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Why Cathedral Gorge State Park is the Best State Park in Nevada

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Want to hear about our favorite state park in Nevada? Cathedral Gorge State Park is located right on the Utah border near Panaca, Nevada. Featuring red-rock slot canyons, incredible hiking, and a little oasis of a campground in the desert, Cathedral Gorge is a sweet little gem that is 100% worth a stop on your next Southwest road trip.

A collage of photos featuring Cathedral Gorge State Park in Nevada.

And speaking of road trips… not too long ago, our family embarked on a monumental road trip, covering more than 10,000 miles in a Pontiac Vibe over the course of two and a half months. During this particular road trip, we were fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants kind of travelers.

We stayed in campgrounds every night and we never made reservations. This led us to some incredibly interesting and beautiful campgrounds that we never would have discovered online.

The entrance sign at Cathedral Gorge State Park in Nevada.
Cathedral State Park entrance sign

Cathedral Gorge State Park was one such location. We had just hopped off of the Extra-Terrestrial Highway after some seriously long and lonely driving and were looking for a spot to camp for a few days. Cathedral Gorge State Park showed up as a little tent-next-to-a-pine-tree icon on our map.

As we drove down the narrow, winding road toward the park, we felt like we were entering another world entirely.  Spires of soft, bentonite clay rose out of the desert and seemed to go on for miles and miles. Surrounding the gorge was a land of sprawling sagebrush, and in the middle of that – a tiny oasis of activity. Otherwise known as the Cathedral Gorge campground.

Camping at Cathedral Gorge State Park

With just 22 campsites scattered among the park’s only stand of trees, I thought we would be pretty lucky to find a site, but it turned out that the place was pretty empty, except of course, for the birds and jackrabbits.

The birds were singing and flitting around from the moment we arrived, and we learned later that the little campground in Cathedral Gorge State Park is a mecca for desert birdwatchers. I love birds, but I can scarcely tell a sparrow from a warbler. The songs those birds sang to us that evening, though, were an absolute treat.

The jackrabbits were everywhere, and unlike our little cottontail rabbits back east, these guys and gals weren’t at all skittish. They loved watching us and would bounce a few steps away when startled.

A jackrabbit in the desert at Cathedral Gorge State Park in Nevada
There are lots of jackrabbits in the Cathedral Gorge State Park campground

The campground at Cathedral Gorge is beautiful, with lush plantings, shaded pavilions, and large, private campsites. From the campground, trails snake through the desert and sagebrush toward the gorge, where we’ll take you in a minute. First a few tips about camping at Cathedral Gorge State Park.

  • Cathedral Gorge State Park and campground are open year-round. Electrical hook-ups are available for an extra fee. The bathhouse is really clean and has hot showers.
  • Sites are not reservable. We visited Cathedral Gorge in the summer, and three of the 22 sites were being used. Perhaps the winter is more crowded.
  • You can camp here for up to 14 days at a time. Sign me up!!
  • There are two handicapped-accessible sites and a large group area.
  • The night sky is one of the most outstanding features of Cathedral Gorge State Park. It’s incomparable, especially for someone from the east coast of America.
  • It gets really hot. I guess this should go without saying, but like most of the state, Cathedral Gorge State Park gets really hot in the summer. My advice – spend your evenings hiking, your nights paying homage to the universe, and your days chillin’ out in your tent with your favorite book.
  • Watch out for rattlesnakes. There are lots of places for snakes to hike in the canyons and gorges.

Exploring Cathedral Gorge State Park

The milky way over Cathedral Gorge State Park in Nevada
The Milky Way over Cathedral Gorge

Cathedral Gorge is a short hike from the campground. You’ll pass through low-growing plant communities which consist of white sage, four-winged saltbush, barberry sagebrush, and greasewood, plus a few others that I couldn’t identify.

Because the ecosystem here is quite fragile, there are signs asking you to stay on the trail. The gorge consists of incredible spires of bentonite clay reaching toward the heavens and creating cave-like formations that just beg to be explored. It’s like an elaborate labyrinth – perfect for games of hide-and-seek.

Two desert foxes stare at the camera from behind two rocks at Cathedral Gorge State Park in Nevada.
Two baby foxes checking us out from behind the rocks.

Looks like we weren’t the only ones smitten with the allure of the towering cathedrals. We found this litter of kit foxes playing inside the labyrinth. They weren’t a bit startled by our presence – in fact, they were incredibly curious about us.

A young fox curled up and looking at the camera in Cathedral Gorge State Park in Nevada.
We could have watched these foxes for hours!

After exploring the gorge a bit, you can hike a four-mile loop trail that starts at the campground and circles through the desert, around the gorge, and out to a spectacular overlook. This is a great early morning or evening hike, especially if you’re hoping to catch glimpses of the abundant wildlife.

A boy hikes among the red rocks at Cathedral Gorge State Park in Nevada.
A sunset hike through Cathedral Gorge

Our weekend at Cathedral Gorge State Park in Nevada was one of the highlights of our humongous cross-country road trip. It’s a small park and really quiet, but perfect for a weekend getaway, and just as lovely if you’re only passing through.

Make Cathedral Gorge State Park a priority on your next road trip, and say hello to our friends the jackrabbits.

More posts about adventuring in the Southwest United States:

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A collage of photos featuring Cathedral Gorge State Park in Nevada
A collage of photos featuring Cathedral Gorge State Park in Nevada
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