The best of Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada can be found by hiking in the park. However, much of the scenic beauty and interesting attractions can also be seen from the paved roads and at stops requiring only a short walk.
This post provides photos and a map of the various points of interest along the park roads.
Valley of Fire State Park is less than an hour from Las Vegas, yet it remains somewhat of a hidden gem in the American southwest. It has scenery worthy of a U.S. National Park.
We spent six days in the park staying at the Atlatl Rock Campground. The temperatures reached 100 degrees most days we were there, so we were happy to have snagged one of the electric sites in the campground that allowed us to have air conditioning in our RV to escape the heat after morning hikes.
Over those six days, we hiked several shorter trails, and checked out all the roadside stops. Below is a map of the designated stops and parking areas along with the campgrounds, gates, and visitors center.
Let's take a driving tour through the park.
Most people access the park from I-15, entering at the west entrance gate after a 15-mile drive on Valley of Fire Road. There is a $10 entrance fee.
Shortly after the entrance gate, there is a gravel road to the left that is part of a "scenic loop". I'd recommend skipping that turn as the road is a little rough and you'll be able to access the highlights of that loop from a paved road later.
The first stop on our tour is on the right not far from the gate. These are the Beehive Rock Formations.
This is a very popular first stop in the park and, though it's just a small sample of the views to come, it seems the visitors are anxious to get out and climb on the rocks after their long drive.
Continuing past the Beehives, you will come to a sign that shows a turn to the left will take you to the Atlatl Rock Campground, Atlatl Rock, Arch Rock, and the Arch Rock Campground, all of which are on the "scenic loop".
Turning left on Campground Road, you first come to the entrance to the Atlatl Rock Campground on the left. We saw Desert Bighorn Sheep in the campground three of our six days in the park (including one day where they hung around for a few hours - A Day With Bighorn Sheep), so keep an eye out for them.
Beyond the campground, around a sharp curve, is a large parking area for Atlatl Rock where there is a shaded picnic area. A short walk leads you to stairs that take you up to view several petroglyphs on Atlatl Rock.
Past the Atlatl Rock parking area is a small gravel pull-off, where you can stop and get photos of Arch Rock which is right next to the road.
This is a relatively small arch if you've spent much time in Utah and seen some of the massive arches the National Parks, especially Arches National Park.
And there are thousands of small arches in Valley of Fire, many of which are larger than this one. But this is a good-sized arch that is probably the easiest to see and photograph.
Just a short drive past Arch Rock is the entrance to the Arch Rock Campground. And just past that is the exit for the Arch Rock Campground Loop. If you pull off there, you can get a great look at this rock formation - Poodle Rock.
Now Poodle Rock is not an officially named rock in Valley of Fire, and you won't find it on any brochures or maps. But we saw it in a photo in the gift shop and tracked it down. If you are visiting Atlatl Rock and Arch Rock, we would definitely recommend you include Poodle Rock - it's very close by.
From there, the road becomes gravel and you can continue on and finish the "scenic loop" back out to the main road, or you can turn around and go back out Campground Road to the main road.
Across the main road from Campground Road is a gravel lane leading to Petrified Logs. From the parking area, there are some really nice panoramic views.
There is a short loop trail that takes you past three or four specimens of petrified logs protected by chain link fence.
Now, if you've ever been to the Petrified Forest National Park, the petrified log exhibits at Valley of Fire won't impress you. And if you are in a time crunch, you won't really miss much if you skip them.
Past the petrified logs in a curve, is the trailhead for the Prospect Trail, a 4.5-mile one-way trail that connects to the White Domes Loop Trail at its northern end. We didn't have a chance to hike that trail on this visit, but perhaps another time.
Continuing on we come to an intersection, and we take a left off the Valley of Fire Highway onto White Domes Road (also known as Mouse's Tank Road on Google Maps).
That's where the park visitors center is located.
There is a visitor drop-off area and limited parking near the building, but then there is a lower parking area for overflow and RVs.
The setting is lovely, and the visitors center has lots of interesting exhibits, a gift shop, and an information desk. You can also take on water there which is highly recommended in the desert environment.
Also, at the visitors center is the trailhead for a one-tenth of a mile walk down to Balancing Rock. We took a few photos of Balancing Rock from the road early in the morning well before the non-camping visitors arrived.
The balancing aspect is actually more impressive from the other side.
From the visitors center, we continue on up the beautiful White Domes Road. The next stop is the Mouse's Tank Trailhead and picnic area.
The trailhead is on the right, and the picnic area is on the left. We did the 1.5-mile round-trip hike a few days before, and you can read about it here: Mouse's Tank Trail.
