Easy at the beginning, moderate toward the end, a hike along the Cathedral Wash Trail is something you can’t afford to miss while traveling across the American Southwest.
Last updated: October 30, 2023
How to Hike and Everything You Need to Know about Cathedral Wash Trail in Arizona
It was a long drive. After spending the past few days exploring Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, we slowly started heading back to California. But first, one more detour to catch a glimpse of famous pillars of Monument Valley.
The drive from Panguitch, Utah, where we stayed the night before, to Oljato – Monument Valley, Arizona, our home away from home for the next day, was nearly 4 hours 30 minutes. A long day of driving with nothing else to explore… We had to find something to do along this extended route.
And this is when Google map suggested to hike along the Cathedral Wash Trail, which became one of the highlights not only of this day, but the entire road trip.
What is Cathedral Wash Trail
One of the hidden gems of Arizona, the Cathedral Wash Trail is a hike through one of the finest slot canyons in the area. The place allures with unexpected change of scenery as you tramp through the gully. The truth is, the first section of the Cathedral Wash Trail looks just like any other hike in the deserted areas of the state. Barren land with reddish and yellowing formations along the path… It’s still beautiful. But nothing to catch your eye.
Yet give the Cathedral Wash hike another 15-20 minutes and the place bedazzles you. All of a sudden, it turns into a slot canyon wonderland with its reddish walls towering over you like giants. From this point, the views get better and better the farther you hike into Cathedral Wash. The trail ends at the shore of the Colorado River.
HOW TO HIKE CATHEDRAL WASH TRAIL
Quick Trail Facts
- Distance: 3-mile, round-trip hike
- Elevation gain: roughly 300 feet
- Trailhead: Lees Ferry Road, 1.3 miles north of the Navajo Bridge
- Equipment: None
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Time: 2-2.5 hours
Hike Cathedral Wash Trail: Description
Parking and Cathedral Wash Trailhead
The Cathedral Wash Trailhead sits approximately 1.4 miles (2 minutes) from the Lees Ferry Entrance to Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. This short drive is quite an entertainment itself, festooning your trip with imposing towering reddish peaks and “mushroom” rocks (Balanced Rocks), nestling right next to Lees Ferry Road.
As you get closer to the Cathedral Wash Trail, the scenery changes drastically. The unpretentious terrain hardly suggests that you can find the impeccable slot canyon somewhere nearby. In fact, it’s easy to miss the trailhead at this point. We did it and headed to Paria Beach at first. Realizing our mistake, we turned around and drove back. Nestled on the right-hand side now, a Cathedral Wash Trailhead sign came into view at once.
Normally, the Cathedral Wash Trail doesn’t gather hordes of hikers. The absence of a proper parking lot certainly attest to this fact. Several pull-offs can be found along the road on both sides. Claim one, grab water and some snacks, and hit the trail through the Cathedral Wash toward the Colorado River.
Start of the Hike along the Cathedral Wash Trail
Follow the sign toward a tiny tunnel aka the Cathedral Wash Trailhead, hidden away from any oblivious travelers. From the main road, descend to the canyon using a designated roadside path. Hike through the tunnel and follow the winding trail.
The Cathedral Wash hike is straightforward from now on. The canyon walls rise above the area, dismissing any opportunity to steer off the trail. The broad path has little to no obstacles at this point. Nor does it have any shade. So Arizona’s scorching sun jumps at the opportunity to make your hike if not difficult than certainly inconvenient.
On the other hand, the sun does a pretty good job at drying puddles, which contributes to a dry passage at this point.
Farther into the Slot Canyon
Approximately 0.7 mile into the hike, Cathedral Wash starts unveiling its wonders. The path narrows. The massive canyon walls with extruding ledges soar. The sun rays elude the area, letting the shade take over this section of the trail. Consequently, more puddles appear at the bottom of the slot canyon.
This part of the Cathedral Wash Trail is what you’ve been longing to see from the start of the hike. Yet it comes with some challenges. While you still don’t need neither expert climbing skills nor special equipment, scrambling and trail assessment are required. At this point, you choose your own route.
Walk on the ledges hanging above the canyon floor on either side. Gauge your path first, though. Stick to the ledges that you can easily scramble over. If you come across an insurmountable obstacle, return to a secure place and try to hike forward using the lower or upper ledges (the Cathedral Wash Trail reminds of a peculiar maze at this point) or find your route on the opposite wall of the slot canyon.
Embrace all the uncertainly of the hike that this section of the Cathedral Wash Trail brings. It doesn’t last forever.
