Just 45 minutes outside of Vegas is one of the most spectacularly under-the-radar spots in the entire American Southwest: Nevada’s Valley of Fire.
You’ll pop through Page, Arizona for Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon, if only to keep the ‘gram happy.
If you’re intrepid, you’ll visit a few of the lesser-known national parks and monuments scattered along the way — perhaps Canyonlands or Capitol Reef to finish up Utah’s Mighty 5, or check out Monument Valley or Grand Staircase.
But my favorite stop of any Southwest road trip is even less well-known than many of these. It’s not even a National Park. It’s just a humble little state park, an easy day trip from Vegas.
Where is the Valley of Fire?
Valley of Fire State Park is located in Overton, NV, about 45 miles and 45 minutes from Las Vegas.
There are two ways to get there: via the East Entrance and via the West Entrance.
This tour assumes you are visiting the Valley of Fire from Las Vegas on a full-day excursion, and thus will use the West Entrance.
This closest to Fire Cave, Windstone Arch, and the Beehives (the first stops on this Valley of Fire tour as written).
The way to get here is via the Las Vegas Freeway (I-15), followed by exiting at the Moapa Paiute Travel Plaza. You can stop here for some shopping or a bathroom break before continuing on the Valley of Fire Highway.
At the West Entrance, you’ll need to pay a $10 entrance fee for a Nevada vehicle ($15 entrance fee for an out-of-state car).
If you enter via the East Entrance for some reason, such as if you are coming from Zion National Park, you’ll want to follow this itinerary in reverse.
To get here, before reaching Las Vegas, you’ll exit off I-15 (Las Vegas Freeway) onto Highway 169, through Moapa Valley and Overton.
Map for This Valley of Fire Itinerary
One Day in Valley of Fire Itinerary
This Valley of Fire itinerary assumes you are visiting Valley of Fire from Las Vegas on a self-guided day trip with a car, either your own or a rental car.
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Get an early start because this is a jam-packed day in Valley of Fire State Park!
Start at the Fire Cave and Windstone Arch.
As you enter the park, your first stop is just a quick side-trip off of Valley of Fire Highway, turning left down a dirt road.
There will be a small parking area for Fire Cave / Windstone Rock, a series of wind caves and arches that are absolutely stunning, with lots of little notches in the rocks carved by wind erosion over the course of millennia.
This is a more off-the-beaten-path area of the park and not too many people will be here, so enjoy the solitude while it lasts!
Check out the Beehives.
Head back to the main road and park in the Beehives parking lot. You’ll be surrounded by beautiful red rock formations everywhere you look, including the eponymous “beehives” made of sandstone rock.
These “beehives” have a fascinating geological story behind them. They are marked with hundreds of grooved lines that indicate layers of sediment that were deposited over time.
The grooves of these “beehives” alternate in different directions according to the wind or water movement that deposited the sandstone silt there, where it then built up on top of each other to form these unique sandstone formations!
See the petroglyphs at Atlatl Rock.
At this next stop, you’ll get to see amazing Native American petroglyphs that are well over 4,000 years old.
These rock carvings were made about 50-feet up on a boulder, and while there is now a staircase to reach them, you have to wonder how the original artists got up here!
Start at the Atlatl Rock Picnic Area and follow the trail up to the staircase. From there, it’s just under 90 steps up to the viewing area where you can see the incredible petroglyphs etched into the rock.
Not much is known definitively about these petroglyphs due to their age, but the reigning theory is that they were carved by Ancestral Puebloans, perhaps by a shaman due to the height of the carvings.
Unfortunately, there is some contemporary graffiti next to the ancient petroglyphs. Please do not add any marks of your own, so that people can continue to enjoy this beautiful piece of art history.
Marvel at Arch Rock.
A short distance from Atlatl Rock is your next stop on this one-day Valley of Fire itinerary, Arch Rock!
You’ll have to park your car in the parking lot and then make your way down just a 0.1-mile path until you reach the viewpoint for Arch Rock.
Do not climb on it! This is a very fragile piece of the park. Please obey the signage and don’t do anything to mess up the natural beauty of this special place.
Check out the Seven Sisters en route to Elephant Rock.
The next place on this Valley of Fire itinerary is a quick stop: you may want to pull over and snap a photo or you may just want to pass through, depending on how much time you want to spend in the park.
The Seven Sisters are a smattering of rock formations straddling the road as you make your way towards Elephant Rock. They are cool to notice, but perhaps not worth a long stop.
Snap some photos of the unique Elephant Rock.
Next up is one of my favorite places in all of Valley of Fire: Elephant Rock!
Make your way to the parking lot and find the trailhead for Elephant Rock. Follow the short trail up about a quarter-mile until you are at the backside of the “elephant” in the rock, looking over the valley and the road below.
This is the best and most “lifelike” shot!
You can either head back out the way you came, or you could continue on the loop — the full hike is only 1.2 miles and it’s really beautiful, and the crowds thin out after the Elephant Rock viewpoint.
