Exploring the Valley of Fire State Park for Sunrise

Written byRobin

Every single time we visit Las Vegas, which has somehow become quite frequent in recent years, we always make time to visit the Valley of Fire. Valley of Fire is a State Park located less than one hour from the city, so it’s always worth a quick visit.

While many people make a day trip out there, we’ve come to realise that our best experiences have always come from quick trips, and gradually checking off different parts of the park each time. Our favourite way to visit is to visit Valley of Fire for sunrise, explore a little before the park heats up (it is in the desert after all), and blitz back to Las Vegas for breakfast.

Las Vegas has some of the best restaurants in the world, so we always feel like it’s a massive shame to pass up any potential meals there. So, generally speaking, our tradition has become heading back for dim sum in chinatown or breakfast at one of our favourite restaurants, like Yardbird on the strip.

But I digress.

What is the Valley of Fire State Park

In case you didn’t realise, Las Vegas is slap bang in the middle of a large desert landscape, and the Valley of Fire is no different. Except it kind of is.

Drive from Las Vegas and you’ll pass through miles and miles of desert scrub land, but enter the Valley of Fire and suddenly the colours turn from green, yellow and pale orange to dark reds and oranges. All of a sudden you feel like you’re standing on the surface of Mars.

The Valley of Fire State Park is a 40,000 acre park known for its Aztec sandstone rock formations, petroglyphs and desert hiking. There are a number of great landmarks and trails to explore, and it’s worth visiting whether you’re just planning to drive through or you have a day to kill.

The Valley of Fire is also an important historical site, as it contains ancient petroglyphs drawn 2,500 over years ago. The most important example of this can be found on Atlatl Rock (an atlatl is an ancient type of spear), drawn by the early Basketmaker culture that moved to the area over 11 thousand years ago.

How to get to the Valley of Fire State Park

The Valley of Fire State Park is about 1 hour’s drive from Las Vegas (around 50 miles) by car, and is very easy indeed to reach. The drive is gorgeous with plenty of interesting twists and turns en route.

Here’s a map of the Valley of Fire’s location below:

When is the best time to visit the valley of fire?

If you’re visiting during the hotter summer months, I would avoid visiting during the hotter parts of the day as the temperature can easily reach above 110F and can be extremely unpleasant. However, if you’re visiting in Winter, you might want to visit during the hottest part of the day as the dry desert climate can easily drop drop below freezing.

Mouse’s tank road – Nevada’s most famous road

This road view has gone viral around the world. The squiggly road that runs through the centre of the Valley of Fire makes for some absolutely incredible photos, and its name is Mouse’s Tank Road.

If you’re looking to take a road photo of Mouse’s tank road, aim to visit early or late to avoid too much traffic. The main viewpoint is best viewed if you enter from the southern end and drive through the valley. At the end of the first part of the road, before you disappear over the hill, stop and look back and you’ll see the view.

For a better perspective, try to get a little higher. With that being said, there are definitely rattlesnakes here (I almost stepped on one), so stomp around and make lots of noise if you’re going to walk in the scrub.

Is sunset or sunrise better at the Valley of Fire?

My preferred time to visit the Valley of Fire State Park is at sunrise (the park is only open between sunrise and sunset), because most of Las Vegas is still sleeping and none of the tours have started yet.

At sunrise, the sunlight beams into the valley and illuminates the distant mountains with golden light. At sunset, the views can also be as stunning, but the area tends to be busier and therefore more challenging if you’re a photographer.

Things to check out in the valley of fire:

The Fire Wave

The Fire Wave is a short hike into the desert that leads to a beautiful, smooth section of rock that looks like a wave. The hike is short but definitely not recommended in the hot summer months as there’s no shade whatsoever.

We decided to do this in the middle of the day during the summer months and I’ve never come so close to heat exhaustion. It’s not a joke. Make sure you bring a hat, sun protection and bring plenty of water.

The route is lined by small signs and trail markers; be sure to look out for them as you walk through the valley.

Rainbow Vista

Rainbow Vista is another short desert walk that leads to incredible views of a number of multicoloured rocks (the rainbow vista). We’re talking different shades of orange, yellow and white here though, not actual rainbow colours. Still, it’s a great little walk if you have the time!