The Last Stretch
About 0.5 mile later, the canyon walls shrink, reducing their size in more than half. It’s safe to walk on the slot canyon floor again. A sandy trail slowly takes over the hard-packed surface with a few large puddles on it. The hike along the Cathedral Wash Trail becomes easy again.
Soon the banks of the Colorado River emerge. Give yourself a pat on the back. You’ve successfully tramped through Glen Canyon and finished your Cathedral Wash hike in Grand Canyon National Park.
Catch your breath and enjoy the views of cliffs, towering over the river. Occasional hikers or rafters may interfere with your newly-found solitude at the river bank. When ready, hit the Cathedral Wash Trail again and hike back to the roadside pull-off the same way you came.
Cathedral Wash Trail: Location and Direction
If scrambling doesn’t bother you and you do decide to hike through the massive slot canyon, look for the Cathedral Wash Trailhead near the entrance to Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona. Upon entering the region, drive down Lees Ferry Road for approximately 1.4 miles.
The trailhead is located at the pull-off area, on the left-hand side of the road. Park and hike along either Upper or Lower Cathedral Wash Trail. Both canyons can be accessed from the same trailhead. The Lower Cathedral Wash Trail, however, is what allures the majority of the hikers traveling to this barren region.
Many come here from Page. Famous for Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend, the city sits nearly 41 miles away. Take US-89 and follow it for 23 miles. Here, turn right onto US-89A N and continue for 14 miles. One more right turn follows, onto Lees Ferry Road this time. The Cathedral Wash Trailhead is 1.4 miles from here.
READ MORE: One Day in Page, Arizona, Itinerary
Map: Cathedral Wash Trailhead from Page
When to Hike Cathedral Wash Trail
The good thing about Arizona is that it stays pretty warm all year round. The state, including its astonishing hikes, such as the Cathedral Wash Trail, doesn’t experience drastic changes in temperatures or precipitation. Therefore, you can embark on this hiking journey during any seasons.
You may need to postpone your hike along the Cathedral Wash Trail in summer when midday heat is a lot to bear and afternoon thunderstorms are frequent. Furthermore, don’t hike the Cathedral Wash Trail after rain. The wet ledges may be dangerous to scramble over.
Interesting Facts and Things to Know before Hiking Cathedral Wash Trail
No church is built near the Cathedral Wash area. Nor did missionaries traverse the slot canyon, paving the path for many others to follow their lead. The trail was named after Cathedral Rock. Sitting at the head of the slot canyon, the odd formation reminds of an intricate house of worship.
Cathedral Wash Trail Connects Two Landmarks in Arizona
The Cathedral Wash Trail starts in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and takes the hikers all the way to the Colorado River that runs through Grand Canyon National Park.
Access to Cathedral Wash is Free
You need to pay entrance fee to access Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Apart from it, the hike along the Cathedral Wash Trail doesn’t require anything but some scrambling skills. With that said, the Cathedral Wash hike is a great free alternative to popular Antelope Canyon.
Colorado River at Its Cleanest
The wild Colorado River is clear at the end of the Cathedral Wash Trail. It hasn’t acquired its signature red color yet. The bluish-white currents look especially enticing after the 1.5-mile hike through the canyon. Take a dip if you feel like doing it. Remember, though, the flowing waters hardly ever get warm. The Colorado River is freezing cold here.
Tip for Hiking Cathedral Wash Trail
Flash Flood Warning
Do not hike along the Cathedral Wash Trail when there is flash flood warning.
Bring Plenty of Water
While the middle section of the Cathedral Wash Trail can shade you from the sun, the both ends of the hike are fully exposed. Knowing how merciless Arizona’s sun can be, you should not tramp though the slot canyon without a large bottle of water.
Choose the Optimal Time of the Day to Hike along the Cathedral Wash Trail
Embark of the hiking journey either in the morning or late afternoon. The sun is low enough during these times, keeping the hiker less sweaty and tiresome. Avoid trekking through the slot canyon in the afternoon when the sun burns mercilessly.
The Cathedral Wash hike never gets as busy as other popular trails in Arizona. Yet due to a limited number of parking spaces at the roadside pull out, the place may look overcrowded. And it’s another reason to avoid hiking along the Cathedral Wash Trail in the afternoon.
Bring along a Hiking Buddy
The ledges inside the slot canyon can be a few feet high. You may need a helping hand to pull you up or down. So be sure to bring along one or a few hiking buddies.
An unstaffed pay station is located along Lees Ferry Road near the entrance to Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Be sure to stop and purchase your daily pass, otherwise you risk to get a fine. The ticket costs $30 per vehicle. If you have the America the Beautiful Pass, keep driving past the station. This annual pass includes admission to all national parks and national recreation areas in the country.