Valley of the Fire State Park in northern Nevada is a photographer’s dream. It contains countless rock formations of eroded sandstone such as arches, rock fins, and multi-colored rock. The park consists of four main areas: the Main Park Drive, the Loop Road, the Silica Dome Road, and Highway 169.
The loop drive contains a number of small rock formations and arches that make for some very cool photography. While the area has a handful of iconic formations such as Arch Rock, Piano Rock, and Windstone Arch, a creative photographer can come up with countless images due to the interesting geology of the area. The are hundreds of little pockets carved into the rocks here and reflected light into them makes for orange-colored rock.
Arch Rock is a small arch located at the top of a rock as the name implies. It is found just past Arch Rock campground. It is best photographed an hour or so before sunset so the arch has some light on it.
Piano Rock is a rock shaped like a grand piano and is found on the left side of the road just as the road makes a turn toward Arch Rock campground.
Winston Arch is a little arch or rock leg found inside a small alcove. It is best photographed in mid morning when reflected light makes the interior glow orange. There is a small turnout about 200 yards from the junction with Highway 169. Park here and go around the back of the first large rock formation. The alcove is straight ahead in a second set of small rock formations. This whole area is very photogenic so don’t just focus on Windstone Arch.
Main Park Drive
This 3/4 mile long trail contains several large panels of petroglyphs carved into the rock face on the left side of the canyon as you descend. It is an easy walk through a sandy canyon. Mid afternoon works best for photos.
Rainbow Vista/Fire Canyon
This trail leads to two overlooks: one of Fire Canyon and its brown-colored chunks of volcanic rock and Rainbow Vista, an amazing, colorful plateau with a commanding view of the park. If you take the main trail straight form the parking lot and then veer right upon arriving at a steep rock face, you will arrive at Fire Canyon overlook in about 1 mile. A small arch can be found near the end of the trail. As you walk back toward the parking lot, stop at the area of pink and yellow sandstone where the trail veered steeply to the right. If you ascend 100 feet or so above this area, you will find views opening up. Proceed to the left and then out onto to the rocks. This is Rainbow Vista. Here is where you will find amazing small arches and an incredible view of Silica Dome. This may be the most photogenic spot in the park.
Parking Lot #2
Pink Canyon is a short slot canyon just off the main park road. It lies directly between parking lot #2 and #3. There is one parking spot on either side of the road at the canyon entrance that seems to be an informal parking area for the canyon. If these spaces are full, it is about a .6 mile hike back to one of the parking areas up a steep hill so be prepared. The hike itself is quite short through the slot canyon. The sculpted walls make for some interesting photography. Be prepared to use HDR or a graduated neutral density filter to keep the sky from blowing out. Don’t forget to scramble up one of the rock faces and do a little exploring. This is possible where the canyon makes a sharp left turn. The area up top contains some beautiful rock fins.
Swoosh Rock is named for the streak of red rock that adorns the base of the formation, and looks like the symbol of a famous shoe company. The rock itself is mainly pink and yellow sandstone. This rock is located just across from the mouth of Pink Canyon. As you cross the road from the canyon, veer to the right and stay close to the road. You will find it in about 100-200 feet.
If you head out on a route at about 2 o’clock form parking lot #2, you will come to some incredible rock fins. There is no trail so you have to pick your way across the sandstone. Be careful as the area is criss-crossed by large canyons so route-finding skills are required. This is not an area to blindly wander in the dark for sure. My favorite spot was an area of sandstone that looked like it had been melted like candy and then curled under. The rock fins make for great leading lines in a photograph as well.
Parking Lot #3
Crazy Hill is a name that does;t do the formation justice. Painter’s Palette might be a better name as it looks as though a painter spilled several paint buckets on the rock and let the colors run down the side of the rock. It is found by walking straight out of the parking lot #3 a couple hundred yards. You follow the mouth of a small canyon and continue heading straight down the hill. You will see a couple of small arches along the way in the sides of the rock.
The Fire Wave is the park’s iconic formation. The name comes from its resemblance to the more famous Wave formation in North Coyote Buttes, AZ. A better name for it might be Ribbon Candy Rock as it consists of stripes of red and white rock swirled into a bizarre ribbon-like shape. A new trail leading out to Fire Wave has been built by the park in recent years that leads from parking lot #3. It is about 1/2 mile to the Fire Wave. This trail is popular so park here well before sunset if you want a parking spot. Like all popular photo stops these days, be prepared for large crowds during the golden hour.
White Domes Loop
Take Exit 75 on I-15 heading north from Las Vegas onto Highway 169 heading east. The entrance to the park will be about 13 miles ahead. The first thing of note will be the Loop Drive and the campgrounds. If you are coming from the north, you can also access the park from exit 93, as Highway 169 loops back to I-15. This way takes a little longer as the road goes through two small towns.
Camping and Accommodations
The two campgrounds are first come/first serve. Get there by 10 am to ensure a spot. The park campgrounds usually fill during the temperate moths of fall and spring.