Valley of Fire State Park is just an hour drive from the Las Vegas Strip, and if you want to take a break from the blackjack tables, this is a great place to spend a half of a day. There are a handful of short hikes that are easy, very colorful, and scenic for people of all ages. Valley of Fire State Park is best between the months of October to April, while the heat is not as oppressive.
Valley of Fire State Park
Hiking Distances –
Mouse’s Tank – 0.75 miles roundtrip (RT)
Rainbow Vista – 1 mile RT
Fire Wave – 1.25 miles RT
White Domes – 1.25 miles RT
Elephant Rock – 0.25 miles RT
Elevation at Visitors Center – 2000 feet
Difficulty – Easy to moderate
Trail – sand, slickrock
Amount of water recommended – 2 liters per hike, in the summer bring 3 liters
Bathrooms – located at Visitors Center, Mouse’s Tank, Rainbow Vista, and White Domes
Season to hike – The best time is from November to March, it is dangerously hot in the summer months
Prone to flash floods? – Can be prone to the rare flash flood, however the danger is minimal. Plenty of easily accessible high ground.
Permits – $10 Park Pass
Camping – Permitted in designated areas only, fees payable at campgrounds. 72 spots available, first come first served. Water, bathrooms and showers available.
Pets: Permitted, must be on a leash no longer than six feet.
How to get there:
If coming from The Strip in Las Vegas, take Flamingo to I-15 and head north. Stay on I-15 north for 37 miles.Take Exit 75 (Valley of Fire/Lake Mead) Turn right (east) onto Valley of Fire Highway. Stay on Valley of Fire Highway for about 15 miles. You will pay $10 at the West Entrance and the Visitors Center is 4 miles ahead on your left. Stop in to get updated weather conditions and drinking water.
If coming from the north, you can take the same exit as listed above, or you can get off of I-15 earlier at Exit 93 toward Nevada Hwy 169. Head south on NV-169 for 18 miles. Turn right onto Valley of Fire Highway and follow for 5.5 miles to reach the Visitors Center. (See a Google Map for this hike at the end of this post)
Places To See
This is not a hike, but more of a quick stop to take some photos of a small arch which is right off the side of the road. From the west entrance ranger booth, go east for 1.8 miles and turn left on the Scenic Loop Road. This road also take you to the campgrounds. Once on Scenic Loop Road, follow the road 0.5 miles and you can visit Atlatl Rock, which contains ancient Indian rock art, specifically petroglyphs, which can be accessed by ascending metal steps. Another 0.3 of a mile on the road will take you to Arch Rock. It’s a small arch perched on top of a short rounded rock fin. As with any arch, they can be very fragile so be considerate and don’t climb on the rock to get to arch, you can see it fine from below.
The Mouse’s Tank is a hike that takes you through a short box canyon called Petroglyph Canyon. There are petroglyphs all along the sides of the canyon. The most easily seen petroglyphs are chipped into the black desert varnish that covers parts of the canyon walls. The trail leads you to a natural pothole which acts as a cistern. Rain water would collect there and sometimes remain for months. This is a short hike that is suitable for all ages.
As for the name Mouse’s Tank, in the last 1800’s, there was a Piute Indian named Little Mouse, and he was local thief. Legend has it that when he would get drunk that he could be prone to violence, which led him steal, rob, and some even say murder, although it has not been verified. Little Mouse would hole up in Petroglyph Canyon to escape the law. Mouse’s Tank refers to the natural pothole that collected rain water. However, most water that collects in stagnant potholes is not potable, meaning, it’s not safe to drink due to bacteria, animal feces, etc. It is thought that Little Mouse would sneak down to the nearby Muddy River to the natural springs to get fresh water. When Little Mouse was hungry, he’d come out of the canyon, steal from the farmers and return to his hiding spot. Rumor has it that he was also a ferryman along the Colorado River for a time, but lost his work due to being drunk. In July 1897, after stealing from locals, he was tracked by a posse to a spring along the Muddy River, located a couple of miles from the Mouse’s Tank. Little Mouse refused to surrender, and was shot and killed.
