10 Best Things to Do in Cathedral Gorge State Park [Travel Guide]
In this post, I’m sharing what to know and best things to do in Cathedral Gorge State Park – read on for all the details!
Cathedral Gorge State Park is an underrated and remote park in southern Nevada filled with tall spires, slot canyons, and a ridge that of “badland” type of formations. You’re sure to enjoy this secluded park as you take a private tour of these exciting and stunning features.
What is Cathedral Gorge State Park Known For?
While this state park is very small, there are some really interesting and beautiful landscapes to see here. The park is located in a valley, with unique and dramatic patterns of erosions creating distinct ridgeline and cliffs. This ridgeline curves around the park area, creating a basin filled to the brim with fields of spires bringing the cliffs to life.
If you are familiar with Badlands National Park, you may notice that a lot of the cliffs and ridges in Cathedral Gorge look very similar to what you’d see in South Dakota. “Badlands” are actually a type of erosion pattern, which occurs when softer sedimentary rocks erode away, leaving steep slopes, deep drainage channels, and short, steep cliffs and rises.
All of this makes for an extremely fun landscape to explore when visiting Cathedral Gorge State Park!
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How Did the Park Come to Be?
Tens of millions of years ago, a volcano erupted just south of the state park, which deposited hundreds of feet of ash on the region. Then, about 5 million years ago, a lake formed in the valley, filled from the frequent rain the region saw at the time.
Well, in terms of geologic recipes, take some ash, add water with a dash of eroded soil that the water brings with it, layer on some pressure and let it bake a few million years… and voila, soft sediment that is easily eroded by wind and rain.
This rock, called bentonite clay, allows for these rapidly changing and unique formations.
Where is Cathedral Gorge State Park?
Cathedral Gorge is located off of Highway 93, near the towns of Panaca and Caliente. It is 2.5 hours from Las Vegas and 1.5 hours from St. George, Utah. While many people visit as a day trip from these areas, some people stop through as they are driving from southern Utah to San Francisco.
The Visitor’s Center and Orienting Yourself to the Park
The entrance to Cathedral Gorge State Park is off of Highway 93 (Great Basin Highway). You’ll turn from Highway 93 onto Cathedral Gorge State Park Road. The Visitor Center is located right at this junction, and is called the Regional Information Center. It is also before any of the pay stations.
There are bathrooms, water, a gift shop, and a few displays here. You can also stop and pick up a map of the park here, which I highly recommended you do!
Hours for the Visitor’s Center are 9am-4:30pm. Occasionally, during the winter, it may be closed.
Cathedral Gorge State Park Road is the only road that goes through the park. Everything is located off of this road (except for the campground, which does split and form its own drive).
10 Best Things to Do in Cathedral Gorge State Park
Now that we’ve got the basics covered, let’s get into the “what to do in Cathedral Gorge” part of this guide! Starting from the front of the park and working toward the back, these are the best things to do in Cathedral Gorge State Park!
➡️Explore the Slot Canyons/Caves
There are 3 different slot canyon areas in Cathedral Gorge State Park. These are sometimes called caves and sometimes called slot canyons, but they are definitely narrow slot canyons.
The canyons don’t go in a long way and are fairly short, but they also do narrow fairly quickly. Some of the canyons end in little dead ends, where others end simply because you can’t squeeze through anymore. These slots are created by clusters of knobby spiers descending from the valley ridge. As they reach the valley floor, the spaces between them create a maze of tight, twisting passages.
The canyon walls are extremely tall, straight, and the rock walls are pretty textured. The temperature also noticeably drops once you get into the canyons.
All of this, combined with the fact that you will likely be completely alone, means that the slots feel almost eerie! It was a cool place to explore, for sure.
1. Moon Slots
The Moon Slot Canyons are the first set of slot canyons you’ll reach when entering into the park. They start right after the second pay station, where the road takes a sharp left, and there’s a little roundabout.
There’s a decently large, unpaved pulloff on the side of the road, and a small sign in front of that says Moon Slots.
While it at first may seem like Moon Slots is just one area or one canyon, in actuality, there are little slot canyon trails through the entire ridgeline that follows the road. This creates dozens and dozens (maybe even hundreds?) of little canyon paths to explore.
