Cathedral Gorge State Park: Guide to a Nevada Hidden Gem

As I continue traveling around the United States, only a few places actually surprise and wow me these days. Part of this is due to social media ruining any chance of a surprise. And the other is many destinations are not as majestic as the spots I’ve been to. Thankfully, no one ruined Cathedral Gorge State Park for me.

Tucked away from most tourist trips to Nevada, Cathedral Gorge sits on the Great Basin Highway and offers an outstanding array of geological features that will bring a “wow” to your lips and elation to your heart.

The mesmerizing slot canyons at Cathedral Gorge State Park.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Below, you’ll find all you need to plan a phenomenal trip to Cathedral Gorge State Park and then hopefully keep going towards Great Basin National Park a few hours north.

A Guide to Cathedral Gorge State Park

The stairs heading into the canyon from Millers Point at Cathedral Gorge State Park.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Planning your trip to Nevada’s Great Basin Highway

When is the best time to visit?

You can visit Cathedral Gorge State Park year-round, but understand that afternoon temperatures can reach the upper 90s or even triple digits in the summertime. But even in the summer, early mornings here are lovely, and if you enjoy sunrise at the park, you can knock it all out before noon.

However, the shoulder seasons are your go-to times if you’re looking for the best all-around temperatures and visiting ability. Spring and Fall here will be perfect. This especially goes if you’re camping and don’t want to deal with hot summer afternoons.

Lastly, I will note that there is not a lot of shade in the park, so bring plenty of sun protection as you hike and enjoy the park.

Stunning views of Nevada just before sunrise.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Where is Cathedral Gorge State Park?

Cathedral Gorge State Park is 2.5 hours north of Las Vegas. It sits relatively in the middle of nowhere along the Great Basin Highway. The area has a couple of smaller old mining towns, but it’s basically just necessities.

What else is there to do in the area?

Kershaw Ryan State Park

About 30 minutes to the south is Kershaw Ryan State Park, a family-friendly spot to hang out and enjoy some light hiking.

Kershaw Ryan State Park is about half an hour south of Cathedral Gorge State Park.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

I was only there for sunset and meandered up the trail to the highest overlook on the trail. I don’t think it was more than 1.8 miles round trip – maybe even less.

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Historic Silver Cafe

The oldest cafe in Nevada, the place is charming and serves a dang good breakfast. I came here twice, and their staff was so friendly and allowed me to work uninterrupted.

Great Basin National Park

I can venture a guess that most people heading this way are going to Great Basin National Park. It’s a stunning place, and you should definitely plan to spend one night there to see the sights.

The Milky Way over Great Basin National Park.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Where to stay near Cathedral Gorge State Park

You can stay in a couple of places close to Cathedral Gorge. The nearest is Pioche or Panaca, with Caliente being another option if you’re coming from the south.

All of these are small towns with only a motel or two available.

What is the drive time from Las Vegas?

Las Vegas to Cathedral Gorge State Park is about two and a half hours. It’s a pretty easy and straight drive for 90% of it until you get back into the Las Vegas Metro area.

How long should I spend at Cathedral Gorge?

I recommend budgeting around four hours at the state park. Any more, and you’ll mostly just be seeing the same things repeatedly, just in a different area. I’d come in the morning, enjoy the place, eat lunch, and move to the next spot!

Things to do in Cathedral Gorge State Park

There are a few great things to do in Cathedral Gorge State Park that will take up a half day. If you are coming in the summer, aim to do these in the morning.

Hike around Millers Point

Millers Point at Cathedral Gorge State Park is a beautiful place to watch the sunrise or sunset. It’s on the edge of an otherworldly canyon. From here, you can hike down and explore the canyon’s various features that will blow your mind. Be careful; the dirt is loose and can break away easily.

If you want to, you can hike through the canyon (it’s flat) to the first part of the Moon Caves or do the full Juniper Draw Trail.

I hiked most of the way through the canyon before returning to my car and driving to the caves.

