The ultimate 1-day Valley of Fire State Park itinerary: 12 best hikes & photo spots
Named for its impossibly vibrant Aztec sandstone that seems to blaze under the midday sun, Valley of Fire State Park is home to some of Nevada’s most awe-inspiring landscapes, a wild contrast to the city lights of Las Vegas less than an hour to the west. It’s the kind of place that hardly feels real, with Fire Waves swirling alongside 4,000 year old petroglyphs and slot canyons giving way to natural rock arches.
Despite protecting over 45,000 acres, and unlike many of the 1-day itineraries I compile on this blog that showcase just a small sliver of public land, it’s actually possible to experience nearly all of Valley of Fire in a single day. It’s compact, accessible, and seriously SO beautiful— everything you could want in a day-trip destination!
This 1-day itinerary for Valley of Fire showcases 3 of the park’s best hikes and countless other incredible photo ops, including the spectacular Fire Wave, White Domes, and Mouse’s Tank Road. Read on to discover absolutely everything you need to know for the ultimate day at Valley of Fire State Park, including when to visit, how to get there, where to stay nearby, an essential packing list, and a super detailed 1-day itinerary.
Check out other posts in my 1-day National Park & Public Land series:
- Alabama Hills National Scenic Area
- Arches National Park
- Bryce Canyon National Park COMING SOON
- Canyonlands National Park
- Death Valley National Park
- Grand Canyon National Park COMING SOON
- Joshua Tree National Park
- Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
- Saguaro National Park COMING SOON
- Yosemite National Park
- Zion National Park COMING SOON
Planning your trip
When to visit Valley of Fire State Park
Located in the southern Nevada desert, Valley of Fire State Park is a year-round destination offering spectacular scenery and unique experiences 12 months of the year:
Summer (June to September) is the least recommended time to visit the park, with soaring temperatures approaching the 40C (105F) in the afternoon and little shade on any of the trails. You can definitely still explore Valley of Fire during this time, since the hikes are fairly short and undemanding, but you’ll definitely need to be prepared with heaps of water and sun protection.
Autumn (September to November) & Spring (March to May) each boast comfortable daytime temperatures (24C / 75F) that are far more agreeable for hiking, but are also likely to be the busiest months to visit Valley of Fire.
Winter (December to February) can be a good time to visit Valley of Fire, with far cooler days (18C / 65F) and a relatively low number of visitors, but expect short daylight hours to somewhat limit your itinerary.
Entrance fees for Valley of Fire State Park
As of April 2021, the day-use entry fee for Valley of Fire State Park is $10 for Nevada residents and $15 for out-of-state or foreign visitors.
This fee can typically be paid to an attendant at either entrance station (the west entrance is just before the Scenic Loop and the east is just after Elephant Rock), but those entering after-hours or on non-staffed days are still required to pay using self-pay kiosks near the entrance. In this instance, you’ll need to stuff exact cash into an envelope and fill out some basic information, as well as display a valid car tag, which you’ll tear off the envelope upon completion.
Since Valley of Fire is a Nevada state park (as opposed to federal land managed by the NPS), annual America the Beautiful parks passes are not accepted.
Other important things to know about Valley of Fire
- RECEPTION: Mobile reception in Valley of Fire is very limited, so make sure you’ve downloaded offline maps and done all your research prior to entering the park. If you plan on getting off-route within the park, I’d also recommend bringing a PLB in case of emergency; I personally use a Garmin In-Reach Mini.
- WATER: Just after Atlatl Rock (if driving from the west), there’s a free RV dump station within the park that also has a spigot with potable water. We were able to fill up the 45gal water tank in our van, although it did take an extremely long time.
- LEAVE NO TRACE: As with every outdoor adventure, and particularly those within protected natural areas, it is critical that you take steps to reduce human impact on the environment. This includes packing out all of your rubbish or disposing of it in the bins provided at most every trailhead, campsite, and viewpoint. I’d also encourage you to be mindful of where you go off-trail within the park— it’s absolutely part of the adventure, but not at the expense of delicate plantlife, so be sure to get your off-route kicks on the rocks or other durable surfaces.
