A Valley of Fire in the Nevada Desert
Nevada is home to countless wonders. Amazing cities, deserts, canyons, and lakes cover the state. Valley of Fire State Park is one of the most beautiful things you can see in all of Nevada. The brilliant reds accented by the white limestone create a majestic display of color and natural beauty in the middle of a sandy barren desert.
For only $10, you can visit the park for a day and experience the natural wonders, abundant wildlife, and history of the ancient sandstone. It’s a relatively small park, and unlike similar National Parks, you will spend just as much time walking and enjoying the scenery as you will driving. Everything in the park is only a short drive from the visitors center.
We were there near the end of October. The weather was warm but not hot, and there weren’t too many people in the park. We explored the slot canyons of the White Domes and saw the Fire Wave with no one else around, which only added to the experience.
While there are a lot of rest areas and scenic overlooks along the road to the central hikes, there are five main things you have to see and do while visiting the park to get a true Valley of Fire experience.
1. Mouse’s Tank
If you head North from the visitors center along the White Domes Road, one of the first parking lots you come to is Mouse’s Tank. This is the start of a short 3/4 mile trail that heads into the heart of the Valley of Fire through a steep canyon. Right from the parking lot, we were lucky enough to see our first heard of desert bighorn sheep grazing not far from the trailhead. Then only 50 more feet in there was a decent-sized ram on the bright red rocks. It was a fantastic sight to see.
Continuing, you feel like you are surrounded by fire as you journey deeper into the canyon. High cliffs and towering rock formations surround you. But perhaps one of the more unique parts are the petroglyphs scratched into the rocks and cliffs all along the path. There is not only a large number of them, but they are evident and easy to make out. Not something you get to see every day. They were made by prehistoric tribes, which included the Basket Maker people and the Anasazi Pueblo farmers of the Moapa Valley.
At the end of the trail, you are greeted by the hike’s namesake, the Mouse’s Tank. The area was a hideout for an outlaw in the 1890’s, and it’s easy to see why. The “tank” is a natural basin in the rocks that is deep and collects water after rain. The valley’s lack of water was one of the main reasons the area was challenging to inhabit not only for outlaws but prehistoric people as well.
This hike is very short and easy, you walk on soft sand the entire way, and you get to see a lot of what makes the park such a fantastic destination. It’s a must-do for everyone.
2. Fire Wave
One of the most famous formations in the Valley of Fire, the Fire Wave, is an amazing display of petrified dunes. The red and white striped rock flows into two distinct wave formations that not only look spectacular; they also give a sensation of being on a desert ocean.
The trail begins at parking lot 3 on White Domes Road. After parking, you cross the street and start walking towards and tall sandstone cliff. The path is soft sand in the beginning but slowly turns to gravel then sandstone. The hike is 1.5 miles total and is mostly flat with some uphill as you walk up the sandstone towards the wave.
The hike gets confusing at certain points, but you are going in the right direction if you make it to the sandstone. After you get out onto the flat stone, there are piles of rocks marking the way. You know you are at the fire wave when the sandstone steeply goes down, and you see the first wave.
You can explore the waves and everything around them, but the park does ask that you not climb on the wave formations. If you walk past the fire wave, there is a dry creek bed you can explore that has some awesome sand and rocks you can climb on.
3. White Domes
White Dome is a 1.25-mile loop at the end of the White Dome Road. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s one of the best walks in the park. You start by walking between two amazing white cliffs and then head down into a small valley of stunning white and red rocks.
In that area alone there are lots of things to discover. There are a small stone structure and tons of cool rock formations. To hike down into it, they have created stone stairs and walkways to make it easy to hike. There’s just so much to see with every step you take.
Once you pass the small valley, you walk into a dry creek bed and into a short but fascinating slot canyon.
After that, you come to the start of a different hike that is about 8 miles long, this is another fantastic hike, but you need to be more prepared for it. Make sure you go right and follow the loop back to the parking lot. There are some hidden arches, so see along this part, so keep an eye out.
4. The Cabins
After the three main hikes, you are ready to head back to the visitor’s center and then take the Valley of Fire road to see the cabins. Although nature is my favorite thing to see anywhere, I am always eager to see any old building in places like this to get a sense of the history of an area. The cabins were built in the 1930s as shelters for people hiking the Arrowhead Trail. They were made with native sandstone and blend into the background perfectly. You can walk inside them and explore the area.
Exploring the area around the cabins led to my favorite part of the whole trip, which was following a dry creek to a steep drop off. After climbing down, it leads to another very steep drop off and a glimpse of a small sandy area with trees and plants. It looked like paradise, but I was unable to continue due to the height. I wish I had remembered to snap a photo, but I was too far into adventure mode and forgot. If you ever make it to the cabins, be sure to check it out.
5. Elephant Rock
Elephant Rock is not only something you will see pictures of when you look up Valley of Fire; it’s also one of those things that aren’t quite like the photos. You can technically see it from the road, but to look at it, you park at the parking lot by the East Entrance and head West on a trail that runs along the road.
It’s just a short walk up to the viewing spot where the Elephant Rock is above you. For me, this was the unexpected part. The rock is pretty small, not a giant like I thought, and you can’t climb up to get close to it because it’s such a delicate structure. I completely understand that part.
Although it is smaller than I expected, it’s a must-see because it does look like an elephant. It’s a strange thing to see a red elephant in the middle of Nevada, but there it is. Make sure you park and walk up to see it because there is no stopping allowed on the road, and you will want to get a good look at this strange yet beautiful rock formation.
Other Things To Do In The Park
While there are five must-do things in the park, you may find yourself with some extra time, make sure you head over to the Rainbow Vista to do the short 1-mile hike there. It’s got some fantastic colors and is worth the walk.
If you are into camping like we are, there are two amazing campgrounds in the park that don’t cost much to stay at. You can camp in the red rocks and enjoy the park more thoroughly. We took the time to drive through them to scout out future campsites, and standing right next to the road was a majestic bighorn ram. He was much larger than the smaller ones we had seen at Mouse’s Tank. I couldn’t believe how much wildlife we saw right in the park.
If you’re ever in the area, whether it’s a trip to Vegas or visiting Lake Mead be sure to stop and check out Valley of Fire. It’s not as crowded as other parks but will inevitably become more popular in time. It’s where you can see the amazing red sandstone that is mainly found in places like Southern Utah and experience the beauty of nature and the colorful landscapes found in Nevada.