One of the things I love most about living in Las Vegas isn’t the city itself but the accessibility to so much wide open space and awesome outdoor opportunities that abound within a few hours of our front door. Because we live on the north side of Las Vegas, one of the easiest places for us to escape to is Valley of Fire State Park, the oldest and largest state park in Nevada.
Valley of Fire is noteworthy for its stunning red sandstone formations that surround visitors in the park. Many people travel through from the east entrance to Lake Mead on the other side, using it simply as a scenic drive, which is definitely worth doing. For those with a little more time, though, I recommend shooting off the main road to check out the scenic overlooks. In a state like Nevada, you can see for miles and miles across the desert when there is no haze lingering in the air. If you time your visit just right, the colors of the rock are particularly awesome at sunrise and dusk, though desert sunsets are generally quite stunning anyway.
On my first trip to Valley of Fire, my goal was to explore every possible corner of the park (a typical habit of mine). One thing that I discovered is that it is very accessible, and even people who don’t really like or are unable to hike strenuous trails will find something they enjoy here. One of the more popular “trails” is nothing more than a staircase that leads up the side of a rock to a mural of petroglyphs from several thousand years ago, something that is found throughout the park. But beyond the officially noted trails, people are welcome to scramble up the rocks to discover their own vista points, though you should definitely climb with caution. On a recent camping trip to Valley of Fire, we chose lookout points from where we sat around the campfire, and then found ways to scramble up to the top. This is not always easy and not always safe, but it brought out that sense of adventure and wonder that we often seem to lose.
The camping at Valley of Fire is first-come, first-serve and definitely worth the race to claim a spot. Some of the best places are tucked back from the road, providing a particularly intimate and unobtrusive camping experience. Because it’s near Las Vegas, there is some light pollution, but the sky is actually quite dark at night, and it’s very quiet (unless you happened to be camped next to a bunch of hooligans). It can get a bit chilly camping in the desert, but overall it’s comfortable and the chance for rain is minimal.
Visiting the wide open desert landscape is very comforting to me. I like to let my thoughts drift as I sit and relax on a rock overlooking the stark red landscape of Valley of Fire. There are visitors who hop out with cameras and newly married couples who come out for wedding photos, but the park isn’t crowded or bumper-to-bumper with traffic (unlike Red Rock Canyon, another popular day trip, which gets a lot more visitors).
Sometimes we need a weekend escape from Las Vegas, and Valley of Fire is a good choice for when we want to get away.
Note: Because Valley of Fire is a state park, there is an entrance fee, even if you’re just passing through to Lake Mead.