I’ll be honest with you – Cathedral Rock hike was a highlight of our recent trip to Sedona. It was our first time in the area and we were not really sure what to expect. I did a little research just to get an idea about what lied ahead of us and how difficult the Cathedral Rock hike is. The difficulty aspect sounded a bit discouraging but we did not want to lose the opportunity to see this essential and probably the most scenic spot in the part of Arizona.
In reality, Cathedral Rock in Sedona turned out to be a short and sweet hike that requires some rock scrambling but rewards with jaw-dropping panoramic views. Also, since it is one of the most popular hikes, you will be passing many other tourists. Some of them climb up half the way, especially if they are with kids, and some all the way to the top. It is really up to you how far you want to go. There are lots of great spots with absolutely amazing views overlooking Sedona on almost every step of the hike.
Let’s get into details.
Essential Information and Stats
Trailhead: Cathedral Rock Trailhead or Trailhead on Back O Beyond Road
Location: South Sedona, Arizona
Parking: There are two parking lots next to each other that could accommodate about 45 cars. Both fill up pretty quickly especially around midday so be patient, stop nearby and wait for other people to return. We did it a couple of times and managed to get a spot in 5-10 min thanks to pretty frequent rotation.
Distance: 1.2 miles round trip
Length of time: about 1 hour for the hike itself; definitely more if you plan to stop to take shots or break for snack
Total Ascent: 700 feet
Difficulty: Moderate. It starts off nice and easy but quickly becomes quite steep. There is no shade on the trail.
The best time to go: It is great hike all year round but because of the high temperatures during summer it is highly recommended to go in the Spring and Fall (when you can also expect bigger crowds). Winter is less popular but might be a freezing experience. I highly recommend to go during sunrise or sunset time – these are less crowded time slots and the warm light makes the views even more special.
Entry Fee: You will need Red Rock Pass – $5 per day or $15 for a week, displayed on your vehicle dashboard. You can purchase it at a machine at the trailhead (credit cards only).
If you enjoy this article you might want to check out my Yosemite guide.
How to get to the Cathedral Rock Trailhead
The map shows you the main Cathedral Rock Trail starting from Back O Beyond Road. To get there driving from Highway 179, turn west onto Back O Beyond Road, directly across from Indian Cliffs Road. Drive approx. 0.7 miles until you reach the Cathedral Rock parking lot.
Hiking Cathedral Rock – what it’s like
The trail starts with an easy and well marked trail that will lead you to the rocky saddle where the real fun starts. From this point if you look around you will be able to see nice 360 degree views but believe me the best is yet to come. The rest of the trail is marked with the large wire baskets of rocks that will lead you to the top.
The trail will get more steep when you pass level of sandstone slickrock. It will require you to use your hands and do some rock scrambling. This part might actually look worse than it really is. We did the trail twice. The first time we even climbed down after sunset and we were still able to do it (don’t forget head flashlights if you plan to go for sunset).
In the most steep parts just look around for the man made steps that will help you to climb up or down on the way back. The good thing is that after every steep part you can stay on more flat part and rest. Many people stop at the half way of the trail and then climb back to the parking but if you are up for the best sunset experience you should absolutely follow the rest of the trail and finally get to the saddle. The saddle is pretty wide enough to walk by but if you have fear of heights you might want to skip this part. Although, I found this part of the hike the most magical especially at sunset. We were rewarded with incredibly beautiful sunset light and the view in between a couple of high massive rocks.
For a great photo opportunity walk out along the saddle to the right (the saddle is about 5 feet wide with a drop-off on one side – just so you know). You will notice the spot immediately because there will be line of people waiting for their turn to take shots. Expect crowds that will be comprised of casual tourists, hike enthusiasts, influencers and many photographers. Definitely not the place to sit in quietness and soak in the nature but still worth a visit for the absolutely beautiful views and to boost yourself with the energy vortex.
What is the Cathedral Rock Vortex?
Red Rock Crossing is a sacred site for Native Americans. As the legend states it was once a birthplace of gods and mankind who still reside in Cathedral Rock. The place became super popular for the earth’s energy spirals above its surface – energy vortex. It is exactly located at the intersection of Oak Creek and Cathedral Rock called Red Rock Crossing. Those who believe in vortex claim that is has a feminine energy that boosts visitors’ feelings of creativity and relaxation.
Tips for best hiking experience
The best time to visit Cathedral Rock is for sure sunrise and sunset. You will not only avoid crowds but will be rewarded with an incredible light which makes views even more magical. If you are there for the photography then these are the must do time slots for you. Just make sure to give yourself more time to climb. I highly recommend to start the trail even 2 hours before sunset. Your hike might be slowed down by other people (in some parts you need to wait for others to finish climbing).
If you plan to hike for sunset don’t forget a headlight. Your hands will be busy helping you scramble the rocks. After blue hour there is no light at all so if you find yourself in such situation don’t panic – we did hike back in the night and were able to complete it although you need to be super careful.
Please Leave No Trace! It would be the best if you can practice seven principles of Leave No Trace and leave the place as you encountered it.
I must say that Cathedral Rock hike in Sedona is one of my favorite hikes so far. It’s a short hike with lots of opportunities for panoramic views on the way. It really made a big impression on me seeing what nature can create with a bit of land, water and millions of years of erosion. Getting to the top will leave you feeling accomplished and energized for the other hikes in incredibly pretty Sedona (obviously for the next day).