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How To Hike Cathedral Rock Trail In Sedona, Arizona

How To Hike Cathedral Rock Trail In Sedona, Arizona

Cathedral Rock is a skyline dominating sandstone butte in Sedona, Arizona. It’s one of the most photographed natural landmarks in Arizona and it’s among the most popular hikes in Sedona, particularly at sunrise and sunset.

In this guide, we’re going to walk you through everything you need to know about hiking the iconic Cathedral Rock Trail in Sedona, Arizona based on our experiences.

Our Cathedral Rock Experience

Hiker with pink raincoat and gloves on a sunny morning in winter exploring northern arizona
Kristen hiking down Cathedral Rock Trail after sunrise in December

We hiked Cathedral Rock in Sedona on a clear and chilly morning at the end of 2021. It was our eighth and final day in Sedona, so we wanted to finish in style.

We climbed the steep Cathedral Rock Trail with headlamps so we could watch sunrise from the summit and it was a truly wonderful experience. In fact, we enjoyed this trail so much that we included it in our popular guide to the 50 best hikes in the US.

Hiking Tip: When exploring outdoors, be sure to always practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace to preserve natural beauty so others can enjoy the same environments.

Cathedral Rock Trail Variations

Map of 5 hiking trail options to access Cathedral Rock in Sedona Arizona colored lines marking options hikers have when parking is full at the trailhead
Map of the five trail options for hiking Cathedral Rock in Sedona

The most important place to begin this Cathedral Rock hiking guide is with parking and trailhead options.

Think of Sedona’s vast network of hiking trails as a spider’s web with various connector paths and routes spread across the city.

There are 5 different trails leading to Cathedral Rock (use the map image above for reference):

  • 1. Cathedral Rock Trail – Blue line from Cathedral Rock trailhead parking
  • 2. Templeton Trail – Purple line either via Slim Shady (left arm) or Hermit (right arm) from Yavapai Vista Point parking
  • 3. Easy Breezy Trail – Orange line from Bell Rock parking
  • 4. Red Rock Crossing Trail – Gold line from Red Rock Crossing parking in Crescent Moon Picnic Area
  • 5. Baldwin Trail – Red line from Baldwin trailhead parking

All of the trails listed above lead to a crossroads marking the beginning of the climb to summit Cathedral Rock. You can see the crossroads where all the trail lines meet in the image above.

Cathedral Rock Trailhead is accessed by Back O Beyond parking lot. This is the most popular parking lot with the quickest ascent.

Taking Alternative Trails

Why do you need to know about other options when Cathedral Rock Trail looks the shortest?

Because getting parked at Cathedral Rock trailhead is near impossible at times. We’re talking about one of the most popular hikes in Sedona here.

Not everyone is going to be able to take the more popular (and shorter) Cathedral Rock Trail, so you need a backup plan.

If Back O Beyond parking area is full, you could end up driving 30 or 40 minutes to reach any of the other lots during peak seasons in Sedona.

Cathedral Rock Parking

Let’s take a closer look at the 5 Cathedral Rock parking areas in Sedona, with hiking statistics from each trailhead.

1. Cathedral Rock Trail – Best Option

Parking lot for the Cathedral Rock Trail hike on back o beyond road in sedona arizona at sunrise with spaces free
Our car parked at Cathedral Rock Trailhead early on a cold December morning in Sedona
  • Distance: 1.2 miles roundtrip
  • Elevation: 700 ft
  • Trailhead: Cathedral Rock Trailhead
  • Location: Back O’ Beyond Road
  • Parking: Google Maps location

Cathedral Rock Trail is the shortest and most iconic route to use for ascending Cathedral Rock. This version of the hike is just 1.2 miles roundtrip but it is steep from the start.

We strongly recommend you take this route if you can get parked. Arrive early to give yourself the best chance at parking. This route will give you the most direct hike when compared to all other options.

We made an attempt to hike Cathedral Rock for sunset the evening before we eventually hiked for sunrise. However, there was an enormous line of cars trying to park at Back O Beyond lot so we instantly gave up on that idea!

2. Templeton Trail (East)

View from the top of Cathedral Rock Trail hike in Sedona at sunrise
Mark at the saddle summit of Cathedral Rock
  • Distance: 6 miles roundtrip
  • Elevation: 1,100 ft
  • Trailhead: Yavapai Vista Point
  • Location: Highway 179
  • Parking: Google Maps location

Templeton Trail begins at Yavapai Vista Point parking lot which is primarily an overflow parking area for Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte.

From Yavapai Vista you can take either Slim Shady or Hermit to join Templeton Trail, before heading west to Cathedral Rock. Slim Shady has slightly more elevation when compared with Hermit.

An early morning hike from here would allow you to benefit from the sun glowing on Cathedral Rock’s eastern face.

