Go Explore: Cathedral Gorge State Park

Where to Go

Fall season has arrived, bringing cooler temperatures and creating the ideal time to explore beautiful, arid landscapes that would be uncomfortably hot in the summer, and too chilly in the winter. Located two and a half hours northeast of Las Vegas in the Nevada desert, Cathedral Gorge State Park is ripe for a visit this time of the year.

One of Nevada’s four original state parks, Cathedral Gorge is situated in a long, narrow valley where millions of years of geological activity has carved stunning and dramatic patterns in the earth’s soft bentonite clay. The 1,600-acre park features 5.5 miles of trails for exploration with hundreds of cave-like formations and cathedral-like spires.

The beauty of the park is a result of violent geological beginnings, starting with explosive volcanic activity that, with each eruption, deposited layers of ash hundreds of feet thick. The source of this ash, the Caliente Caldera Complex, lies to the south of Cathedral Gorge. After these eruptions ceased, a fracture in the bedrock occurred, allowing the two sides on either side of this fault to move. This faulting formed what is now known as Meadow Valley, which filled with water overtime resulting in a freshwater lake. Over centuries, the lake began to gradually drain and the erosion process continued to occur, exposing ash and pumice left behind from former volcanic activity. Today, you will see formations that occurred as a result of the lake drying up. Occasionally as rain storms pass throughout the region, the canyon’s walls will become very soft and even impressionable. Footprints can even be found throughout the canyon floor.

What to Explore

Take the 1-mile Miller Point Trail up to Miller Point, a scenic overlook just north of the park entrance on U.S. 93, which offers an expansive and spectacular view of the millennia-old canyon at an elevation of 4,800 feet.

Down at the base of the park—which is safely accessible via a steel-frame stairway—you’ll find plenty of places to wander through and explore. There are slot canyons with narrow passageways and towering walls featuring intrinsic geometric designs from eons of erosion. Another section of the park, known as the Moon Caves, is a formation affectionately known by locals as the Rabbit Hole, one of many hidden chambers to discover among an interlinking network of tunnels throughout the canyons.

The beauty of the park isn’t limited to the daytime, either. With no cities within 100 miles of the park, the nighttime skyline becomes a visual feast at sunset, ink-black with millions of bright pinpoints unknown to the average city dweller. The area’s flat topography makes it easy to set up a Kwik Set Hammock and enjoy the nocturnal spectacle.

Where to Stay

Cathedral Gorge’s proximity to Las Vegas makes it a great stop on your way there or a great repose on your way back. The park offers 22 sites for camping that can accommodate tents or RVs. Each site comes with a table, grill and shade ramada. Electrical hookups are also available, along with water and flush restrooms with showers that are open year-round. There are also handicap-accessible sites and accommodation options for large groups.

How We Set Up Kamp

Setting up camp at Cathedral Gorge is a breeze. The campsites are very accessible, making it easy to pull up your car or RV and set up your site quickly and painlessly.  

Each site comes with a BBQ grill, so after setting up our CTC Double, we brought out the Kwik Pantry with Cook Table for easy lunchtime meal prep. After a day’s worth of exploring the park’s stunning maze of slot canyons and trekking the buff-colored trails, we returned to camp for a little relaxation on the Kwik Set Hammock.

At sunset, we all pulled up a chair around the campfire for some classic storytelling, s’mores and stargazing under the starry Nevada sky.

Learn more about Cathedral Gorge State Park at: http://parks.nv.gov/parks/cathedral-gorge/