Getting to Valley of Fire State Park
Although a world away from the lights and debauchery of the The Strip, Valley of Fire State Park is an easy 1hr (50mi) northeast of Las Vegas, just north of Lake Mead. Access couldn’t be easier along the 15!
Getting around Valley of Fire State Park
Although it’s a small enough state park to comfortably cycle around, the best way to experience Valley of Fire is in your own vehicle. All roads are well maintained and, with the exception of the Scenic Loop Drive (which is partially gravel), all roads within the park are also paved.
Make sure to pick up a free map when you come through the entrance station or from the Visitor Centre (near Balancing Rock), as there is very limited mobile reception within the park! If you miss grabbing a map (outside of staffed hours; typically 8am-5pm) or prefer to use your phone, there’s a downloadable version of the park map available here and I’ve also marked all my recommended stops on a handy Google Map (which you can save to your phone) in the itinerary section below.
Where to stay near Valley of Fire State Park
Accommodation options near Valley of Fire are literally endless, especially with Las Vegas and Lake Mead within easy reach. Here are a couple nicer hotels I can personally recommend from various times I’ve passed through Vegas:
- Tropicana | This classic casino/hotel along the Strip provides comfortable accommodation at a surprisingly good price; double rooms from $50/night.
- MGM Grand | Those looking for a typical Las Vegas experience will also be impressed by rooms at the MGM Grand, starting at $49/night. Usually the best deals are available last-minute!
If you’re equipped for an outdoor adventure, though, the camping options in and around Valley of Fire State Park are seriously fantastic:
- There are two established campgrounds within Valley of Fire, one near Arch Rock and the other at Atlatl Rock, both along the Scenic Loop Drive near the west entrance to the park. Camping fees are $20/night for Nevada residents or $25/night for out-of-state or foreign visitors, operating on a first-come, first-served basis. The facilities are pretty basic (restrooms and picnic tables), but there is a water refill and dump station near Atlatl Rock and it’s also possible to pay an additional $10 for utility hookup.
- There is also some excellent free boondocking available near the west entrance to Valley of Fire; I personally stayed at this spot and loved both the convenience and the seclusion.
- Far and away the BEST camping option near Valley of Fire State Park is free boondocking along Lake Mead. There are heaps of incredible spots, but I loved camping at Echo Bay, which had excellent waterfront access and was an easy 20min to the east entrance of Valley of Fire! Both of these boondocking spots are marked on the itinerary map below.
Packing list for Valley of Fire State Park
Although this is not intended to be a fully comprehensive packing list, here are some absolute essentials to pack for your day exploring Valley of Fire State Park:
- Day pack | I love my REI Flash 18 summit pack for short hikes and scrambles in the state park
- Water bottle | Plan to carry a couple of litres in the car and on longer hikes, as there is no water available in the park and it can get HOT; this is an awesome bottle with a built-in filter
- Snacks | To maximise time exploring, you need to pack food for snacks and lunch, as there is nothing available inside the park; if you plan to picnic, it can also be great to bring compact camping chairs like these awesome REI Flexlite Camp Chairs and a small table
- Camera (+ tripod if you’re trying to capture sunrise and sunset shots)
- Emergency communication | As there is limited reception in Valley of Fire, it’s always a good idea to carry a PLB or other emergency beacon/sat phone for off-trail adventures; I love my Garmin In-Reach Mini
- Hat | I wore my Akubra Traveller through all of the state park and loved the sun coverage (not to mention all the compliments!); this is an Australian-made hat, but you can find it online at select retailers in the US and it is SO worth the money
- Boots or sturdy walking shoes | You can explore most of Valley of Fire in sturdy walking or hiking shoes, but I personally prefer boots when scrambling and did all of the activities on this itinerary in my square-toe 1306 Blundstones (also from Australia, but available in limited styles online in the US)
- Layers! | In winter, it’s essential to have lots of layers, as temperatures can vary widely from early morning to mid afternoon; I always pack a down jacket, mountain jacket, fleece jumper just to be safe!
