Of all the wonderful things to do in Sedona, Arizona, one of the most popular activities is trekking up the Cathedral Rock Trail. This trail is no secret-hundreds of adventure seekers hike here every day, even in the heat of the summer. However, there’s a reason why so many people do-the hike is fairly short (though a bit steep in spots), has great views during the majority of the hike and has a wonderful overlook and even a bit of shade on the top of the trail!
PARKING AND TRAILHEAD FOR THE CATHEDRAL ROCK TRAIL
The Cathedral Rock Trailhead is located about 4.3 miles south of the town of Sedona, which is reached by traveling south on Highway 179. When reaching the 5th traffic circle (after getting on 179), take a right (west) on the Back O Beyond Road. After just over 0.5 miles, the Cathedral Rock Trailhead is on your left.
- Directions from downtown Sedona to the Cathedral Rock Trailhead (this will take about 10 minutes, or about 15 minutes if you end up driving during high traffic periods)
- If coming from the south, here are directions from the intersection of Highways 179 and Interstate 17 to the Cathedral Rock Trailhead (this will take about 17 minutes, and there is rarely much traffic on this beautiful stretch of highway)
There are about 40 parking spots between two adjacent parking lots. There is room to park on Back O Beyond Road, but only a little. Make sure you check the signs around the lots to verify that it’s legal to park in your chosen spot, or the hike could turn into a bit of a longer “adventure” than you initially signed up for!
If there isn’t a parking spot available when you arrive, you may have to wait a bit. Spots open up about once every 3-5 minutes, depending on the time of day (it will be longer if it is in the morning when people are just making their way out on the trail).
Many trails in Sedona require a Red Rock Pass or an America the Beautiful Interagency Pass, and Cathedral Rock is one of those. You can purchase it right at the trailhead.
There are restrooms available at the trailhead, but there are none while out on the trail.
PREPARATION FOR HIKING THE CATHEDRAL ROCK TRAIL
We can’t emphasize enough the importance of being prepared prior to heading out on this trail. There are a few things that you’ll want to make sure you bring:
- It’s hot and dry out here. Even when the weather is relatively cool in the winter (it can snow here), it is very dry. Make sure you prepare yourself by bringing a large water bottle or a hydration pack.
- Sun Protection. We wear sunscreen and hats when we hike typically, and out here on this trail you are exposed for most of the hike.
- Trail Map. Ahead of your hike you’ll likely want to have a local trail map. There is a trail map at the beginning of the hike (which you can take a photo of). There is also the Cathedral Rock Trail Map from the Coconino National Forest website. Finally, and the one that we recommend, is to grab a copy of the Sedona area hiking map from National Geographic. It’s highly detailed, tear resistant and has great information about the area.
- Many hikes in the Sedona area require only sneakers (or in some cases water shoes). Some can even be done in flip-flops. Not this hike. For the Cathedral Rock Trail, we recommend wearing boots, or at least sturdy hiking shoes. Either way, you’ll want something with good grip to handle the steepness of the trail and the relatively smooth rockface. You also may even want something with ankle support, particularly when going down.
HIKING THE CATHEDRAL ROCK TRAIL
The trail begins on the southwest side of the parking area, and it really easy to find. The first 0.2-miles is a breeze, gaining only about one hundred feet as it heads across a flat trail leading to the red rocks. It’s here that the trail starts to gain in elevation a bit more aggressively.
This incline continues for about 0.4 miles and includes an area of “one-way” only traffic through a narrow path (crevasse) between two rocks. It was here that we had to use both our hands and feet to get up. Our kids had no problem navigating the trail, though we ended up hiking a bit slower as we were more cautious!
The rest of the way up to Cathedral Rock, you start to get a taste of the view that you’ll have from the top. Since the trail is exposed, the views the entire way up are great.
The hike ends at the Cathedral Rock Overlook. This incredible plateau sits between two large spires that bookend the viewpoint. From here you can see Courthouse Rock, but also absolutely amazing views to the west. The trail doesn’t actually climb the entire way up Cathedral Rock, so don’t expect to have to climb the entire way up!
Amy enjoyed walking over to a great photo spot on the right side of the overlook-it was too daring for me to head over there! I just enjoyed taking photos and living to see another day hiking!
The hike down went quickly-the kids hiked down fast and since we got an early start we ended up meeting a lot of people on the way up. There was a bit of a jam at the crevasse, but otherwise it went very smoothly.
The entire hike was a about 1.2 miles (round-trip) and had 740 feet in total elevation gain.
HIKING THE RED ROCK CROSSING TRAIL TO CATHEDRAL ROCK
If you have a bit of extra time on your hands and are looking for a bit more of a longer adventure, start at the end of Red Rock Crossing Road (or at the end of Verde Valley School Road, accessed via the town of Oak Creek to the south) and hike on the Red Rock Crossing Trail to the Baldwin and Templeton Trails. The trail follows the Oak Creek for the majority of the hike.
After 1.6 miles, the trail will meet up with the Cathedral Rock Trail. From here it is about 0.5 miles to the overlook.
This trail has a total elevation gain of just over 1,000 feet, with most of the elevation gain happening on the Cathedral Rock Trail.
- We hiked several trail in Sedona, and this happened to be the first. By all means, it was well worth the time! This is one of the best trails in Sedona if you are looking for something short with a great payoff.
- We ended up getting to the trail around 7:15 am and were glad that we did. We hiked in the summer, and this allowed us to almost beat the heat and definitely beat the crowds. This is one of the top-rated hikes in the area and you’ll definitely want to arrive early (or in the evening).
- This hike is a great place to view sunsets, but if you do make sure you bring a good headlamp to help you get down easily!
FURTHER INFORMATION ON SEDONA FROM JUST GO TRAVEL STUDIOS
- Sedona is a popular vacation spot, and trying to figure out how best to spend your time in the area can be challenging. Ahead of your visit, make sure you check out our extensive blog on What to See and Do in Sedona.
- When you return from your trip, be sure to look us up and we can work with you to create a custom, vintage-style poster from a photo that you send to us.