Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

© Caitlin O'Hara/Lonely Planet

Valley of Fire State Park

Top choice in Southern Nevada

It's about 50 miles from Downtown Las Vegas to the Valley of Fire State Park visitor center. Make the center your first port of call to find out how best to tackle this masterpiece of Southwest desert scenery containing 40,000 acres of red Aztec sandstone, petrified trees and ancient Native American petroglyphs (at Atlatl Rock). Dedicated in 1935, the park was Nevada's first designated state park. Its psychedelic landscape has been carved by wind and water over thousands of years.

Must-see spots within the valley include White Domes, Rainbow Vista, Fire Canyon and Silica Dome: each is as magnificent as it sounds. For more information on the unique geological features of the park, the visitor center also sells books and maps and takes reservations for guided hikes and ranger-led stargazing expeditions. Here, you can also try your luck for one of the 72 extremely popular, first-come, first-served primitive campsites ($20 per night). Don't undertake any hike without plenty of water.