Las Vegas isn’t the only place you’ll find bright lights and extraordinary sights in the Southwest! If your idea of an adventure is more natural than neon, take a trip to the Valley of Fire.
The Valley of Fire State Park is located just 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas in the Mojave Desert. Dedicated in 1935, the Valley of Fire is the oldest state park in Nevada. The Park is comprised of 42,000 acres of rugged desert terrain and hosts over 300,000 visitors every year, so if you’re tight for time, consider visiting the quieter (but no less adventurous!) Valley of Fire on your next Vegas vacation.
Why is it Called the Valley of Fire?
The Valley of Fire was formed over the course of 150 million years through a process of uplifting, faulting, and erosion. The characteristic bright red sandstone formations, called “Aztec Sandstone”, are a result of the iron oxide present in the area’s sediment. When the sun shines on the formations, the monuments and formations appear as if they are on fire, hence the name “Valley of Fire”.
Image Source: Clément Bardot
In addition to the Valley’s characteristic red sandstone, the state park also contains a number of formations that consist of limestone, shales, and other conglomerates.
9 Sights to See at the Valley of Fire
About an hour away from Las Vegas, the Valley of Fire’s unique history and multitude of sights to see make it an excellent alternative to the Grand Canyon if you’re looking for an adventure that’s a little closer to Sin City.
Here are some sights and viewpoints to keep your eyes peeled for:
The Valley of Fire has been home to prehistoric civilizations since 300 BCE. These ancient inhabitants, including the Basket Maker people and the Anasazi Pueblo farmers, created petroglyphs by chipping the “desert varnish” off the surface of stones throughout the Valley to reveal the lighter sandstone underneath.
Image Source: MrSilva
Petroglyphs are abundant throughout the Valley of Fire State Park – there are even some that are over 3,000 years old! The best places to find them are Atlatl Rock and Petroglyph Canyon.
2. Atlatl Rock
Atlatl Rock is a single large boulder perched atop a sandstone outcrop. Keep your eyes peeled for Atlatl Rock’s namesake petroglyph of an atlatl (a throwing stick used to throw arrows and spears before bows were invented), located at the top of the Atlatl Rock petroglyph panel. Don’t forget to check out the petroglyphs and rock art left by the Basket Maker people and Anasazi Pueblo farmers at the bottom of the Rock as well!
Image Source: MrSilva
Atlatl Rock has metal stairs so you can climb to the top of the Rock to see the petroglyphs. Climbing is otherwise prohibited, though it is allowed elsewhere in the State Park.
3. Petroglyph Canyon
Next to Atlatl Rock, Petroglyph Canyon is the best place in the Valley of Fire to see petroglyphs. The trail to Petroglyph Canyon begins at Mouse’s Tank, and it’s only a half-mile long.
Image Source: kenlund
Be sure to check out the north wall of the Canyon, where you’ll find the largest concentration of petroglyphs.
4. Mouse’s Tank
Named after “Little Mouse”, a Southern Paiute Indian who hid there in the 1890s, Mouse’s Tank is a natural stone basin that stores water year-round. It’s located at the start of Petroglyph Canyon.
5. Elephant Rock
Elephant Rock looks like – you guessed it – an elephant. It’s close to the park’s east entrance and requires a 1/3 mile hike to reach, starting from the main parking area.
Image Source: kenlund
6. Rainbow Vista
The Valley of Fire is home to more than just its characteristic red sandstone formations. Rainbow Vista features panoramic views of multi-colored sandstone stretching for miles – a distinct departure from the otherwise red landscape.
Image Source: Stan Shebs
7. Seven Sisters
The Seven Sisters are a group of tall, eroded boulders surrounded by a sandy desert. It’s the perfect location for a picnic!
8. Arch Rock
Arch Rock is a stone arch created by thousands of years of erosion. Because it’s so fragile, Arch Rock is the only other place in the state park you aren’t allowed to climb.
Image Source: Frank Kovalchek
Keep a lookout for hoodoos as you enter the park – these small piles of rock are plentiful along the park entrance. It’s said that the higher you stack the rocks, the better fortune you will have on your journey. However, hoodoos are not natural to the Valley of Fire’s landscape, so park staff ask visitors not to build them within the park’s boundaries.
Visiting the Valley of Fire
The Valley’s unique rock formations, distinctive red hue, and numerous petroglyphs are a must-see for adventurers of any age. Who would have thought that something as rugged and beautiful as the wilderness of the Valley of Fire could be located so close to the Las Vegas strip?