*1-day Valley of Fire State Park itinerary
The following 1-day itinerary for Valley of Fire State Park begins at the west entrance, detouring off Highway 169 for several worthwhile stops along the Scenic Loop Drive, before continuing up to the Visitor Centre at Balancing Rock.
From here, you’ll follow Mouse’s Tank Road all the way to the Fire Wave, and then slowly work your way back towards the Visitor Centre, stopping at trailheads for White Domes and Rainbow Vista. Once back on the main highway, head east for a few final stops before ending the day at Elephant Rock and exiting towards Lake Mead. It’ll be action packed, no question, but absolutely manageable in a single day!
1 | Scenic Loop Drive
Arriving via the park’s west entrance, your first order of business within Valley of Fire is driving the Scenic Loop, a 2mi gravel road that winds you past popular geological features and ancient historical sites.
Even though this IS a drive, I’d encourage you to hop out of the car whenever you see something of interest— there are heaps of natural rock arches and wind-carved caves to discover, many of which aren’t even marked on the map!
2 | Fire Cave
A short distance along the Scenic Loop, at a rather unassuming point in the road, lies one of the park’s many hidden gems, the Fire Cave. Without consulting Google Maps, you might not even know it exists (since it’s not on the park map), but it’s well worth the hunt.
Carved wildly into the region’s characteristic red sandstone, this is a small but visually spectacular cave popular among photographers— though it hardly takes a lot of imagination to find a beautiful angle!
3 | Arch Rock
Driving a short distance further along the Scenic Loop, you’ll reach a small parking area to view Arch Rock.
Admittedly, it’s a pretty underwhelming arch compared to others in the southwest, but an easy photo op right off the road! Around the back, there’s also a beautiful rock formation with several petroglyphs left behind by one of the native tribes who inhabited this area several thousand years ago.
4 | Atlatl Rock
The last point of interest along the Scenic Loop is Atlatl Rock, named for the wooden device native tribes would use during hunting to add force and maximise distance of their spears.
In addition to being a beautiful rock formation, you can walk up a short series of stairs to view 4,000-year-old petroglyphs carved right into the surface of the rock.
The exact meaning of the petroglyphs on Atlatl Rock have been lost to time, but you can clearly make out birds and long-horned ram, which would have been principle food sources for native people living in the region— we easily saw a dozen wild ram during our time in Valley of Fire, so they’re still here in large numbers!
5 | Beehives
Next, backtrack just a short distance towards the west entrance of the park to view an area that was missed along the main road while exploring the Scenic Loop. The Beehives are massive, swirled rock formations that bear an uncanny resemblance to their namesake, and showcase more of the region’s fascinating sandstone geology.
Like many of the rocks within Valley of Fire, these formations were created over millions of years through cross-bedding, with new layers of sand deposited on top of old layers and then slowly weathered by the wind and rain. The result is pretty spectacular, so hop out of the car and spend a few minutes poking around.
6 | Petrified Logs
Heading east again from the Beehives, make a small detour off to the right to check out the Petrified Logs, a small collection of ancient pines that turned to stone over millions of years. Although the logs are protected behind small fences and therefore you’re not able to touch them, it’s still fascinating to see this geochemical phenomenon in person!
It’s believed that these particular logs were primitive evergreens called Araucarian Pines, transported via floodwaters from the vast forests that once covered Nevada 150 million years ago and then buried under the soil, where mineral-rich groundwater slowly leached into the bark and between the fibres.
While these minerals hardened within every microscopic air pocket, the tree itself naturally deteriorated until all that remained was rock, still in the original shape of the pine trunk— not unlike the process of creating a candle using a wax mould, but with a markedly more impressive result.
7 | Mouse’s Tank Road
As you continue through Valley of Fire, you’ll soon come to the Visitor Centre at Balancing Rock— a good place to grab a paper map if you haven’t had the chance, as well as to learn about the geology of the area. This is right at the junction with Mouse’s Tank Road, also called White Domes Road, the impossibly scenic stretch of pavement leading out to the Fire Wave and White Domes.
