Las Vegas is not just for partying and gambling on the famous strip, trust me. It’s a gateway city to many amazing natural wonders, state and national parks in the Southwestern US. A fantastic option for a close day trip from Las Vegas is Valley of Fire State Park, the oldest and largest state park in Nevada.
The sandstone formations that make up the park began to form over 150 million years ago from a combination of erosion, faulting and uplifting. Most recent history includes being a set on an old Western movie (although that was pretty uneventful, if you ask me).
The park is about an hour road trip away from Las Vegas, in the middle of nowhere off Highway 15. It would be easy to combine this with a trip to Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam as well, but I actually preferred to spend most of the day here. Pick up a park map in advance here.
If you’re heading to Valley of Fire State Park during the summer, be sure to bring plenty of water and some type of sunblock – in the chemical form or via hat and long sleeve shirt. I brought 3 liters of water with me in my camelbak and drank most of it myself. Summer temperatures will likely exceed 100F and there is very little shade. It is in the Mojave desert, after all. Winter would be much more enjoyable, but since I’m a difficult gal, so of course I went in the summer. Of note is that many of the trails are all sand, making it slightly more difficult to hike, especially in my precious Teva sandals.
Even though the park is the largest state park in Nevada, it’s still very accessible for a day trip. In the winter, you could easily hike several of the smaller, 1-2 mile loop trails in a day. In the summer, that is much more taxing. I suggest driving past the visitor center and heading straight to White Domes trailhead first to make sure you at least get this trail in on your trip, it was my favorite.
The White Domes trail starts with a steep descent into a small valley where the old western was filmed (the set is still there, but not very impressive to be honest). It winds through a narrow gorge, which might offer a brief but welcome reprieve from the heat.
The trail then winds back toward the parking area with a steady incline, offering fantastic views of the rest of the park.
On the way back towards the visitors center, stop at Rainbow Vistas for some more seriously fabulous views of Nevada and the Muddy Mountains.
Continue down the road to Mouse’s Tank Trail, where you will see several intact 3000 year old petroglyphs. Our personal favorite was the “bat lady”, because, well, we all thought bat lady was hilarious (it could just be slight delirium from the heat).
A final stop on your way out is at the beehives, which are visible from the road. A short walk to other side and you can see the Muddy Mountains in the distance.
Other points of interest: Elephant Rock, Balanced Rock, petrified logs, The Wave, and the 7 sisters. There are several other trails, some of them are not loops. The heat kept us from exploring as much as we wanted, but this park is really well worth an entire day, or even longer if you have it. It was not very crowded and the views were spectacular. Maps and as much guidance as you need are given at the entrance by the fabulous park rangers.
Have you been hiking in a desert in the summer? Or seen any “bat lady” petroglyphs? What’s your favorite day trip from Las Vegas?
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