Cathedral Gorge State Park sneaks up on you. Driving past the turn-off, you wouldn’t give it a second glance; it might just be stretch of sparse desert in southeastern Nevada. But as you near the entrance to this small but mighty state park, bizarre monoliths perforate your view—a reminder that this is no ordinary desert.

Over millions of years, the state park’s iconic architecture was formed from elements eroding the bentonite clay left over from volcanic activity in the Pliocene Era. What’s left is a labyrinth of canyons and caves, unlike anything you’ve experienced—owing to Cathedral Gorge State Park’s founding as one of the four original Nevada state parks. Winding your way through the narrows brings a sense of wonder you won’t find anywhere else in the desert.

Explore Nevada’s Natural Architecture at Cathedral Gorge State Park

a view of a craggy rock wall at cathedral gorge state park in nevada

Image from The Dyrt camper Nicole A.

Cathedral Gorge Campground is a comfortable place to stay while exploring, and you will want to explore this park. The Dyrt camper Will M. sums it up by saying, “the geography is unlike any he has seen.”

The campground is quiet, with 22 first-come, first-served campsites and two group sites. The Dyrt camper Tara S. says it’s “a little oasis in the desert, with just a few sites situated among small trees and scrubby plants.”

The camping fee is $15/night, plus $10/night for utility hookups. That includes a covered table and fire grill, along with access to flush toilets, showers, and water spigots. For another $10 you can get 1GB of WiFi.

5 Things Campers Should Know About Cathedral Gorge State Park

Before hitting the highway to discover this state park, check out these tips to get you prepared for the excursion. As with every delicate environment you can visit, be sure to always practice Leave No Trace policies on trails and at campgrounds.

1. You’ll Want to Spend Hours in the Slot Canyons

a man peers into a slot canyon in cathedral gorge state park

Image from The Dyrt camper Tara S.

The best thing about Cathedral Gorge State Park is the ‘caves’ area on the east side of the gorge. There are miles of slot canyons, split into three sections: Cathedral Caves, Canyon Caves, and Moon Caves. Some are narrow enough for a single person without a pack, which is why they resemble caves. They seem to go on forever, with no rhyme or reason. Squeeze, crawl, climb, and shimmy your way through cathedral spires and washes, and you may happen upon secret tunnels and chambers that you swear nobody has seen. The shade of the narrows is a welcome respite from the summer heat, and the quiet environment is the perfect place to collect your thoughts.

2. The Wildlife Are Friendly and Might Approach You

two baby desert foxes peer out from a stone gorge

Image from The Dyrt camper Tara S.

Many native species call Cathedral Gorge home. You might see some harmless desert species like lizards and non-venomous snakes. Keep an eye out for the Great Basin rattlesnake; you’ll know it by the familiar rattling or dark brown patches. You may see jackrabbits and cottontail rabbits hopping around, or smaller critters like gophers, packrats, and mice. Sometimes, kit foxes and deer roam the area. If an animal approaches you, calmly walk away.

3. There Are Plenty of Great Photo Opportunities

a boy climbs a steep trail up a red rock gorge in cathedral gorge state park

Image from The Dyrt camper Tara S.

The caves are a great place to take distinctive photos. The interior of the caves provides excellent shapes, angles, and shadows that allow you to stretch your creativity. The exteriors are incomparable, making a spectacular backdrop for panoramas. There’s also an old stone water tower left by the Civilian Conservation Corps that can be a unique prop. The sunrise and sunsets bring soft colors that mesh with the desert landscape. For more panoramic photo options, visit Miller Point Overlook and Eagle Point Overlook.

4. The Summers Are Hot, and Winters Are Cold

a jeep parked at a campsite with a tent set up in the desert in cathedral gorge state park

Image from The Dyrt camper Lucy L.

Like most arid deserts, the summers can get hot at Cathedral Gorge State Park—most summer afternoons reach the mid-nineties. You can evade the sun by sneaking into the caves or resting under the campground‘s shade shelters. Make sure you have enough water when hiking; as a general rule of thumb, carry one liter of water per hour of hiking. The winter nights can fall below freezing, so tent campers should come prepared with layers, a 4-season tent, or a sleeping bag rated to zero (or below).

Nicole Atkins

Nicole Atkins

With 30 years of experience in the outdoors, Nicole is an accomplished educator in the niche. Leaving a career in academia, she turned her attention to writing and photography. She has an award-winning blog, contributes to respected outdoor adventure sites, and is a valuable consultant on special educational projects. Galleries across the US have featured her photography.