Hiking Cathedral Rock: All you need to know

Cathedral Rock

One of the most iconic landmarks to photograph in Sedona, Arizona is Cathedral Rock. It sits just less that 5000 feet in elevation and although the climb to the top is short, the red rocks will make you work for it.

Nonetheless, you’ll be rewarded with some of the best views for sunset or sunrise if you’re feeling extra adventurous. This hike provides expansive views of the surrounding Red Rock Wilderness you’re going to love!

Cathedral Rock Trail Stats

Distance: 1.2 miles RT
Summit Elevation:
4,967 feet
Elevation Gain:
556 feet
Type: Out and Back
Difficulty: Moderate-Difficult
Location: Sedona, AZ
Trailhead: Cathedral Rock Trailhead
Dog Friendy: Yes, but I’d advise against it.
Permits: Red Rock Pass. Learn more here.

Note: There are many trails that lead to Cathedral Rock, but for the purpose of this post it is going to cover the most direct route.

Cathedral Rock Pinterest Pin

How to get there

Cathedral Rock Trail is easily accessible from the city which makes it a popular destination and parking fills up fast.

Take Hwy 179 to Back O Beyond Road. Travel down this road a little ways and you’ll see the trailhead parking on the left. This parking lot is small and fills up fast so you’ll want to arrive early.

If the main parking lot is full there is another small one just down the road, also on the left. If you park here you’ll still need to buy a Red Rock Pass and the station to purchase it is at the main parking lot.

There is a groomed trail connecting the parking lots so you don’t have to walk in the road. Cathedral Rock Trail starts directly off of the main parking lot and is easy to find.

Sitting at the top of Cathedral Rock

When to visit

With this being such a popular hike you’ll want to start either very early in the morning, maybe for sunrise, or at least before 8 a.m. on the weekends. You could also hike in the evening during dinner time or for sunset to miss the crowds.

Sedona is very hot in the summer and although this hike is short, it makes you work for it and leaves you completely exposed to the sun. I’d only hike this one in the summer if you plan on getting a very early start.

Spring, fall, and winter are the best times to dodge the heat and hike comfortably in Sedona, especially if you aren’t use to desert heat!

Pro Tip: If you hike for sunrise or sunset don’t forget your headlamp!

Hiking to Cathedral Rock

The beginning of the hike is on a dirt path and is well marked with signs. There are several other turn off trails in the area, but you’ll continue up towards Cathedral Rock.

Cathedral Rock Trail

Eventually you’ll find yourself loosing the dirt path and hiking on rock, continuing up the side of the mountain. There are plenty of stone piles enclosed in wire mesh, much like extra large cairns, to follow along the way.

It is only .6 miles to the top so the hike will quickly become either moderate or difficult, depending on your skill level. There are a couple steep scrambles that will require using both hands to help yourself up.

Climbing up Cathedral Rock Trail

It honestly looks a lot scarier than it is. Don’t let this deter you from getting to the top! I’ve included a picture above of what most consider the hardest part.

Pro Tip: Wear shoes with good grip to climb the slick rock.

The rest of the way is steep, but there are plenty of areas to stop to catch your breath while you take in the views.

Hiking in Sedona

Sooner than you think you’ll be at the top and can finally relax! Depending on the time of day there won’t be much shade here. If you still have energy after the climb you can explore around the area. There is another little trail that leads off to the left to a less populated view between the rocks.

Cathedral Rock Sedona, Arizona

Every time I’ve been to Cathedral Rock the other hikers have been very considerate and helpful when taking photos! Groups usually take their turn to walk out to the rock that juts out, as pictured above.

Once you’ve gotten all your photos and fill of the views you’ll head back down the way you climbed up.

Cathedral Rock in Sedona

Other great Sedona hikes

While you’re in the area you might as well check out a couple, if not all, of these other epic Sedona hikes! These are all easily accessible from the city and ones you won’t want to miss!

  • Soldier Pass Cave- One of the most unique caves in the area to climb up in. Along the way you’ll hike past Devil’s Kitchen and Seven Sacred Pools, two other very unique points of interest.
  • Devil’s Bridge- You’ll get to hike out onto the largest natural sandstone arch in the area. Another iconic Sedona landmark that must be visited.
  • Birthing Cave- A short hike to a very interesting cave. This one will make you work strategically in order to photograph it.

Final thoughts on Cathedral Rock

I’m a sucker for a good climb and rewarding views so Cathedral Rock will always be fun for me to photograph. I’ve only ever visited in the early morning so next time I’m going for either a sunrise or sunset climb!

Although it can gain heavy foot traffic, Cathedral Rock is worth hiking to if you’re visiting the area. Especially since it is such a short hike! If you’re a photographer you’ll love this one.

As always, please be considerate of the environment so we can keep enjoying it and remember to leave no trace.

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6 thoughts on “Hiking Cathedral Rock: All you need to know

  1. James says:

    Hello Kara,
    There is an great loop hike that goes up the regular Cathedral Saddle, then proceeds up to the “male” saddle,
    then down that saddle and eventually down a somewhat challenging wash/canyon. You can return via the
    south side of Templeton back to the Cathedral trail or continue down the wash and end up at the parking
    lot. Some scrambling but highly recommended.

    • Kara says:

      Hi James! I’ve heard of this “other way to hike” Cathedral Rock before but your description gave me a better idea of it. I’ll have to look it up, I’d love to do it one day 🙂 Thank so much for sharing and for reading my post!

  2. Aranda says:

    Absolutely love your blog! Your photos at Cathedral Rock are fantastic. I’ve always wanted to travel to Arizona but it’s on my list of places to see and I’m not sure we will get there any time soon. I’ll bookmark this page though in case we get the chance. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    • Kara says:

      Thank you for reading, Aranda! I hope you get to make it to Arizona some day for it is truly a special place. Whenever you get the chance to start planning your trip I’m always here to help with rec’s 🙂

  3. Donna Garrison says:

    Your photos are stunning, Cathedral Rock is such a beautiful area. I am not sure I would want to get that close to the cliff edge. I’m feeling nervous just looking at that photo. Though it does make for a great memory of the hike.

    • Kara says:

      Thank you so much, Donna! Being that close to the edge gets me a little queasy even so I don’t blame you. I’m always slow and sure of my footing when approaching 🙂

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