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The Golden Cathedral

The Golden Cathedral is an incredible sandstone alcove featuring an awe-inspiring triple pothole arch, located deep in the wilderness of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Located in remote Neon Canyon, the unmarked route to The Golden Cathedral traverses through rugged desert terrain for nearly 4.5 miles one way, requiring excellent navigation skills. This hike is only suitable for adults in good physical condition.

Trailhead

The hike to The Golden Cathedral begins at the Egypt Trailhead, about 10 miles west of Hole-in-the-Rock Road. The last 10 miles to the trailhead is on a very rugged dirt and requires a high clearance 4WD vehicle. Check with the Escalante Interagency Visitor Center at 755 W Main St in Escalante, or call (435) 826-5499 for current road conditions before beginning your trip.

Reaching the Egypt Trailhead from Escalante:

  1. From Escalante, Utah, drive east on Highway 12 for approximately 5.0 miles to the signed junction on the right for Hole-in-the-Rock Road.
  2. Continue south on Hole-in-the-Rock Road for approximately 16.5 miles.
  3. Turn left onto the signed Egypt Road.
  4. Continue 9.4 miles until you reach an unsigned junction at 37.595812,-111.22648.
  5. Turn right and drive 0.6 miles to the Egypt Trailhead at the end of the road.

There are no facilities available at the trailhead.

The Hike

The route to The Golden Cathedral begins on the east side of the Egypt Trailhead, near the trail register. Before you get too far down the trail, look to the northeast and locate a prominent slickrock dome in the distance (37.608648,-111.16336). This is known as Neon Dome and serves as an excellent landmark for navigating to Neon Canyon and The Golden Cathedral.

Begin hiking east, as the trail descends the large slickrock slope ahead. The route is very steep and can be difficult to follow at times. Once at the bottom of the hill, begin navigating in a fairly straight line toward Neon Dome. There may be cairns present but do not rely solely on them as there are also routes leading to other destinations nearby.

There is a prominent social trail for most of the distance from here to Neon Canyon but it can be quite difficult to follow. Excellent navigation skills and experience hiking in the desert are important to have here. Try to walk on solid rock or existing trails as much as possible. Do not walk on the sensitive cryptobiotic soil that covers much of the area.

About 3.0 miles from the trailhead, the route arrives at a break in a small cliff band (37.605322,-111.175016). This break allows access to the top of a sand dune providing easy access to the Escalante River and Neon Canyon.

Continue hiking down the sand dune until you reach the bottom. From here the prominent trail ends but several social trails continue east. Choose the best one and work your way through the dense vegetation to the Escalante River. There is no bridge here so you will need to get your feet wet. Do not attempt to cross the river if water levels are too high. It is typically no more than knee-deep but can be a dangerous torrent during spring runoff and after floods. Check with the Escalante Interagency Visitor Center before your hike for current conditions. After crossing the river, locate the mouth of Neon Canyon (37.606642,-111.168117).

From the mouth of Neon, hike up the narrow canyon, passing beautiful streaked walls along the way. There is typically a little flowing water in this section of the canyon but it is usually easy to keep your boots dry. About 1 mile up Neon Canyon, the route ends at The Golden Cathedral. The Cathedral is an outstanding geologic feature known as an alcove. These cave-like formations are common in the area but what makes this one unique is the triple pothole arch that has formed in the roof of the alcove. Over thousands of years, floodwaters rushing down the canyon have formed these incredible arches.

Above the cathedral, Neon Canyon forms a long, sinuous slot canyon that is very popular in the sport of technical canyoneering. You may see some of these intrepid adventurers on the final rappel of the canyon: an 80-foot free-hanging drop through the middle of The Golden Cathedral into the pool below.

For the hike back to the Egypt Trailhead, you may return the way you came, or use a slightly longer route that returns via Fence Canyon. To find the Fence Canyon route, hike up the Escalante River Canyon to the mouth of Fence Canyon on the left. Continue up Fence Canyon until you reach a fork in the canyon. Follow the trail up the ridge that divides these two forks. The route traverses the north side of Fence Canyon and eventually leads back to the bottom of the slickrock slope near the Egypt Trailhead. As with any travel in this area, excellent navigation skills are required.

Regardless of the return route you choose, an ascent of nearly 1,100 feet is necessary to make it back to the trailhead. Carry plenty of water and, if possible, time your hike for later in the day when some of the route is shaded.

Hiking distance using the direct route to the Golden Cathedral and back is approximately 9 miles round trip.

Rules and Regulations

  • No littering.
  • Pack out all trash, including toilet paper.
  • Dogs must be leashed.
  • No campfires are allowed.
  • Permits are required for overnight use and are available for free at the visitor center in Escalante. Permits can also be self-issued at most trailhead registers, including the register at the Egypt Trailhead.

Special Considerations

  • The Escalante River can be very dangerous during spring runoff, as well as during and after flood events. Check with the Escalante Interagency Visitor Center at 755 W Main St in Escalante, or call (435) 826-5499 for current conditions before beginning your trip.
  • This route does not follow an established trail. Excellent navigation skills and experience hiking in the desert is required.
  • This area can be extremely hot for much of the year. Carry plenty of water and wear sunscreen and appropriate clothing.

Credits

This trail guide provided by Backcountry Post.