Walk across Egypt bench and wade through Escalante River in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area to a glowing grotto at the end of a luminous Wingate Sandstone canyon.
Stunning Golden Cathedral at the end of Neon Canyon
Erosion of Wingate Sandstone (Jurrasic, ~ 150-200 million years ago) over the millennia has created three skylights in this glowing grotto.
Walking out through the overhanging walls of Neon Canyon.
Location: Southeast of Escalante, Utah in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
Distance/Elevation gain: 10 miles out and back/~1,200' of gain. Mileage will vary slightly depending on if you take the standard route to Fence Canyon or the "Beeline" route.
Difficulty: Moderate effort across pockets of sand; navigation off-trail moderately challenging.
Coordinates: Trailhead: 37.59448 -111.22040. Neon Canyon opening: 37.60668 -111.16798.
Trailhead: Traveling east on Highway 12 from Escalante, Utah, turn right onto the gravel Hole in the Rock Road a few miles out of town. Drive 16.7 miles, turn left (heading east) at the sign for "Egypt, 10 mi." Zero-out your trip odometer. Stay straight on main road. At 3.5 miles, cross Twentyfive Mile Wash. At 9 miles, a culvert identifies the Egypt 3 slot. At 9.5 miles, turn right at intersection. In ten miles park in large lot. It took us 1:40 from Escalante.
Date Hiked: 9/26/23
Maps/Apps: Trails Illustrated Canyons of the Escalante #710, Alltrails, Topo Maps U.S., USGS 7.5 quad topo, Egypt, UT.
Considerations: Do not attempt Neon Canyon if there is a chance of rain, and/or flash flood. Driving on road to trailhead requires moderate-clearance 4WD. Beeline Trail crosses Escalante River once. Too hot in summer months. Bring adequate water.
Photo advice: Best time to photograph Golden Cathedral is between 11 am and 2 pm depending on the season. Most desirable to have the entire grotto in shade. Light from upper Neon Canyon reflects into the grotto creates glow on walls. At mid-day, light beams shine onto the dark green water on the floor.
Links: Escalante Interagency Visitor Center (BLM) Earthline's blog post on this hike Escalante Petrified Forest SP
Beeline Route Out and Back
Now I can see how Neon Canyon got its name. The colors are intense. Canyoneers rappel through the opening, getting access from a trail on its west rim. Stav is Lost website has a good canyoneering trip description of Neon Canyon.
Fred and I got close to this remote marvel a few weeks before, but we heard thunder and saw clouds building when we got near Neon's opening, so we nixed the plan of going up this narrow canyon and headed back to the trailhead via Beeline Trail. On that hike, we checked out the huge petroglyph panel along the Escalante River, approaching from the Fence Canyon route.
From the trailhead, identify Point 5270, a round dome to the east. That is your landmark to hike toward, as Neon Canyon is just to its left. The terrain that spreads before you is "Egypt," an elevated bench above the Escalante River, which flows right in front of Point 5270. The "Standard" Golden Cathedral Trail aims toward and travels along the north rim of Fence Canyon on the left in image below. The Beeline Trail goes in a more or less straight line toward Point 5270. A map of our GPS tracks hiking the Standard/Beeline loop is on my last post Neon Canyon/Escalante River Petroglyphs Hiking Directions.
Looking east from Egypt Trailhead: Descend down through bowl onto Egypt Bench and make a Beeline toward Point 5270, the landmark just east of the opening to Neon Canyon. The alternate "Standard" trail heads to the left of Fence Canyon, seen at left in image.
Looking back up at Egypt Trailhead. The dark brown boulders are the landmark to look for when returning from Neon Canyon. They are from the Carmel Formation and made mostly of limestone. The underlying rock strata is Navajo Sandstone.
Approaching the base of the Navajo Sandstone bowl and getting closer to the dome. This cairn marks the Beeline route. Cairns are few and far between and easily missed.
Heading across Egypt Bench on trail that is discernible here and there. We saw footprints on the sandy Beeline Trail.
The cleft with the large brown boulders on the plateau's rim is the landmark for the return hike.
In September, abundant wildflowers speckled the hummocks and sand dunes.
A definite trail through the sand.
Longleaf false goldeneye?
The beginning of the descent off the main Egypt Bench: stepping off of firm slabs of sandstone onto the soft deep sands of a lower bench or terrace just above the Escalante River. First really good view of the Point 5270 dome. Cottonwood trees fill the river bed. Neon Canyon opening is the notch under the dome.
Not a problem descending this deep sand on the way to the river, but a pain to walk up it on the way back!
Now we can see the opening of beautiful Neon Canyon.
Just above the river bottom: the rounded rocks are a sign that the river probably once ran on this terrace.
Nearing the cottonwood trees of the Escalante River bottom - would be great to see these when the leaves turn yellow!
Weaving through brush and trees to the river.
On the bank of the Escalante: switching from boots to trail running shoes. Only two short river crossings both ways, might as well keep boots dry for the hike.
The canyon walls at Neon's opening and all the way through are stunning; trees growing against them seem small in scale. A path leads through a garden of wildflowers in September. A trail on the left side of the first bend in the canyon takes you above Neon's west rim and to the beginning of the canyoneering route.
After a walk in the cool shade of Neon, reach Golden Cathedral in a little over a mile. We saw evidence of a recent flash flood in the fresh carved sand on the stream banks. The pool reflects the three skylights above.
We stayed for awhile, appreciating the serenity, until the sun started to fill the canyon, shining on part of the grotto. The best time to photograph Golden Cathedral is before the sun hits it, so you don't get too much contrast. The reflected light from the upper Neon through the skylights is what gives the glow to these beautiful walls.
With every Escalante visit, our to-do list grows exponentially in this land of remarkable personality. There's so much out there to explore!
Intense colors near Neon's opening.
A wide-angle shot of Neon walls.
Fred walking out.
Crossing through Escalante River back to Beeline Route.
Carmel Formation (deposited ~ 170 million years ago) boulders strewn over Navajo Sandstone. Note the difference in textures: the limestone in the Carmel makes the rock more sharp and rough.
Scenes from Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, where we stayed with our trailer.
Sue and Fred
About this blog
Exploration documentaries – "explorumentaries" list trip stats and highlights of each hike or bike ride, often with some interesting history or geology. Years ago, I wrote these for friends and family to let them know what my husband, Fred and I were up to on weekends, and also to showcase the incredible land of the west.
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