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fire wave valley of fire
Such stunning colors carved by the rain and wind at Valley of Fire State Park.

Valley of Fire is Gonna Get You: Nevada’s Oldest and Largest State Park

Just 45 minutes north of Las Vegas lies a fabulous collection of nature’s sandstone sculptures at Valley of Fire. From slot canyons and petroglyphs to arches and the mind-blowing fire wave, the oldest and largest state park in Nevada is a must see for every rock lover!


  • Amazing Petroglyphs
  • Junior Ranger Program
  • Kid & Dog Friendly
  • Slot Canyon
  • Fire Wave


  • Sparse cell signal
  • No restaurants
  • Vehicle Required
  • Dangerously hot in the summer
  • Flash flood area

Driving into the Western Entrance

The drive northwest of Las Vegas is pretty boring and desolate until the road starts dipping and turning with the landscape as it enters the Valley of Fire State Park. While we don’t stop at every state and national park entrance, the huge sign overlooking the valley below was too scenic to resist. We were sure glad we snagged a map at the ranger station as the cell signal was essentially non-existent during our adventure.

Huge western entrance sign just begs for a picture.

Stop 1: Beehives without bees

First stop were the “beehives”, given their name from the cross-bedding pattern formed when ancient sand was pressed into stone. As we climbed around the huge formations, we noticed an unusually high number of holes in the rocks. While natural hazards like hurricanes and earthquakes are rare in the desert southwest, infrequent rains are usually deluges and wind whips aggressively through the sparsely vegetated landscape. These forces erode away at the weak points in the rocks creating super fun holes for hide and seek.

Stop 2: Atlatl Rock with Amazing Petroglyphs

After convincing the kids that the rest of the park was going to be as cool as the beehives, we drove to Atlatl rock. Most people aren’t super familiar with the ancient hunting tool namesake of the formation, but the petroglyphs on the northern face were some of the most interesting we’ve ever seen. We spent 10 minutes discussing the story depicted and extremely elevated location of the extraordinarily well-preserved artwork.

As soon as little man noticed the pink sand at the base of the rock, I knew we’d be having a feel. With such a fine texture and lovely color, it was perfect for spotting animal tracks and practicing a few spelling words. A short drive around the bend revealed Arch rock, but with no climbing allowed, we snapped a pic and carried on.

Stop 3: Visitor Center & Balanced Rock

A short 3 miles down the road, the Visitor center provided our Junior Ranger challenge. Our kindergartener was able to complete the easiest scavenger hunt all my himself and our 6th grader breezed through the most challenging one. After saying hello to the taxidermized big horn sheep and checking out some snake skeletons, the kids pinned their Valley of Fire Badges to their sweatshirts, and we were off for more rock climbing.

As if drawn by a magnet, the kids insisted on scaling massive sandstone mound outside of the visitor center. They humored me with a stroll over to Balanced Rock, then played follow the leader up, down and around the cliffside for 20 minutes. The heat radiating from the southern facing rocks felt great on the shortest day of the year, but I can imaging this place really gets sweltering in the summer!

balanced rock valley of fire
Just a few steps from the visitor center, Balanced Rock was the least interesting formation of the day.

Stop 4: Sighting locals on Mouse’s Tank Road

Undulating through a sandstone walled canyon, Mouse’s Tank road heading north from the Visitor Center is definitely the most scenic drive in the park if not all of Nevada. Just when we thought the drive couldn’t get any better, the road crested to reveal a sprawling view easily rivaling the famous Painted Desert of Northern Arizona. We were lucky enough to see REAL big horn sheep perched along the rocks posing for scenic pictures.

Stop 5: Slot canyon in White Dome Trail

Opting to start at the end of Mouse’s Tank Road and see how much energy the kids had for the afternoon, we parked at the trailhead for the White Domes trail. Descending into a canyon and covered with thick sand, the trail was quickly abandoned by the kids for the “easier” hike on colorful rock faces.

Stairs roughly carved into the stone led to ruins movie set used during the 1965 filming of “The Professionals”. Valley of Fire’s extraordinary landscapes and proximity to Los Angeles have made it a Hollywood favorite for over 100 years!

movie set in valley of fire
Ruins in the bottom of White Dome Trail from 1965 movie “The Professionals.”

From the movie set, the trail takes a turn into a lovely slot canyon. Before we started adventuring, I thought they were rare and closely guarded like the famed Antelope Canyon. But formed by extreme water erosion when flash floods meet weak fissures in soft sedimentary stone, these narrow and towering trails are surprisingly common in the desert southwest.

slot canyon valley of fire
Slot canyons are always such a fun find!

Lined by more fun rocks, the hike back to the truck was full of clamoring and photo ops. While the rocks don’t have official names, we knighted our two favorites “frog rock” and “alligator rock”.

Stop 6: Most Photogenic View at Fire Wave

By this point in the day, the kids were getting tired and hungry. But with the most epic view saved for last, we moved the truck around the bend, grabbed our picnic lunch and started down the Fire Wave Trail. Several pit-stops and a piggyback ride later, we made it to the crown jewel of the Valley of Fire.

While the colorful sandstone layers are impressive enough, the smooth formation started by water and honed by wind erosion is a true marvel. Ready for our well-earned lunch, we popped a squat right on the wave. Perhaps more impressive than the formation itself, we observed humanity at its finest as complete strangers waited patiently for their photo op and offered to snap shots for each other. Finally, we took our turn at the top of the wave, returned some photographic favors and headed back to the truck.

fire wave valley of fire
Stunning Fire Wave formation at Valley of Fire State Park.

Stop 7: Elephant Rock & Eastern Entrance

After 5 solid hours of adventuring, the kids were spent but humored me with a stop by Elephant Rock. Not interested in another mile round trip hike, we held a heated discussion from the roadside as to which formations were “actually” the elephant. A quick photo op at the polaroid style frame in the parking lot and we were headed out of the East entrance. Loving a two-land road through the middle of nowhere, I wound my way back to Las Vegas along the Northshore Road. The kids zonked out in the back while I played peek-a-poo with Lake Mead.

Missed Opportunities

This park was such a highlight during our December 2022 trip to Las Vegas, I’m sure we’ll return one day to catch:

  • I honestly just misread the map and we missed the Fire Cave & Windstone Arch.
  • There are several more hikes along Mouse’s Tank Road which are supposed to be fantastic: Mouse’s Tank, Fire Canyon and Pastel Pink Canyon.
  • Apparently, several episodes of Star Trek sites including Captain Kirk’s grave at Fire Canyon and Captain Kirk’s bridge.
shadows from top of rock valley of fire
Family shadow cast across the Valley of Fire from the Beehives.

Eternally on the hunt for the science in every adventure.

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