Hiking Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada is one of the best nature escapes you can do in the state. This small park is big on features offering a variety of notable Instagram photo spots, great hikes for all ages as well as stunning views no matter where you turn. The diversity on offer here is spectacular. From canyons, petroglyphs and beautifully striped rock formations, this small park provides incredible opportunities for exploring.
While there are a great number of parks outside of Las Vegas, this one should be the top of your list to visit. We previously visited this park years ago on a quick jaunt from Las Vegas, but seeing it again with fresh eyes and a 10 year old gave us a new love and appreciation for the park.
7 Things to Know For Hiking Valley of Fire State Park
Hiking Valley of Fire State Park is one of the best things to do while visiting. There are numerous hiking trails that range from very short (think hop out of the car and potter a few steps!) to very long. While all of the established trails tend to be short, they are well worth your time and effort. Read on for our tips for hiking Valley of Fire State park.
Be Prepared for the Weather
The best time to visit Valley of Fire State Park is between October and April when the temperatures are cooler. Outside of these months, it can be very hot making even short hikes unbearable. If you can’t avoid the summer season, plan your hikes for early morning or later in the day. Most of the hikes do not offer much if any shade, so plan ahead with sun hats, sunglasses and plenty of sunscreen.
Valley of Fire is Dog Friendly
All of the trails in Valley of Fire allow dogs on a leash. Due to this, you do see quite a few people with dogs out and about. For the most part we didn’t have any issues with poop bags of poop on the trails. We love to see parks that include pets as well as pet owners who are responsible and clean up after their animals!
Park Hours are Strictly Enforced
The main part of the park is the section past the ranger station that heads out towards White Domes Trail and the majority of the park’s sights. I believe some call this the Valley of Fire highway. At sunset, the park rangers drive around with their lights flashing to get visitors out of this section of the park ASAP. Take note of this while planning your day. While this part of the park is the most spectacular for sunset, you can visit other areas outside of the park rangers gates that offer beautiful views throughout sunset.
Food & Water is Limited Within the Park
Other than inside the small shop at the ranger station, there is no food or water available within the park. There are fill up stations inside the front door of the Ranger Station that allows you to fill up water bottles. Use it! This is the dry desert and even in cooler temperatures you need to keep hydrated. I recommend always keeping at least 1 gallon of water per person with you in the car to refill your personal water bottles. During our visit, we kept this cooler full of ice and refilled with water from the Ranger station as needed.
Trails are Short But Can Feel Long
For the most part, the established trails in Valley of Fire State Park are quite short. That said, they often feel a lot longer than a regular trail due to sand and rocks. For example, the Rainbow Vista Trail is only 1 mile and it took us 40 minutes at a pretty steady clip whereas a normal 1 mail trail would take only 20 minutes.
Many of the established trails consist of sand which is tough to walk in. I heard a vlogger recording a story during our visit recommending people NOT wear hiking boots here due to the sand, but I wholeheartedly disagree. The sand and rocky paths are much easier to traverse in hiking boots or trail shoes of some type. Otherwise your sandals get filled with sand and small rocks making it difficult to walk.
Bighorn Sheep Are All Over
Even though this is a desert landscape and you might not think you will see any wildlife, this small park is actually teeming with animals. You just have to look carefully! There are bighorn sheep all over the park, however it is very easy to spend an entire day here without noticing them! Their camouflage blends in so well on the rocks that they can be right above your head and you may not even notice.
If you are on the hunt for big horn sheep, they like to hang around near the White Domes trail in the morning, Rainbow Vista Trail on the left side all day and also around the Visitor Center.
Spend More Than 1 Day at Valley of Fire
Even though this park is small and you can easily just spend one day here and see all the major sights, we highly recommend trying to snag a campsite or staying in nearby Las Vegas so that you can really enjoy all this park has to offer. On our last visit we spent one half day making sure to get sunset time and then arriving early the following day to get early morning/sunrise photos. Tip: Head to Elephant Rock for cool sunburst photos!
Other Details You Should Know
There is a $10 park entrance fee that is payable by credit card or cash at the entrance booth during opening hours. If you arrive outside of park hours, you will need to pay in cash. We recommend having cash handy regardless as the park has very inconsistent cellular/wifi services which can result in long lines when entering due to slow credit card machines.
For all of the main sights within the park there is ample parking, however note it does fill up on the weekends quite quickly. Rangers are quite adamant about not parking on the side of the road. I have not seen them give tickets, but you will see their flashing lights behind you when you attempt to pull off road. In some spaces that visitors have carved out, the rangers have installed large rocks to discourage parking. Please be mindful of proper places to park to ensure the safety and enjoyment of all visitors.
Cell service within the park is quite spotty. If you need to be in contact with friends during your visit, you might consider bringing walkie talkies that could work across large areas of the park. Otherwise, there are a few points you can get service somewhat reliably. We found with AT&T that we had servies at the White Domes Trailhead parking lot as well as points along the Old Arrowhead Road.
Top 3 Best Valley of Fire Hikes
There are so many great opportunities for hiking Valley of Fire State Park that we really recommend trying to schedule enough time to explore them all. Reasonably in 2 days you could explore most of the trails even at a leisurely pace. Below are our top picks.
White Domes Loop
The White Domes Loop is one of my favorite hikes at Valley of Fire. Clocking in at only 1.25 miles, it is not long, but it really does pack a lot into it. From the parking lot, you begin your hike in thick soft sand leading down to a few areas of rock scrambling. Don’t be afraid, this is not more than climbing down a few rocky “steps”. If I can do it, you can do it! The trail then leads you to an old movie production set before heading into the canyon. Here you will walk through a small slot canyon before getting to the other side where it all opens up offering plenty of places to explore. Even though this is a short trail, make time to explore the nooks and crannies and secret arches scattered around. The trail then meets up with the road before making its way back to the parking area.
