If you’re fascinated by caves and the windows they create then you’ll love Keyhole Cave. This cave has a grand entrance that can be spotted miles away but is still tucked back off the beaten path so not many people visit it.
Getting to this Sedona cave isn’t for beginner hikers or those afraid of the challenge to climb 10+ feet of slick rock. It is truly an adventure finding this one, so keep reading to determine for yourself if you’re up for the challenge!
This guide covers all of the details and directions you need to know in order to successfully find Keyhole cave and have a safe adventure.
Hey there! Just so you know the below links contain affiliate links, which means I may receive commissions if you choose to purchase through my links (at no extra cost to you). You can visit my disclosure for more info.
This cave is 1 of 5 amazing caves within the Sedona Wilderness I’ve hiked to. Check out 5 of the best Sedona Caves and how to find them for more!
Keyhole Cave Hiking Stats
- Distance | 2.60 miles RT
- Difficulty | Difficult
- Elevation Gain | 529 feet
- Trailhead | Sugarloaf Trailhead
- Dog Friendly | Yes, but not recommended
- Fees | Red Rock Pass or America The Beautiful
Below is a map of the route to Keyhole Cave.
My directions in this guide may not be the best way to reach the Keyhole Cave, but are the way I found it which seems to be the most direct and less confusing. There are a few different ways to get here, but hopefully you find mine helpful!
While the route to Keyhole Cave can be traversed by dogs it is not recommended that they attempt to climb into the cave. The climb is 10+ feet and slippery which is not suitable for any dog. I’ve seen people post pictures with their dog in this cave, and I’ve come to the conclusion they must have hoisted them up.
Treat It Like Home!
When visiting please be respectful and treat the area like it’s your own. Sedona has been and continues to grow in popularity, making the streets and trails over crowded during peak seasons. Help preserve and protect our lands by following the Leave No Trace Principals:
- Plan ahead and prepare
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces
- Dispose of waste properly
- Leave what you find
- Minimize campfire impacts
- Respect wildlife
- Be considerate of other visitors
How To Get To Keyhole Cave
The hike to Keyhole Cave begins at Sugarloaf Trailhead which is tucked back in a Sedona Neighborhood. If you enter it into Google Maps it will take you right to it. There is a very small parking lot (maybe 12 spots) and you are not able to park on the neighborhood streets so it is best to arrive early.
If the lot is full you can try waiting for a bit to see if anyone leaves. I found people don’t stay here for very long since the trails are short and it is a fast turnaround.
An alternative parking area would be the Andante Trailhead which you can connect to the Sugarloaf Trailhead, and then begin the hike to Keyhole Cave. Doing so will add mileage to your overall hike, but sometimes it is better than waiting for parking. Pick your poison!
Sedona Shuttle System
Sedona has recently implemented a free shuttle system in attempt to free up traffic jams, neighborhood parking, and trail congestion. You can check out their routes on their website here.
Currently the Sedona Shuttle doesn’t service Sugarloaf Trail, so you still have to drive and park yourself.
Red Rock Pass Or America The Beautiful Pass
While parking at the Sugarloaf Trailhead you’ll need to display either a Red Rock Pass or America The Beautiful (Annual National Parks Pass) on your dashboard.
If you have the America The Beautiful Pass already then there is no need to purchase additional passes. I highly suggest investing in one of these if you plan on visiting 3 or more National Parks in 12 months time! It saves you money since it grants you access into all National Parks, Sedona Trails, and even more parks across the U.S. that accept it.
But if you do need to purchase a Red Rock Pass you can do so ahead of time on the recreation.gov site, or purchase from the ticket machine at the trailhead. You can even stop by any Sedona gas station and they’ll have them for sale also!
Best Time To Hike Keyhole Cave
The best season to hike to Keyhole Cave would be spring, late fall, or even during winter if there isn’t more than a light dusting of snow. This trail is very exposed and the climb up to it gets steep- I would not want to do this one in the summer heat or sun.
Since the route to get here is in a wash you want to be careful to not hike during or right after a rainstorm. You never want to be in a wash with chance of rain, just incase of flash floods. Also, be on the lookout for rattlesnakes for they like to sit on the rocks to soak up some sun.
As for the best time of day, it is always best to begin your Sedona hikes early in the morning to beat the crowds. But Keyhole Cave does become illuminated by the sun later in the early afternoon. This is when you’ll get those vibrant, glowing orange hues.
Preparation saves lives. Know where you are going ahead of time and always have a way to keep yourself on trail. One way to do this is with a GPS system or app such as Gaia GPS.
You can download my Keyhole Cave track and gain access to my library of all tracked hikes. Once downloaded, you can load it into your own trusty device for ease of mind!
Hiking To The Keyhole Cave
Now the real fun begins! At the Sugarloaf Trailhead you’re actually able to spot Keyhole Cave way off in the distance. It is straight back and looks like a giant gaping hole in the mountainside. This is where you are headed.
You’ll take Teacup Trail which begins right at the trailhead. Follow along for a little ways until you reach an intersection with Thunder Mountain Trail, about 0.4 miles in. Along the way there are several off trails that lead back up to the same place or meander off somewhere else. It can get a little confusing but if you have a map you can see the trail intersection on it which makes it much easier.
