Hiking the Cathedral Rock Trail in Sedona Arizona

Taking a detour from our typical national park content today to post about one of our favorite hikes in the Sedona area from our 2019 Arizona road trip.  The red rocks of Sedona attract hikers from all over the globe.  One of the most popular hikes and our favorite of the trip was The Cathedral Rock Trail. 

This short, but heavily trafficked hike challenges your body, but provides ample rewards with some of the best views of the Sedona area, Red Rocks State Park, and the Coconino National Forest.  During certain seasons, unforgettable wildflowers bloom along the trail as well.  You’ll start in a small parking area and immediately begin to ascend up to the saddle of the Cathedral Rock formation. 

Catheral Rocks Trailhead Sign in Sedona Arizona

Our Hike Up the Cathedral Rock Trail

It took us about 45 minutes on our first morning in Sedona to reach the saddle.  We arrived at the trailhead early, by 7 AM to beat the crowds. 

At one point, you travel through a near vertical 60 foot crevice in the rock.  At one point, we both decided it was a good thing that neither of our mothers knew what we were up to that day (they might have had something to say about the calculated risk!)

Scaling Rock Crevice on the Cathedral Rock Trail

The trail is well marked with stone cairns and plenty of fellow hikers.  After another section up we stopped for a snack and to catch the morning fog burning off the valley below.  

The Cathedral Rock Trail has become Instagram-famous for a spot at the saddle where you walk slightly past the end of the trail out on a near-vertical rock face and look back at the camera. The resulting photo is jaw-dropping, making it appear like you’re hanging off the side of the rock face (again, not something our mothers probably appreciate as much as we do!) 

Cathedral Rocks Saddle

Our review: 

One of our favorites in Sedona, but not for every hiker.  Know your limits and your tolerance for crowds.  By the time we began our descent back to the parking area, the steady conga line of hikers going up for the day already started. 

Cathedral Rocks View from the Saddle

About the Cathedral Rock Trail

Distance: 1.2 miles round trip
Elevation Change: About 744 feet.
Trail Type: Out-and-back hike to the Cathedral Rock formation 
Difficulty: Difficult to Strenuous
Suitable for kids or knee issues? Probably not for every hiking family.  The trail requires some scrambling and shuffling up/down through a 60-foot crevice.  We did see several families on the trail (and it’s dog-friendly), but best to know your limits.
Our total hiking time: Allow 2 hours – it took us 45 minutes to ascend to the Cathedral Rock saddle and about 30 minutes to return to the car. 
Other Nearby Hiking Options: The Sedona area has more than 170 different trail options at all fitness levels.  We recommend stopping at the Red Rock Visitor’s Center or picking up a local trail guide for more options.

Park Chasers Hiking the Cathedral Rock Trail in Sedona Arizona

The Trailhead 

The trailhead for the Cathedral Rocks Trail can be found off Back O’Beyond Road, just south of downtown Sedona.  The trailhead is on the south side of the road and only has around 20 parking spaces.  You’ll need to arrive early in the day to grab a spot here as they fill very quickly.   

It’s also an option to drive slightly farther down Back O’Beyond Road to a second, larger parking area and hike from the Baldwin or Templeton trails.  Both parking areas require a parking permit for Red Rocks State Park.  Your National Park Service annual pass also covers the parking fee. 

Trail up Cathedral Rocks

What You’ll See 

The trail descends right from the parking area into a wash.  Cross the wash and immediately being the lung-blowing ascent up to the Cathedral Rocks saddle.  As you ascend, make sure you stop to take in the views behind you of the Sedona Valley.  (We promise you’ll appreciate the chance to catch your breath!) 

At the top, you’ll be offered 360 degree views of the entire Red Rocks State Park and surrounding area.  The saddle area is narrow, maybe the width of a sidewalk, and can be busy during peak hiking season.  There was enough room for us to share a quick snack before we headed back down.

Hike Up Cathedral Rocks

Other Tips about the Cathedral Rocks Trail 

  • While we chose to hike Cathedral Rocks early in the morning before the heat, the trail heads up the eastern side of the rock formation.  In that way, most guide books say it’s best to hike in the afternoon when the trail is shaded.  We didn’t find the sun to be too much of an issue and the crowds were far less in the morning. 
  • The views on the trail are quite stunning, even if you don’t travel all the way up to the saddle. Choose the stopping point that makes the most sense for your own body—it’s worth it either way. 
  • Most of the climbing areas are well-worn and require sturdy, hiking footwear.  We repeat–this is NOT a flip-flop hiking stop.  You need traction on multiple parts of this trail!
Cathedral Rock Trail - Sedona, AZ


Greg & Amy
Chasing a visit to all 400+ units in the NPS
Current Count: 130/423
Next Stop: @hawaiivolcanoes


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