If you’re using AllTrails to track your progress, it will show you one specific canyon, but there are tons in the area. It’s fun to just walk along the front of the ridge and explore all the little slot canyons that have been created between the fins of rock.
There are two other pullout parking spots that are still in the “Moon Caves” section of the ridge. I want to highlight one area right off of the second pullout spot.
If you walk straight forward from the second little pullout parking area, there’s a little canyon trail that you can follow that will actually take you up into the hills, and to a little overlook over the peaks and spires of Cathedral Gorge. It’s short but offers a cool view, and is a unique viewpoint among the slot canyons.
2. Canyon Caves
Canyon Caves slot canyons is located right behind the water tower. These slot canyons are very similar to Moon Slots. Notice the texture of the canyon walls!
3. Cathedral Caves
Finally, Cathedral Caves are located right by the Day Use Picnic Area, at the big parking lot at the very end of the road. These caves offer more opportunities to explore the slot canyons!
The 3 different slot canyon sections (Moon Slots, Cathedral Caves, and Canyon Caves) are all pretty similar, but exploring these interesting, narrow trails is definitely one of the best things to do in Cathedral Gorge!
4. CCC Water Tower
This water tower was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (the CCC) during the 1930’s to provide water for the picnic area in the park. The water, however, was found to not be good quality, and so the well was capped, and today it’s just a historical monument.
You may remember from your history classes that the Civilian Conservation Corps was established during the Great Depression, specifically to create jobs for unemployed workers. One of their main tasks was developing trails in parks, planting trees, and engaging in environmental projects around the country.
5. Day Use Picnic Area
This picnic area is located at the end of the Cathedral Gorge State Park Road, and is right by Cathedral Slots. Essentially all of the trails in the park start from this point.
This is a very nice area – there is a covered picnic pavilion, bathrooms, and some informational signs.
Trails in Cathedral Gorge State Park
There are 5 main trails located inside the state park. Here is some information on each of them:
6. Millers Point Trail
Of all the trails in Cathedral Gorge, Millers Point Trail is definitely the trail you can’t miss. It leaves the parking lot, follows a path on open ground, and then enters this super cool canyon area. The canyon has a ton of visual interest, with tons of interesting ridges and spires on the cliffs. The path weaves its way through on a river wash, and the walls of the canyon are pretty close to you.
After a little ways, you’ll come to a bridge, and then a staircase, that takes you up to the top of the canyon wall. The views from the staircase are the best views in the park – the combination of close canyon walls, heavy erosion patterns, spires, and pinnacles in front of you, and the undulating path is very picturesque.
There is also an alternate way to experience Millers Point. Instead of hiking from the main parking lot inside the park, head back out to Highway 93, drive 2 miles north, and then turn onto Miller Point Drive. This short drive takes you to the top of Miller Point, so you can enjoy the views without hiking, or do the hike from the top down.
In general, I wouldn’t recommend doing the hike from the top down, as the hike through the canyon is spectacular. However, if you’re very short on time or the trail isn’t accessible for your needs, then driving straight to the viewpoint is a good second option.
Hiking through Millers Point Trail and admiring the view at Millers Point is definitely one of the top things to do in Cathedral Gorge State Park.
- Distance: 1 mile round trip from the main parking lot
- Elevation Gain: 112 feet
- Difficulty: Easy
7. Eagle Point Trail
Eagle Point Trail starts very near the viewpoint at Millers Point, at the top of the cliff wall. If you’ve just hiked up Millers Point Trail, you’ll be at the end of a paved road. Walk up the road for about 5 minutes, and you’ll see a pulloff point – that is where the trail starts.
The trail starts out going deeper into the plateau, but then does a quick turn and starts following right along the edge of the cliff. The entire time, you’ll be hiking on a narrow path right by all the dramatic ridges and overlooking the valley around you.
The picture above is looking to the right, and overlooks the Juniper Draw Loop path . On the other side of the ridge (looking to the left), you’ll be overlooking Millers Point Trail.
It’s a gorgeous and easy trail, but keep an eye on your kids, because if you stray off the path, you can quickly get dangerously close to the edge.
