Over Presidents Day Weekend 2019, I visited my sweet family in Las Vegas! I have always been dying to go visit the Valley of Fire, so on that Sunday, my dad, sister, brother-in-law, and sweet baby angel nephew piled into the truck to go check out the state park! For those of you who don’t know, the Valley of Fire is about 45 minutes north of Las Vegas, and is the perfect day trip for getting out of the city.
Valley of Fire State Park is actually quite small. With only 20 official trails in the park, there aren’t really that many to pick from if you don’t want to go cross-country. With a little research, we decided to do the Fire Wave Trail, an easy 1.5 mile trail to one of the park’s most famous features.
The Fire Wave trail is the perfect trail if you are looking for something short and easy (or, you know, if you are carting around a non-asthmatic 1-year-old who starts faking asthma attacks if he has to be in his carrier for too long *you know who you are*).
The Fire Wave
From Parking Lot #3, cross the road to the Fire Wave trailhead. The first few hundred feet of trail takes you down a sandy hill towards tall rock formations. This is one of the few places on the trail where you will a) be hiking on sand, and b) have noticeable elevation change.
Once you get to the base of the rock formations, the trail curves to the right, and takes more of a defined and packed shape. It leads you through bright-red boulder fields and rock outcroppings.
Soon enough, you’ll hit the beginning of the wide-sloping orange and cream “fields” of rock that will eventually lead to the Fire Wave.
Although there really isn’t a well-defined trail once you hit the rock, there are plenty of cairns and posts to lead you to your destination.
Eventually, you’ll start to see Pastel Canyon to the west. The pink, yellows, and purples of the Canyon are so distinguishable from the orange and red rock of the Fire Wave trail. It truly is an unbelievable sight to see in the desert.
After a short .8 miles, you’ll finally come to the Fire Wave! A quick descent down to the wave will finish off your hike.
Prior to visiting the Valley of Fire, I did a little research on how to get to Pastel Canyon. All of the instructions that I found were extremely vague – “Enter the slot canyon on the east side of the road after the fifth ditch” or “At the Fire Wave, you’ll see a wash – follow it.” I was pretty convinced that I was not going to find Pastel Canyon, and I was okay with that.
Upon arriving at the Fire Wave, however, the trail to Pastel Canyon was SO CLEAR. Prior to getting to the Fire Wave itself, you can see Pastel Canyon in the distance (see pictures above). Once you get to the Fire Wave, continue down the hill to a perpendicular wash. From the wash, head west to follow the wash to Pastel Canyon.
With a little help of Google Maps and the Paint application, you can really see how easy it is to get to Pastel Canyon from the Fire Wave. When I was reading instructions about following a particular wash, I had it in my head that I was going to have to pick out the right wash out of 10 different washes going in opposite directions – Nope. There is one wash. Follow the one wash. You will find Pastel Canyon.
The “trail” (read: wash) becomes more and more windy, and eventually, you start to watch it begin to take form as a slot canyon. The pink walls become narrower and narrower, and the wash starts to sharply s-turn.
As the walls get higher, you can truly start to see why this area is called “Pastel Canyon.” The walls take on a soft orange, pink, and purple color, and different pastel-colored stripes begin to form. Follow the wash until the left turn above, and…
… BAM! You’ve officially arrived at Pastel Canyon!! The slot canyon was SO. COOL.
Aside from the beautiful pastel color of the rocks, you could really see how the canyon was shaped by water.
The slot canyon portion is fairly short, and once you emerge from it heading west, you are pretty much right at the road. I was super surprised to see how close to the road it actually was.
*side note: When we were back on the road heading south after our hike, we passed the road entrance to Pastel Canyon. Since I had been in it, I picked it out fairly easily (it also helped that there was a car parked right next to it). BUT if I had had to have picked it out prior to knowing what I was looking for, I would have never found it. There were so many different twists and turns and ditches in Mouse Tank Road – I don’t think I would have been able to discern which was the “fifth ditch” and find the Canyon trailhead. My advice – just take the Fire Wave trail to get to Pastel Canyon. The Fire Wave was super cool on its own, and the trail is pretty short. Totally worth it!
I would highly recommend getting as high up on the walls as you can – from the top, you can see just how colorful the surrounding rocks were. From this vantage point, the area looked like sherbet ice cream to me! Beautiful yellows, oranges, pinks, purples – it truly was incredible.
From here, you could either take the trail that you came from back to the Fire Wave, or you could road walk back to the parking lot. My family was waiting for me at the Fire Wave, so I backtracked back to them. I would recommend going back the way you came – the canyon had a completely different feel hiking it backwards.
For such a busy day at Valley of Fire, I (very, very briefly) shared Pastel Canyon with just one other couple. They were right ahead of me, but did not stop in the canyon at all, so once they continued on, I had Pastel Canyon all to myself! I’m not sure if it just isn’t as popular because it isn’t mentioned on the map that the Visitor Center gave us, but if you are looking for solitude in the Valley of Fire on a busy day, Pastel Canyon is the place to go! Also – even if you aren’t necessarily looking for solitude, still go. It was so, so unique and so, so beautiful. It might have possibly been my favorite part of the park!
On my way back to the Fire Wave from Pastel Canyon, I came from the backside of the Fire Wave, and you could totally see where the “wave” name came from. It really did look like a wave about to crash into the sea – so beautiful!
If you have any questions about your upcoming trip to Valley of Fire, please comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy trails!