Photo credit David Whiting, All Rights Reserved
Photo credit J Whiting, All Rights Reserved
A short hike up a desert canyon to red cliffs.
|Total Distance: 3.0 miles out & back||Elevation Gain: 744ft. (-148ft. to 434ft.)|
|Difficulty: Moderately Strenuous||0-5 Mile Difficulty: Moderately Strenuous|
|View Rating: 2.0 out of 5.0 stars||Author’s Rating: 3.0 out of 5.0 stars|
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|Pets: No||Horses: No|
|Best Seasons: November-April||Special Permits: None|
|Water Availability: None||Overnight Options: None|
|Trailhead Amenities: Primitive Restroom||Crowd Factor: Crowded|
|Trailhead Access: 0.6|
Mile-by-Mile: Red Cathedral Trail
0.0 Golden Canyon Trailhead (-148ft.). Head northwest up Golden Canyon. As you can see, the area received its name from the yellow tint of the rocks and badlands along the route. (36.420714°, -116.846639°)
1.0 Red Cathedral Junction (153ft.). Turn left to continue up the canyon toward the Red Cathedral. The walls gradually close in around the trail to end at a red-colored dryfall. (36.424635°,-116.831959°)
1.5 Red Cathedral (434ft.). Enjoy the views of the Red Cathedral as well as the coolness of the shadows beneath the rocks. (36.428055°, -116.827111°)
History & More
It’s hard to say exactly where the route ends. I usually end up scrambling up on a few of the badlands to get a better view. I don’t necessarily recommend this – those badlands are steep! – but it’s a fun little diversion if you don’t mind sketchy scrambling.
Many of the yellow-tinted rocks in Death Valley have a high concentration of Limonite, a type of iron ore. The name is derived from a Greek word that means “wet meadow” (the Greeks frequently found the ore in marshy areas). On the island of Cyprus, limonite was used as a pigment – yellow ochre, specifically. It was also roasted to make red ochres and brown tones.
The red tent to the rocks of the Red Cathedral are likely a compound known as Hematite. This comes from the Greek word for “blood.”
Most of the time when I’m hiking in this area, I hit the Red Cathedral right about noon. It feels so good to hide from the sun beneath the cliffs of the Red Cathedral. It’s not the greatest place to eat lunch (imagine me balancing a paper plate on my knee while spreading peanut butter and jelly on bread toasted by the wind), but I’ve done it several times anyway.
Download Trail Map
Remember, it may be easier to climb up dryfalls than down them (or vice versa). Be sure you can climb in the other direction before climbing up or down a dryfall.
Leave No Trace Principles are enforced
Drones and model aircrafts are prohibited
Camping is permitted only in designated sites or in areas open to dispersed backcountry camping
All park rules and regulations
12 Month Pass: $55/Death Valley Annual Pass (valid at Death Valley National Park). $80/America the Beautiful Annual Pass (valid at all national park and federal fee areas). $20/Annual Senior Pass (62 years or older US citizens; valid at all national park and federal fee areas). Free/4th Grade Pass (Valid Sept. 1-August 31 of the child’s 4th Grade school year). Free/Military Pass (valid for all active military personel and their dependents with a CAC Card or DD Form 1173).
Lifetime Pass: $80/Lifetime Senior Pass (62 years or older US citizens; valid at all national park and federal fee areas). Free/Access Pass (available to all US citizens with perminent disabilities). Free/Access for Veterans and Gold Star Families Pass (valid for all military and veterans with a CAC card, Veteran HJealth Identification Card, Veteran ID Card, or veteran’s designation on state-issued drivers license or identification card.)
Red Cathedral Trail
While it’s just an off-shoot off of the Golden Canyon Trail (and most people do it as a spur while hiking between Golden Canyon and Zabriskie Point or the Badlands Trail), the Red Cathedral is a destination in its own right. The red rocks that make up the Cathedral are quite impressive, and I guess that the ribs of rock might possibly look something like a pipe organ. Though I have to say that the pipes in a real church organ are usually more symmetrical.
The Red Cathedral Trail shares the same trail as Golden Canyon for the first mile. At the trail junction, turn left toward the Red Cathedral.
The canyon between Golden Canyon and the Red Cathedral isn’t stunning, but I’d guess part of my distaste for it comes from the fact that I usually hike it when I’m hungry and hot and really just want to rest for a few minutes (and eat lunch, since we’ve just hiked down from Zabriskie Point).
Gradually, the walls close in around the wash and the rocks begin to shift from golden to reddish-brown.
After half a mile, the trail more or less ends at a red dryfall below towering cliffs. It’s a little bit difficult to know exactly where the end of the trail is, so we usually scramble around a bit and see how high we can get before the walls become too steep or the ground too slippery to continue upward. Enjoy the cool shade of the Red Cathedral before retracing your steps to the trailhead or continuing your hike on the Golden Canyon Trail.