8 Things to do at Valley of Fire State Park
Visiting the Las Vegas area soon? Here’s our list of 8 things to do at Valley of Fire State Park, just an hour drive from the Strip, as well as tips for your trip!
After an unexpected change in plans this fall, we found ourselves driving from Austin to Lake Tahoe, an almost 1,800 mile trek. While we were initially bummed about the change in plans, we quickly got excited when we realized that we could make a few fun pit stops along the way.
We stopped in the Phoenix area to visit some friends and then drove to the Las Vegas area to visit a few of our favorite food and coffee spots, as well as explore some nature. And one of the top items on our agenda: Valley of Fire State Park!
We had seen many photos of this park and have been wanting to visit for a very long time, so we instantly jumped at the chance to take a different route than planned and go exploring! The park was just as beautiful as we imagined and we had a super fun few hours going on mini hikes, seeing petroglyphs, driving around, and admiring the orange rocks.
There are so many things to do at Valley of Fire State Park, so whether you have just a few hours, like us, or more time to explore, here are the top 8 things things to do while you’re there!
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About Valley of Fire State Park
The Valley of Fire State Park is Nevada’s oldest and largest state park, covering over 40,000 acres. While the park became an official state park in the 1930’s, in the 1920’s someone drove through the park at sunset and thought it looked like the entire valley was on fire, inspiring the park’s name. And they were right!
As you drive up to the park, you’re surrounded by the tan desert landscape and then suddenly BAM!, you’re greeted with the bright red Aztec sandstone that makes up the park, giving it a fiery appearance. It feels like another world!
The park costs $10/car to enter, but it’s well worth it! And the best part? You don’t even have to walk far from your car for most of the main sights, making it extremely friendly for all ages and activity levels, as well as timeframes (and it’s dog friendly!).
Many of the top things to do at Valley of Fire State Park are quick roadside stops, whether it’s a cool rock formation or a quick canyon stroll, and some of the best sights are the views from your window. We explored the park in 3-4 hours, including lots of photo breaks, and felt like we got to see almost everything!
Where is Valley of Fire located?
Valley of Fire State Park is only 52 miles (a little less than an hour drive) from the Las Vegas Strip, making it an easy day trip if you’re visiting Vegas and want a break from the hustle and bustle of the city.
It’s also around 64 miles (1.5 hours driving) from Hoover Dam, which would be a great activity before or after the park! While relatively close to both destinations, we’d recommend having a rental car to get to Valley of Fire, as the park requires a bit of driving to see the major sights.
Want more ideas of things to do near Vegas? Check out our blog post with lots of ideas of things to do in Vegas that don’t involve partying!
Where to stay when visiting Valley of Fire
If you’re headed to Valley of Fire State Park and are unsure of where to stay, we’ve gotcha covered! While the area right around Valley of Fire is lacking a lot of lodging and restaurant options, making it a less ideal area to stay in, there are still plenty of options nearby that are worth checking out!
If you want to be close to restaurants, shops, and activities, we recommend staying in Las Vegas and making the drive to Valley of Fire. Here are some suggestions of where to stay, ranging from spots both on and off the Strip!
- Airbnb: This spot is away from the craziness of the strip, but super close to our favorite coffee shop called PublicUs and the Fremont area!
- Vdara: we love this hotel on the Strip because it doesn’t have a casino and doesn’t allow smoking, which makes it a quieter spot to escape from the crowds.
- Aria: Kathryn has stayed at this hotel multiple times for work and it’s great! While much bigger than Vdara, the hotel and casino are both very nice.
- Palazzo/Venetian: Located on the other end of the strip from Vdara and Aria, this hotel has a ton to offer inside, from restaurants, to gondola rides!
PS: If it is your first time staying at an Airbnb, click this link to get $40 off your first stay!
Campgrounds at Valley of Fire State Park
If being close to restaurants isn’t a big deal to you, or you just want an unplugged night out in nature, check out one of Valley of Fire’s campgrounds!
The park is home to two regular campgrounds, Arch Rock Campground and Atlatl Rock Campground, both of which are first-come, first-served, so plan to arrive early to snag a spot! These campgrounds have water, grills, restrooms, and showers and the spots are $20/night, but if you need utility hook ups, it’ll be $10 more/night.
They do have three group areas you can camp at, holding up to 45 people each, which can be reserved in advance by calling the park.
During our visit to Valley of Fire State Park we parked the van on free, BLM land and it was the best! We found an amazing spot just miles from the park which was easy to get to, had tons of space, incredible views, and strong enough cell service to work from the van (score!). It was definitely one of our favorite boondocking spots yet! If you are fine camping without amenities or have a van or RV, definitely check out this spot!
When to visit Valley of Fire State Park
Valley of Fire State Park is open year round, which gives you tons of flexibility, but here are some of our tips of when to visit to ensure you have decent weather and lower crowds!
