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How To Hike Keyhole Cave In Sedona Arizona

How To Hike Keyhole Cave In Sedona Arizona

Keyhole Cave is the most adventurous of the popular ‘hidden’ caves in Sedona. The hike to Keyhole Cave is not on any map, the trail is not marked and the cave access climb is not easy. Three awesome reasons a hike to Keyhole Cave should be an essential part of your Sedona itinerary.

Where is Keyhole Cave in Sedona?

Keyhole Cave is a southwest facing chamber located in Coconino National Forest just north of downtown Sedona. The cave is accessed partly via Teacup Trail but mostly via off-trail land, which means forging a path through wilderness.

In this guide we will cover:

  • Where to park
  • Which pass you need to display
  • Exactly how to find Keyhole Cave
  • Full hiking walkthrough
  • Photos of the trail and cave

Let’s hike to the amazing secret Keyhole Cave in Sedona Arizona!

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Keyhole Cave Sedona Hiking Statistics

  • Trail Distance: 2.3 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 500 feet
  • Hike Difficulty: Moderate but cave access is hard
  • Time Required: 3 hours
  • Trailhead: Teacup Trailhead / Sugar Loaf Trailhead
  • Best Time: Mid morning to mid afternoon

Looking for hiking inspiration? Read our popular guide to the 50 best hikes in the USA next!

Where To Park For Hiking To Keyhole Cave

Parking lot Sugar Loaf Loop Trail and Teacup Trail for hiking to Keyhole Cave in Sedona

The best parking lot to use for hiking to Keyhole Cave is Sugar Loaf Trailhead. This lot is also known as Teacup Trailhead and is located in a residential area on Buena Vista Drive in north Sedona.

This small parking area with just 12 spaces is often full. There are no places you can park on the residential streets nearby.

Most people are parking here to hike Sugar Loaf Loop and climb Sugarloaf Mountain. You will be parking here to go off-trail and hike to Keyhole Cave.

Here’s the Sugar Loaf parking lot Google Maps location to plug into your GPS.

Parking Tips

  • Arrive early to the lot in peak season for the best chance of snagging a coveted parking spot.
  • Visit Sedona outside of peak season to give yourself higher odds of getting parked up any time of day.
  • Andante Trailhead has just 7 parking spaces but you can use it to access Andante Trail, which leads to Thunder Mountain Trail and eventually to the Teacup Trail at the exact point you will go off-trail.
  • Head over and try Andante as your best backup option if you can’t get parked at Sugar Loaf and it looks like you won’t be able to any time soon.

Do You Need A Parking Pass To Hike Keyhole Cave?

Hiking trail leading to Keyhole Cave in Sedona Arizona on a blue sky day

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 Keyhole Cave in Sedona if you park at Sugar Loaf Trailhead.

Red Rock Pass

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 at either parking lot listed further in this guide.

Red Rock Pass options include:

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

If you plan to hike more trails around Sedona over a period of 2 – 7 days, you should buy the 7 day pass because you will need it at many other trailheads in the area.

America The Beautiful Pass

Are you a regular visitor to US National Parks and Monuments?

It’s highly likely you already have an annual National Parks pass, which is also known as America the Beautiful or the Interagency Pass.

Don’t have one yet?

Read our guide on why America the Beautiful national parks pass is one of the best things you can buy if you plan to visit multiple parks in the next year.

Instead of buying a Red Rock Pass for your visit to Sedona you can simply display your America the Beautiful Pass at every hiking trailhead.

Are you planning to hike more trails in the area?

You will need either a Red Rock Pass (or America the Beautiful Pass) to access this list of places in Sedona.

Map Of The Keyhole Cave Hike In Sedona

Map of the Keyhole Cave hike in Sedona Arizona with directions and parking lots

The map above shows exactly what you can expect when hiking to Keyhole Cave.

Map key:

  • Blue Line – Most direct route to reach Keyhole Cave
  • Red Line – Andante Trail backup parking area
  • Orange Stars – Off trail hiking between stars

Keyhole Cave Trail Walkthrough

Let’s get into the Keyhole Cave hiking walkthrough.

You will begin in Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness before passing into Coconino National Forest.

We will include photos for every step so you can visualize the trail. Use the images during your hike to keep track of where you are along the adventure to Keyhole Cave.

Sedona Hiking – We have included Keyhole Cave in our roundup of the 20 best hikes in Sedona as one of the harder trails. See which other hikes make the cut!

Park Up And Display Or Buy A Pass

The good news about a southwest facing cave is you can visit anytime between mid morning and late afternoon for the best light.

It’s still a good idea to try getting parked early in the morning so you beat the mid morning rush. Alternatively, try parking at around 2pm so you miss the busiest period.

Once you’re parked at Sugar Loaf Trailhead, don’t forget to display your America the Beautiful pass or Red Rock Pass. If you don’t have either, buy a 1 day or 7 day pass at the ticket machine or online at recreation.gov.

Take Teacup Trail

Teacup Trail in Sedona trailhead marker with Keyhole Cave visible in the background

You are actually starting this hike on Teacup Trail despite the parking area being called Sugar Loaf. Teacup leads to Sugar Loaf Loop but it also continues on as far as Soldier Pass Trail 1.5 miles over to the east.

