Valley of Fire State Park: The Complete Guide

Empty paved road in Valley of Fire state park with dramatic rock cliffs in the distance
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Valley of Fire State Park

Address
29450 Valley of Fire Hwy, Overton, NV 89040, USA
Phone +1 702-397-2088

The fiery red Aztec sandstone formations that rise out of limestone mountains are responsible for the aptly named Valley of Fire State Park, the first state park in Nevada, which can look like the entire area is ablaze come sunset. But these wildly colored outcroppings aren’t only famous for their natural beauty; the Basket Maker culture left its marks here in the form of beautifully preserved petroglyphs carved into the rocks about 2,500 years ago (early humans are thought to have settled here as many as 11,000 years ago). When you visit, you’ll see evidence of thousands of years of humanity, from the earliest petroglyphs to evidence of the ancient Anasazi (for whom the valley was a spiritual center), to the Paiutes and early Mormons who settled here in the 19th century. You’ll also see some of the wildest natural wonders, such as ancient, petrified trees, winding slot canyons, and formations such as Elephant Rock and The Beehives, which nearly perfectly resemble their namesakes.

Visiting Valley of Fire from Las Vegas is a perfect day trip, in that it takes just over an hour to reach it from the Strip. And with its great variety of hikes, catering to all skill and mobility levels, it is perfectly manageable in a day.

History

Valley of Fire was formed by erosion and faulting, resulting in the wild Aztec sandstone formations you see today. (The red color comes from the iron oxide in the sediment.) Geologists date the area at 150 million years old, or right in the middle of the Jurassic Period. People first moved into the area 11,000 years ago, according to scientists, and you’ll see the evidence of the occupation by the ancient Basket Maker culture (about 2,500 years ago) in their petroglyphs, etched in the black coating on the rocks known as desert varnish. You can find great examples of these etchings on the cliff walls at Mouse’s Tank and Atlatl Rock. The Pueblo people’s forerunners, the Anasazi, followed and Paiute people were living in this area in 1865 when early Mormon settlers began farming and ranching this land nearby in the Moapa Valley.

Valley of Fire, before it was named as such, was part of the Arrowhead Trail, a road built in 1912 that connected Salt Lake City with Los Angeles. Then in the 1920s, legend has it that an AAA exec traveling through the park at sunset was so taken with the blazing quality of the area’s colors, he dubbed it Valley of Fire. It was during this time that the original Valley of Fire tract, about 8,500 acres of federal public land, were given to the state of Nevada. It became Nevada’s first state park in 1934, a year after Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps built the first campgrounds in the park. The state park now covers 40,000 acres.

The Best Things to See and Do

Hiking: You’ll want to do as many hikes as your time here allows since they’re all different and stunning. The captivating Fire Wave is a moderately easy trail that starts in the sand and follows small stone piles along slickrock formations. Mouse’s Tank, is an easy hike that takes you through a box canyon with the famous petroglyphs created by the Basket Maker people. You’ll discover wild formations like Elephant Rock, which is an arch that resembles its name, and The Beehives, very photogenic rock formations in the shape of giant hives. Don’t miss the White Domes trail, a mile loop that includes a slot canyon, the remains of a film set, and beautifully colored rocks with small caves and windows.

Petroglyphs: You can climb up the metal staircase to Atlatl Rock, a giant boulder perched precariously over sandstone, to see the petroglyphs on its east face. Those petroglyphs include a depiction of an atlatl—an ancient spear-launching device. You can find many other hikes on the State Park site devoted to Valley of Fire.

Scenic Drives: Of course, there are plenty of options who want to see the state’s most colorful park without even getting out of the car. Travel northeast from Las Vegas on I-15, take the Valley of Fire exit (75), and you can drive right through on the Valley of Fire State Park Scenic Byway, past geologic wonders like Piano Rock and Rainbow Vista, which photographers love for its layers of colorful sandstone.

Explore on a Guided Tour: Although Valley of Fire rangers will schedule free tours, you can travel in style with Adventure Photo Tours, which will pick you up at your hotel on the Strip in the morning, tour petroglyphs and formations, and return in the afternoon. It also visits the Lost City Museum), built in 1935 to exhibit artifacts recovered from prehistoric archaeological sites that were flooded when the Colorado River was dammed to form Lake Mead. Don’t miss the Native American pit house and reconstructed wattle-and-daub (interwoven sticks and twigs covered with mud or clay) pueblo homes.

Getting There

The easiest way to get to Valley of Fire from Las Vegas is to travel north on I-15 and enter the park’s west side. You can also drive through Lake Mead National Recreation Area to enter from the east side (although this adds 30 minutes and a $20 entrance fee). If you don’t have a car, sign up with one of the tour companies that will pick you up right from the Strip. For instance, if you want to take an ATV tour, ATL Las Vegas includes pick-up at casinos on the Strip, Valley of Fire park fees, plus drinks and lunch. Adventure Photo Tours picks up on the Strip as well. Canyon Tours picks up and drops off in a luxury SUV, includes a picnic lunch, and will also take you off-road to Buffington Pockets, for views that most visitors don’t get to see.

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Valley of Fire State Park is between October and April when the temperatures are cooler. Summer can get dangerously hot—up to 120 degrees F (49 degrees C. Winter is usually mild, and daytime temperatures can get into the low 60s, so it’s not a bad option if you happen to be visiting during the colder months.

Tips for Visiting

  • If you choose to enter through the scenic east entrance, you can get the $20 entrance fee covered with your America the Beautiful park pass (well worth the $80 annual fee if you love visiting the National Parks and Federal Recreational Sites around the country.
  • The park operates three campgrounds all inside the west entrance, and reservations are available for $20 per vehicle. There is free camping on BLM land outside the park (first come, first served).
  • Valley of Fire is dog-friendly as long as you keep your dog on a 6-foot leash
  • Make sure to get a park hiking trail map, which you can download, before heading out onto the trails.  
  • Ranger-led programs include nighttime walks to identify nocturnal wildlife tracks. You’ll find planned events on the Valley of Fire website one month in advance.
  • There are no food concessions in the park, so plan wisely. For lunch, try La Fonda Mexican Restaurant in Overton, which is right before the turn-off to the west entrance into Valley of Fire.
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The Complete Guide to Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada