White Domes Trail crosses stunning landscapes that reinvent themselves around every turn. The views on this 1.1-mile loop with 150 feet of elevation change are both varied and extraordinary. The circuit passes sandstone formations with different shapes and colors. The trail also visits an old film set and lets hikers slip through a narrow canyon. The surroundings are diverse and the hike is thrilling, making White Domes Trail one of the best places to experience Valley of Fire State Park’s awesome beauty.
Set out from a trailhead at the end of White Domes Road, the most scenic road in the park. White Domes Day Use Area has picnic tables and bathrooms along with a kiosk describing the area’s history and geology. A passage on one info panel sums up the trail perfectly:
White Domes Trail leads hikers through a Mojave Desert wonderland of ever-changing scenery.
Leave from the end of the parking lot and walk up a sandy trail between tall sandstone formations. Cross a crest in the loose sand and catch sight of a beautiful landscape to the south. This is your first example that White Domes Trail is constantly refreshing your view with beautiful scenery.
Ahead, the terrain drops away down a slope between the big sandstone formations. A collection of different shaped domes and ridges rise beyond that. On the left side, you’ll see one shaped like a molar that is yellow on top and orange lower down. To your right, a natural arch is pinned to the side of the tall sandstone fin.
Use stone steps built into a steeper part of the draw to pass just below the almost-arch. Hike south toward what appears to be the ruins of an old stone wall. Reach the desert floor in an open area surrounded by an amphitheater of extraordinary rock formations. The view looking back toward the fin of sandstone you walked along is particularly impressive.
Reach the “ruins” a third of a mile from the start of the hike and discover that the wall (made of stone with timbers and plaster) is actually a leftover from a 1965 movie production. A sign explains that the fake ruins were used in the film, The Professionals, which also built a larger Mexican hacienda set at the site of the current White Domes Day Use Area. Valley of Fire State Park has been a filming location for lots of movies like Transformers, Casino, Total Recall, Star Trek: Generations, and Austin Powers.
Beyond what is left of the film set, the trail continues south and immediately drops into Kaolin Wash. Follow the posted arrows and turn right up the bottom of the wash.
Approach a slot canyon to the west where the wash cuts into a wall sandstone. Step into the slot canyon and the walls quickly come together, becoming a narrows. In places, the tall walls are just a few feet apart. See how the rock walls have been eroded by fast moving water (this would be a dangerous place to be during a flash flood, so definitely avoid this trail if rain is possible).
The narrows are exciting to hike through, but can only last so long, about 200 feet, before coming to an end. Step out of the narrows into a wide wash. Suddenly, you’re in an open area again. The trail does not continue up the wash. Instead, you will turn right and hike up a gap between sandstone formations.
After going a short ways, if you look back at where you came from, you’ll discover that the exit of the narrows has almost disappeared along the wall of sandstone.
Over the next quarter mile, hike uphill on a well-marked trail through lots of interesting rock formations. Southwest of the trail is a big dome-shaped formation that looks like a turtle. Looking at these rock formations is like cloud gazing. What shapes inspire your imagination?
The surrounding rock along the trail is colored pink, yellow, orange, and beige. A panel at the trailhead examines how these colors were created by minerals in the sandstone:
The Aztec sandstone derives its characteristic red color from iron oxide in the rock. How the iron got into the rock layers is a subject of debate among geologists. Some theorize that it leached downward through the porous sandstone from overlying rock layers. Others note that some areas in the upper levels of the sandstone are white, without iron oxide. They suggest that the White Domes and other areas in the park indicate that the rock has been stained from the bottom up by water circulating minerals from the iron-rick layers found beneath the Aztec formation.
At 0.7 miles from the start of the hike, you will begin to leave the sandstone playground. The desert to your left opens up, offering far off views of ridges of red sandstone to the north and west. At this time, you will hike past a small arch in the rock along the right side of the trail. The trail proceeds alongside tall formations that rise to the right. As you move forward, look back over your right shoulder to see a sandstone fin with an arch curving off the end. This rock definitely looks like an elephant, right? (Not that it should be confused with the actual Elephant Rock in Valley of Fire State Park.)
After some level hiking, and 0.9 miles from the start, the trail cuts across the top of an arroyo. To your left, a dry creek bed takes a winding course through different colored soils, demonstrating that even the desert floor can flash impressive colors.