Elephant Rock

Elephant Rock is one of the more famous features in the Valley of Fire. It’s a rock formation that looks uncannily like an elephant, with the long trunk and head being the most obvious feature. I’ve seen people taking photos of themselves climbing on the rocks before, but make sure you’re not one of them; the rocks are incredibly delicate and need protecting from our impact!

The Arch

The first time we went looking for the arch, Louise and I couldn’t spot it anywhere. Then we realised it was about 100 times smaller than we were imagining, and was literally right in front of us. Most of the pictures online don’t show any scale, so it actually made us burst out laughing when we saw it. We were picturing something MASSIVE!

valley of fire arch

The arch is actually quite beautiful and delicate, and well worth tracking down if you’re visiting the Valley of Fire for the day. It’s also found just a few feet from the road, so anyone can see it without having to hike.

Atlatl rock

Atlatl Rock is one of the biggest features you’ll find at the Valley of Fire. It’s an enormous rock that’s home to the aforementioned 2500 year old petroglyphs.

Well worth checking out, and please just look and don’t touch!

The Beehives

The Beehives are just another area of Valley of Fire full of some more interesting rock formations that kind of look like beehives. You can walk around them, and in and out of various holes in the rocks. It’s a cool area to explore, but if I had limited time I probably wouldn’t head there first.

valley of fire beehive

Pink canyon

This is another hike at the Valley of Fire that takes you into a slot canyon made of beautiful pink rock. You’ll have to hike a short while, but the entrance to the canyon is very close to the road. It is, however, an unmarked trail.

To find the trailhead, follow Mouse’s Tank Road until you reach the #5 wash sign (a wash is just a dry river bed), then the trailhead is at the 4th dip in the road (4th dip is signposted).

Bring plenty of water, and expect puddles if it’s rained recently.

How far is Valley of Fire from Las Vegas

The Valley of Fire is approximately 1 hour’s drive from Las Vegas by car.

How Much Does The Valley of Fire Cost to Visit?

The Valley of Fire does have an entrance charge, which is $10 per vehicle. If you’re looking to camp then it costs $20 per night, plus $10 if you need a hookup.

If you visit during office hours, there should be a ranger manning a toll booth, but outside of those times the park works with an honesty policy. Bring cash, put the money in an envelope and post it into the payment mailbox.

When is the Valley of Fire Open?

The Valley of Fire is open year round, but is only open to visitors from sunrise to sunset. Therefore if you plan to shoot sunrise or sunset, your timing will have to be absolutely bang on. Entering outside those times is considered trespassing, however the campgrounds are open 24/7.

Can you Camp at the Valley of Fire?

Yes, there are a number of great camping spots at the Valley of Fire, and there are even RV hookups. Fires are allowed in designated grills and firepits and there are a number of picnic tables and outhouses dotted about the park.

Where should you stay when visiting the Valley of Fire?

The most obvious place to stay would be Las Vegas when planning a visit to the Valley of Fire. It’s so close and is probably the best place to find a variety of accommodations to suit any budget.

You could also stay in St. George in Utah, which is a little further away, however it’s a great place to stay if you’re also planning to visit Zion National Park. Zion has some absolutely breathtaking hikes that we also like to visit regularly.

Other things to know about Valley of Fire State Park

  1. The desert can have huge temperature swings. Freezing in the morning and evening and baking once the sun is out. Pack warm and cold weather clothes to remain comfortable
  2. Bring lots of water; I didn’t see many places to fill up a bottle, so bring some with you
  3. There are definitely snakes here. I nearly stepped on a rattlesnake one time. Tread loudly and carefully
  4. There isn’t much cell service in the Valley of Fire, but amazingly, there are service hot spots at many of the parking areas that seem to be specifically there so you can post on social media.

Overall

Overall, the Valley of Fire State Park is a wonderful place to visit, especially if you’re keen to escape the chaos of Las Vegas for a few hours or days. It’s a great place to hike or enjoy the tranquility of nature, but it’s also close enough to civilisation to mean you can still find some decent food nearby. Come prepared, go for a few hikes and you’ll have an amazing time!

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