Visit in the non-summer months
Temperatures in the park can get extremely high, making hiking and exploring a bit challenging with all of the sun exposure. Visiting in the late fall or early spring would give you great temperatures, although it may be a tad busier for this reason. We visited in late September and while the days were still a tiny bit warmer, the evenings were absolutely perfect.
Go early in the morning or late in the afternoon
The early mornings and late afternoons/sunset are the best times to visit for beautiful light, as well as cooler temperatures. Out of the two, we always prefer sunrise because the crowds are always lower than sunset!
Visit on a weekday
Weekdays are also a great time to visit! We visited on a weekday afternoon when school was in session, so we experienced less crowds.
8 Things to Do at Valley of Fire State Park
While there are many things to do at Valley of Fire State Park, there are 8 things that we would definitely recommend adding to your itinerary. Full disclosure: due to getting a later start, we were unable to see all of these spots, but we visited the majority of them (5 out of 8) and after researching the park, would still recommend all of them!
1. Atlatl Rock
Atlatl Rock is a super quick, but really neat spot! As you drive up, you’ll instantly notice a large rock with a 250 foot metal staircase. After you climb up the stairs, you’re greeted with a collection of petroglyphs over 4,000 years old depicting an atlatl, which is a throwing stick or a dart thrower used by ancient tribes to give more force to their darts or spears. The history in this stop is really cool to see, and so are the views of the park and surrounding desert from the top of the staircase!
2. Elephant Rock
Elephant Rock is a natural arch of sandstone that at a specific angle, sort of looks like an elephant! It’s a quick 0.3 mile hike from the parking lot to see Elephant Rock and while the arch isn’t huge and not everyone agrees that it looks like an elephant, it’s worth checking out to see for yourself!
3. White Domes Trail
White Domes Trail is one spot in the park that we unfortunately didn’t have enough time for, but was super high on our list. We’re very bummed we didn’t make it, so if you visit Valley of Fire State Park, definitely check it out! The 1.1 mile loop trail is relatively flat and takes you by different color and shaped sandstone formations, as well as through a narrow canyon! This trail has also been the filming location for many movies, such as Transformers, Casino, Total Recall, Star Trek: Generations, and Austin Powers.
4. Pink Canyon
Pink Canyon is a slightly lesser known spot in the park, so if you’re looking to avoid crowds, head here! It’s an unmarked trail, so finding it can be tricky, but if you drive down Mouse’s Tank road, keep driving until you pass the 4th “Dip” sign. Head down two dips and you’ll see wash sign #5 where you can park right off the road. You’ll see an entrance to a canyon right off the road, where you can walk in and start exploring!
The canyon isn’t bright pink, but is more of a pastel pink mixed in with oranges and whites. The canyon isn’t very tall or long, but it’s still a nice stop, although very sandy, so make sure you have the right shoes on! We walked through the canyon quickly and then headed back to the van, but you could keep going after it opens up and end up at the Fire Wave.
5. Fire Wave
Fire Wave is a beautiful spot in the park, named after the wave-like swirls of red, pink, orange, and white sandstone. It is a 1.5 mile round trip, relatively easy walk to get to, and is one of our favorite things we saw in the park! Fire Wave looks a lot like the famous Wave in Arizona, but unlike the wave, it does not require a lottery system to get an extremely rare permit.
6. Rainbow Vista
Rainbow Vista is another quick hike (1.1 miles) at the park that is full of beautiful views of the park! On a marker at the trailhead it says: “you are looking across 150 million years of time. The great maze of canyons, domes, towers, ridges, and valleys before you are carved from sand deposited during the time when dinosaurs walked the earth. This is wild, virtually untouched wilderness. It is an “Adventure in Color” for you to experience by car and on foot.” The trail is very sandy and some say it is kind of confusing to follow, but this blog has great instructions on how to get to the end of the trail!
7. Mouse’s Tank Road
One of the most famous photos from Valley of Fire State Park is from Mouse’s Tank Road. The photo is taken above the road and has views of the road that cuts between the red sandstone and mountains in the background. It’s a crazy awesome view!
We aren’t 100% sure we went to the exact famous spot, but we parked in a pull off on the side of the road between the Rainbow Vista trailhead and the Petroglyph Canyon trailhead. It’s easier to see where to pull off if you’re going down the road back towards the visitor center. Once you park in the pull off, you need to climb up a few rocks, which are very easy to climb up, to get the shot!
8. Windstone Arch
The final spot on our list is Windstone Arch, also known as Fire Cave, which is a popular spot for photographers. Located very close to Atlatl Rock, Windstone Arch is a very small cave with an arch and natural pocket holes. It’s really unique looking and you can often find photographers lining up to get shots of the inside. We can’t wait to make it here next time!
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