Valley of Fire has something for everyone. Enjoy!