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5 Things to Know Before You Hike The Cathedral Wash Trail

I have had the pleasure of hiking the Cathedral Wash trail and in doing so learned 5 important things about it that I’ll share with you here. This hike is absolutely stunning and worth doing, but if you’re not properly prepared for it, you may find yourself in a tough situation in certain parts of it.

Quick info on the Cathedral Wash trail:

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  • Name: Cathedral Wash.
  • Location: Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona.
  • Hiking distance: 3.5 miles in and out.
  • Difficulty: Moderate to hard in spots.
  • Is it dangerous? Yes there are a few parts where you need to be careful.
  • Hike rating: 5 out of 5.
  • Recommended hike? Oh yeah!

I absolutely loved this hike and for 99.9% of it, I was all by myself on it, but this hike isn’t for everyone, so let me explain what you need to know:

The 5 things you need to know about the Cathedral Wash hike:

A quick note I want to add beforehand is that there are 2 parts to Cathedral Wash:

  • Lower Cathedral Wash which is the main most popular trail that takes you to the Colorado River.
  • Upper Cathedral Wash which actually goes upwards towards Marble Canyon.

I have not yet done the Upper Cathedral Wash but just keep in mind that when people talk about the Cathedral Wash trail, they are referring to the lower one. Now about those 5 things:

1) It’s a very easy to hike to navigate and it starts at Cathedral Wash Trailhead:

You will first need to park at Cathedral Wash Trailhead. From there you will walk underneath a bridge and start making your way down the wash. It will zigzag for 1.5 miles until you reach the Colorado River (end point) before turning back and heading back the same way.

There really is no way to get this hike wrong and get lost as it only goes down one way. There are openings, especially in the beginning of the hike where you may think it’s an exit, but just continue walking down the main wash path.

Note: Flash floods occur in this area, so be sure to check the weather reports and flood reports before going. They are rare, but no one wants to get caught in this area if that ever happens, trust me.

2) There are 3 sections of the Cathedral Wash hike:

the 3 parts of the cathedral wash hike 02

Each section looks completely different than the other and at the same time, the hiking difficulty in each part changes (gets more and more difficult).

1) The first part is the general river bed (wash area) which spans for about 1/2 a mile.

It’s scenic, easy to walk on and it doesn’t even feel like a hike. There will be a lot of sand walking there.

2) The second part is where it gets tough, aka when you start entering the slot canyon area.

This will involve some climbing spots (especially if you’re short), and some careful hiking.

The good news is that it isn’t slippery in this area so you should be fine, but wear decent hiking shoes or trail running shoes just in case (I like the Salomon Speedcross 5).

3) The third and last part of the hike is right after the slot canyon ends and you come out to a canyon like opening.

You will be walking on sand, gravel and sometimes have to hike through large boulders, but this last spot is what will take you out to the Colorado river (end point) of the hike.

Be careful in spots here especially in areas of the rocks where are small holes (insects and snakes might be here).

3) The slot canyon (2nd part) of the hike is the most scenic and difficult:

cathedral wash trail slot canyon area 04

If you’re under 5’5, I would recommend you come here with a tall friend because this area hike will require hiking and upper body strength.

While coming to this area (you will see a huge drop indicating the slot canyon begins), I came across a mother and her daughter sitting nearby who couldn’t go further into the hike because they were too short and were worried they wouldn’t be able to get out.

After descending into the slot canyon myself, I understood why they did that. Even for me, someone who is 5’11, I had areas where it was a bit difficult to climb out of.

On the flip side though, this area of the hike is amazing, both in the hike itself, and the scenery. Many might not think it, but I actually think it looks a little like the Wave hike in Arizona.

4) There are markers on the Cathedral Wash trail to help you:

They are actually cairn rocks which you can find throughout the hike. While you can navigate this trail in different ways, it’s ideal to follow these markers in case you are in a spot where it gets dangerous and those cairn rocks will take you through the safest areas of the trail.

Some parts of the hike involved me having to jump and switch from one side of the slot canyon to the other to keep going but the point is, following the cairn rocks made that a lot easier so if you’re not so much into risky stuff and want to stay on the safe side of this hike, follow those markers (you’ll typically find them near the easiest areas of the hike that look like the safest path).

5) Make sure to see the sights around the Cathedral Wash hike too:

vermilion cliffs national monument balanced rock and more things to see

When I first came to this hike, I didn’t know it was in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument region.

But now that I know, I will make sure to spend more time here. You need to know that in order to enter this region (let alone to do this hike), you will need to pay an entrance fee (I think it’s $40 per car) to get in at the Lee’s Ferry Entrance Point.

This actually gets you into the region and also on the road that takes you to beautiful spots, beaches and the ability to kayak or boat on the Colorado river.

The Cathedral Wash hike is close by to that entrance (Lee’s Ferry Entrance Point), but nearby are many other sights and things to see, including:

  • The Historic Navajo Bridge.
  • Cathedral Wash itself (Upper and Lower if you have time).
  • Balanced Rocks (cool tourist sight).
  • Campgrounds.
  • Spencer Trail in Lees Ferry.
  • Amazing sights and a nice scenic drive.
  • And more.

The good news is that there is only 1 road (Honey Moon Trail) which will take you through all of these sights so you won’t miss it. After getting a taste of the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument area, I would say it competes evenly if not better than the stuff you see in Grand Staircase Escalante in Utah.

Side note: There’s similar trails like this and so far, the closest looking one is called Gold Strike Hot Springs (that’s near Las Vegas). There are also other trails across the US with the word “Cathedral” in it and one of the most popular is Cathedral Rock in Sedona (totally different hike though).

Do you need hiking gear for exploring Cathedral Wash?

I probably wouldn’t recommend doing this hike in sneakers or something casual. The first part of it is totally fine for that, but the second and then third part get tough for regular footwear.

Other questions about hiking through Cathedral Wash:

How long is the Cathedral Wash hike?

The Cathedral Wash hike is a little over 3 miles total.

Where is Cathedral Wash?

The Cathedral Wash hike is on the north eastern end of the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument area.

Other tips to keep in mind when exploring Cathedral Wash trail:

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1) It is extremely scenic and one of the most fun hikes I’ve done so be sure to take a lot of photos and enjoy it! I’ve actually done it twice now!

2) Trekking poles, I know I recommended them above but I wouldn’t bring them here. I brought my Trailbuddy trekking poles because I was injured, but they ended up being more of a hindrance than help here.

There is a lot of use of your hands on this hike that having these hiking poles is just annoying. So if you do bring them, make sure you can fold them and put them in your bag (which you can with these).

And that summarizes all of the things you need to know about the Cathedral Wash hike. For me, even though this was a hike I intended to do exclusively in the region, not only was it well worth it, but the area within which it is at brings about many amazing adventure opportunities and I hope that if you go here, you will take advantage of that. This hike and region are truly spectacular!

Thanks for reading this post on the Cathedral Wash hike and if you have any questions about the trail, let me know!

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