Day Trip from Las Vegas: Valley of Fire State Park

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This is a guest post from my dad, Grandpa Points. He and my mom are in their late-60’s, are (mostly) retired, DSCN4512and are ticking off “bucket list” destinations quicker than they ever thought possible thanks to miles, points, and travel deals. They have an intense love of this country, of its National Parks and treasures, and have no problem with a clean budget hotel room and an economy airline seat on a low-cost airline as long as it gets them where they want to be. A photographer by trade he often tells his story not just with his words, but with his images. Today he brings us a story from another one of their adventures…

We realized a long time ago that we were not likely to get rich in Las Vegas via our play on quarter slot machines, dollar video poker or the occasional $5 blackjack hand. We have learned, however, that during our visits to Sin City, we can enrich ourselves and expand our experiences by occasionally Leaving Las Vegas and hitting the road for day trips to nearby sights and attractions.


Las Vegas day trip to the Valley of Fire State Park

There are a number of great treasures found within a couple of hours of Sin City’s city limits. They offer extreme variety in elevation, environment, and temperature. From the 12,000 ft. Mt. Charleston to the minus 282 ft below sea level Badwater Basin, an array of geologic and geographic adventures await your beck and call. We have chronicled some of these excursions on this site, and if you find yourself wanting a manageable day trip from Las Vegas, allow me to recommend the Valley of Fire State Park, located about 50 miles east of Vegas.

Hike just a half a mile to a captivating fire wave

We decide to make a repeat visit to this state park on a recent trip to Las Vegas because we always enjoy our time there, and we wanted to witness it on the cool and beautiful February day we were presented with on this journey.

After a few hours of getting reacquainted with some old and familiar visual friends, we decided to drive down the main park road a few more miles before turning around to head toward the park’s exit. We pulled into a parking area that we had used before and got out to read the informational signs describing the nearby highlights this parking area gave access to. The signs refreshed our memory banks of a short hike we had taken a few years back, and because lunch was already overdue, we opted to not go down that path again. As we were returning to the car, we noticed a few people emerging from a trail on the opposite side of the road. A sign, that we had not noticed before, read Fire Wave .6 miles ahead. A photo depicting the attraction was present and it lured us in as quick as a thermometer rises here in the summer.

We followed the trail that was etched in the sand and marked by the footprints of others. Occasionally, a sign or a small stack of rocks would direct us when the obvious became less so and when the trail sort of melted into the open expanse. Within 15 minutes, we came to an area that was a distant cousin of the photo we had seen. We thought that perhaps this was our destination and that we just needed to view it from a different angle or something. While trying to answer the eternal and universal question of “are we there, yet“, we noticed a couple of hikers about 100 yards ahead who were convinced that they were not there yet.

We mutually concurred that the best was yet to come, and we headed out in the direction of the others. The sandy surface soon was replaced by solid rock that offered a steady but gentle climb toward its defined but subtle crest. As we walked, we noticed that parallel and multi-hued veins, that were either straight or rolling depending on the topography, appeared on the smooth rock top. It was as though they were leading us to The Fire Wave, and they did.

The Fire Wave is just as advertised. It dips and curls and rises and falls, like a wave.

Its color can be like the red in a flame, depending on the time of day and the position of the sun. We have been fortunate enough to hike to The Wave on the Arizona/Utah border, and this is a mini version of that major league bucket list item. And, unlike The Wave, this smaller version is much more accessible for those interested. No winning the lottery required, no 6-mile hike, no hiring a guide, etc.

We were excited to see this Fire Wave. Thrilled, in fact. We bounced around taking photos trying to best capture its movements and color. We posed in it and with it. We sat on it and felt it.

We saw it and looked at it. We studied it and appreciated it. This unique geologic occurrence conjured up thoughts of swirly marble chocolate icing and cakes of multi-layers. It was delicious to experience it. And, then it reminded us that we had not yet eaten lunch.

We lingered a few more minutes before we turned our back on this graceful sculpture of the earth’s surface. Our short jaunt back to the car seemed much shorter than the walk in since I guess a walk to the known is quicker than the walk to the unknown.

We were so glad that we went the extra mile (well, 1.2 miles in total), to explore the Fire Wave. The temperature was only about 70 degrees the day we visited, but it felt much warmer. Shade is a rare commodity in these parts, and bringing in your own water is a must. In the summer, this hike, though relatively short, is probably best suited for the early morning. We have seen temps of near 120 in this park so some discretion and planning is advised.

This Nevada State Park, The Valley of Fire, is well worth the journey down I-15 for a memorable day trip from Las Vegas. Unique rock formations, petroglyphs, dazzling geologic colors and endless vistas are all made accessible by good roads that wind up and down around and through the park’s heart and soul.

The Valley of Fire is a hot property, in more ways than one, and a great way to burn off some steam before heading back to the nonstop excitement that is Las Vegas.

Do you have a favorite Las Vegas day trip?

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  1. Sadly, the sunlight in the mornings isn’t making the fire wave very flattering. When I was there around 8:30-10:00 (in February) it was hard to get a nice photo because of all the shades in the bowl of the fire wave. I believe that late afternoons are best to enjoy it, but explorers beware that you don’t stay too long and nightfall catches you on the way back to the parking lot!

    • Thanks for the good info. I have already passed the tip along. We were there about 1:30 for the photos and the visit. Wow, I bet it gets REAL DARK out there at night. Good for star gazing bad for trail following. Thanks for writing in.

  2. As a kid I remember the mouse tank hole, and the reservation firework store which sold everything but nuclear bombs.

    • Both are still there. The path to the mouse tank was our first experience with petroglyphs and the depth and the texture of the sand on that trail is something to behold. Thanks for adding your experiences.

  3. This park looks like fun…in the winter. In July I bet it feels like 150. We always visit LV in February. Gonna check it out next year. Nice write up and great pics!

    • We highly recommend it. February is a good choice but a previous comment suggests that mid day on might be best due to shadows. We were there about 1:30. Thanks for the nice words.

  4. Beautiful! We are from the east coast, and try to go to Vegas a couple of times a year. Have been to Valley of Fire, but never knew this was there. Will definitely have to check this out! Thanks so much for the great post! Looking forward to more posts as you check off your “bucket list”!

    • Thanks for the kind comments. We also had been several times but somehow overlooked this special part. Thanks again for writing in and have safe travels everywhere you go.

  5. Four years ago I actually got married on one of the red outcroppings when we flew in two helicopters from MacCarran airport. Beautiful scenery of the Valley of the Fire made it for fantastic wedding pictures!

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