Situated in the Mojave Desert just an hour east of Las Vegas, Valley of Fire State Park is home to so many beautiful formations that it even rivals some US National Parks. In the following guide, we’ll be covering nearly all of the trails and landmarks one can experience when visiting Valley of Fire in a single day.
At the time of writing, the park costs $15 per vehicle (or $10 per local vehicle) to enter. For those doing longer Southwest trips, Valley of Fire State Park is the perfect stopover between Las Vegas and St. George, Utah.
For more information on the best places to stay in the area, be sure to check the end of the article.
Seasonal Trail Closures
While the park is open year-round, if you’re visiting between May and October, multiple popular trails will be closed, including the iconic Fire Wave. Find the latest updates here.
This is done to prevent hikers from succumbing to heat exhaustion. Around the time of writing, in fact, two hikers were just tragically found dead.
Being only an hour from Las Vegas, there are surely lots of curious tourists venturing out here who have little experience hiking – let alone hiking in the extreme heat, so the measures are understandable.
Then again, it’s such a shame that many of the most scenic trails are closed for a large portion of the year. Death Valley, in contrast, gets even hotter than Valley of Fire, yet doesn’t close any of its attractions due to heat. Rather, they emphasize that everyone’s safety is their own responsibility.
Even if you’re hiking in one of the cooler months, always be sure to carry more water than you need. As we’ll cover below, most of Valley of Fire State Park’s trails are on the short side.
Along Valley of Fire Highway
Whether arriving at the park from Las Vegas to the west or St. George to the east, your tour will begin along the Valley of Fire Highway which is home to numerous interesting landmarks.
Here we’ll be covering the highlights from east to west. In my case, starting from the east, I left the Valley of Fire Highway by heading up White Domes Rd after viewing the Seven Sisters. Then, on my way out of the park, I stopped at Atlatl Rock before proceeding to Las Vegas.
Of course, you could also follow that route in reverse if you’re coming from Las Vegas.
The Elephant Rock
As you travel the Southwest, you’ll encounter countless rock formations named after animals. While the resemblance is not always clear, Elephant Rock does indeed look like exactly an elephant.
It can actually be seen clearly from the road, though the park doesn’t want people blocking traffic for pics. Rather, visitors are told to stop at a small parking lot to the east of the formation before taking a short walking trail there.
The Arrowhead Trail
Just west of the Elephant Rock is the Arrowhead Trail, which culminates at the Arrowhead Arch.
Interestingly, this was one of Valley of Fire’s very first attractions in the early 20th century before it became a State Park. This short 15-minute trail, in fact, was completed as early as 1915.
There are actually a few small arches here, with some of them indeed resembling Arrowheads.
The Historic Cabins
As with other Nevada State Parks like Cathedral Gorge, Valley of Fire is home to several 1930s landmarks that were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), with these historic cabins among them.
Though they now merely survive as a historical landmark, they originally served as lodging for Valley of Fire State Park’s first visitors. The park was already attracting thousands of visitors in 1936, the same year the Hoover Dam was completed.
Near the entrance, I happened to encounter a group of bighorn sheep. While not the rarest sight in the region, seeing these fascinating animals in the wild is always a treat.
The Seven Sisters is a group of seven oddly-shaped towering formations – what remains after countless years of erosion. The landmark is easily accessible from the nearby parking lot, but if you’re arriving in the morning, the lighting will be far from ideal.
The Atlatl Rock will likely be the first thing you stop at if you’re coming from Las Vegas. If you’re visiting Valley of Fire State Park in between St. George and Las Vegas, it’s best saved for last, as it’s situated to the west of White Domes Rd.
But wherever you decide to fit it into your itinerary, Atlatl Rock should not be missed.
The rock has been named after its resemblance to the throwing sticks once used by ancient Indians. And in the upper portion of this atlatl-shaped rock, visitors can find Valley of Fire’s most impressive collection of petroglyphs.
