Management of Subterranean Ecosystems in Extreme Environments
Cathedral Gorge State Park

Audio Tour: Panaca and Cathedral Gorge State Park

Cathedral Gorge State Park is located in a long, narrow valley where erosion has carved dramatic and unique patterns in the soft bentonite clay. Trails abound for exploring the cave-like formations and cathedral-like spires. Miller Point, a scenic overlook just north of the park entrance on U.S. 93, offers excellent views of this scenic canyon. Shaded picnic areas and a tree-shaded campground area are open all year. Hiking, picnicking, camping, nature study, photography and ranger programs are the most common activities at the park.

Cathedral Gorge is a photographer's dream. A number of walking trails provide great views of the canyon. Cavers of all ages love exploring the park's slot canyons. This location became one of Nevada's first state parks in 1935.

A visitor center offering interpretive displays is located at the entrance to Cathedral Gorge.

Cathedral Gorge

Cathedral Gorge State Park began with pre-historic explosive volcanic activity that, with each eruption, deposited layers of ash hundreds of feet thick. Walking trails abound for exploring the cave-like formations and cathedral-like spires that are the result of these geologic processes from tens of millions of years ago. Photo by Renee Grayson, CC BY 2.0

Park Map

These spires and buff-colored cliffs are the result of geologic processes occurring over tens of millions of years. The beauty enjoyed today had violent beginnings, starting with an explosive series of volcanic activity that deposited layers of ash hundreds of feet thick. The source of this ash, the Caliente Caldera Complex, lies to the south of Cathedral Gorge.

About five million years after the eruptions ceased, block faulting, a fracture in the bedrock that allows the two sides to move opposite each other, shaped the mountains and valleys prevalent in Nevada today. This faulting formed a depression, now known as Meadow Valley.

Over time, the depression filled with water creating a freshwater lake. Continual rains eroded the exposed ash and pumice left from the volcanic activity, and the streams carried the eroded sediment into the newly formed lake.

The Cathedral Gorge formations, made of silt, clay and volcanic ash,are the remnants of that lake. As the landscape changed and more block faulting occurred, water drained from the lake exposing the volcanic ash sediments to the wind and rain, causing erosion of the soft material called bentonite clay.

Recreational Opportunities

The remote portions of the park are accessible via a four-mile loop trail. Another one-mile trail connects the Miller Point overlook to the picnic area. The park's brochure may be found in the resources area on this page. The park's visitor center is open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily. It is located at the park entrance off U.S. 93. The park's campground has 22 sites, each with a table, grill and shade ramada. Electrical hookups are available. Campsites cannot be reserved. Water and flush rest rooms with showers are open year-around. Facilities adjacent to the campground offer large shade ramadas, grills, picnic tables and water. There are two handicapped-accessible campsites at the group area, plus a rest room with flush toilets and showers.


Video compliments of KNPB - PBS Reno, Nevada

The park and visitor center is located about 2.5 hours north of Las Vegas on Highway 93. If you're travelling north to Ely from Las Vegas, this would be an easy stop. Driving time from this park to Ely is a little over 90 minutes.


The park sits at an elevation of 4,800 feet above sea level, and is typically arid with semi-hot summers, and very cold winters. In the summer, temperatures usually range from 95°F in midday to roughly 55°F at night. Rainfall is variable, and thunderstorms are prevalent.

Additional Information

Please help preserve this fragile desert environment by observing these rules:

  1. Practice Leave No Trace and Tread Lightly principles.

  2. Stay on trails.

  3. Drive only on designated roadways. Vehicles must be licensed.

  4. Keep pets on a leash no longer than six feet.

  5. Plants, animals, fossils other natural objects and artifacts are protected by state and federal laws.

  6. Camp only in designated sites.

  7. Light fires only in the fire rings and grills provided.

  8. Quiet hours are 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.

  9. Fees are charged for park entrance, camping and group use. A fee schedule is posted in the park.

  • Elevation: 4,819 ft

  • State: Nevada

  • District: Lincoln County

  • Coordinates (WGS84): 37.82222, -114.41666

  • Nearest town: Panaca, NV

  • Distance from the convention center: 120 miles

  • Topo Map

Links & Resources

Cathedral Gorge

Loccated between Las Vegas and Ely, Cathedral Gorge State Park is a long, narrow valley where erosion has carved dramatic and unique patterns in the soft bentonite clay. Trails abound for exploring the cave-like formations and cathedral-like spires. Image courtesy of Nevada Commission on Tourism

Hydrographic Great Basin

Ruby Crest, Nevada

The Hydrographic Great Basin is a 200,000 square mile area of the American West that extends from the Sierra Nevada Range in California to the Wasatch Range in Utah, and from southern Oregon to southern Nevada. The entire basin contains what's called an endorheic watershed. All precipitation in this region evaporates, sinks underground, or flows into lakes. No water reaches the ocean.



Mostly Cloudy Mostly cloudy, with a low around 33. Northeast wind 5 to 10 mph.


Cloudy then Scattered Rain Showers Scattered rain showers after 5pm. Cloudy, with a high near 67. South wind 5 to 15 mph. Chance of precipitation is 30%. New rainfall amounts less than a tenth of an inch possible.

Friday Night

Scattered Rain Showers Scattered rain showers before 5am. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 36. Southwest wind 5 to 15 mph. Chance of precipitation is 30%. New rainfall amounts less than a tenth of an inch possible.

Symposium Merchandise

h2go Essen Vacuum Food Container

It's a double-wall, stainless steel, 17 oz capacity thermos from h2go®. This thing is more rugged than your cave pack! We've been trying to beat up the manufacturer's sample, but it keeps winning. Hot things stayed hot, cold things stayed cold... and ours will have cool cave art printed on it.


JUNE 29, 2023
NCKMS Steering Committee Chooses Ely, Nevada as Host City for 2025 Symposium
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Advance registration for the 2025 symposium is expected to open in mid-2024. We will send an email to past attendees when that system comes online.

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