In the end, the trail curves to the right and punches through a gap in the sandstone. Walk up some short cement steps and turn right along the side of White Domes Road. Stick with the trail as it runs parallel to the road and quickly comes to an end at the north side of White Domes Day Use Area, opposite from where you began.
It is hard to imagine that so much beauty can be packed into this 1.1-mile hike. Make certain that White Domes Trail is on your itinerary when visiting Valley of Fire State Park. An entrance fee is required to reach the trailhead, but no permit is needed to hike White Domes Trail. Dogs are allowed on leashes on this hike. If you are interested in learning about how the beautiful landscapes came to be, be sure to check out the kiosk at the trailhead, which explains that:
Valley of Fire lies in the geologically complex transition zone between the colorful flat-layered rocks of the Colorado Plateau to the east and the broken and faulted limestone mountain ranges of the Basin and Range Province to the west. In these few square miles, an area of colorful rock layers has been exposed by erosion that has stripped away older layers that were pushed over these younger plateau rocks.
The panel goes on to explain how sand dunes from a dry sea became sandstone that was then shaped over millions of years.
The Rock Layers – The colorful Aztec sandstone was originally deposits of ancient, wind-blown sand dunes that covered thousands of square miles during the Jurassic period, the age of dinosaurs. Geologists estimate that these dunes were as much as 3,000 feet deep. Over time, the grains of sand were cemented together into solid rock.
Fracturing – Parallel vertical joints were created in the once-solid rock layers through folding and faulting caused by forces and stresses from movement of the earth’s crust. These movements formed most of the mountain ranges you see beyond Valley of Fire.
Erosion – The stead action of rainwater, gravity, and wind gradually opened up spaces between the joints and sculpted them into fantastic shapes and forms. The White Domes area provides many examples of the effects of these natural processes, all of which are still going on today.
The White Domes Area and the rest of Valley of Fire State Park are a wonderful creation, resulting from a perfect combination of geologic forces. How fortunate we are!
To get to the trailhead: From Las Vegas, take Interstate 15 north for about 35 miles to exit 75 (signs for Valley of Fire State Park and Lake Mead National Recreation Area). At the end of the offramp, go southeast on Valley of Fire Highway. Reach the park’s west entrance after 14.5 miles. Drive another 3.5 miles and turn left, following a sign for the visitor center and Mouse’s Tank. Go a tenth of a mile and bear left to stay on White Domes Road, bypassing the visitor center. Drive 5.6 miles to the end of the road at White Domes Day Use Area (0.9 miles past Parking Lot #3 at the start of Fire Wave Trail).
Arriving from the east, from the intersection of Route 169 and 167 near Lake Mead, drive west on Valley of Fire Highway for two miles to the park’s east entrance. Drive another 3.3 miles to the intersection by the start of White Domes Road, turn right and take this road for 5.7 miles to the White Does Area.
Trailhead address: White Domes Road (Mouse’s Tank Road), Valley of Fire State Park, Overton, NV 89040
Trailhead coordinates: 36.4859, -114.5329 (36° 29′ 09.24″N 114° 31′ 58.43″W)
You may also view a regional map of surrounding Nevada trails and campgrounds.
|Fire Wave |
This 1.5-mile hike reaches a sensational striped creation where a slickrock depression is painted in waves of orange and beige.
|Rainbow Vista |
This hike of up to 1.5 miles goes up a sandstone mini-summit with tremendous 360-degree views over multi-colored landscapes and then continues on to Fire Canyon Overlook.
|Petroglyph Canyon Trail to Mouse's Tank |
This 0.75-mile hike travels down a sandy path lined with petroglyphs to a natural basin formed in the sandstone.
|Balancing Rock |
This 0.25-mile hike, which begins next to the Valley of Fire State Park Visitor Center, approaches a rock formation that appears to stand with a bit of magic.
|Elephant Rock |
This 0.3-mile hike at the east entrance of Valley of Fire State Park leads to a sandstone formation resembling an elephant with a unique natural arch for a trunk.
|Petrified Logs Loop |
This 0.3-mile hike gets close to petrified logs on the desert floor passing panels that explain how wood is petrified.
|Atlatl Rock |
Step right up to see Native American rock art on this 0.1-mile trail with stairs up a rock face to a collection of petroglyphs.
|Hikes in Nevada |
Explore more trails in Nevada and the picturesque parks around Las Vegas.
|Atlatl Rock Campground and Arch Rock Campground |
Valley of Fire State Park has great places to camp surrounded by formations of red sandstone.