3. Easy Breezy Trail (East)

Yavapai Vista Point alternative parking lot for hiking Cathedral Rock Trail in Sedona distant formation
View over Cathedral Rock from the east
  • Distance: 6.5 miles roundtrip
  • Elevation: 900 ft
  • Trailhead: Bell Rock Trailhead
  • Location: Highway 179
  • Parking: Google Maps location

Easy Breezy Trail starts at Bell Rock Trail parking lot. Walk along Phone Trail, Bell Rock Trail and Templeton Trail for a combined 0.5 miles, before starting on Easy Breezy Trail which goes all the way to Cathedral Rock Trailhead.

This version of the hike is flat and easy until you reach the climb at Cathedral Rock.

We think this parking lot offers the perfect solution for hikers who want to do both Cathedral Rock and Bell Rock without having to worry about parking in two different places.

4. Red Rock Crossing Trail (West)

Oak Creek in Crescent Moon overlooking Cathedral Rock in Sedona Arizona
Cathedral Rock from Red Rock Crossing
  • Distance: 4 miles roundtrip
  • Elevation: 1,000 ft
  • Trailhead: Crescent Moon Picnic Site
  • Location: Red Rock Crossing Road
  • Parking: Google Maps location

Red Rock Crossing Trail is a short, flat and picturesque hike to reach Cathedral Rock Trail. You will need to cross through Oak Creek in order to access the west side of Templeton Trail, which could mean getting your feet wet.

Our photo above is the iconic view over Oak Creek and Cathedral Rock from Red Rock Crossing.

Important: You need a separate parking pass called Big Three Pass to enter Crescent Moon Picnic Site. It is not part of the Red Rock Pass or the America the Beautiful Interagency Pass. You must pay at a kiosk upon entry to Crescent Moon.

5. Baldwin Trail (West) – Best Alternative

Templeton trail sign marker with formations behind on a sunny morning
Meeting point of Templeton and Cathedral Rock Trails
  • Distance: 4 miles roundtrip
  • Elevation: 1,000 ft
  • Trailhead: Baldwin Trailhead
  • Location: Verde Valley School Road
  • Parking: Google Maps location

Baldwin Trail is the second best option for hiking Cathedral Rock. It is the same distance and elevation as Red Rock Crossing but you don’t have to cross a creek and get wet.

There are around 40 parking spaces and you can use the same Red Rock or America the Beautiful Pass as most other hikes in Sedona. So you won’t have to purchase an additional pass like at Crescent Moon.

The trail is flat and easy until you reach the climb for Cathedral Rock. Late afternoon and just before sunset provide the most picturesque views from the west side as the sun lights up Cathedral Rock.

Sedona Shuttle

Hiking back down cathedral rock trail in sedona after summiting for sunrise blue sky and yellow glow
Kristen hiking around the middle section of the trail

If you want to hike the more popular Cathedral Rock Trail without the hassle of getting parked, we strongly recommend you consider taking the Sedona shuttle park and ride.

Bus number 15 (orange line) runs every 15 minutes from 8:00am through 5:30pm from North SR-179 to Cathedral Rock trailhead during peak season in Sedona.

The trip takes 10 minutes and the bus returns to the park and ride after each run. The final trip back from Cathedral Rock trailhead to North SR-179 is at 6:20pm.

Cathedral Rock Hiking Walkthrough

The short climb to Cathedral Rock summit is one of the best things to do in Arizona and it is among our top Sedona recommendations for first time visitors.

We are going to walk you though the hike from Cathedral Rock Trailhead to the summit based on our experience with plenty of our own photos so you can see exactly what you are getting into!

Important: If you take any of the alternative routes, they all converge at the same point around 0.3 miles into Cathedral Rock Trail. The rest of the hike (up to the summit) is the same for all trail options.

1. Park Up And Walk To The Trail Junction

Dusty path with rock formation on a clear day with blue sky
The beginning of Cathedral Rock Trail

Park at Back O Beyond main parking lot or the overflow lot located a few meters further down the road. Use the vault toilets and a buy a Red Rock Pass at the ticket machine if you need one.

Head onto the trail and you will pass through a dry bed creek. When we hiked Cathedral Rock Trail in December there was a thin film of ice covering the creek but this won’t be an issue if you visit in the warmer seasons.

Continue along the dirt track with fences running on either side, as you can see in the photo above. At the end of this dirt path you will reach the trail junction connecting Templeton, Easy Breezy, Red Rock Crossing and Baldwin.

2. Follow The Basket Cairns

Basket cairns filled with stones on red rocks at sunrise
You will find basket cairns dotted along the climb

The trail junction is located on a rocky shelf-like plateau. From this point you will begin to gain elevation and move around to the eastern face of Cathedral Rock.

