Golden Cathedral – Utah’s Hidden Gem
Some hikes you take for the journey. Some hikes you take for the destination. The thing about backpacking in Utah is so many of the hikes are about both the journey and the destination. Take the trip to the Golden Cathedral, for instance. This spectacular natural amphitheater is the ultimate destination – you literally can go no further on the trail through Neon Canyon. The trip from the Egypt Trailhead is less than five miles. But there are so many slot canyons and ancient ruins and detours into side gorges that a backpacking trip to Golden Cathedral becomes a multi-day affair collecting wonders instead of miles.
Wait. You say you haven’t heard of the Golden Cathedral before? Perhaps that is because the five national parks in Utah – and they are fantastic hiking meccas – suck up most of the oxygen in the backpacking world. But Utah is littered with secret treasures like the Neon Canyon. Understanding the whys and wherefores of these remote gems is where guided backpacking tours make their bones.
Stepping out onto the Egypt Trailhead reveals only slickrock, broken sandstone and sandy wasteland for as far as the eye can see. “Trailhead” is actually a misnomer since there is not an official trail to follow. You might not believe it, but across this barren landscape the trained eye can see the hidden oasis of the Escalante River, the Neon Canyon and the Golden Cathedral in the distance.
And what an oasis this is – Whoever named Golden Cathedral was not overselling the place. Sunshine streams through three giant potholes in the ceiling of the massive canyon room. Millions of years of pouroff down the desert rocks have created the cavities that are now sparkling gems. The skylights let in mischievous rays (and the occasional canyoneer rappelling down from the sky) that jitterbug across the orange sandstone walls down to a reflective pool. Standing on the sandy beach, the peace and serenity of the Golden Cathedral is unparalleled in the Southwest.
So that’s the destination. What about the journey? Well, that’s pretty much a cross-country desert hike. You may want to visit rock art – which may or may not be ancient Native American petroglyphs – or explore a sinuous slot canyon. Maybe check out an historic cowboy trail along the way. Needless to say, a good heaping of local knowledge and navigational skills are prerequisites to get the most out of hiking the Canyons of the Escalante wilderness. Guess that’s why they call them “guides.”