- Distance: 1.2 miles round trip
- Elevation Gain: 89 feet
- Difficulty: Easy
8. Juniper Draw Loop
Juniper Draw Loop takes you through the main, large valley of the park, and is the best way to see the back parts of the park. You’ll start from the main parking lot and will follow the curve of the cliffs. You’ll be hiking mostly through flat, desert ground, with some bushes and juniper trees dotting the otherwise flat landscape.
The trail is decently well-marked. For he first half of the trail you’ll be walking on a defined path. On the way back, you’ll be walking for part of the time in the winding riverbed wash. Keep an eye out for the brown stakes throughout your hike, as sometimes the path will go in a direction you weren’t expecting.
- Distance: 4 mile loop
- Elevation Gain: 105 feet
- Difficulty: Easy
9. Hawk’s Ridge Trail
Hawk’s Ridge Trail is the longest trail in Cathedral Gorge State Park. This trail starts by the campground, and the first section of it is on the Juniper Draw Loop Trail. Hawk’s Ridge takes you through the desert valley of the park, very similar to what I highlighted on the Juniper Draw Trail, above. Then, you’ll climb the cliff up to the top of the ridge, and hike for 1-2 miles along that cliffside.
The views are very similar to what you’ll see on the Eagle Point Trail. The trail heads quite a bit south and away from all the other areas of the park that you’ll have visited, and ends at the Cathedral Gorge State Park road.
You can either walk back to the trailhead on this road (which would make a 4 mile loop), or if you’d rather not walk on the road, you can turn around and come back the way you came, creating a 6 mile out and back hike.
This trail is great for anyone who has plenty of time in the park and wants a longer hike to complete. However, for most people, I would suggest prioritizing the Millers Point, Eagle Point, and Juniper Draw trails before Hawk’s Ridge.
- Distance: 4-6 mile round trip
- Elevation Gain: 278 feet
- Difficulty: Easy
10. Nature Loop
This is a short, 0.5 mile loop that goes between the parking lot and the campground. There are signs and posts along the way that share information about the plants and animals found in the park.
While the information is interesting, I’d still prioritize this trail lower than Millers Point, Eagle Point, and Juniper Draw, as the scenery is very similar to what you’ll experience on the Juniper Draw Trail.
- Distance: 0.5 miles round trip
- Elevation Gain: 22 feet
- Difficulty: Easy
Practical Information about Visiting Cathedral Gorge State Park
Entrance Fees and Hours
Entrance fee is $5 per vehicle. There’s a little self-pay box near the entrance where you can pay (make sure you have cash) and put a tag on your dashboard. Since this is a state park, a National Parks Pass (America the Beautiful Pass) is not valid here.
The park is open 24 hours, all year long.
There are flush bathrooms and drinking fountains at the Visitor’s Center. There are also bathrooms by the day use picnic area, and in the campgrounds.
There are no food options in the park, and very few restaurants nearby. You’ll definitely want to bring some snacks and food with you.
In the same vein, if you’re driving up from St. George or Las Vegas, start with a full tank of gas. While there were one or two gas stations close to the park, I also drove for very long stretches without passing a single town, rest stop, or gas station.
How Long Do You Need to Visit Cathedral Gorge State Park?
You can easily visit Cathedral Gorge State Park with a half a day, and most people only stay for a couple of hours. With 2 hours, you can do Miller Point and Eagle Point trails, plus explore the slot canyons. With 3-4 hours, add on the Juniper Draw Loop. If you have 5-6 hours, add on the Hawk’s Ridge trail.
There are 24 first come, first serve campsites at Cathedral Gorge. Each site has a table, grill, and shade ramada and the campground has water, flush restrooms, and showers. There is a group campsite area that is available for reservation.
Are Dogs Allowed at Cathedral Gorge?
Yes, dogs are allowed at Cathedral Gorge State Park, but they must be kept on a leash that is shorter than 6 feet.
Visiting Cathedral Gorge State Park – The Wrap Up
Cathedral Gorge is a fantastic Nevada state park to visit – it has beautiful and interesting scenery, fun trails and slot canyons to explore, and sees very few visitors, so you’ll almost certainly be able to enjoy nature in peace here. With all the interesting things to do and see in Cathedral Gorge, this is definitely a spot you want to add to your southwest bucket list.
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