Eagle Point

Another overlook near Millers Point that connects you to the Nature Trail and the Juniper Draw Loop Trail below.

A hiker enjoys the views at Cathedral Gorge State Park.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Explore the Slot Canyons

These are not your typical Arizona/Utah slot canyons where your life could be in danger if it floods. These are very short yet stunning. I loved walking in and out of them, soaking up their unique features. They were really cool, and everyone in the family will be raving about them.

There are two different areas, though they look about the same

Up close to the Cathedral Gorge State Park slot canyons.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Moon Caves

The Moon Caves are closer to the entrance; you’ll reach them first. You’ll have a handful of different entry points that allow you to walk into them and enjoy the views. There are a few that are maybe 20 feet deep, but most abruptly come to a dead end, and you’ll have to turn around.

A hiker checking out the moon caves.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Cathedral Caves

More of the above, the Cathedral Caves are near the picnic area and give you the opportunity to adventure into the incredible slot canyons.

The Millers Point trail at Cathedral Gorge State Park.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Juniper Draw Loop Trail

This extension of the Millers Point trail takes you back into another canyon you can’t see from Millers Point. This is about 3.5 miles, with only a couple hundred feet of elevation gain at the beginning and end.

Camping

There’s year-round camping at Cathedral Gorge State Park’s 22 campsites. All sites are first come, first serve, which means reservations are not possible. If you want a fire, please keep it in the fire rings and do not create your own fire pit.

Lastly, quiet hours at Cathedral Gorge are 10 pm to 7 am. Please be respectful of those around you and abide by these easy rules.

CCC Tower

There is not much more to it than what meets the eye. The CCC Tower is an ode to the past when the Civilian Conservation Corps worked in the area.

How many days do you need at Cathedral Gorge State Park?

You really only need one day to see the sights and explore the area. Now, if you’re looking to capitalize from a photography standpoint, a full 24 hours would allow you to get different areas in good lighting.

This is how I structured my trip:

Sunrise at Millers Point

I photographed the sunrise from here before going down into the canyon once there was enough light. I explored the area and even found some small caves. Then, I headed towards the far end of the canyon to see the sights.

I probably could have done the Juniper Loop trail but opted to come back and see the slot canyons.

A hiker in Nevada.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Early Morning at the Moon and Cathedral Caves

I knew early morning light wouldn’t be great in the caves, so I waited until the sun was high enough in the sky to check these out. And, oh boy, was it worth it. I could have stayed here a while if I wasn’t short on time.

Headed North Toward Ely

After exploring the caves, I kept heading north towards the mining town of Ely.

What photography gear do you recommend?

I shot this park solo, so I didn’t have the luxury of having a person I could put in the distance to use as scale. However, I did do my best to use my tripod and Canon R5’s intervalometer to get me in a few shots!

I mostly used my 24-105 f/4 and my 16-35 f/2.8. If I had another person with me, a 70-200 f/2.8 could have looked really cool with the compression and zoom.

Looking up at Millers Point in Nevada.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

FAQ: Cathedral Gorge State Park

How much does it cost to go to Cathedral Gorge State Park?

It costs $5 to enter the state park. You can pay at the visitor center or the self-pay area.

What towns are close to Cathedral Gorge?

Pioche, Caliente, and Panaca are the closest towns to Catherdra Gorge. Just don’t expect much, as they’re pretty small and have little to offer in terms of excitement.

Are pets allowed at Cathedral Gorge State Park?

Yes, pets are welcome in the state park but must be kept on a leash. Please clean up after them to keep the area clean and welcoming for others.

One of the striking slot canyons at Cathedral Gorge State Park.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Wrapping up – Visiting Cathedral Gorge State Park

For being in the middle of nowhere Nevada, I love my time in the park. It’s unique and offers a lot in a small area. As a photographer, I found it had tons to photograph, allowing me to show the striking features many places cannot offer.

So, if you’re looking for a quick stop on your way north or south, make sure to spend a few hours enjoying all the great things to do in Cathedral Gorge State Park.

Until next time, adventurers, take care and be safe.


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