For millions of years, natural forces have been hard at work molding the American Southwest. But long before modern adventurers arrived, people from ancient cultures were intimately familiar with the magic of Nevada, and they left their mark all over the state. In southern Nevada’s 40,000-acre Valley of Fire State Park, present-day visitors get it all from petroglyphs to sandstone cliffs. The park is about 1 hour drive northeast of Las Vegas and makes a convenient day trip visitors who want to see something beyond the bright lights of the strip. There is a $10 per vehicle entrance fee to visit. Discover the intricate landscape by tackling one of these stunning Valley of Fire hikes.
White Domes Trail is known as Valley of Fire’s premier hike because it offers a range of dramatically different scenery in a short, 1-mile loop. After a slight, sandy ascent to start the hike, you quickly descent into the Kaolin Wash alongside sheer sandstone walls. In the canyon below you’ll find what may have appeared to be a “ruin” when spotted from above. This is the last remaining piece of a 1965 movie set where scenes from “The Professionals” were shot. Next, get some respite from the sun’s rays as you make your way into a shallow slot canyon. As you exit the narrow slot, the canyon opens up to reveal striated white sandstone cliffs towering above you, the white domes. Here, the trail loops around the white domes and begins its return to the parking lot. During the wet summer Monsoon season, standing water can sometimes make the canyon impassable.
The Natural Arches trail is accessed from a trailhead just off the Valley of Fire highway on the eastern edge of the park near Elephant Rock. This route follows an open sandy wash and provides views of several small rock arches. The most prominent arch collapsed in 2010, but the trail offers views of the park’s unique geology and is a nice opportunity to explore deep among the sandstone walls. While looking up for arches, mind the deep sand along the trail, a minor hazard along the otherwise flat, straightforward and flat trail. Arrive as early as you can—there are only a few parking spots located off the main road. Still, Natural Arches is one of the less-traveled trails in Valley of Fire, so don’t expect similar crowds to the White Domes or Fire Wave trails.
Charlie’s Spring is one of the only options in the park near flowing water. The trickle of life is a good reminder that water is scarce and valuable in the Mojave Desert. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife like desert tortoises, jackrabbits and even bighorn sheep. Though it’s on the park maps, this is an unmarked trail, which makes it one of the more difficult hikes in Valley of Fire State Park. When approaching the parking area, you’ll see a sign off the road for Natural Arches one way and Charlie’s Spring in the other direction. Less than a mile into the hike, you’ll find the memorial to John Clark—a man who died in the area in the late 1800s while making his way across the desert. Much like Natural Arches trail, the route follows a wash for most of the way. Just under 3 miles from the trailhead, you’ll arrive at the spring. Rest in the shade before heading back the way you came.
The Rainbow Vista Trail offers a short and easy hike to a lookout point over Fire Canyon; an impressive jumble of crimson red sandstone formations. Similar to other hikes described here, this trail is accommodating to a wide range of skill levels. And like the park’s other treks, the majority of this trail is exposed to the sun. The Nevada sun makes a good case to hike early in the morning or in the evening, and an even more compelling argument is that when soft light illuminates the rock features the colors become extra impressive. You’ll have no doubt why this trail is called Rainbow Vista. The Fire Canyon lookout gives hikers a real taste of the Valley of Fire, with little risk and all reward.
The Fire Wave trail is the park’s best-known route. The trail is a short out-and-back to the fire wave, a sort of younger sibling to Arizona’s more famous rock formation, the Wave. The varying stripes in the stone look like different shades of paint from a single brush run along the winding rock. The stripes of color are really iron and manganese uncovered by years of wind and water erosion. Getting to the fire wave is easy. The trail is well- marked by yellow-tipped signs and the occasional way-finding cairns (piles of stacked rocks).