They’re so high up in fact, that you’ll need to climb up a tall metal staircase to reach them.
Archaeologists believe these petroglyphs could be as old as 4,000 years. While their true meaning and significance have been lost to time, petroglyphs may have been used as a way to connect a tribe or shaman with the spirit world.
While many shapes are abstract, others clearly depict things like humans and bighorn sheep.
Elsewhere around the area, meanwhile, be sure to seek out landmarks like the Arch Rock.
White Domes Road
The Visitor Center
Turning onto White Domes Road (labeled as Mouse’s Tank Road on Google Maps) and heading north, you’ll soon encounter the Visitor Center. It contains a decent gift shop as well as a museum that’s very well done by State Park standards.
Comprehensive displays detail the geology, archaeology and ecology of Valley of Fire and its surroundings.
This is also where you can confirm which trails may be open or closed during your visit (see above).
Just outside the Visitor Center is a short trail leading to Balancing Rock. As the name suggests, you’ll find a large boulder carefully balancing atop a narrow pillar.
While it seems like it may fall at any moment, it’s probably been in this position for thousands of years.
The Mouse's Tank Trail
Compared with the ‘trails’ covered thus far, the journey to Mouse’s Tank is the first that could be considered a proper hike. Still, the out-and-back journey is only 0.75 miles (1.2 km) and mostly flat.
As you walk along the mostly straight, sandy trails, be sure to look at the rocky walls around you. Throughout the journey, you’ll be able to spot a myriad of well-preserved petroglyphs from centuries – or even millennia – ago.
And once you reach the end of the trail, it will become clear why the ancient Indians would’ve taken a special interest in this area.
Mouse’s Tank is a natural water basin that long helped people survive in such a harsh and dry environment. But who was Mouse? In more recent times, Mouse was a local outlaw who’d take refuge here while hiding from the law.
A bit further up the road is the start of another short, flat and sandy trail. The one-mile (1.6 km) roundtrip trail culminates at an overlook of Fire Canyon.
All in all, this hike is quite similar to Mouse’s Tank. And while the overlook at the end was interesting, I arrived when the lighting was far from ideal.
That’s why I saved the next item on this list, an overlook of Fire Canyon from a different angle, for later in the afternoon.
Fire Canyon Overlook
To the east of White Domes Road is Fire Canyon Road, which simply exists to provide access to the overlook. The viewpoint can easily be seen from a parking lot and doesn’t require a hike, and it’s arguably one of the most impressive overlooks of the park.
This unique terrain here was formed after powerful tectonic forces broke much of the surface rock, which was then subject to countless years of erosion. Another landmark in the area, meanwhile, is known as the Silica Dome.
While I’m indifferent to Star Trek, a famous scene from the series was supposedly filmed around this spot, making it a popular pilgrimage point for Trekkies.
White Domes/Seven Wonders/Fire Wave Trails
The northern section of White Domes Road is home to three of Valley of Fire State Park’s most popular hikes: White Domes, Seven Wonders and Fire Wave.
As none of them are terribly long, you can conveniently combine them all into one single hike. And that’s the route we’ll be covering below. All three trails combined add up to about 3.2 miles (5.2 km) and should take you about 90 minutes in total.
As mentioned earlier, during the warmer months, you unfortunately may find some or all of them all closed.
White Domes Trail
On its own, the White Domes Trail is a 1.8 km loop trail that takes just about 30 minutes to complete. Most people seem to do it clockwise, though the choice is up to you.
As I was combining all three trails, I started by going counterclockwise before heading east toward the Fire Wave on the other side of the road.
The southern end of the loop is even home to a slot canyon. But it only takes a couple of minutes to walk through, so don’t expect anything quite on the level of the epic slots of Utah.
Out the other end, you’ll encounter one of the trail’s most notable landmarks. But this one is manmade rather than natural.
The stone structures were once part of a movie set for the 1966 film The Professionals. Supposedly, a larger recreation of a Mexican hacienda was built on what’s now the parking lot.
