Neon Canyon is a beautiful and amazingly colorful canyon—hence the name. The trip would be worth it even without the Golden Cathedral, though it is without a doubt the main attraction. Neon Canyon is part of the Escalante drainage. It is accessible from the Egypt Bench trailhead.
Located inside the lower section of the Neon Canyon, the Golden Cathedral is an over dimensional grotto. It consists of two large collapsed potholes on its roof and a substantial pool of water at the bottom allowing. You can actually swim in the pothole during high precipitation.
The superb light-reflecting qualities of the reddish sandstone provides a fantastic red glow to the grotto. Around mid-day, light beams break through the collapsed potholes and with some luck you might even see people rappelling down through the potholes giving a dramatic element of scale. This is one of the most spectacular sights of the entire Escalante area.
Getting to Neon Canyon:
The access is not easy as it requires a car with 4×4 traction and high clearance. The road is impassible after recent rain as the dirt turns into a soft and deep mud. Do not attempt to get through when it is wet, because you will NOT succeed!
Start in the little town of Escalante by taking UT-12 heading southeast for about 5 miles to enter right onto Hole-in-the-Rock Road. After relatively easy 17 easy miles turn left on BLM 240 (37.541130, -111.361753). You will see the sign “Egypt” at the turn. After another partially challenging 9 miles you will reach a “Y”. Bear right and 1/2 mile further you will arrive at a large and primitive parking area (37.593053, -111.218625) near at the edge of the ridge. The overview from there is breathtaking.
There are two ways leading to the Neon Canyon and Golden Cathedral. The more scenic, but at the same time the longer way, is via Fence Canyon. The faster alternative is a straight line across the plateau. For those who only want to do a day hike and photograph mainly inside the Neon Canyon I recommend the latter option.
From the rim near the parking area looking straight east you will see about 3 miles to the east-southeast a big round sandstone dome known as – Round Dome. This landmark is located just behind the entrance to the Neon Canyon and will be your natural beacon. However, once you descended to the plateau it will often be out of sight as you progress. Using a compass can be of great value to ensure that you are following the right direction.
Descend the sandstone slope following a cairned path. Once on the sandy plateau the Fence Canyon trail goes to the left. You might follow foot steps of previous hikers and/or cairns along the path, although these are not always easily visualized along the trail.
The hike across the sandy plateau, following the Round Dome is a cross-country for about 2 miles until you reach the rim of the plateau which gives you a nice overlook of the Escalante River Canyon, just across from the entrance to the Neon Canyon (37.606071, -111.168037). Follow the rim to the south and locate a sand dune that gives an easy descent to the Escalante River. Cross the river and enter the Neon Canyon. A little under a mile more and you will enter the Golden Cathedral (37.611292, -111.164787).
Either way, Fence Canyon or straight line, look back frequently to memorize where you started your descent to the sandy plateau. It can be hard to find the spot where your car is located on your way back.
You may want to take the absolute essentials for your photographic excursion. The round trip are about 9.5 miles with an elevation gain of about 1,200 feet. The duration of the hike is at least 6 hours and besides the camera and the additional gear you will need a significant amount of water and some snack. Each ounce in your backpack will count, mainly when you are heading back to your car.
The two most important elements besides the camera will be the tripod and a wide angle or a medium angle lens.
The best time to photograph the Golden Cathedral is between 11 AM and 2 PM. Spring and Autumn are the better time of the year as Summer might be too hot and Winter too cold. Be also aware that your photographic gear is well protected against water as you will have to cross the Escalante River two to four times, depending which route you are taking.
This hike is not just about the Golden Cathedral with the two collapsed potholes and the water at the bottom, but also the cottonwoods alongside Neon Canyon’s red walls. The light and colors will be especially spectacular during Autumn when the cottonwoods leaves are yellow.
Last Update: July 23, 2013