Look for basket cairns on the wide open trail to guide you. This lower portion of Cathedral Rock Trail is easier going, but it is about to get interesting.

3. Time To Scramble

Tricky section of rocks to climb slippery when wet
Hikers passing on the steep scramble section

Next, you will reach the hardest part of the trail which requires some scrambling. This is the most difficult part of the ascent and descent but it is a lot of fun.

The rocks can be very slippery when wet or icy so it is important you have robust footwear for this section. Be aware of any loose rocks falling from above as others climb.

Use your hands and feet so you have four points of contact on the rocks, which will allow you to distribute your weight around evenly.

4. Views Opening Up Over Sedona

Looking out over sedona arizona from half way up cathedral rock trail before sunrise
The steep elevation gain quickly reveals stunning views over Sedona

Once you climb the steep scramble section, you are instantly rewarded with fantastic views over Sedona. They never get old!

We took the photo above at dawn before the sun had risen above Sedona’s red rock landscape.

The popular Broken Arrow Jeep trail is located within the first set of rocks and Schnebly Hill Road Jeep trail takes you to the top of those taller cliffs in the distance.

5. Half Way

Looking up at the summit of Cathedral Rock trail hiking for sunrise in sedona hoodoo like needle rock formations
Looking up at the Cathedral Rock spires from half way up the trail

You are now over half way up Cathedral Rock. Continue following the basket cairns on this wide open rocky section of the trail.

Looking at our photo above, you are aiming for the V shaped gap in the middle. At this point we were racing against the sunrise!

6. Switchbacks

Follow the Juniper Trees with huge thick trunks bursting out of orange sandstone
Kristen walking back down the switchbacks after sunrise

The final ascent of Cathedral Rock is a series of short zig-zagging switchbacks. Here, you are climbing a steep rock face covered with loose sand and stones.

Try to stick to the parts of rock that are clear of dirt and gravel to make gripping easier. Look out for enormous Juniper trees scattered all across the trail close to the top.

You’ll know when you’re almost at the summit as you approach a flat rocky area flanked on either side by huge spires.

7. End Of Trail

End of trail sign hiking cathedral rock trail in sedona az

What awaits you as you reach that flat horizon?

An end of trail sign at the top of a wide saddle like plateau. But don’t worry, this is not the end of the trail.

You have reached the saddle of Cathedral Rock, which has now opened up views looking to the west for the first time since you began climbing.

8. Left Turn On The Saddle Of Cathedral Rock

Narrow path leading to a hidden climb at the top of Cathedral Rock trail hike in sedona az
Kristen walking the narrow trail on Cathedral Rock saddle

Approach the end of trail sign on the saddle, turn left (heading south) and pass behind the rock on a narrow trail.

In the photo above we were on the way back to the end of trail sign so you would be heading in the opposite direction here.

Walk a very short distance and you will find another left turn leading to a steep slope which climbs even higher.

9. Steep Climb To Hidden Summit

Short steep climb up slickrock to reach a view over needle like rocks
Climb to a hidden summit at the top of Cathedral Rock

The final climb to a hidden second summit is steep and you will have to use your hands. Take your time and find the safest path up to the top.

This is a really fun part of Cathedral Rock trail with huge rock walls to either side as you climb toward a single needle-like rock tower.

10. Sunrise Behind Courthouse Butte

Sunrise behind Courthouse Butte from the summit Cathedral Rock trail hike in sedona arizona
Our sunrise photo from the hidden summit of Cathedral Rock

If you hike Cathedral Rock for sunrise like we did, you might be able to capture the sun rising beautifully behind Courthouse Butte as you can see in the photo above.

Along with one other hiker, the three of us were the only people at the top of this hidden summit on Cathedral Rock for sunrise.

It’s well worth making the effort to get up here for sunrise. Not only is it spectacularly beautiful, but it also means you don’t have to worry about parking.

Both summit areas will be much busier during the day. The views are just as good, but you will need to take care when passing other hikers on the narrower trail sections.

Pros and Cons

Sliding down a narrow slickrock section of the hike to Cathedral Rock Trail summit in Sedona AZ smooth rocks in shadow right after sunrise
Kristen carefully climbing down the rocky scramble section

Let’s take a quick look at some of the pros and cons to hiking Cathedral Rock. Our opinions here are based on having hiked almost every trail in Sedona.

Pros:

  • One of the most iconic hikes in Sedona
  • Short hike if starting at Cathedral Rock trailhead
  • Stunning views in all directions
  • Excellent sunrise and sunset location

Cons:

  • Extremely busy trail
  • Getting parked is a real challenge
  • Steep and often slippery sections of rock
  • Not much room at the summit

Parking Passes

Cactus with snow and ice as the sun is rising on top of Cathedral Rock trail in Sedona arizona
Frozen cactus near the summit after sunrise

Yes, you need to display either a Red Rock Pass or America the Beautiful Interagency Pass on your vehicle dashboard for the duration of your hike to Cathedral Rock in Sedona.

