After four days in Las Vegas, I could barely work the rings off my puffy fingers. So in the midst of our most recent annual pilgrimage to America’s playground, my travel companion and I hit the road for some fresh air and exercise.
Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park lies in the Mojave Desert, 50 miles northeast and a world away from Las Vegas. For those whose idea of a fun vacation includes bar-hopping, casino gambling, and nature hiking, the uncrowded Park makes a great side trip from the Neon City.
Covering nearly 46,000 acres, Nevada’s first state park takes its name from the way the red-orange Aztec sandstone reflects the desert sunlight.
Founded in 1935, it looks positively prehistoric in some places, but it glows like it’s always sunset.
From Acadia to Torrey Pines, it’s the most arid park I’ve visited in the United States, more like the Jordan Valley Desert in Israel than anything I’ve seen in America.
A young ranger recommended the White Domes Trail, a little more than a mile long.
The steep descent over red rock and dry dirt makes it the most challenging in the small park, but after this initial part, it becomes fairly easy to hike through. We did encounter one older couple turning back because they’d come without water. (Do not do this. Valley of Fire is very dry and very hot; you need lots of water.)
A few other small groups hiked the various trails. Others drove along the miles of scenic byway cutting through the state park. But it was far from crowded and allowed us clear views of the textured sandstone.
Colorful flora sprouted up defiantly in spots.
Camouflaged lizards scampered among the rocks.
A slot canyon provided a brief break from the heat.
It took about an hour and a half to finish the short trail, partly because of the initial terrain but mostly because we had so much fun exploring. We’d have liked to linger longer, but we needed to get back on the road for more hiking in Utah …
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What to Know Before You Go to
Valley of Fire State Park
How to get to Valley of Fire State Park:
The park is open 365 days a year. It’s an easy drive on I-15 from Las Vegas. Then you take the two-lane Valley of Fire Highway. Once you pay the $10 entrance fee, there is plenty of parking as well as paved road throughout. There’s a glorious openness about the desert West, but that openness comes at a cost: Places to get food or gasoline are few and far between; be prepared.
What to wear at Valley of Fire State Park:
Comfortable sturdy shoes with a good tread–the trails are rocky in some parts, gravelly in others, and just plain dry dirt in many; I was fine in my go-to Skechers.
Cool comfortable clothing. The desert is very hot, except when it’s very cold. Check the temperatures, and bring layers if necessary.
A hat, sunglasses, and a high-SPF sunscreen. I skip full make-up for activities like hiking and keep it simple with eye cream with sunscreen, tinted moisturizer with sunscreen, lip balm with sunscreen (yes, I’m slightly obsessed with protecting my skin), and a quick curl of my lashes.
Your fitness tracker.
You’ll want credit after all!
What to bring to Valley of Fire State Park:
Sunscreen to re-apply. Valley of Fire offers almost no shade.
Food, especially if you’re planning to make a day of it. There are no food services along the trails, though there are plenty of picnic areas throughout the park. The Visitors Center sells a small but surprisingly inexpensive selection of simple items like sandwiches, salads, and cheese snacks.
A change of socks.
A compact camera. I love my DSLR and tripod, but they’d have been pretty awkward for climbing the rock formations in Valley of Fire. A small snappy would have been manageable, but I took the pictures in this post with my iPhone.