Las Vegas is a magical city. You don’t have to travel far in any direction to experience some of the best restaurants, spas, entertainment and shopping in the US. But there’s something else that makes this destination more alluring than most. Something that tends to escape the notice of most visitors who are so mesmerized by the lure of the Vegas Strip that they don’t look beyond its shimmering lights. It is the city’s proximity to a stunning variety of outdoor destinations, including the incredible Valley of Fire State Park.
Head 45 minutes northwest by car and you’ll find yourself in the pristine beauty of Mount Charleston in the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area, which tends to be 30 degrees cooler than the Las Vegas valley below. Explore 45 minutes to the south and discover the serenity of Lake Mead where boating, fishing and more awaits. An hour northeast along Interstate 15? Travel in this direction for the vivid colour and rich history of The Valley of Fire State Park, the oldest and largest in Nevada.
Named for its gorgeous red rock formations, thought to have been created by shifting sand dunes from a time when dinosaurs still roamed the earth, the park covers some 42,000 acres. Brush up on your knowledge of sandstone, shale and limestone, as you’ll be able to find them all here. And, when someone tries to take a rock back with them as a memento, you can let them know it’s illegal to do so. The same is true for the flowers, cacti and other desert vegetation that may only be admired while in the park.
Many visitors choose to view the park’s natural beauty by travelling along its 20 miles of paved road; however, don’t come all this way without stepping foot outside your vehicle. There are trails to explore, picnic spots to enjoy, Indian petroglyphs from an incredible 3,000 years ago to discover, and natural wildlife to stumble upon, from desert tortoises to rattlesnakes. It’s not recommended you get too close to either as the former is protected under state law and the latter, while usually only seen on TV or in movies and a novelty to most, are as dangerous as you’d expect.
Depending on the time of your visit, roadrunners, rabbits, coyotes, lizards, and other desert inhabitants may also cross your path.
Jeff Prozeller, a resident of Canada and frequent Las Vegas visitor, says the park’s name was enough to spark his curiosity about the remote landscape. “I had gone to the Hoover Dam and Red Rock Canyon and really enjoyed the experience there,” said Prozeller. “Looking for a fuller experience, I heard of the Valley of Fire State Park and the name alone had me intrigued. That was nothing compared to the beauty the park had in store. I had a brochure from the concierge desk at my Las Vegas hotel and the pictures were so mind-blowing that I had to go. It did not disappoint.”
To get the most from your trip, Prozeller recommends several landmarks and offers some important tips best known in advance. “There are quite a few spectacles you don’t want to miss, the first being Elephant Rock. It is absolutely amazing to see in person,” he says. “Other hot spots in the park are the Beehives, which aren’t literal beehives, although the rocks might have you fooled, and Fire Canyon which is an incredible contrast between fire red and creamy white formations. The view goes on for miles. It’s such a breathtaking spot.”
“Make sure you gas up, bring food and sunscreen,” adds Prozeller. “Lastly, remember that it is a desert. Your clothes and shoes will be covered in red dust so leave the fashion statements for another day.”
Like the park itself, the Valley of Fire Visitor’s Center is open daily. Hours are from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The recreation area can be enjoyed from sun up to sundown, and campers are welcome to stay the night in designated sites. An entry fee of $10 (US) is charged per car, however, additional charges ranging from $10-$20 will be required if camping overnight.
Although open year-round, some thought should also be given to when you visit. The Valley of Fire State Park could be named for the intense, triple-digit heat the area experiences in the summer. Temperatures can soar as high as 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Spring and autumn are the most temperate times to explore. While this road trip may not be an escape from the highs of Sin City, Prozeller says there is relief of another sort to be found.
“Las Vegas tourists should consider a trip to Valley of Fire because it gets you away from the hustle and bustle of The Strip and downtown,” he says. “You can really enjoy nature. The silence and calmness are a nice respite after a couple days of high energy fun.”
Header image: Drive Carefully © Greg Clarke
Have you visited the Valley of Fire State Park? Let us know in the comments section below.
Written by Rebecca Frisch