We squeezed in a stop for the Pastel Canyon in Valley of Fire State Park on the tail end of our visit to Zion National Park this January. Valley of Fire is about an hour northeast of Las Vegas on I-15, on the way to Zion National Park, so if you are traveling between the two, it’s a pretty easy stop-off. My uncle had mentioned it to me as another cool place in the area to go, and as soon as I saw the pictures I knew we had to make it fit.
I knew we were only going to be able to do one, maybe two hikes since we just had a few hours. So, we did some research to try to find the coolest hike in the area, and boy did we find an awesome hike.
Pastel Canyon is just a little stop-off location on Mouse’s Tank Road. This is a main road that grants access to several of the better known trails in the park. There is no trail marker, no parking lot, and the curb is big enough to fit maybe 4 or 5 cars. There were many pull-off spots like this on Mouse’s Tank Road, with a few cars parked at different locations, so it seemed like it was legit to park there, just less well known. Because of this, you aren’t likely to see hardly anyone else as you walk.
Because there are many pull-off curbs along this road and because the curb for Pastel Canyon in unmarked, you need to have the exact coordinates to reach the correct spot. The GPS coordinates are 36.4795738, -114.5266674.
The trail takes you through a little slot “canyon” – the walls are often only about 10 feet high – that is pretty narrow, with a sandy – rather than rocky – floor. What makes the hike so special is the multi-colored pastel veining through the rocks. There are various shades of pinks, reds, oranges, tans, and whites layered and weaving through the walls. It’s so pretty! The thin strata are so fine and complex, varying from straightforward layering to intricate waves and folds.
The other awesome thing about this hike (and I imagine about the park in general) is that the rocks are very, very grippy. This means you can easily scramble and climb over them without your shoes sliding, and rocks that would otherwise be maybe too steep or difficult or dangerous to climb up are totally fine because your shoes are holding tight to the rock. We had a great time admiring the colors and climbing up and around the canyon walls.
Approaching the Fire Wave
Eventually you reach a section where the walls around you die down and the ground becomes more rocky instead of sandy. At this point, you are almost to the Fire Wave. The Fire Wave is the end-point of another trail (conveniently called the Fire Wave Trail) that starts about ½ mile north of the Pastel Canyon. The Fire Wave Trailhead, the start of Pastel Canyon, and the Fire Wave make a rough triangle.
As we reached this open section of the canyon we began consulting our phone’s GPS. When it looked like we were just south of the Fire Wave, we headed up the bigger rocks on our left and our jaws hit the ground.
The Fire Wave
What greeted us was a stunning slope of red and white banded rock that stretched for hundreds of feet. The canyon had delicate, and light colored bands. The Fire Wave’s strata were thicker and a more vivid red, but no less intricate. You have swirls of red and white mixing and it’s just gorgeous. You feel like you’re on a different planet. Actually, it kind of reminded me of how the bands of Jupiter look in close up photos. This effect is enhanced by the rocks not being a smooth surface. Instead the slope is irregular and the rocks weave and undulate themselves. It really is mesmerizing as you walk across it.
Much of the area is relatively flat or gently sloped, but there are a couple of outcroppings to explore. You’ll also find some rock stacks people have constructed which are cute. But, if you really want a commanding view of the area, you should head west. There you’ll find a whiter rock formation that rises one or two hundred feet. It is a bit steep, but the rocks are grippy and when you find the route to the top you get an amazing panorama of the whole area.
This hike was done on the same trip as Zion National Park, and we loved it so much it actually tied with the Narrows for favorite hike. We definitely want to come back again soon with the kids and do this hike with them! There are so many hikes and cool features to see in just this small park. Petroglyph Canyon and Rainbow Vista trail are on our list for next time!
Weather: The weather in January was lovely – we had low 60’s and lots of sun. I personally would avoid this hike in the heat of the summer because it will be blazing hot and there is no shade at all.
Price: $10 per car (it’s a state park, so national park passes won’t work)
Location: One hour north of Las Vegas, off of I-15
How Long Does it Take: Pastel Canyon is short but sweet – we did it in 30 minutes, stopping frequently for photos. We spent another hour exploring the Fire Wave and surrounding area.
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