Monday, January 9, 2012

Fire Wave, Valley of Fire, Nevada: Directions and Guide

Everything you need to know about getting to the elusive Fire Wave near Las Vegas, Nevada. A destination for hikers, photographers and desert-lovers.
Fire Wave, Nevada
The famous Fire Wave of Nevada has intrigued and tormented me for quite some time. Its image appears on the covers of Nevada Tourism brochures and dozens of photography websites. While pictures of the Fire Wave are everywhere, there is almost no information about how to get to it. I had tried before but was unsuccessful. This time, with some helpful directions from the rangers at Valley of Fire State Park, I was able to make it.

The Fire Wave has only recently been made more accessible by the rangers. In the past they have given only vague directions to its location which has been purposeful; they would rather not see people getting lost in the desert trying to look for one particular rock. However they provide more clear directions to the wave these days to keep the human impact minimum. There exists a faint route marked only by two signs.

Once again I'm able to break new ground on outdoor internet guides! This should hopefully help you to visit the famous and elusive Fire Wave of Nevada.

Before disclosing information about the wave's location, I would like to mention that this is a site that has been kept in hiding for a long time. It used to be quite the adventure to find it but in an effort to reduce impact, there is one trail for hikers. I'm a little conflicted about revealing its location because I would hope that it would remain a clean and unrestricted hike. I trust that you will be respectful of this location's uniqueness and make sure to leave no trace.
Nevada's Fire Wave
The Fire Wave at Sunset
Fire Wave Hike

The Fire Wave is located in Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada which is 50 miles from Las Vegas. It is a popular and easily accessible park with a 10 dollar charge. There is a visitor center which can help familiarize you with the park's sights and roads.

The hike to the Fire Wave is neither far nor difficult. Its about a mile roundtrip hike with a light amount of elevation gain/loss. There is a small route which is usually marked by footprints but can become ambiguous as you approach the Wave. It is smaller and somewhat indiscernible until you are literally on top of it so you might be doing a little bit of searching before you find it. Fortunately there are a few landmarks that make the place slightly easier to find.
Fire Wave Hiking Map, Valley of Fire, Nevada

Here is a little map to help you out. The road is the Mouse's Tank Road which heads North from the Visitors Center. It is roughly 4.3 miles from the Visitors Center to a turnout where you can access the wave. This is the third turnout on the road and there is a simple sign which just says "wave".

The total hike is about 1 mile round trip and takes about a half an hour. You know you have gone too far if you hit the wash south of the Fire Wave. Here are a couple of pictures which should make it more clear.
Hike South along the road until you see this sign
The footpath can be somewhat ambiguous at times.
Eventually you will hit a large section of smooth, sloped rocks. This will take you to the wave. You can see it just barely in the center of the picture.
This is it from a different angle. It can be very easy to miss.
GPS Coordinates for the Fire Wave

     N  36  28'  58.0"
     W 114  31'  20.6"

Photography Notes for the Fire Wave
Photography of the Fire Wave is perhaps the main reason why so many people want to hike to it. A full spectrum of desert colors can be seen from this location which allows for some brilliant shots. I'm not an expert on photography; mostly I just get lucky with my lil' point and shoot. However, I'll just provide some notes on what First of all, the Fire Wave is smaller than most pictures make it out to be. The whole thing is less than 40 ft long and it dips into a bowl shaped area. It runs in a North-South direction and most of the pictures of it are facing south to highlight its colorful striations.
Different times of the day offer diverse opportunities for photography. We first visited the wave in the mid-morning which was not ideal but make for some interesting shots. The midday winter sun illuminated the striated rocks below the wave. I also wished I was there in the early morning to photograph the east-facing side of the wave. 
Just below the Fire Wave
On the hike out... not sure why, but I liked this one.
Sunset photography of the Fire Wave was slightly more difficult than anticipated- perhaps due to the low setting winter sun. Sometime 1-2 hours before sunset probably would have been perfect. There's a bowl just in front of the wave which is where most of the best pictures are a taken. Hopefully the first couple of pictures will show you what to expect. If I had any real background in photography, a D-SLR and photoshop, I'm sure I could spruce up these photos more. At any rate, it was fun to play with perspective.
Fire Wave at sunset, looking towards the bowl
Hopefully this will give you good directions on you adventure to the Fire Wave! I am surprised that this place is as open and accessible as it is. It bears such striking resemblance to The Wave of Arizona which is one of the most strictly regulated hikes in the country. I would not bet on this place being unrestricted for long. The rangers told me that this is quickly becoming a destination for buses and Southwestern tour companies. I would highly advise you to minimize your impact on the land and hike as little as you can in the surrounding areas. Leave no trace practices are capital in a place such as this. Enjoy the wave, take many pictures and leave it beautiful for the next hikers. 

Read. Plan. Get Out There!


  1. The Fire Wave was named and popularized by Steffen and Isa Synnatschke in their recently published eGuide, .. Isa saw it in a another picture but at that time even the rangers at VoF didn't know where it was. She located some of the landmarks in the image and then "reverse engineered" the wave's location from there. The fact that there is a marked trail to the place means that the "ground breaking" on this has pretty much already been done. I just want to give credit where credit is due. Had it not been for the Synnatschke's, all of us, including you, wouldn't know about this place. Curious, are you planning to publish the other waypoints from their eGuide?

  2. I've seen perhaps twenty different photography sites without directions and heard about e-guides but I didn't find any before visiting- or at least anything from google searches. Last year I tried to find it myself but couldn't but discover some other incredible parts of the park.

    The rangers at Valley of Fire generally don't reveal information about parts of the park which don't have trails, probably for liability and conservation purposes. However if you ask for directions to the Fire Wave, they will give you a simple map and GPS coordinates. Their directions alone are what helped me create this page (the map above is exactly what they give you).

    There are dozens of other hidden secrets in the Valley of Fire such as a 40ft natural arch, petroglyphs and some deep slot canyons known only by rangers which will probably remain a mystery.

  3. Super helpful! I was looking for directions to this spot -- thanks for posting!

    1. You're welcome! I couldn't find it for the longest time!

  4. I didn't find it LOL I came all the way from Australia oh well next time. Still managed to get some great shots as there are some amazing rock formations there with numerous bands of coloured sandstone!

  5. Just visited the Wave last week and Rangers are providing a map with showing directions from parking lot 3. The directions provided on this site are indeed the shortest way to the site, but Park officials are concerned about hikers walking along the paved road, where there is a blind turn over a hill and one person has already been struck by a vehicle. The preferred route is directly across the road from Lot 3 and is 45 min. to an hour on a moderately difficult trail marked with blue tape and the rock cairns. We cheated and took took the much shorter route shown here on our return.

  6. Just a note that now there is a very clear trail leading from the parking lot and marked all the way. They really do not want you walking along the road which is a good idea... The trail itself is only slightly longer and probably nicer when it is hot as for the first part it winds along a stream bed. I would say the hike is 45 min to an hour also, but that's round trip... it's really not long at all.

  7. Can someone who has been to the Wave give me your thoughts on whether this is best shot in early morning or late afternoon, especially this time of year when the sun will rise and set somewhat to the north of true east and west? Thanks.