This Nevada State Park Has Ancient Petroglyphs, Stunning Red Canyons, and Amazing Wildlife — and It's Less Than 1 Hour From Las Vegas

Valley of Fire State Park offers the ultimate day trip from Las Vegas.

Rock formations in Valley of Fire State Park
Photo: Courtesy of Jeff Crist

Las Vegas is one of the most exciting cities in the world, with dazzling shows, celebrity chefs, and some of the most unique hotels in the world. There's always something new and exciting to do. But when you're surrounded by a sea of neon lights, it's easy to forget you're in a city that was basically plunked down in the middle of ancient wilderness.

Less than an hour from the Strip lies Valley of Fire State Park, a wonderland of bright red canyons, surreal stone landscapes, and 2,000-year-old petroglyphs. Here's how to plan the perfect visit to the beautiful state park.

Valley of Fire State Park History

Valley of Fire State Park traces its history back millions of years to the Jurassic period. It was formed by faulting and eroding sand dunes, resulting in dramatic red rock formations rising above the Mojave Desert. It's believed that humans occupied the region up to 11,000 years ago, though not much is known until the Basketmaker culture of the pre-ancestral Puebloans etched petroglyphs into the rocks 2,500 years ago. A short drive from the park, the excellent Lost City Museum displays tools, pottery, jewelry, and other artifacts, along with replica domiciles offering a fascinating glimpse into what their life was like.

Valley of Fire was officially designated a state park in 1935, making it the oldest and largest state park in Nevada. Before this, the area was part of the Arrowhead Highway, an auto trail predating the highway system, connecting Los Angeles and Salt Lake City. Today, the park is home to hiking trails, a visitor center, campgrounds, and a scenic byway.

Driving the Valley of Fire Scenic Byway

A mountain goat and baby in Valley of Fire State Park
Courtesy of Tamara Gane

It's easy to find your way around the park. A main drive called the Valley of Fire Scenic Byway connects the east and west entrances, winding through 11 miles of sculpted sandstone in brilliant shades of pink, orange, and red. Tip: Time your drive for sunset to see the colors of the sky melt across the valley. Although Valley of Fire State Park is breathtaking year-round, it's especially idyllic in the spring, when the desert marigold, indigo bush, and desert mallow bloom and the air is filled with a delicate floral scent.

Even if you don't plan to get out of your vehicle to hike, give yourself an hour or two to drive the byway, as well as time to stop at the visitor center, interpretive displays, and viewpoints along the way.

Plus, keep your eyes peeled for wildlife — the park is home to desert tortoises, greater roadrunners, black-tailed jackrabbits, desert bighorn sheep, and more. Most of the animals in the park are nocturnal, but desert tortoises tend to be most active in the morning, while desert bighorn sheep can be found throughout the day.

Valley of Fire State Park Hiking Trails

Rock formations in Valley of Fire State Park
Courtesy of Jeff Crist

Hiking in Valley of Fire of State Park feels like trekking on another planet of swirling sand and stone. Plus, there are hikes for all skill levels, and some of the easiest trails are the most rewarding.

Mouse's Tank Trail

Mouse's Tank Trail is under one mile round-trip, making it suitable for beginners. Still, even the most seasoned hikers won't want to miss it, as the path takes visitors through a box canyon covered with ancient petroglyphs left behind by the Basketmaker people.

Atlatl Rock

The trail to Atlatl Rock is only 250 feet long, leading to a metal staircase that will take you to a viewing platform to see more petroglyphs about 50 feet above the ground. This hike is also suitable for beginners.

Wildlife crossing sign in Valley of Fire State Park
Courtesy of Jeff Crist

White Domes Trail

Also suitable for beginners, the White Domes Trail gets its name from the smooth, white sandstone formations that brilliantly contrast with the deep red hues surrounding them. The loop is a little more than one mile, and it meanders through sculpted slot canyons, small caves, and desert vistas.

Fire Wave Trail

The beginner-friendly Fire Wave Trail follows a sandy path to an otherworldly landscape of smooth, weathered sandstone. The slick rock swirls with alternating waves of light cream and deep pink, eventually leading to a platform overlooking hills of colorful striped stone.

Top of the World Arch Trail

If you're seeking solitude, this challenging 4.4-mile loop travels through the desert backcountry to a sandstone arch. Since it's seldom trafficked, it's one of the best places in the park to observe wildlife. Be sure to bring a map or GPS device, since the trail has many offshoots and finding your way back to the main path can be disorienting.

Camping in Valley of Fire State Park

Rock formations in Valley of Fire State Park
Courtesy of Jeff Crist

There are two campgrounds with a total of 72 different units at Valley of Fire State Park; some include RV hookups. The majority of the sites are first-come, first-served, but the three large group sites are by reservation only. Campsite amenities include shared access to grills, picnic tables, showers, and bathrooms. Wi-Fi is also available at the park for an additional price.

Where to Stay Near Valley of Fire State Park

If you aren't camping at the park, Valley of Fire is about 45 minutes from Las Vegas. The Hilton-owned Resorts World is one of the newest properties on the Strip. It's essentially three hotels in one, offering lodging options in different price ranges. The on-site restaurants are outstanding, including Fuhu, which serves creative twists on Asian fusion cuisine in an indoor/outdoor setting.

Valley of Fire State Park is also approximately 90 minutes from Hoover Dam. If you want to see both on the same day, consider starting at Valley of Fire in the morning, when the weather is cooler, before making your way to Hoover Dam. Afterward, check out Boulder City, which has a funky store dedicated to extraterrestrial visitors, charming sidewalks filled with breweries and restaurants, and the historic Boulder Dam Hotel.

What to Know Before You Go

Check the weather before you hike Valley of Fire State Park, since temperatures in the Mojave Desert fluctuate throughout the year. In the winter, temperatures can drop to freezing, while the summer heat means 100-plus degrees (be sure to dress accordingly). Regardless of the time of year, bring water, sunscreen, and protective clothing. If you plan on hiking, sturdy shoes are a must, as the terrain in the park is often uneven.

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