From here, I didn’t continue north to complete the White Domes Loop but headed east toward the Fire Wave. I’d later return to the area to finish the White Domes Loop to head back to the parking lot.
Fire Wave Trail
Following the AllTrails map featured above, I continued east, south of the White Domes Loop and along the southern portion of the Seven Wonders Trail. Eventually, I reached White Domes Road and crossed it to head further east.
Before reaching the Fire Wave, I’d first be traversing the Pink Canyon.
But my plan was soon thwarted, as I encountered a deep puddle of water filling up much of the narrow canyon. Returning to the road, I walked further north and just kind of winged it, climbing over rocks until I found something resembling a trail.
Before long, I made it to the Fire Wave itself, arguably the Valley of Fire’s top highlight. Here one can see stripes of alternating layers of sandstone, forming a wave-like pattern across a huge rock. The different hues of the stone include red, pink and white.
It’s quite similar to The Wave in northern Arizona – a place which few are able to visit these days due to the strict lottery system. The Fire Wave, on the other hand, remains freely accessible (but only for about half the year).
Next, I proceeded back west toward the Seven Wonders Trail. If you’re willing to walk off trail for a bit, you’ll encounter yet more beautiful swirling sections of rock just east of the highway.
The Seven Wonders Trail
Crossing the highway, heading back west and then turning north through a wash parallel to the White Domes Loop, I began exploring the rest of the Seven Wonders Trail.
Confusingly, the trail here consists of a lower portion down at the bottom of the wash along with an upper portion that has you walking atop the rock.
Supposedly, the Fire Wave and Pink Canyon are included within the ‘Seven Wonders,’ though I’ve been unable to find a comprehensive list. In this section of the trail, however, there are at least three more landmarks to be found.
The most remarkable is Crazy Hill, where you’ll find even more multicolored striped rocks. I would even say it’s on par with the Fire Wave itself.
Yet another landmark is the Thunderstorm Arch, which I was able to spot from a distance. Unfortunately, I failed to find the Fire Cave landmark, probably because I was walking along the incorrect level of the trail.
White Domes (Cont.)
Finally, I returned to the White Domes Loop, where I once again encountered the dilapidated movie set. From here I headed north. To return to the parking lot, I had to gradually make my way uphill via a rocky and sandy portion of the trail.
While not terribly difficult, it wasn’t surprising why so many people decided to start by walking down this section instead.
If you’re looking for long, strenuous hikes that are going to test your limits, Valley of Fire State Park may not be quite what you’re after. But if you’re looking for a photographer’s paradise with colorful scenery in all directions, Valley of Fire won’t let you down.
Don’t feel like going through the hassle of planning everything and driving yourself? Luckily, there are plenty of tours to Valley of Fire State Park departing from Las Vegas.
This highly-rated extensive tour takes you to the park’s highlights while a knowledgeable guide explains the region’s geology and archaeology.
People come to Las Vegas for a variety of different reasons. But those simply using the city as a base from which to explore nearby parks are probably a tiny minority.
Tourists into gambling, nightlife and an all-around typical Las Vegas experience tend to stay on or near the Strip. This area is home to a myriad of hotels and casinos, many of which are household names, such as Mandalay Bay or Luxor.
Las Vegas, however, is a fast-growing city with new residential areas being built each year, and much of the greater metropolitan area feels surprisingly normal.
Another base for visiting Valley of Fire State Park is St. George, Utah, a popular place to stay for those visiting Bryce Canyon, Zion, and numerous Utah State Parks.
From St. George, the ride takes about 90 minutes, meaning the park makes for a great stop for those traveling between St. George and Las Vegas.
Alternatively, visitors can also camp at Valley of Fire itself. Campsites are first-come first-served and cost $25 per vehicle (or $20 for local vehicles). You can also pay an extra $10 for utility hookups if you have an RV. (If you don’t have your own, consider renting one on a site like Outdoorsy.)
Learn more about campsites here.