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Exploring Sedona's Cathedral Rock Trail

Updated: Nov 9, 2020

There's nothing more beautiful when visiting Sedona than getting up close and personal with those iconic red rocks. The popular and high-trafficked Cathedral Rock is an epic photo backdrop, and also provides a fun trail to climb right up inside it's saddle points or "gaps". You can get a great photo of this ominous formation just from the parking lot, but for the adventurous types, hiking up into this famous landmark is worth every step.


Length: 1.4 miles out and back | Level: Moderate -Hard due to the steep but manageable climb toward the end | Duration: 3-4 hours Elevation: 600 | Dogs: Yes on leash | Parking fee: $5 - you must have a Red Rock Pass to park.

cathedral rock trailhead sedona

Anytime of the day is great for this hike when visiting in the winter months as the weather is perfect and rarely too hot. I visited here in November of last year and we spent a whole afternoon here just up through sunset. Allow a few hours for the trail. Though it's short, there are multiple views where you'll want to stop, take photos and just look at all the beauty!

Quick Trail Tips:

  • Wear sturdy hiking shoes with good grip- it will make the steep and smoother trail parts easier. I have these from Salomon and I love them. I wouldn't try this hike in regular gym shoes.

  • Bring climbing type gloves or hiking poles - they aren't necessary but are very helpful in certain areas. I wore mountain biking gloves as I happened to have them and they were super helpful when climbing up the steep parts. I did not use poles but many other hikers did.

  • The steep parts are manageable even if you are afraid of heights. It looks and sounds worse than it actually is.

  • Dress in light layers- it is hot while hiking but breezy at the top.

  • You will need the Red Rock Trail pass to access and park here. They are available at the Visitor Center in Sedona.

Begin at the trail-head, which is right off the parking lot. If the lot is full, you can try to find parking on the street but be careful- even with the Red Rock pass, they will give out tickets if you are in an unauthorized spot. The first half mile of the trail is easy with a small incline to the base of the rock. You will gradually make your way up to an open red rock area.

cathedral rock trailhead sedona

Once you get to this point, the trail doesn't really look like a trail anymore as it's all of this smoother type red rock. This trail is well marked with stacked rock trail markers as you can see here above, so it's easy to stay on route. You will be able to follow all of the markers up through the top so at times even if you stray to take a photo or feel lost, it's simple to get back on track.

cathedral rock trail sedona

Following that, comes your steep climb! As I mentioned above, this part is steep but it looks scarier than it actually is. I have issues with ledges, so the good thing about this here is that you are basically crawling up through a crevice with plenty of places to put your hands and feet. This part is where my gloves came in handy! You can't actually see around to any drop-offs so I didn't feel unsafe or afraid of falling. The view in the photo above is halfway up, looking down.

Moving long through the slot up the rock, you will continue to see trail markers, as well as a few stop off places where you can stop to rest, or let the faster people pass you. From this view looking up, it looks like a super steep climb, but when you are in it, it does not feel or look that way at all. And once you arrive at the top, you can look down (above right) to see your whole progression from the parking lot!

cathedral rock trail sedona

After that, the worst is over and you can continue up to what now looks like a trail again to the top. It winds around for less than a half of a mile until you make your climb right into the saddle and one of the best places to watch the sunset in AZ! Head on over to my Facebook Page for my FULL 360 view of the top!

top of cathedral rock trail sedona

Spend sometime up here- either to watch the sunset, or to explore both sides of the saddle. As you can see, there are a ton of great photo ops! To the left of the end of trail sign, is a tunnel type area where you can see through to the other side. And to the right, is this beautiful shot on the ledge.

There are plenty of people up there to take your photo on this spot, and it's another one that seems scarier than it is- so just walk on out there and go for it! It is also super easy to setup a tripod and get as many shots as you like. Again, less scary on the ledge than it looks because there is actually plenty of space and enough ground that angles out below so you don't have a super sharp drop as these photos imply.

view on top of cathedral rock trail

I've done a lot of hikes and tours in Sedona, and this one is definitely one of my favorites! Great way to spend the afternoon and really experience the rocks!

Trailhead address: 500 Back O Beyond Rd, Sedona, AZ 86336

Google Map Coordinates here.

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