Red Rock Canyon is a popular destination for Las Vegans itching to get out of the city. But it’s not the only escape. Dedicated in 1935, Valley of Fire State Park is Nevada’s oldest and largest park: 42,000 spectacular acres traversed by 20 miles of lonesome two-lane roads. It’s located in Moapa Valley, 55 miles northeast of Vegas and six miles from Lake Mead. Some of these hulking sandstone formations are 150 million years old. The rusty-red glow that gives the park its name are attributed to deposits of iron oxide. Pick up a hiking trail if you want to see petrified wood, 3,000-year-old petroglyphs, and narrow slot canyons. (Building hoodoos to mark the way is discouraged.)
Though summertime temps can top 120 degrees, Valley of Fire is surprisingly full of life: Keep your eyes peeled and you might encounter roadrunners, black-tailed jackrabbits, spotted skunks, lizards, bighorn sheep, kit fox, rattlesnakes or red racers (yikes!), or the elusive desert tortoise. Desert marigold and indigo bush bloom in the springtime; cholla and beaver tail cacti draw admirers year-round.
Rappelling is permitted on Lone Rock only, but you must use natural tie-offs. If you hate to sweat, simply driving the Valley of Fire Highway is a treat. Pack plenty of water and plan to have a picnic under one of the shaded pavilions near the Seven Sisters rocks. Staying the night? The Atlatl Rock and Arch Rock campgrounds operate on a first-come, first-served basis. Fees range from $20-$30 per night, including the $10 park entrance fee.
29450 Valley of Fire Hwy, Overton, NV; 702-397-2088.