However, if it’s so hot out that even a short hike sounds unappealing, you can snap a photo of Elephant Rock from the front side (not quite as beautiful, but also cool!) or just go to the viewpoint and back, less than half a mile in distance.
Double back to the Visitor Center.
After spending some time snapping photos of the different rock formations in the park, it’s time to drop by the Visitor Center to learn a bit about the history of the park.
The Visitor Center is really informative (and it’s also air-conditioned, which is a nice break from the park’s relentless heat!) and tells you all about how the park was formed, geologically speaking.
The Valley of Fire is over 150 million years old, and its undulations and rock formations were created by millions of years of erosion and fault line activity.
The park is known for its “Aztec Sandstone”, its red sandstone formations rich in iron oxide which gives it that special characteristic hue.
Around the Visitor Center, there are some other cool rock formations that are fun to pose on!
Take some photos of Balanced Rock.
As you leave the Valley of Fire Visitor Center and start heading down Mouse’s Tank Road towards the rest that the park has to offer, you’ll spot Balanced Rock almost immediately after leaving the parking lot!
This gorgeous and seemingly precariously-balanced rock formation is one of the park’s most unique landmarks. It’s worth a stop for a photo, at least, before you continue on the scenic Mouse’s Tank Road!
Hike to Mouse’s Tank or extend to Fire Canyon Wash.
The hike to Petroglyph Canyon via Mouse’s Tank Trail is only 0.4 miles one-way (0.8 miles return) and it’s worth the short detour!
The canyon is filled with historic Native American petroglyphs, as the name would suggest, and it’s really beautiful and scenic.
The hike is short and easy, with a mostly sandy trail and limited elevation gain (no more than 60 feet).
If you want to continue onto Fire Canyon Wash, this is a longer hiking trail than others that I’ve recommended in this one-day Valley of Fire itinerary.
I suggest it only in the non-summer months, otherwise it is too hot for a hike of this length. You can read more about it here.
Hike the Rainbow Vista Trail.
Since the Valley of Fire can be really hot most of the year, I’m trying to be mindful of only recommending short trails that are absolutely worth the effort.
Well, Rainbow Vista Trail is exactly that! In less than a mile roundtrip, with a negligible amount of elevation change, you can reach the beautiful viewpoint with a gorgeous 360-degree view of the surrounding rainbow rocks for which the area is named.
It’s a short, sweet, and stunning hike: the best of all worlds!
Snap a photo on Mouse’s Tank Road.
As you continue on towards Fire Wave and other points in the park, you’ll likely want to pull over several times!
This is the best place to snap some amazing “Southwest road” shots as the elevation gain creates beautiful undulations in the road against the red rock formations.
Keep an eye out as you drive — you may spot some bighorn sheep, the state animal of Nevada, grazing on the park lands!
Hike the Pink Canyon.
One of the lesser-known hikes in Valley of Fire is Pink Canyon, also called Pastel Canyon.
Typically, people speed right past on it on their way to the Fire Wave, but I’m here to beg you to stop and visit!
The trailhead can be a bit hard to find. You can put “Pastel (Pink) Canyon Trail” into Google Maps or go to these coordinates: 36°28’46.4″N 114°31’35.7″W
This is an amazing short hike that will take you around 30 minutes to complete. You’ll go through a sandstone slot canyon with pinkish-toned rock, hence the name of the trail.
It’s absolutely stunning and it’s far less crowded than other areas of the park, despite being (in my opinion) one of the best parts!
Check out Fire Wave.
Next up is one of the most famous places to visit in Valley of Fire State Park: the Fire Wave!
This is a great short and easy hike, which can be done in about 30 minutes (including time for photos!).
Note that the beginning is a bit sandy, then there are some loose rocks near the beginning of the trail, but then it’s easy from there!
I suggest going later in the day, when the heat has worn off and when the red rocks pick up more color from the golden hour.
Take the White Domes Trail.
This scenic hike through a white slot canyon is the perfect way to end your day in Valley of Fire.
It’s a 1.1-mile hike that can get quite busy, so this is the perfect way to cap off the early evening, when many day trippers have already returned to Las Vegas.
On this hiking trail, you may find a small ruin left over from the filming of the movie The Professionals!
It is so small you may not notice it unless you are looking for it, but it’s a cool piece of trivia to know. All that remains is a little rock wall that formed part of a hacienda, with some wooden posts sticking out.
My Experience Visiting Valley of Fire State Park
We wanted to rest up for the thousands of miles we’d be driving and have someone lead the way to all the best sights in the park, and it ended up being a great decision.
We had a great time and saw so much of the park without the stress!
We arrived at the Valley of Fire early, before the sun reached its midday intensity.
Immediately, we were stunned by the landscape. A rusty red color was everywhere the eye could see.
The landscape so reminiscent of Mars that it’s actually taken its place in such artistic masterpieces (please hear the sarcasm here, I know it’s the internet) as Total Recall.
Our first stop was The Beehives — aptly named for their oddly round hive-shaped forms.
After that, we made our way to perhaps the most famous resident of the Valley of Fire: Elephant Rock.