Without question, this is one of the most jaw-dropping parts of the park, and it’s all visible from the driver’s seat!
If you want to hop out and get a picture, though, the best spot is right before the Rainbow Vista trailhead at a small pullout along the road. When this is occupied (or if you drive right by it, which is easy to do), you can just as easily park at Rainbow Vista and then walk back along the road a short distance to find a good vantage point.
8 | Fire Wave
2.4km / 1.5mi return | negligible elevation gain | 45min
At the end of Mouse’s Tank Road, pull into the always-busy car park for the Fire Wave and cross the road to reach the trailhead.
With a striking resemblance to northern Arizona’s famous Wave formation, but without the 20-person daily limit, the extremely competitive lottery, or the sweltering 8km hike, the Fire Wave is the most impressive spot in the entire Valley of Fire!
The hike out to the Fire Wave is incredibly easy and straightforward, essentially just a flat path through red dust and along striped sandstone to reach the main feature, which shouldn’t take longer than 15min. There’s absolutely no shade, though, so come prepared with water and a hat.
Once at the Fire Wave, you’ll likely have to queue for photos atop the rocky knob— I found that most people stand in the middle of the rock slab to take photos, but the best camera angle is actually all the way over to the right, lower and closer to the edge of the feature. From here, you’ll fit way more coloured ripples in the frame, as well as get your subject nicely silhouetted against the sky.
9 | White Domes
1.8km / 1.1mi loop | negligible elevation gain | 45min
Although there’s no single feature on the White Domes hike that can hold a candle to the Fire Wave, the hike itself is actually more impressive, showcasing a plethora of vibrant geological features and even winding through a small slot canyon.
Begin the short hike from the White Domes trailhead, a short distance back towards the Visitor Centre along Mouse’s Tank Road/White Domes Road.
Aside from a brief descent at the start of the walk, it’s essentially flat and you could race to the end in under a half-hour— but with so many interesting side canyons to explore and eroded sandstone faces to climb, you’ll definitely want to allow extra time for off-route adventures.
10 | Rainbow Vista
1.8km / 1.1mi loop | negligible elevation gain | 30min
Backtracking further along Mouse’s Tank Road towards the Visitor Centre, the final trailhead you’ll pass is for Rainbow Vista, another short excursion, this time offering a view of the red Aztec sandstone that makes up Rainbow Canyon, as well as impressive natural rock arches.
Of all the hikes on this list, Rainbow Vista is the least spectacular, but only because the Fire Wave and White Domes are SO amazing. If time allows, I’d definitely still recommend Rainbow Vista, especially as it’s a short walk!
11 | Seven Sisters
Heading towards the west entrance along the main highway, Seven Sisters is another worthwhile roadside photo op, showcasing a series of large sandstone mounds tightly clustered together in the dust.
This is also an excellent rock scrambling area, for those looking to hop out and get dirty!
12 | Elephant Rock
From a small carpark just before the east entrance, walk a short distance up a trail to see the park’s most spectacular natural arch, Elephant Rock— also your final stop of the day!
While the resemblance to an elephant is somewhat questionable, the arch far exceeds the scale of earlier Arch Rock and is well worth the short walk. Be prepared to queue for a photo during busy months or on the weekend, though, as this spot is far from a hidden gem.
Explore more nearby
- Lake Mead is one of the coolest places in Nevada when it comes to relaxing on the water, and it’s less than 30min from Valley of Fire!
- Once in Las Vegas, there are heaps of amazing outdoor activities, and Red Rock Canyon is one of the absolute best: THE ULTIMATE 1-DAY RED ROCK CANYON (LAS VEGAS) ITINERARY: 9 BEST HIKES & VIEWPOINTS
- Death Valley is also incredibly close to Las Vegas, with tons of amazing hikes and otherworldly viewpoints to explore: THE ULTIMATE 1-DAY DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK ITINERARY: 9 BEST HIKES & VIEWPOINTS (POST-COVID)
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