Exploring the Cathedral Rock Trail in Mt. Charleston

Cathedral Rock Nevada
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Located just 45 minutes from the Las Vegas strip, you’ll find the stunning Cathedral Rock trail in the Mt. Charleston area.   This 2.8-mile round trip hike is sure to satisfy your wanderlust or at least keep you cooler than a 100-degree day in the Vegas valley.

Cathedral Rock Trail Hiking Stats

Trail DescriptionOut-and-back
Trail LocationCathedral Rock Trail, Mt. Charleston, NV
Parking Lot36.25638, -115.64599
Round Trip Mileage2.8 miles
Average Time2 – 3 hours
DifficultyModerate
Elevation Gain~984 feet
Elevation at Summit8,603 feet
Best time to visitLate Spring through Late Fall
Entrance FeeNone
Rating4.0 Mooses

Our experience on the Cathedral Rock Trail

We arrived at the upper Cathedral Rock trail parking lot around 10:30 a.m. on a weekday. We found the larger lower lot was mostly full and the smaller upper lot about 20% full.  The forecast for the day was a modest 84 degrees and sunny with minimal wind.  

Cathedral Rock trailhead
Cathedral Rock Trailhead

The trail starts off nice and wide between the upper and lower parking areas.  You’ll follow a tree-lined path with an immediate view of the Cathedral rock towering above you. 

Cathedral Rock
First view of Cathedral Rock

As you continue, the path winds to the southwest at a steady incline directly towards a gorgeous view of the Echo Cliffs. 

Echo Cliffs near Mt Charleston
First view of Echo Cliffs

Pro-tip:  Go early in the morning if you want to snap of photo of the Echo Cliffs lit up by the sun.

Echo Cliffs along Cathedral Rock Trail
Echo Cliffs seen from near the summit of Cathedral Rock

Because we got a late start to the day, the temperature was already 79 degrees when we took off up the trail and any shade we would have found was rapidly disappearing.  This made for a tough climb considering we were starting around 7,000 feet above sea-level.  We decided not to stop and take advantage of the multiple benches found along the trail as we were anxious to get to the top as more time meant even warmer temperatures.

Cathedral Rock Trail Bench
Bench along Cathedral Rock trail
Bench along Cathedral Rock Hike
Bench along the trail

Past the Echo Cliffs, the trail wraps back towards the north and up the backside of Cathedral Rock.  The trail flattens out here as you begin to see the first of many views of the valley below.  

Ponderosa Pine Tree on Cathedral Rock Trail Nevada
Ponderosa Pine along Cathedral Rock trail

After making your way through the flat area of the trail and past the towering Ponderosa pines, you begin the last part of the push to the summit of Cathedral Rock.  It’s approximately a quarter of a mile with around a 20% grade of incline.  The path is still fairly wide at this point, though switch backs and rocks lining the trail make it worth pausing once in a while to catch your breath. 

Cathedral Rock summit in the distance
Cathedral Rock summit seen from half-way up the trail
Nearing the summit of Cathedral Rock
Nearing the summit of Cathedral Rock

The Cathedral Rock Summit

Once you finished the last push to the summit, you’re met with 180 degree sweeping views of the valley.  To the north you’ll find views of Mummy Mountain and to the west views of Mt Charleston.  You can see the trailhead for the Mary Jane Falls hike to the northwest and the Mt Charleston lodge on the valley floor to the northeast. 

Cathedral Rock Summit

We found a nice secluded spot to enjoy our lunch and admire the cute (but aggressive) Palmer Chipmunks running around.  It was clear these chipmunks had been fed by other hikers as they weren’t shy at all and made a beeline for our backpacks if we took our eyes off them for a second. 

Northwestern view from summit of Cathedral Rock
Western view from summit

Related: Watch our video of the Palmer chipmunk at the Cathedral Rock summit.

As cute as they are and as much as they beg for food, don’t do it!  Chipmunks become reliant on food from humans and can become aggressive.  Not to mention, they may perish in the harsher winter months when no one is around to feed them.   Just say ‘no’ to feeding the local wildlife.

Palmer Chipmunk at Cathedral Rock Trail

Our solitude at the top was short lived and many more hikers came to join us at the top.  We decided to head down the path and call it a day. 

After hiking back down the trail through the loose rocks just begging to have us twist our ankles, we arrived back at the trailhead. The roundtrip time on the trip was just over two hours.  Despite the warmer temperatures, there were many more hikers headed up the trail when we arrived at the bottom.  Make sure if you head up in the afternoon to bring lots of water. 

Visit or skip?

Rating:  4.0 Mooses

What we liked

  • The views of Cathedral Rock as you’re hiking up the trail along with the Echo Cliffs and other rock formations in the area were beautiful.
  • The trail was well marked and had plenty of benches along the way to stop and rest as needed.
  • The area at the top of the rock had plenty of views and sitting areas.  We were able to find some solitude despite several others being at the top.  On a busy weekend day, finding solitude would be more challenging.

What we didn’t like

  • The trail was covered in rocks ranging from gravel to fist size pieces.  It made coming back down more difficult as it was easy to misstep (and potentially sprain an ankle).   We suspect rocks were brought to the trail to keep it from eroding due to high volume hiker traffic and harsh weather events.
  • There wasn’t a lot of shade on the trail if you start later in the morning.
  • The parking lots were big enough for around 75 cars, but even on a weekday around 10:30 a.m. was around 75% of capacity. 

Know before you go

  • Parking fills up quickly on the weekends and to a lesser extent on the weekdays.  Go early to make sure you snag a spot.
  • The large amount of gravel and rocks on the trail makes sturdy hiking shoes a must for this hike.
  • There was little shade on the trail.  Be sure to bring extra water on the trail during the hot summer months.
  • There is an abundance of chipmunks at the summit that can get a little aggressive.  Be sure to refrain from feeding them. 
  • Dogs are allowed on leashes and we saw plenty of them along the trail (not everyone followed the leash law).

Frequently asked questions about the Cathedral Rock Hike in Mt. Charleston

How difficult is Cathedral Rock Hike?

The hike up Cathedral Rock is defined as “moderate.”  It gains approximately 948 feet in elevation over a 1.4 mile length.  Rocks ranging from gravel size to fist size line the majority of the trail to the summit which makes the effort required more than typical.  This is especially true on the way back down, where it can be easy to take a misstep if you’re not paying close attention to your footing. No scrambling is necessary on this well marked and developed trail. 

Cathedral rock trail wide path
Scree covering Cathedral Rock trail

Is Cathedral Rock Trail scary?

Coming from a bona fide member of the terrified of heights club, I can say the hike was not scary at all.  The trail is fairly wide (3 to 4 feet)  the majority of the way up.  It was wide enough for both my husband and I to walk side by side the majority of the time, or for single file hikers to pass each other by.  We did not experience any scrambling and I was able to stay well away from the edge if desired. 

How long is the Cathedral Rock Trail in Nevada?

Cathedral Rock Trail is 2.8 miles round trip from the Cathedral Rock trailhead to the summit and back. 

Cathedral Rock Trail Map
Trail map for Cathedral Rock

Is parking free at Cathedral Rock trail?

Yes, there is currently no parking fee for the Cathedral Rock trailhead in Mt. Charleston, Nevada. 

More information for your trip to Mt. Charleston

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The information contained on this website is for entertainment purposes only and references only opinions of the author. Nothing contained within should be considered professional advice, including but not limited to, health, safety, financial, legal, or psychological advice.

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