ROAD TRIP TO THE VALLEY OF FIRE: THE ULTIMATE 5 DAY LA TO LAS VEGAS ITINERARY
Recently, I relived my #VanLife days on a road trip from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. I did the same trip by coach bus on a tour with my parents years ago and didn’t get to see much, so I was excited to have the freedom to explore on my own time. We planned for a 5-day trip, though in hindsight I would have definitely preferred a full week. Follow along on the itinerary we took to get some ideas for your own trip!
OUR CAMPERVAN: LOST CAMPERS
Disclaimer: I had a sponsored partnership with Lost Campers in exchange for content creation
After a bit of research on campervan rental companies, I decided to work with Lost Campers for a few reasons:
- Lost Campers was started by an adventure-loving couple who wanted to help people travel on a budget, something that I personally believe in having done the same for 3 months in Australia!
- There are no ads or wild paint jobs on their vehicles, so you’re not driving around a commercial on wheels
- They have rental packages for Burning Man, which I am hoping to do in 2020 and wanted to test out their vehicles beforehand
The customer service team was communicative, friendly, and helpful throughout the entire process. They let me test out the Redwood Van, which is a Ford T350, and the largest in their fleet. The van comes will all the equipment you’ll need for a perfect road camping trip: a comfy full-sized bed, dual battery with refrigerated cooler, a pump sink, a propane stove, a cooking kit, and more!
DAY 1: LA TO DEATH VALLEY
Driving Time: 4 hours
What to See: Red Rock Canyon State Park
Where to Eat: Badwater Saloon
Where to Sleep: Stovepipe Wells Campground
We wanted to cover as much ground as possible on the first day and decided to drive all the way to Death Valley. It’s only a 4 hour drive from Los Angeles, but we took our time grocery shopping. Thanks to the refrigerated cooler, we were able to stock up on fresh fruits, veggies, and even some dairy products!
RED ROCK CANYON STATE PARK
Halfway north on California State Route 14 is Red Rock Canyon State Park. You’ll know you’ve entered the park when you start driving through a valley of fiery red and orange rocks – this is especially beautiful when the sun is setting. The Hagen Canyon Nature Trail is the most popular stop – it’s a 1.2 mile loop hike that takes you through red-stained sandstone rocks and desert cliffs. We didn’t have time to do this hike ourselves because it was getting dark, but we did a bit of rock scrambling by the parking area which was still beautiful!
Stovepipe Wells is a small village in Death Valley with a mining past. The village quickly became a tourist destination, and now boasts an inn with a pool, a restaurant and bar, and a general store. We arrived at nightfall and stopped at the Badwater Saloon for dinner and a drink. Vintage movie posters lined the walls featuring movies that had been filmed right here in Death Valley, including several Star Wars films!
We parked our van in the Stovepipe Wells Campground. It’s basically a giant parking lot with designated spaces for cars, RVs, and tent-campers alike. There are flushing toilets and sinks with running water, but no showers. This was fine since it was too cold to shower anyway, so we bundled up and did some star-gazing, which is definitely my favorite thing about spending the night in a desert.
DAY 2: DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK
What to See: Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Zabrieskie Point, Badwater Basin, Artist’s Drive
After making a cup of hot tea, we started our Death Valley exploring. There was talk of a “winter storm” brewing on the horizon, so we wanted to get a head start. If you only have a day to spend in the park, which we did, these are the most popular stops:
MESQUITE FLAT SAND DUNES
The sand dunes are only a 5 minute drive from the Stovepipe Wells campground. Unfortunately we had cloudy skies, but I bet it’s a great place to watch the sunrise! Spend an hour or so wandering through the dunes. It’s a bit of a workout, but I recommend climbing to the highest sand dune if you want to feel like a Jedi on an adventure!
This the most famous viewpoint in the park and a great spot for sunrise or sunset. It’s a short walk to see the panoramic view of the Furnace Creek formation, or you can take a hike around the Badlands Loop. The trails are unmarked but you can follow in the well-worn footpath through the valley.
ARTIST’S DRIVE AND ARTIST’S PALETTE
This 9 mile scenic drive will take you through some colorful geological formations and multicolored, eroded hills carved by centuries of explosive volcanic activity. The colors are caused by the oxidation of different minerals. At the end of the one-way drive we reached Artist’s Palette, where you can get a panoramic view of all the colors or walk through and climb the rocks themselves. The rainy weather muted the colors a bit, but it was nonetheless an amazing otherworldly landscape.
At -282 feet (- 86m) below sea level, Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America. Walk the ¼ mile flat trail to reach the polygonal salt formations this place is known for. From here, the landscape seems to stretch on forever. There were many people attempting touristy photos that gave them the illusion of looking small in the background.
That night, we drove all the way to Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada so we could wake up and get a full day at the park. Even though we arrived late at night, we were lucky enough to find a camping spot at Atlatl Rock Campground because it was a weekday. The campsite had covered picnic tables and clean bathrooms with hot showers! Such a blessing after 2 days of hiking and driving in the rain.
