Amazing Golden Cathedral in a Neon Canyon

Golden Cathedral in Neon Canyon, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Glen Canyon Recreation Area, Utah

The Golden Cathedral in Neon Canyon

Slot canyons are slot canyons, especially if they aren’t very narrow, but two very special “slot” canyons in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument are found in the Egypt section of the park.  Fence Canyon is a very typical Escalante canyon, with some potholes and water at the end of it.  Neon Canyon, however, has some beautiful colors on the canyon walls and really neat and pretty arches about a mile from the mouth of the canyon.  The trailhead is on a road off of the Hole-in-the-Rock Road in eastern Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.


You must go down Fence Canyon to get to Neon Canyon, and the Golden Cathedral (the reason most people go to Neon Canyon) is about a mile from the mouth of Neon Canyon.  At the end of Fence, you can either turn around to make a 6 mile RT hike or continue down to Neon, making the hike 10 miles RT.

From Escalante (the town), drive 5.0 miles east to Hole-in-the-Rock Road.  Drive 16.3 miles to the road to Egypt.  This road branches off to the left and does have a signpost (road No. 240).  Travel 10 miles east down this road to end.  There are some other roads that branch off, just follow the signposts to Egypt or, if there are no signpost, follow the more traveled road.  (I think that if you stay right you’ll get there, but I’m not sure on this.)  The road is good in some places and not so good in other places.  I wouldn’t recommend going down it without high clearance, but at the trailhead we saw two station wagon-type vehicles, at least one of which had 4×4.  There are a few washes on the road that are slightly rough, but we did make it to the trail head in our high-clearance van that doesn’t have 4×4.  Just before the parking area there is a fork in the road.  Take the right fork; again there is a signpost to show the way.  The parking area is a fairly large sandy area with the trailhead starting at the left-hand end and immediately descending into the canyon.  There is a trail register.  Note: this is a popular backpacking area, but if you want to backpack overnight, you must obtain a permit from the trail register at the trailhead.

Please Note: This is the description of the trail to Neon Canyon via Fence Canyon.  For directions via the Beeline Route (about 8 miles RT across country), please see this post.

Fence Canyon and Neon Canyon, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Glen Canyon Recreation Area, Utah

The end of Fence Canyon

The trail starts on the left end of the parking lot and immediately starts to descend into the canyon, across slickrock marked with cairns (piles of rock).  At the bottom of the slickrock, the trail gets slightly more difficult to find.  Go down the wash a short while and then follow the cairns overland.  There are two cairn trails in this section; you want the cairns that go up.  If you take the trail that goes lower, you will end up in the same place, but you will go closer to Fence Canyon and it will take you longer.  The trail snakes along the north side of Fence Canyon for a while (not too close, hopefully) and will finally descend to the floor of the canyon after about 2.5 miles.  Here the trail is fairly well defined and when we were there in April there was quite a bit of water.  The creek was small, which was good because we had to cross a few times.  It was never bad crossing it, and we did it without getting our shoes wet.  At the end of Fence canyon, this stream joins the Escalante River.  Here is the end of the Fence Canyon Trail, and you can now turn around and go back the way you came unless you are continuing to Neon Canyon.

You can go along the west side of the Escalante River for a while, but then you will run into a huge rock that blocks the pathway completely.  You can climb on top of the rock, but once you get up there is no way to get down on the other side.  So, you will almost certainly have to cross the river, find a trail on the other side through reed-like brush and then cross again on the other side of the rock.  We had brought water shoes with us, so it was just a ‘simple’ matter of switching shoes.  We also saw other hikers who just waded across in their hiking boots.  In general, you just have to follow the Escalante River until you get to Neon Canyon, which is on the east side of the river.  We mostly walked on the west side, and only crossed over to the east side again when we got to the mouth of Neon Canyon.  There is a trail in some places, but in others you just bush whack.  This is definitely Utah wilderness, and not for “soft” hikers!

The mouth of Neon Canyon is about a mile beyond the end of Fence Canyon.  The mouth is the first significant drainage on the East Side of the Escalante River, and it has a high red cliff on your right, when you have your back to the river.  On your left is a grassy hill with a trail going down it.  At least, it was as grassy as it gets in southern Utah.  There are also trees growing on the hill.

Potholes in the Golden Cathedral in Neon Canyon, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Glen Canyon Recreation Area, Utah

A close-up on the arches in the Golden Cathedral

If you have come this far, you defiantly need to “go the extra mile” up lower Neon Canyon to the Golden Cathedral (about one mile from the mouth of the canyon).  You won’t regret it.  Neon itself is a very pretty canyon with red sandstone walls, black and yellow-orange vertical stripes on the walls, and, at least when we were there, bright green trees and deep blue sky to set it all off.  There was some water there when we were there, and some places where we were glad to have water shoes.  There may also be a few rock scrambles, but it isn’t too hard a hike.

The Golden Cathedral itself is an impressive place.  The walls have a yellowish tinge to them.  The really interesting part, though, is the two potholes that connect Upper Neon Canyon to Lower Neon Canyon.  You can wade out into the year-round pool below the potholes and look up.  Through the potholes you can see more, smaller potholes above and blue sky beyond them.  The time of day that we were there, the sun was reflecting off of the water and making sparkles of light on the walls around the pool.  The walls are covered with moss and small moist plants.  Truly a remarkable place, and no wonder people will hike 5 miles through the desert to see it.

Round Trip Trail Length: About 12 miles

Facilities: None; parking area and trail register

Fees: None

Open: All year

Closed: When roads are wet. (The road is impassable when wet.  Check at the visitor center in Escalante before you try it.)

Length of trail: Fence Canyon is about 6 miles round trip; Fence and Neon Canyons are about 10 miles round trip.

Camping: Camp anywhere you want except in the roadway or where signs or regulations prohibit.  It also wouldn’t be a good idea to camp in a wash (because of the danger of flash floods).

Lodging: None.  The closest lodging is 21 miles away in Escalante, where there are several hotels and cabins.

If you would like to do the whole of Neon canyon, you must have technical climbing equipment.  There are rules about climbing there, so check in at a visitor center (there is one located in Escalante) before you start.  There you can also find where to start, because although I know that climbers start in Upper Neon and make their way to Lower Neon, repelling through the potholes; I’m not sure about all of the details.  You can also get backcountry camping permits at the trail head, so you could actually spend the night close to Neon Canyon and make it a two-day hike.


Trail ★★☆☆☆

Road ★★★☆☆

Signs ★★☆☆☆

Scenery ★★★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★☆☆


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Find the hidden trails, the well-known trails, and the fantastic scenery of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Glen Canyon in this guide!


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