Caves, Caverns, and Catacombs—Oh My! Cathedral Gorge State Park, Panaca, NV

While there’s not much hiking to be done here (a grand total of 5.5 miles if you hit all 5 trails), what you will find is an otherworldly playground of caves, caverns, and catacombs. Between the spires and bluff-colored cliffs, you can follow one slot canyon into the next in aMAZEment.

One of Nevada’s first four state parks, Cathedral Gorge was established in 1935 as a geologic preserve. It features dramatic, other-wordly landscape of eroded soft bentonite clay that covers close to 2k acres. The amazing spires, cliffs, and slot canyons are the result of millions of years of geologic activity sparked by volcanic eruptions that dispersed layers of ash hundreds of feet deep to the region. Faulting formed a valley over time, which eventually filled with water and became a freshwater lake. Over the centuries, this prehistoric lake began to gradually drain, and erosion began to expose and form the ash and pumice.

Enjoy the incredible views from the Miller Point Overlook gazebo (originally constructed by the CCC) and then create your own adventure in the abundant caves, slot canyons, catacombs, and slot canyons. 

The formations at Cathedral Gorge remind me of the sand castles that my brother and I used to create by squeezing wet sand through our hands and letting the drips accumulate into peaks of various heights and girths. Indeed, the firmness and stability of the formations in Cathedral Gorge vary substantially so you must be alert at all times, taking care that you don’t break through the surface or fall into a chasm. (The trail guide included stats on trail firmness and stability.) Yes, it’s a bit sketchy, but totally cool. Kids would be amazed by this place and entertained for hours. For safety’s sake, I’d suggest that you keep them and pets on a tight leash!

Address: 111 Cathedral Gorge State Park Road, Panaca, NV 89042, a must-do, easy day trip from my base camp, St. George, UT, and about 2.5 hours northeast of Las Vegas on Highway 93,

Notes: $5 day use fee, camp at one of the 22 camp sites for $15 per night (first-come, first served), each with a table, grill and shade. Electrical hookups are available for an additional $10. Water and flushing restrooms with coin-operated showers are open year-round, with handicap-accessible sites available. Pets must be kept on a leash of < six feet.

Hiking Guide:

Happy trails!