The Valley of Fire is a magical park that is famous for its brightly colored rock formations and located just an hour away from Las Vegas (50 miles). Several movies were filmed here like Viva Las Vegas, Star Trek Generations, The Professionals and Total Recall. No surprise since this place has a very original scenery and reminds of a spot out of this world. Located on 46,000 acres, it is filled with red and pink panoramic vistas and hiking trails. On sunny days the park looks like it is on fire which is probably where its name, the Valley of Fire, originated from.
There are two gates leading to the park: west entrance station and east entrance station. West entrance is the one you take when coming from Las Vegas. The park is open from sunrise to sunset and there is a small entrance fee of $15 ($10 if you have Nevada plates).
Summer highs usually exceed 100F (38C) and can reach 120F (49). My husband and I experienced that temperature in August 2020 and believe me it is not the best time to hike in the park (although possible). This year we visited Valley of Fire at the end of April and found it very comfortable. The temperature was in low 80s which is typical for Spring. So I would highly recommend either Spring or Fall as preferred hiking seasons. Average annual rainfall is four inches from light winter showers or summer thunderstorms.
Animals and Plants
Although the park is mostly composed of rock formations, there are plenty of animals and plants around. Beside birds like raven, sage sparrow, roadrunner and house finch you can meet lizards, snakes, kit foxes, coyotes, squirrels and antelope. Luckily we were able to see friendly herd of bighorn sheep.
As for plants there is domination of widely spread creosote bush, burro bush, and brittle bush that are beautifully contrasting with the red surroundings. We noticed also cactus species including the very common cholla.
The Valley of Fire is one of these places that we keep coming back to whenever it is possible. So far we were able to explore the park at every time of the day from sunrise until sunset. Catching perfect light is very important for a photographer so we identified which places are better seen in the morning vs late afternoon or at sunset time. Also, the sunlight plays an important role in intensifying the vibrancy of coIors in the photos. We will walk you through the park and viewpoints that we have explored so far and highlight the optimal time of the day for best shots.
If you are short on time but really want to get a taste of the Valley of Fire I highly recommend to just drive through the park. It is the easiest way to admire amazing landscape that is characterized by red rocks contrasted with green bushes. From the road you will see the most popular viewpoints and hiking trailheads. You can create a map of the park in your mind for the next visit.
Pink Canyon, also called Pastel Canyon is the place you cannot miss. One of the prettiest spots in the entire park with the short shallow and pink scallop walls. The parking is limited to only a couple of cars (it is more of turnout). The walk is short and super picturesque, easily accessible from the road. If you walk further you can get to the Fire Wave. This is alternative way to get to the spot although there is unmarked trail so you need to know where you are going. I highly recommend to visit this place in the noon when the sun shines directly from above highlighting the pastel pink and not casting unwelcome shadows.
The Fire Wave
It is our absolutely favorite spot and probably the most photographed vista in the entire park. It looks like a red and white zebra print and offers many creative shot making opportunities. The hike is 1.5 mile round trip through a very scenic terrain. It’s a totally a place out of this world. The best time to visit is when you can avoid a shade which would be early morning or late afternoon.
Milky Way over Valley of Fire
To capture milky way is every photographer’s dream. It is also challenging because you cannot do it anytime. The are certain days in a month when the conditions are perfect for star gazing moments – on or around New Moon. Presence of the moon is not welcome because it will illuminate the sky too much. Although the moon can be quite useful if you want to take a night shot of subjects on the ground that you would like to softly lighten up. To achieve the effect seen in the photo below you need to combine two shots. Valley of Fire is very popular place for start gazing and night photography. This photogenic spot is one of the most popular in the entire park.
Finally this year we were able to do this fabulous hike. It is located 20 minutes drive from the visitor center at the end of the main road. The hike is short but it is most challenging while descending at the beginning of it. The climb back up to the parking lot is not as steep and the terrain is less tricky. It is only 1.25 mile of scenic trail with a slot canyon somewhere in the middle. Noon is a great time for taking shots in the slot canyon since the light will nicely lighten up the narrow passage while golden hour offers an opportunity get some insane sun bursts in your composition.
Once you pass West entrance you will quickly spot weird sand formations (located next to the parking). These resemble the beehives and are of different sizes. It’s a good spot to jump out of the car and admire beautiful views of the park.
Being totally honest with you we have not done this hike yet due to time shortage (there is always something left for the next visit). But I wanted to include this place because it looks very interesting. Somehow it reminds me a bit of the fire wave surroundings. It is only 1 mile round trip hike that ends with a climb up onto a large hill for an epic panoramic view of the park.
You can find this elephant shaped rock on the right hand side after you pass east entrance. For the best time to take the photo, try either sunrise or sunset. Also, the best spot to capture the Elephant Rock is just past the formation. You will need to climb a bit but it’s a super short hike and as a bonus you get beautiful scenery in the background.
These are fascinating red rock formations along the road heading toward east entrance. Easily accessible. You stop there to relax or for a picnic time.
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Nice but regarding shooting the milky way at the Valley of Fire: you’re not allowed to go there after sunset and before sunrise.