6 Top-Rated Hiking Trails in Valley of Fire State Park
Just over an hour's drive from Las Vegas, Valley of Fire State Park is one of Nevada's great treasures. The diversity and drama of the landscape in this compact park is stunning. Canyons, petroglyphs, unique stone formations, and colorful swirling rock hills stir the imagination and provide incredible opportunities for hiking. If you have only a single day to spare in Las Vegas, it's well worth making the trip to Valley of Fire to tackle a couple of short hikes and see a few sights. In a weekend, you can easily tackle most, if not all, of the hiking trails, as well as see the major sites. In the spring, the wildflowers bring color to the park, and any time of year you are likely to see some wildlife.
1. Fire Wave Hike
If you have time for only one hike in the park, this is the one to do. This 1.2-mile trail offers the most stunning vistas and lets you immerse yourself in the landscape. Colorful rock hills and mounds stretch out from your feet in every direction as you stand on striated stone fields. The trail is an out-and-back hike that descends from the parking lot, across a sandy slope, which is dotted with wildflowers in the spring. Views to the left peer out over the red rock ridges and distant mountains, while in front of you stands a red rock wall. The trail rounds this huge fin and leads to a wide-open sloping area of orange rock that looks out onto an undulating pallet of colors. Rock ridges of pink, yellow, and orange, flow out before you, tempting hikers to make a few unscheduled climbs. The trail is marked with posts and stone cairns, but this is an area where you can wander freely and explore, with each direction revealing unique perspectives.
Total hiking time for this trail is about one hour. Be aware, the trail is in full sun the entire distance. Trekking across the soft sand is tiring, and the open rock sections radiate heat, making for a very hot trek at midday. If you are planning a day of hiking in Valley of Fire, make this trail your first stop.
2. White Domes Hike
This scenic one-mile loop hike has some interesting treats along the path, including a movie set and a dramatic but short slot canyon. The trail, which begins on soft sand, soon descends on stone stairs that follow a huge cliff wall down to a basin. Over the years, this area has been used for numerous movie and TV sets. From down here, you can see the cliff wall beside the stairs is actually a free standing fin, and the surrounding stone walls make you feel like you are in a box canyon. From this point, the trail drains into a traditional slot canyon, with twisting walls that rise up high above and blot out the sky in some areas, as it gradually gets narrower and narrower. At the end, the canyon opens up into a flat area, with some small natural arches and views to distant, rolling mountains, before returning to the parking lot. Total hiking time is about 40 to 50 minutes.
3. Mouse's Tank Hike
Mouse's Tank is an easy but exceptionally entertaining, .75-mile out-and-back hike along a sandy trail through a canyon. The trail is flat, with essentially no elevation gain, if you stick to the path, and it dead ends at the Mouse's Tank; a natural water catchment area that may or may not have water in it. Along the trail, particularly on the left side as you are walking out from the parking lot, is a steady parade of petroglyphs on the red rock walls. Literally hundreds of petroglyphs can be seen all along this hike. At the start of the trail is an information sign offering insight into what some of the petroglyphs may have meant to the people who created them. Stop and have at least a brief look at this before you head out on your hike. Total time for this hike varies, but you should allow at least 45 minutes.
4. Rainbow Vista and Fire Canyon Overlook Hike
Rainbow Vista hike is a short loop around a flat sand field, dotted with some small shrubs. Views off to the left of this short hike look out to colorful rock hills in the distance. At the far end of this loop is a sign with an arrow pointing towards a trail that leads to Fire Canyon Overlook, and another arrow pointing to the parking lot. It is definitely worth hiking out to the overlook, which is the nicest part of this hike. The trail from this point leads through a narrow canyon, over sand and rock, to a drop-off that looks out over the red, bowl-shaped Fire Canyon. Jagged red rocks rise above you and fall off below you from the viewpoint. Along the way are a number of small arches. The trail returns along the same path and joins up again with the Rainbow Vista Trail. The total distance for this hike, including the spur to Fire Canyon, is about 1.1 miles.
