Established in 1935, the 42,000-acre Valley of Fire was Nevada's first state park, and it is still the state's largest. Just an hour's drive from Las Vegas, the park provides outstanding recreational opportunities for campers and day use visitors alike.
Valley of Fire highway winds roughly east from I-15, and as the visitor heads over the last small pass, the startling red rock formations come into view. Pushing up from the green desert floor, these hills of rock dominate the landscape. The park is simple to navigate, fairly compact, and many of the finest features are accessible with short hikes. There are three main areas: the campground area and scenic loop drive, the main park road, and White Mounds Road, which is a 5-mile dead end spur road.
The park's two campgrounds are Atlatl Rock and Arch Rock. Atlatl is best for RVs and those who want a lot of room. Arch Rock has narrow roads and smaller sites but more privacy, especially on the back loop. There are also three group camping areas. Surrounding the campgrounds is a 2-mile scenic drive, which is a great introduction to the rock formations typical of the park. The petroglyphs on Atlatl rock are a highlight of this loop.
The first stop on the main park road should be the visitor center, which has excellent exhibits on the geology and natural history of the park. Past the visitor center you'll find the Seven Sisters picnic area, the Cabins (built for campers by the CCC in the 1930s and now just a historic relic), and the interesting formation called Elephant Rock. These can all be taken in on a short drive.
The most interesting and varied destinations are on the White Mounds Road. Mouse's Tank is a short canyon walk exhibiting fine petroglyphs on the walls and an interesting history of outlaws in the 1890s. Rainbow Vista is a one-hour walk down another canyon to a view of Fire Canyon. The Fire Canyon side road is a good short drive to view more canyon scenery. The Fire Wave Trailhead is further up the road and is an outstanding short hike to see a very unique and beautiful rock formation. At the end of the road is the White Mounds Trail, which is often crowded and which offers a different type of rock scenery in addition to a terrific slot canyon to explore.
Whether you are here for a day trip or a longer stay in the campground, Valley of Fire is a gem of a park that is little known outside of the Las Vegas area but well-worth the short drive off the interstate.