Our awesome guide, Dennis — who jokingly went by “Dennis the Menace” — pointed out other, less popular “wildlife” in the parks, encouraging us to imagine shapes in the rocks. It brought me back to laying on my back as a kid, watching clouds float past in the sky.
We all got into the spirit, seeing everything from baby elephants to Sphinxes to turtles and beyond, each “wildlife spotting” getting more fantastical as the day went on.
But more than any one specific sight on the tour, I enjoyed the grandness and scale of it as a whole. Despite how little known it is outside of the Vegas area, it’s actually huge: I’m talking over 45,000 acres huge.
It’s grand in another way, too: it’s amazingly old.
The rocks are essentially the calcified results of ancient sand dunes, more than twice as old as the last living dinosaurs.
150 million years ago, these dunes formed: dinosaurs last walked the Earth about 65 million years ago. So yeah, they’re pretty freaking old!
And even before the sand dunes formed, all this land was once ocean floor, forced up by roiling plate tectonics and active volcanoes and weathered by time.
If you’d like to experience the Valley of Fire on a day trip from Vegas, I highly recommend going with Pink Jeep Tours!
A tour starts at 9 AM and will get you back by 3 PM including roundtrip transfers to your hotel. A tour costs $169, including transfers, all the bottled water you can drink (trust me, you’ll need a lot!), and a packed lunch.
Another Way to Visit the Valley of Fire
While I visited Valley of Fire on a pink Jeep tour, I also visited another way: by helicopter!
While it was an expensive experience, it absolutely is the most bucket-list-worthy way to visit the Valley of Fire!
Starting in Las Vegas, we were picked up at our hotel for a transfer to the helicopter launch pads outside of Las Vegas. After being given a quick safety briefing, we rose up in the sky on our way to the West Rim of the Grand Canyon!
On our way, we passed over the gorgeous Lake Mead and the world-famous feat of engineering, the Hoover Dam, until we arrived at the Grand Canyon.
We didn’t land at the Grand Canyon but rather flew over it for about 20-30 minutes, enjoying all the incredible views that this magical national park has to offer.
Then we landed at the Valley of Fire for sunset!
We were totally alone when we landed: no other tours do this, as it is exclusive to this one helicopter tour.
We enjoyed a delicious champagne toast as the sun sunk into the horizon, and the setting sun set the stage for one of the most spectacular colorful shows possible.
The rocks were ablaze with color!
As we returned, the sky darkened and the Las Vegas Strip came alive. We flew over it, sparkling in its full glory, and landed back at where we started.
All in all, the tour took about 3 hours including a 30-minute stop in the Valley of Fire. I would strongly suggest this as a way to complement further exploration of Valley of Fire State Park!
Seeing it both at ground level and from above really makes you realize the scale and splendor of this unique place.
Want More Time in the Valley of Fire?
If you have a little more time and are interested in some camping, I’d highly recommend a longer stay at the Valley of Fire!
Camping is first come, first serve and costs $20-30 per night depending on if you need utility hookups.
Then you’ll get a chance to do some of the longer hikes and see the lovely colors as the sunrises and sunsets set the rocks ablaze.
Where to Go After the Valley of Fire
The Valley of Fire is a great addition to any Las Vegas itinerary. But it also makes a phenomenal stop on a larger Southwest road trip!
I often suggest people start their road trips of the Southwest in Las Vegas because the car rentals here are quite cheap, and Vegas is not far from many worthwhile stops in Utah and Arizona.
To explore more of the Las Vegas area, I recommend adding a trip to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. You can also visit Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam.
You could also explore Southern California, such as the Mojave Desert and Death Valley National Park.
Where to Stay in Las Vegas
BOUTIQUE | The W is the funkiest boutique hotel in all of Vegas — perfect for the ‘gram! The rooms are over the top and ridiculously outlandish and the staff is amazing with their personalized recommendations and greetings.
I loved the calm of the pool there compared to at the SLS (which you can also visit if you stay at the W!). It was an awesome oasis in the middle of crazy Vegas. Can’t rate highly enough!
>> Check prices, ratings, and availability at The W here.
BUDGET | For a cool place to stay in Las Vegas on a budget, the Golden Nugget is the classic choice! Highly-rated yet affordable, the Golden Nugget is located off the Strip in the heart of the funky Fremont Street area of Las Vegas, one of my favorite parts of the city.
The Golden Nugget is nostalgic and charming, with a retro facade with updated interiors. It has all the amenities of splashier Vegas hotels — outdoor pool, poolside bar, sauna, and even aquarium-side dining. Baller on a budget!
>> Check prices, ratings, and availability at the Golden Nugget here.
LUXURY | The beautiful The Wynn Las Vegas is a great luxury place to stay in Vegas that is still funky, unique, and decidedly Vegas.
With a luxe full-service spa, five oasis-style pools with cabana areas, designer boutiques on the property, upscale rooms, and a dedicated concierge service to facilitate all you need in the Vegas area, you’ll feel like you just struck it rich!
>> Check prices, ratings, and availability at the Wynn Las Vegas here.