You can buy a Red Rock Pass at this specific recreation.gov site in advance, or you can buy one at a ticket machine when you arrive in person.

Red Rock Pass options include:

  • 1 Day Red Rock Pass – $5
  • 7 Day Red Rock Pass – $15
  • Red Rock Annual Pass – $20

Do you have an America the Beautiful National Parks Pass? You can use this instead of a Red Rock Pass at these trailheads in Sedona.

Best Time To Hike Cathedral Rock Sedona

Hiker standing on distant orange rock next to a huge needle formation with the sun rising behind the rock
Mark climbing to a great photo spot at the hidden summit

The optimal time to hike Cathedral Rock Trail in Sedona would be for sunrise or sunset in spring or fall when the temperatures are perfect for hiking and the light is soft.

However, getting parked for a sunset hike in the busy seasons of spring and fall is difficult. So our advice is to hike early in the morning and avoid weekends, holidays or summer months if possible.

Here are some tips:

  • You should arrive just before first light to get a parking spot for sunrise
  • Arrive at least 3 hours before sunset to wait for a parking spot or choose another place to park in Sedona
  • Winter offers the perfect opportunity for getting a parking spot at Cathedral Rock trailhead and experiencing a much quieter hike
  • Hike less popular trails on weekends and hike Cathedral Rock on a weekday

What To Pack

Sliding down red rocks on a sunny day in winter
Kristen sliding down some of the steeper smooth rocks

Cathedral Rock Trail is a short hike that will take around 2 hours to hike so you don’t need to carry a big backpack full of gear.

What to wear and take along:

  • Footwear – Good shoes are essential for hiking to Cathedral Rock. Without a solid grip on your sole, you will slip and slide all over the rocks.
  • Water – This is a short hike but it is completely open, exposed and steep to climb so you’ll need plenty of water. Summer months require more water and even electrolyte drinks.
  • Sun protection – Sunglasses, sun hats, long layers and sunscreen are vital if you are visiting Sedona in summer.

Our Top 5 Tips

View over Cathedral Rock Trail and formation from Pyramid Mountain in Sedona
Mark hiking Pyramid Trail with awesome views over Cathedral Rock
  1. Use Baldwin Trail if you can’t get parked at Cathedral Rock Trailhead
  2. Wear the pair of shoes you know has the best grip
  3. If hiking in winter you will need layers, hats and gloves for sunrise or sunset
  4. Renting a jeep or ATV won’t get you to any secret parking areas for this hike
  5. The end of trail sign is not the end of the trail

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In Conclusion

Cathedral Rock Trail is one of the most famous hikes in Sedona, Arizona. Previous hikers rate it at 4.8 / 5 on All Trails. The hike is short but steep and you’ll need shoes with good traction. Back O’ Beyond is the best place to park but you need a backup plan in case the lot is full.

Is Cathedral Rock worth it?

Yes! Climbing to Cathedral Rock summit for sunrise was one of our favorite Sedona experiences and we’d do it again in a heartbeat. It’s a fun and incredibly photogenic hike, and it should definitely be included in your Sedona itinerary.

More Sedona Hikes

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Want more Arizona content? Head over to our Arizona Travel Guides to explore the best of Grand Canyon, Sedona and beyond.


We hope this guide to hiking Cathedral Rock Trail helps with planning your visit to Sedona, Arizona!

Please let us know if you have any questions about hiking Cathedral Rock Trail or your visit to Sedona in the comments below.

Happy Hiking,

Mark and Kristen

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Linda Gaede

Thursday 5th of January 2023

How do we get to the Crescent Moon Picnic Site and to the place along Oak Creek where you get the reflection of Cathedral Rock in the water? Also, what time of day is the best for pictures? Very interested in finding this spot, so any info you can provide would be much appreciated. Thanks!!

Mark and Kristen Morgan

Thursday 12th of January 2023

Hi Linda, you just need to head out west of Sedona on 89A, turn left onto Red Rock Loop Road, turn left onto Chavez Ranch Road, turn right onto Red Rock Crossing Road and enter Crescent Moon Picnic Site. There is an entry fee for the picnic area - keep your pass because you can use it to park for hiking West Fork Trail to the north of Sedona if you are interested. The photo spot is easy to find, stay close to the entrance and walk to the river. Sunrise would be great because it will be quieter and the sun will rise from behind Cathedral Rock, but sunset is better because Cathedral Rock will glow a beautiful orange and red color. Have a great trip!