DAY 3: VALLEY OF FIRE STATE PARK, NEVADA
Things to See: Rainbow Vista, White Domes, Silica Dome, Seven Sisters, Elephant Rock, Mouse’s Tank
Death Valley to Valley of Fire Driving Time: 3 – 4 hours depending on conditions
Where to Sleep: Atlatl Rock Campground or Arch Rock Campground
We spent all of Day 3 exploring the Valley of Fire State Park. It was our first sunny day since the road trip started and I’ll never forget how ecstatic I felt as we drove through the park and saw the expansive vistas. The park is pretty small, so definitely doable as a day trip from Vegas if you get the chance. I’d still recommend getting here early as there’s so much to see! Check out some of the sites we visited!
RAINBOW VISTA AND FIRE CANYON
Many of the best sites are just past the Visitor’s Center. Rainbow Vista will be the first stop. We arrived at around 9am and mostly had the whole place to ourselves. There is a ¾ mile loop on a marked trial but you can pretty much wander anywhere you want. We climbed up a giant rock for this amazing viewpoint below:
As you head back on the loop towards the parking lot, you’ll see a sign pointing to the Fire Canyon lookout. Definitely take this trail! From here it’s about 15 minutes and will take you through a valley nestled amongst some amazing rocks. It’s not marked very well but keep going straight – there’ll be some rock climbing and you’ll know when you’ve reached the end when you get this view:
From this point, we actually saw a sign that marked the end of the trail. It was so easy to imagine ourselves hiking in prehistoric times, like the landscape had been untouched since dinosaurs last roamed the earth.
WHITE DOMES TRAIL
From Rainbow Vista, you’ll drive down a scenic road. The road is curvy and narrow, so you’ll only be allowed to stop at the designated parking spots of which there are 3 along the side of the road. Definitely take the chance to stop and take in the views.
At the end of this road, you’ll reach the White Domes Trail. Since it was Thanksgiving weekend and close to noon by this time, we were already starting to see crowds. From the parking lot, there is a short 1.1 mile trail that will take you through some sandstone formations and narrow canyons. Unfortunately, we found that the trail had been flooded due to the rainstom so we decided to head to the next stop.
We drove up here for a quick photo because it was extremely windy. From the parking lot there’s a small trail that leads you to the edge of a cliff where you’ll find sweeping vistas of the park in all its glory.
Driving out of this scenic loop, take a left from the Visitor’s Center and you’ll head down another scenic road (literally every road here is scenic though). The Seven Sisters are these 7 red, eroded boulders along the side of the road. We stopped here for lunch, but it was super windy so we didn’t stay long. The rocks are best captured from the road, but you can definitely stop and climb around here.
Continue on down this road and you’ll reach Elephant Rock, just before the eastern gate to the park. It’s not the most interesting rock you’ll see, so I would skip it if you don’t have time. However we did see a couple of Bighorn Sheep in the distance, which are native to the park!
The ultimate Instagram shot! I first saw a photo of this road on Instagram and knew I wanted to get a photo, so we timed it for sunset and drove back down the scenic loop behind the Visitor’s Center. There is actually a hike at Mouse’s Tank itself which we didn’t have time for.
To get to this viewpoint, drive away from the Rainbow Vista parking lot back towards the Visitor’s Center. As the road starts to bend right into the valley, you’ll see a small patch of gravel on your right hand sand that you can quickly pull up to. Then, climb to the top of the rock right behind it and bam! Viewpoint!
FIRE WAVE ROCK
If you’ve ever wanted to visit the famous “The Wave” rock in Arizona but couldn’t get a permit, this spot is a close second! We got here just in time for sunset to admire the colors and textures. It was super windy otherwise I would’ve loved to scramble around the rocky playground.
DAY 4: LAS VEGAS
Driving Time: 1-2 hours from Valley of Fire to Las Vegas
Where to Stay: The Mirage
Where to Eat: Mon Ami Gabi at Paris Las Vegas
Las Vegas is one of those places where time doesn’t seem to matter. This might be a trick of the casinos, where there are literally no clocks anywhere, or it could be the bright lights of the Strip. If it’s your first time here, I’d recommend staying right on the Strip to get a full taste of Sin City. Otherwise, there are tons of neighborhoods away from the tourist hotspots that are just as interesting. I’d love to return and explore some of these hidden gems.
DAY 5: LAS VEGAS TO LOS ANGELES
Driving Time: 5 hours (but took us 9 because of traffic)
Hot tip for your long drive ahead: leave early, stock up on snacks and water, and download a playlist! We did not expect the drive to take this long, but then again it was the end of Thanksgiving weekend so we definitely didn’t budget our time well.
On your way out of Vegas, you’ll want to stop at the Seven Magic Mountains, a famous art installation of colorful, stacked boulders. The artist meant for them to signify “creative expression of human presence in the desert.” The installation will only be on display until 2021, so you’ll want to get here soon!
Part of the drive will also take you past the Mojave National Preserve and Mojave Desert. The immense scale of the flat, arid landscape that seems to stretch on forever will leave you in awe. If the skies are clear, you’ll also spot the snow-capped Sierra Mountain ranges in the distance.
After a taste of the wild, I am so ready to get on my next road trip! There’s something about being able to take your home wherever you go, waking up to a different view every day, and letting the road lead the way that I crave so deeply.