It isn’t that far until you’ll reach a sign marking the intersection. You’ll want to take a left like you’re hiking along Thunder Mountain Trail, but just after you turn left there will be a wash on your right side. Take this wash and it will lead you all the way up to the base of Keyhole Cave!
The wash is extremely rocky so be careful of your footing the entire way while looking out for snakes. Some branches hang low over the “trail” and you may need to use two hands to step over some large rock areas, but overall the wash is extremely easy to follow and traverse.
As you’re hiking up the wash you’ll notice several trails that zigzag across it. I tried following these trails last year during my first attempt to find Keyhole Cave and was unsuccessful. The trail was hard to follow, we didn’t know exactly where it started or ended, and we ended up bushwhacking and being way off of where we needed to be.
I found sticking to the wash is the easiest and most direct way to reach the cave. Along the way you can even see the gaping window in the distance as you head towards it.
Eventually you will find that the wash narrows a bit and becomes filled with fallen trees and rocks to climb over. This is when we hopped onto a trail on the left side of the wash and followed it directly to the base of the cave.
This was the right time to get on an actual trail because we were close enough to the base and we could see it, so we knew the trail led directly to it. Once you hop on the trail, though, the hike quickly becomes difficult because you have to climb the elevation up to the base of the cave.
The climb up is very steep and slippery. You’ll need to watch your footing on the scree and for cacti along the narrow trail. Be very careful as your coming back down! Take your time and take small steps to prevent slipping and falling back into a cactus.
I’m not going to lie, I fell back on my butt on the way down this trail! Luckily I missed the cactus and landed safely. You just never know when you’ll lose your footing on these desert rocks.
At the base of Keyhole Cave you’ll find that you need to climb a high, slick wall to get into it. We found the right side of the cave was easier to climb for it had foot holds and plenty of jagged rocks to hold on to. It was still difficult due to the sand and slippery rock, though.
We used the buddy system and went one after another, lending a hand and passing the pack up and down. You definitely don’t need ropes to get into the cave, just some guts to climb up and down it!
Once inside you can feel a breeze and the cooler temperatures, a wonderful break from the desert sun. Some visitors graffitied the cave walls- please do not draw or carve into the walls and leave them as is!
Tips For Your Keyhole Cave Hike
- Wear legging or long pants to protect your legs from prickly, overgrown vegetation.
- Watch for rattlesnakes in the wash. They like to bake in the sun spots.
- Arrive later in the afternoon for the best lighting but watch the daily high temperatures.
- If parking is full at Sugarloaf Trailhead you can extend your mileage by parking at Andante Trailhead instead.
- Use the buddy system as you climb into the cave and lend each other a hand.
- If there is rope in at the 10+ foot climb into the cave that others have left, do not trust it.
- Utilize my GPS track from my GPX File Library to find your way! You can access it by subscribing to this website.
Gear For Your Sedona Hike
When hiking Keyhole Cave there are some pieces of gear that would help make your experience more enjoyable. Having proper gear for your hikes is essential for safety and making the most of your time!
Investing in a sturdy pair of hiking shoes is always a good idea. They provide ultimate comfort, grip, and durability for the desert terrain. Typically I hike with my Adidas Terrex in the desert, but sometimes I choose to wear my Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid if it is chilly out or the hike will be wet. Solid choice if you require extra ankle support!
Merino Wool Socks
Moisture wicking socks are essential to prevent sweaty and blistery feet. They also are very warm and comfortable! I use Darn Tough Cushion Socks which are the perfect height to pair with boots and cover the heel, thus preventing blisters.
Hiking Backpack + Water Reservoir
Any normal backpack will do, but a quality backpack like Osprey Skarab 30 with straps, support, and breathability will feel like luxury during this hike. It also holds a water reservoir which makes it easier to carry water and stay hydrated on the trail without having to stop. Now a 30L pack is probably more than what most people need on a hike like Keyhole Cave. I just overpack and carry my tripod so it works for me, but a smaller Hikelite 18 would suffice.
This one is extremely important because in the desert the sun is almost always beaming. You should always pack sunscreen with you and apply it before setting out to hike. Coola is an organic sunscreen perfect for the outdoors. A hat, sunglasses, and a lip balm are also important sun protection items to carry.
Final Thoughts On Sedona’s Keyhole Cave
Part of the allure of Keyhole Cave for me was finding it myself. There wasn’t a lot of information online at the time and trying to follow other’s vague directions proved to be ineffective. I knew what it looked like and where it was, I just didn’t know how to get to it- now I’m glad I’ve figured it out!
Keyhole Cave is a very unique Sedona cave and probably my favorite of all so far. The climb up into it was slightly frightening and thrilling at the same time, and the view out the gaping window is one of a kind. From afar it doesn’t look that large, but once you’re up in it you really witness the grandness of it all.
I hope this trail guide helps you find this enormous Sedona cave. It truly is a off-beaten gem and perfect for silhouette photos!
New to hiking? Check out Hiking for Beginners 101- The Best Guide for New Hikers to get started!
More in Sedona:
- How to find Soldier Pass Cave- Sedona
- Hiking Cathedral Rock: All you need to know
- Hike to Devil’s Bridge in Sedona, Arizona
- Visit these 4 Sedona Wineries all in one day
- Hiking A.B. Young Trail to East Pocket (Edge of the World)