Escalante is one of my favorite places to hike in Utah. So many trails to explore, most of which are right off of Hole in the Rock Road. I recently hiked Golden Cathedral and it is easily one of my top favorite hikes. I love it not only the beauty of the vibrantly colored sandstone canyon, but also how isolated this hike is. My husband and I hiked it on a Saturday and did not see a single person on our trek! I can’t remember the last time I experienced the silence and beauty of a deserted trail!
Getting to the trailhead can be a challenge in itself and takes a fair amount of navigational skill. I did my research ahead of time and plotted the coordinates not only for the trailhead but for our final destination as well. To get to the trailhead, drive east out of Escalante about 5 miles on highway 12 until you see a sign for Hole in the Rock road. Travel down the Hole in the Rock road for 16 miles to the signed Egypt road on the north (left) side of the road. Continue on Egypt Road for approximately 9.5 miles until you reach a small parking lot. Note both the Hole in the Rock Road and Egypt road are rugged unpaved roads, 4WD is strongly recommended.
I labeled this hike as challenging because it’s fairly difficult to navigate without some sort of GPS device or map. If we didn’t plot the coordinates ahead of time I’m not sure we would have been able to find the canyon! The trek is also very exposed with little to no shade until you reach the canyon. Also, there is no identifiable path to the trail as the route crosses through sandy areas and over sandstone formations. Good rule of thumb, locate the dome just to the right of Neon Canyon off in the distance (see photo above for reference) and aim for the dome during the approach. I would not recommend this hike for families with small children or for new hikers. The majority of the gain of this hike is within the first mile. Not so bad on the trek down but a little exhausting trekking the last mile back to our car!
At about 4.5 miles of hiking through dry desert, you’ll drop down into Fence Canyon. You’ll have to cross the Escalante River to get to Golden Cathedral so it’s a good idea to bring water shoes or hiking sandals. Luckily we didn’t have to cross very far in shallow water, it was only about knee deep. I tried out my Source by Naot hiking sandals, each pair is handmade in Israel. These sandals are incredibly comfortable and the single strap design make them fully adjustable to fit snuggly to your feet. By releasing the heel strap and threading it around the forefoot strap, the sandal converts to a slip on! They are also easy to clean in warm soapy water.
After you cross the Escalante River, the iconic Neon Canyon walls come into view. The orange glow of the immense sandstone walls is nothing short of incredible. We took our time walking through the canyon, enjoying every moment we had all to ourselves. Note: poison ivy lines both sides of the canyon, something we did not fully realize until after our hike. Fortunately, I do not have a reaction to the poisonous oils, but my husband didn’t fair so well and received an itchy rash!
At about 5 miles, you’ll come to the end of the canyon, the quintessential “Golden Cathedral”. For those that are extra adventurous, there is a canyoneering route where you can rappel through the openings in the ceiling down to the canyon floor! For myself and my husband, we simply enjoyed the beauty and peacefulness from the ground floor. When you’ve relaxed and soaked in the view, simply retrace your steps back to the parking lot. Hopefully you packed a cooler where a cold beverage is waiting for you!
Length: 9.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 1200 ft
Time: 5 Hours
What to Pack: 2-3 liters of drinking water, sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, water shoes, trekking poles, day pack, snacks, camera, knife, map or GPS device