5. Elephant Rock
Elephant Rock is one of the main rock formations in the park. It takes very little imagination to see the elephant shape, and the park has created a short little hike around this attraction. The trail is located near the East Entrance, immediately inside the park. From the parking area, you can hike along a trail that parallels the road for a short distance, and the elephant is off to your right, set high up on the rocks above you. From here, the trail continues on and around the backside of the rock mound that Elephant Rock is perched on.
If you are doing a driving tour of the park and want to stretch your legs, but are not interested in committing to one of the longer hikes, this is the best place to take a break and enjoy a little walk. Apart from a short uphill section at the start, followed by a quick descent, the trail is flat and easy. From this high vantage point, you can see the red rock ridges that dominate the area around the East Entrance.
6. Petrified Logs
Petrified Logs is hardly a hike, but is worth seeing if you are interested in the natural history of Valley of Fire State Park. This short loop trail leads out and around a knoll to fenced-off areas that protect these ancient trees. The petrified logs are the remains of pine trees that grew here 150 million years ago. Plaques at the site provide more detailed information on the logs.
The best time to do this hike is in the early morning, when the sun hits the logs and shows off the colors in the petrified wood. As with all Valley of Fire hikes, the surrounding landscape is beautiful. From the top of the knoll are 360-degree views.
Petroglyphs at Atlatl Rock
Although this is not a hike, the petroglyphs at Atlatl Rock are worth seeing. A long set of metal stairs has been installed along the rock face to allow visitors to reach the petroglyphs. At the base of the stairs is a large parking lot and picnic tables.
Tips and Tactics
- The best time of day for hiking is in the morning, when you are more likely to see wildlife and before the heat of the day sets in. This is also the quietest time on the trails, and you may have the place all to yourself.
- Bring everything you need with you to the park because apart from one very small gift store, which is only open when the visitor center is open, there is nothing else around.
- Cell coverage is non-existent in most of the park. You can usually get coverage at the entrances, White Domes (best spot for coverage), and possibly the visitor center.
Where to Stay near Valley of Fire State Park
If you are a camper, Valley of Fire State Park has two very nice campgrounds. Most non-campers stay in Las Vegas and take a day trip here. If you stay along the Las Vegas Strip, travel time to the park is about one hour and slightly less from downtown, near Fremont Street. From the northern edge of Las Vegas, the trip takes about 45 minutes. Valley of Fire State Park is set off on its own, and there is very little in the vicinity and no sizeable towns. Below are some highly-rated hotels in Las Vegas:
- Luxury Hotels: For the best of the best in luxury, the Mandarin Oriental is the place to stay. With a prime spot along the Las Vegas Strip, the Mandarin offers easy access to all the Las Vegas action, plus first-class service and amenities. Topping the list of the high-end themed resorts along the Strip are The Venetian and Bellagio. These places offer a true Las Vegas experience. Also centrally located along the Strip, Caesars Palace has been a longtime favorite with luxury travelers and is a bit of an institution in Las Vegas. All of these resorts have wonderful restaurants and pool complexes.
- Mid-Range Hotels: Centrally located on the Strip, and frequently offering good deals, The Mirage has large rooms and a nice pool. The Golden Nugget, on the trendy and vibrant Fremont Street, in downtown Las Vegas, is just 55 minutes from Valley of Fire. Also in this area is the Downtown Grand, an Ascend Collection Hotel.
- Budget Hotels: If you are serious about getting an early start on your day to Valley of Fire and want to stay as close as possible to the park, the Comfort Inn & Suites Las Vegas, in the north end of Las Vegas, is just 45 minutes to the park. The hotel has an outdoor seasonal pool and comes with a complimentary breakfast. For value on the Strip, The LINQ Hotel, near the High Roller Ferris Wheel, offers unique and trendy rooms at reasonable rates.
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