Rainbow Vista refers to not only the a beautiful panoramic view from the trailhead, but also is a short hike that leads you a view of Fire Canyon. Most people only stop at the trailhead to take pictures of the vista to the north, but the hike is short and scenic. If you don’t have a lot of time, I would recommend just pulling over at the trailhead to take some pictures of the view. Some people may want to follow the trail to Fire Canyon, which shouldn’t take more than an hour or so. However, you’ll be hiking through deep sand along most of the trail, and there will be no shade.
Fire Canyon/Silica Dome Overlook
The road to this overlook is right past the Rainbow Vista viewpoint and is a great place to see bighorn sheep. I didn’t know this until afterward, but at this overlook a scene from the movie Star Trek Generations (1994) was filmed here. The Fire Canyon/Silica Dome Overlook provides great color contrast, and one can see why it would be used as a backdrop in a Star Trek movie. It feels like a different planet.
This is my favorite hike in Valley of Fire State Park. It’s only 1.25 miles roundtrip, and it takes you to a breathtaking vista with sandstone of all colors. After parking, you’ll see a sign that directs you to cross the road to begin the hike. Practice safety when crossing the park road. The first 0.4 miles of the trail winds down and around a small ridge and then the trail loosely follows cairns along slickrock in a southeasterly direction as you approach the Fire Wave. The hike to the Fire Wave is a very pleasant hike in the winter/early spring/late fall. During the summer months I can see this hike being brutal, as there is no shade along the trail.
I’m going to go out on a limb by saying that the Fire Wave, out of all the hikes I’ve ever done, ranks right up there with The Wave and White Pocket (both located between Kanab, UT and Page, AZ) in terms of colors and beauty. As far as accessibility, the Fire Wave is by far the easiest of the three to reach, and the rock formations along the trail remind me of Coyote Buttes, where you find The Wave and White Pocket.
Once at the Fire Wave, you’ll want to explore in and around it, as there are vivid colors and unique rock formations in all directions. One could spend hours taking in all the beauty of this area.
Just accept the fact that you’ll be taking dozens of pictures at the Fire Wave. The background is spectacular and contrasts nicely with the swirls in the sandstone. Mid morning and late afternoon/early evening are great times to photograph the Fire Wave, as the colors really pop as the sun is lower in the sky, not to mention the cooler temperatures make hike more pleasant. The pictures below were taken in the late afternoon, and the colors were amazing. When you’ve had your fill of the Fire Wave, just follow the cairns back the way you came to return to the trailhead.
The trailhead to White Domes is located at the very end of the park road, and is definitely one of the hikes that you’ll want to do while at Valley of Fire. There are bathrooms at the trailhead and plenty of parking. The unique feature of this hike is that you get a little bit of everything on this hike. You’ll have great vistas, remnants of an old movie set, a short slot canyon, and a picturesque desert stroll all in 1.25 miles. The trail forms a loop and will wind you back to the road about one quarter of mile to the south of the parking lot. The beginning of the trail will take you down several rock steps as you descend over one hundred feet. Enjoy the views in front of you, but take your time descending the steps as they can be covered with loose sand and can be slick, so watch your step.
At the bottom of the trail you will find yourself next to the ruins of an old movie set from the 1966 movie, The Professionals. Valley of Fire State has been the backdrop of several movies due to the beautiful colors and rugged country. Shortly after passing the old remains of the movie set, you’ll continue to down the trail to a short slot canyon that cuts through a rock fin. It is only about 100 feet long but it is an added bonus to the hike that children and adults will enjoy. As you continue the along the trail after it comes out of the slot you will start the final part of the hike that will complete the loop hike by taking you along the backside of some large rock fins that run north and south. The trail will then take you out to the road just below the White Domes parking area.
The short hike to Elephant Rock will take most people only 5-10 minutes, so don’t leave the Valley of Fire without stopping by to see it! As with the other formations found throughout the park, Elephant Rock has a stellar backdrop. It is located just 50 feet off of Valley of Fire Highway, yet most people drive right by it, unless they know what they are looking for. The best views and photos of the arch is achieved by climbing above and behind Elephant Rock. The trail starts at the parking area just east of a parking area and a small covered pavilion. The trail starts at the back of the pavilion across slickrock. Follow the cairns and in less than ten minutes, you’ll find yourself in front of Elephant Rock. I would recommend scrambling up the easy sandstone, walking through the arch to get behind and above the formation. You’ll be grateful you did. The first picture is taken in front and below Elephant Rock and the next one is taken above and behind.
What to Bring:
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