Anyone who wants to trade the man-made glitz of Las Vegas for some over-the-top natural beauty can simply drive up to Valley of Fire State Park for the day. There, you’ll find a remarkably colorful jumble of rocks, with a scenic road that curves through the scenery, providing access to some great hiking opportunities. Just don’t expect to find solitude or a lot of cool shade.
Valley of Fire State Park is located northeast of Las Vegas. From The Strip, take Interstate 15 to exit 75, then follow Valley of Fire Highway into the park. Alternatively, for a more scenic and time-consuming drive, you can take I-215, Nevada 564, and Nevada 167 through the Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Much to my amazement, it had been almost ten years since my first visit to Valley of Fire State Park. Even though a decade had passed, I still feel like I knew it pretty well, so I didn’t stop and see every attraction. I did, however, hit some of the most scenic spots, and enjoyed the incredible drive through the park. Here’s a brief tour.
East Entrance: Elephant Rock
If you’re coming from Utah, you’ll probably drive through the Moapa Valley and then turn into Valley of Fire at the eastern entrance. You’ll be greeted by this sign…
… and then you’ll pull off the road into the first parking lot to pay your admission fee. That big hill next to the parking area is known as Elephant Rock, and if you hike up to it, and stand in just the right spot, it really does look like an elephant. I didn’t find the right spot, so I can’t show you, but trust me, it’s worth the effort.
Looking east, the view is great, but it’s only going to get better as you plunge deeper into the park.
The Cabins are an interesting attraction along Valley of Fire Road (the east-west road through the park). These three cabins were built for park visitors by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935. Now, they are open to anyone…
… who wants to use their windows to frame-up a nice shot of the landscape. There’s also a picnic area here (and at several other locations along the road).
The park’s visitor center is located about halfway through the park on Valley of Fire Road. It also marks the start of White Domes Road, which runs north, and passes through the most scenic areas of the park.
Turn onto White Domes road, and you’ll immediately squeeze through a tight red-rock canyon, then arrive at…
Fire Canyon Road, to Silica Dome
This short side road provides access to a couple of nice viewpoints.
Silica Dome is the white mountain you see here, made almost entirely of pure silica. The presence of iron causes the red stripe in the rock.
Fire Canyon Road dead-ends, so you’ll need to return to…
White Domes Road
This is arguably the prettiest part of the park, and one of the best stretches of scenic highway in Nevada. The ribbon of black asphalt twists past boulders and hills that are more colorful than anything you’ve ever seen before.
There’s only one problem with White Domes Road — and one complaint I have with Valley of Fire State Park in general. There are some very strict rules about where you’re allowed to park, and they make it difficult to get the pictures you want to take. North of Fire Canyon Road, there are only four parking areas spread out over 5.2 miles of road. That means you may have to walk a half-mile or more to get to the spot you want to see. And this is a very heavily visited park, which means the limited number of parking spots are often filled. There’s nothing anyone can do about it, just be aware of it.
Seriously, how pretty is that road?
The views to the east are pretty great, too.
Fire Wave Trail
During this trip, I only took the time to hike one trail – but it was a good one. The Fire Wave Trail didn’t exist when I visited in 2007 – it’s only recently been added. The hike is 3/4 of a mile, one way, is relatively easy, and provides access to one of Valley of Fire’s unique features: the Fire Wave. I’ll tell you all about the hike to the Fire Wave on the next page.
Here’s a look at the scenic drive through Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada:
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The Bottom Line
Valley of Fire can provide a scenic break from Las Vegas for just a few hours, or it can be a destination that provides a couple of days of fun hiking opportunities. Keep in mind, it will be very hot here in the summer. While it’s quite pleasant during the winter months, you’ll still get plenty of sun, and need to drink a lot of water.