My husband and I lived in Las Vegas, Nevada for 5 years in our 20s. The first question I get asked when I tell people I used to live in Vegas is usually, “Did you go broke living so close to the Strip?” The answer is no, because my favorite place in Vegas was nowhere near Las Vegas Boulevard.
Las Vegas, and Nevada in general, has a ton of relaxing and beautiful places that most tourists never see or experience. One of my absolute favorite places near Las Vegas is Valley of Fire State Park, a place that isn’t talked about much and isn’t listed in Vegas tourist brochures. My husband and I stumbled upon Valley of Fire when looking for campsites near Vegas. You may wonder who would want to camp in the Vegas heat!? Vegas actually has an average high temperature of 80 degrees, so outside of the summer months the weather is ripe for camping and exploring!
Here are 5 reasons why I love it and think everyone should visit.
1. The Drive is Car Commercial Worthy
Valley of Fire feels like a world away from the tourist trap that is Las Vegas Boulevard, but it is only 58 miles from the Las Vegas Strip. Valley of Fire gets its name because it has red rock (sandstone) mountains that are surrounded on all sides by darker red sandstone mountains that appear almost black. Valley of Fire is the oldest Nevada State Park and was dedicated in 1935.
There are two ways to get to Valley of Fire by car from Las Vegas. One is to take the main interstate, I-15, North towards Mesquite, Nevada and turn off at the Moapa Indian Reservation. This is the quicker route, but not the way I’d recommend.
My recommended route is to take Nevada State Route 167 along Lake Mead, which takes a little longer, but makes for a much more scenic drive. Nevada State Route 167 may look familiar as it is the same road that is used in a ton of car commercials. It’s obvious where the commercials are filmed because that section of Nevada State Route 167 is always in perfect condition, with dark black asphalt and shiny yellow lines. Nevada State Route 167 has slower speeds and a few more curves than I-15, but what is lost in time, is made up for in beauty. Nevada State Route 167 wraps its way along the coastline of Lake Mead, which is a beautiful sight to see in the desert. Lake Mead is surrounded by bright red sandstone formations, which makes it appear bright blue in the sun. Feel free to get out and take a dip in Lake Mead. Despite what locals have said about it, I’ve always found Lake Mead to be clear, clean and incredibly refreshing when away from the heavily used beach areas of Boulder City, Nevada.
In prehistoric times, Valley of Fire was home to the Anasazi Pueblo farmers and there is evidence of their work throughout nearly every hike of the Valley. The red rock mountains are peppered with petroglyphs, which are stunning and tell the stories of the Anasazi’s daily lives in the valley. A few of the petroglyphs have been put behind glass to protect them, but many others remain just as they were and visitors can walk right up to them. Some depict the Indians, some the animals. It is a beautiful souvenir of a life lived long before we arrived on this planet.
One of the largest petroglyphs is just outside Atlatl Rock Campground and is accessed by climbing a large metal staircase that resembles a fire escape. There is a large viewing platform at the top of the staircase and the petroglyph is behind glass but still worth the hike up the stairs.
3. Incredible Rock Formations
A day hike of seeing the Petroglyphs wouldn’t be complete without seeing some of the most notable rock formations, like Elephant Rock and the Beehives. All the formations in the park are made from years of erosion on the sandstone and complex faulting and uplifting of the region. Two of the most notable formations are Elephant Rock and the Beehives.
Elephant Rock sits along the main road near the Nevada State Route 167 entrance in Valley of Fire and it looks like it sounds, as if a bright red elephant extended his trunk out over the Valley floor. I refer to Elephant Rock as a male because he is so massive and realistic. He honestly looks like he should have been hand-carved by the Paiutes or Anasazi (which he wasn’t). People can’t climb on Elephant Rock, because they may break his fragile trunk, but it’s worth a stop.
The Beehives, are sandstone formations that have grown into what looks like overgrown beehives (yep, shocking I know). Some of the bigger bee hives have grown over 8 feet tall and they are easy to climb and jump between. And seriously, if I can jump between them, anyone can jump between them. I am lucky I can walk without falling and have broken bones during adult kickball, so it is safe to say I am not graceful. In the Beehives, there are also hidden little caverns that can easily serve as shelter for a human. The pups and I would play in them each time we went for a visit.
4. The campgrounds and day sites are incredible
Valley of Fire is a great place for a day hike, but I also highly recommend the valley for a full weekend of camping, specifically at Atlatl Rock Campground. The campground costs $20 per night (Nevada residents enjoy a $2 discount) for a basic tent site and is never crowded. Seriously, my husband and I could arrive on “busy” Holiday camping weekends that would be full in other states and always found a spot.
The campground’s tent sites are wedged between the red rocks. Some campsites have rock overhangs that serve as a canopy for your tent and picnic table and other site have caves that create sheltered playgrounds. We took Kiwi & Blondie here all the time when we lived in Vegas. In fact, some of the first pictures I have with Blondie are from this campground. Valley of Fire was literally our first outing as a family of 4.
5. Valley of Fire is proof that there is more to Nevada than gambling & drinking
I don’t want to hate on the Strip and I firmly believe anyone who comes to Vegas for the first time should drive down it at night to see it all lit up. But after one drive, that is enough. The Strip is always crowded with people who are usually drunk out of their minds on yard-stick margaritas and are either vomiting at cars, running into the road, or just acting plain crazy and getting arrested. In other words, unless you find a frat party relaxing, the Strip has absolutely no relaxing qualities. Sin City is a perfect nickname!
Valley of Fire is proof that there is solitude and beauty still alive in Southern Nevada and there are still plenty of people who appreciate it. If possible, stay for a sunset. In all my life, I’ve never seen colors look so vibrant as those of the red rocks against a pink and orange sunset.