That trail is also known as Petroglyph Canyon, and if petroglyphs are your thing and you don't mind a short walk through the sand, this is the hike for you. We much preferred looking at the many petroglyphs there over Atlatl Rock.
One day, just past Mouse's Tank, we encountered a herd of Desert Bighorn Sheep ewes and lambs alongside the road. So, keep an eye out for sheep in this area as well.
The road climbs up to a pass where there is a parking area on the right. This is Rainbow Vista. Most people cross the road to photograph the colored rocks in the valley below.
Or you can walk to the south end of the parking area and get a great shot of the White Domes Road section you just drove.
There is also a trailhead at the parking area for the Rainbow Vista/Fire Canyon Overlook Trail. Click on the link for details of that hike.
Just past Rainbow Vista is a road that turns to the right - Fire Canyon Road. At the end of that road (less than a mile), there is a nice parking area and overlook - Fire Canyon/Silica Dome Viewpoint.
The contrast of the yellow rocks with the red rock area known as Fire Canyon and the Mud Mountains beyond makes for quite a view.
Returning from there, we turn right back onto White Domes Road.
Now, from Rainbow Vista on, you are not supposed to park along the side of the road, so there are three designated parking areas cleverly called Parking Area 1, 2, & 3 (P1, P2, & P3 on the park map).
There were rarely any cars in P1 or P2, although the views were still pretty darn good.
Here are a couple of photos through the windshield as we made our way to P3.
Parking Area 3 is the most popular because, not only does it have amazing views, ....
it is also the parking area for the Fire Wave Trail which begins on the other side of the road.
The Fire Wave rocks are an iconic photo op at Valley of Fire, and we visited twice.
First, we did the 1.2-mile out-and-back hike (click here - Fire Wave Hike), and then we made up a loop where we stopped by on the return - (Pastel Canyon/Fire Wave Loop).
Beyond Parking Area 3 is the where the road ends at the White Domes area. The White Domes Loop Trail (1 mile) begins there, and we also did that fun little hike. Click the link for details and photos.
So, it's about six miles from the visitors center to the end of the White Domes Road, and there is plenty of scenery to keep your camera clicking without venturing too far from your car.
Returning to the visitors center, we turn left on Valley of Fire Highway, and soon come to the Seven Sisters rock formations and picnic area.
The above view is as you are traveling east, and the view below is traveling west.
Continuing east on Valley of Fire Highway, you come to a sign for the "The Cabins" where we'll take a left and drive a short distance to the site of three cabins built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
It's another gorgeous setting, and it's not one of the more popular stops, so there are few people taking advantage of the covered picnic tables.
And there is a nice panel of petroglyphs on the rock wall behind the cabins.
Back on the main road, there is another opportunity to view a petrified log on the left as we continue east.
Not far past the petrified log is a turn-out on the left just before a large wash. That is the trailhead for two longer trails. The Natural Arches Trail heads north and the Charlie's Spring Trail heads south.
We didn't hike either of these trails this time, but we did hear that the most prominent arch on the Natural Arches trail has collapsed.
Our last point of interest is on the left just before reaching the eastern entrance gate.
It's an eastern welcome center with information and restrooms (no personnel) and a frame for getting your picture taken.
It's also the parking area for two trailheads - the lightly traveled Arrowhead Trail which traverses the park, and the popular Elephant Rock Trail.
Elephant Rock is a formation right off the road. You can see at as you drive by heading west, but there is no pull-off. Parking and making the short walk, a tenth of a mile, is your best bet.
Most folks just walk up to the viewing point and walk back, but there is a 1.2-mile loop that continues past the formation if you are so inclined.
We attempted it but made a wrong turn and followed trails up into the rocks where people were trying to get a view of Elephant Rock from the backside.
There were some great views during our shortcut, but it also took a little more scrambling than it should have.
Well, that pretty much wraps up our scenic driving tour through Valley of Fire. There are a little over 20 miles of paved roads in the park, and there is a lot of beauty to take in on the drive and at the various stops.
We spent six days in the park and could've stayed longer (the campgrounds are in beautiful settings), but you can knock it out in a day with multiple stops and a few short walks. You may be able to get in a few longer hikes as well.
Our recommendation is to plan for two to three days exploring the park and stay nearby (if you don't want to stay in the campgrounds). The earlier you arrive, the better because it takes a while for the day-trippers from Vegas to get there, and you will have some of the stops and trails to yourself. You'll also have a better chance of seeing wildlife.
Whether you plan for a day or a few days, if you love natural beauty, put Valley of Fire State Park on your list of places to visit.