Fire Wave Trail
The Fire Wave Trail is one of the most popular trails in the park due to the Instagram fame of the Fire Wave rock. While the rock is cool, the whole trail is actually quite fantastic. From the start, you again begin your 1.2 mile walk on soft sand before going down into the rocky plateau. Here you might lose the path a bit, but never fear, there are plenty of people around to follow.
This out and back trail takes you through stunning vistas to a huge rock plateau where you can climb and explore around the most famous landmark. But don’t stop there, keep going past the rock, either up into the green hilly section to the left or around the back to explore more. Most visitors stop at the rock, so you will have plenty of space to yourself if you carry on. Interestingly, this trail is not shown on the map below. However, it is past Rainbow Vista but before White Domes on the right hand side.
Rainbow Vista Trail
This was one of our last trails we hiked and good thing too as it is where we finally saw bighorn sheep! Another sand trail that meanders through the rocky canyons offering vistas of varying colors as you traverse down to the view point. This 1 mile trail will take about 1 hour even though it is not steep or difficult. There are a few spots where you will need to climb down/up a few rocks, but it is generally very easy and safe.
More Stops to Visit at Valley of Fire
While the above are our favorite trails to explore, that is not to say there are not a ton of other great places to stop and explore a bit. They just always count as actual hikes to be honest! Below are some of our favorite spots to get off the beaten path a bit to rock climb, search out caves and see petroglyphs.
Fire Cave/ Windstone Arch
When entering the park from the western entrance you will come up to a small dirt road that has sign saying “scenic road”. Take the left turn and head just a touch down the road to a small parking indent in the road. Jump out here and explore amazing sandstone formations to your heart’s content. Right on the road is the Fire Cave and Windstone Arch, but if you take time to explore, you will find so many cool arches and small caves with erosion type carvings inside. This was one of our favorite spots to play around and search for bighorn sheep!
Don’t miss seeing the cool petroglyphs at Atlatl Rock and at Mouse’s Tank Trail. These are super cool and so clear. My son had fun trying to recreate his own on his drawings. At Atlatl Rock you will have to climb up stairs to see the petroglyphs up close, but when it’s not busy, it is quick and easy. For a more socially distant view of petroglyphs head to Mouse’s Tank Trail.
Elephant Rock is a cool rock that resembles an elephant’s trunk. This site is located on the eastern end of the park which means it’s not often as busy as other sections of the park. Our top tip is to visit in the early morning hours when the sun has risen just a bit up into the sky to get a cool sunburst photo as the sun crosses the trunk’s path.
Valley of Fire to Las Vegas
Valley of Fire to Las Vegas is a quick day trip for those that live in Las Vegas or are visiting. You could potentially enter the park from either the Western or Eastern Entrance, but most GPS will route you towards the western side. This side of the park does seem to have the most landmarks… and traffic! If you have time on your hands, we would recommend entering the park from one side and exiting from the other, especially if you only have one day to explore the park. Heading in from the Strip in Vegas, it will take about 1.5 hours total to get inside the park.
If you are staying in Las Vegas, don’t miss these amazingly family friendly things to do!
Valley of Fire Map
When you enter the park you will be given a black and white paper map. Keep track of this as there are very few sign boards around the park providing this information. You can also download this map to have on your phone to give an overview of the park. I would say this map is a bit outdated even though it’s from their website. It does not include the Fire Wave trail which is a big draw these days.
Valley of Fire Camping
There are several established campgrounds here at Valley of Fire State Park that are amazing. The campgrounds are currently first come first serve, but I was told they will soon be moving to a reservation system. At this time during COVID, the sites are full almost every single day of the week. For the best best, you can arrive in the middle of the week and hope to snag one.
If you are unable to get a site within the park, there are other options. One is to do dispersed camping outside of the park on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. Regardless of which entrance you come into the park, you will see people “boondocking” on BLM property. This is allowed and was even recommended to us by the rangers at the Visitor Center.
Otherwise, the closest campgrounds to the park are at Lake Mead out of the Eastern Entrance. The closest option at Lake Mead is Echo Bay, however Boulder Beach is quite scenic and worth a visit if you are in the area.
Where to Stay for Valley of Fire (Without Camping)
If you are not interested in camping, but want to center some of your visit on Valley of Fire, there are a few options outside of the park within a reasonable drive. Unfortunately though, regardless of which entrance you choose, you will have to drive at least 45 minutes from a hotel or Airbnb.
During our visit, we stayed outside of Valley of Fire on the way to Las Vegas. We chose La Quinta due to its proximity to the park.
If you want to go further into Las Vegas, your options open up quite a bit in style and price. During our visit, Las Vegas was still quite busy even with COVID restrictions, so we opted to stay in a quieter area near the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which was also a bit closer to the park.
Where Else Can We Hike Nearby?
Even though Valley of Fire State Park is just outside of Las Vegas, it is right in the middle of some great hiking destinations. If you are heading south, consider the various options for hiking near Las Vegas at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. The Calico Tanks hike is a favorite here. You can also continue on about 2 hours to Death Valley where there are a ton of great hikes.
Heading Towards Utah
If you are heading north, towards Utah, you will be amazed at all the amazing hiking options near Zion such as Snow Canyon State Park. Here, the Petrified Dunes trail is fun for the entire family.
If you are carrying on to southern Utah, explore the beautiful Zion National Park. While here don’t miss your opportunity to hike the Narrows – even with kids! For some unique options on where to stay near Zion, we have you covered.
For those of you heading home to Los Angeles, don’t miss a stop at the quirky Calico Ghost town and the colorful stone rocks at Seven Magic Mountains.
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