The good news is you will only be on Teacup Trail for 0.4 miles until you reach a trail crossroads with Thunder Mountain Trail.

You can actually see Keyhole Cave as a tiny rounded hole carved into a distant red rock mountain from the parking lot and Teacup Trail sign marker (pictured above).

Painted white lines on red rocks for directions on a hiking trail in arizona

The hike up Teacup is flat and easy. Sedona’s red rock scenery becomes more and more impressive with every step.

Sugarloaf Mountain looms tall to your right side as you walk through desert vegetation and junipers. Follow small white painted lines on rocks for directions.

Go Off-Trail

Thunder Mountain and Teacup Trail intersection desert landscape

As you approach the trail intersection of Teacup and Thunder Mountain you will see a wooden sign showing Teacup right and Thunder Mountain left.

You are going to hike directly straight ahead beyond the wooden sign heading for the red rock formation on the horizon.

Trees and vegetation in desert walking towards red rock cliffs

There are no marked trails leading to the cave and there are several lightly beaten paths you can choose between. Many paths criss-cross over undulating hills and through rough vegetation.

You simply have to forge your own route to Keyhole Cave.

Wash Or DIY Path?

Rough vegetation and junipers unmaintained hiking trail in arizona

Many hikers talk about finding a very obvious wash and following the curving dry river bed as it snakes north toward Keyhole Cave.

Other hikers simply head due north using multiple paths which all twist and intertwine like a maze.

Hiker jumping over a wide ditch on a dusty dirt trail in arizona

Our advice is not to worry about being able to find Keyhole Cave. You will make it without issue as long as you keep heading north and keep your eyes peeled for glimpses of the cave opening.

We hiked part of the route inside the wash but most of it by going more direct to save time.

Potential Dramas

Prickly vegetation stuck in pants

Let’s take a quick look at the pros and cons to each route.

Direct Route

Going direct means you have to contend with short but steep hills covered in cacti and other harsh vegetation with sharp dagger-like needles that can seriously tear up your feet, ankles and legs.

Mark had to stop at one point to remove around 30-40 razor thin prickles that had penetrated a through pants and a hiking boot.

The lightly beaten paths can be hard to follow and often run out or are blocked by thick vegetation. All you have to do is sidestep or go back on yourself a few paces then try another path.

The Wash Route

Exclusively hiking the wash will add on quite a lot of distance because it meanders like a zig-zag approach. However, it is flatter, more consistent and you won’t have to go back on yourself at any point.

If you want to go the wash route, instead of going directly behind the sign at the Teacup / Thunder Mountain trail intersection, turn left onto Thunder Mountain and walk 150 feet until you see a dry bed to your right side.

Climbing Into Keyhole Cave

Steep ascent to reach Keyhole Cave entrance on loose stones

The terrain turns a little steeper on your final approach to Keyhole Cave. You’ll have some higher gradient sections to climb and the very last part to reach the cave entrance is very steep with loose stones and small rocks.

Once you are at the massive cave entrance you can see how gigantic Keyhole Cave is inside. Now you have to get up there.

There may be hikers already in the cave who have rope. Or there may be rope left over from recent hikers. But do not count on others being able to help you climb into Keyhole Cave.

When we hiked Keyhole Cave there was a couple already inside who had rope and dropped it down for us to use just in case.

Experienced hikers and adventurers will be fine getting up. However, you should take rope along if you have any doubts about being able to pull yourself up a steep rock face using small foot placements.

Left Or Right Climb?

You can either climb the left side or right side to access the upper chamber of Keyhole Cave. Personally we went for the right side both up and down, but we know others have taken the left route instead.

Here’s the left approach.

Left climb approach into Keyhole Cave Sedona rock climbing

The bottom section is almost vertical and it’s smooth which makes it hard to climb. This route gets easier higher up on the climb.

Here’s the right approach.

Right approach climbing into Keyhole Cave in Sedona ledge and foot placements

The right approach looks worse than it is. Once you get up onto that lower ledge the hard part is over.

You will have to use your hands, feet and core to pull yourself up. There are small natural foot placements in the sandstone rocks you use the entire way up the right side.

We’re not climbers and we don’t have any experience with ropes but we made it up the right side easily enough. The hardest part of the right ascent is getting up onto a ledge right at the start of the climb.

Keyhole Cave

Keyhole Cave was one of our favorite caves and overall one of our favorite things to do in Sedona. It was quiet, off the beaten path, harder to access and felt like more of an adventure.

Once you have made the climb, you find yourself in a UFO shaped upper chamber in which you can walk around in a semi circle (like a crescent moon) from one side of Keyhole Cave to the other.

Photography And Views

Here’s the inside of Keyhole Cave from left to right.

Inside Keyhole Cave Sedona with hiker sat on ledge

If you climb up the right side you will summit the cave at the place where the most popular instagram photograph is taken.

You can sit or stand right on the edge and someone behind you can take a photo of you as a silhouette against the light outside the cave.

Center of Keyhole Cave in Sedona looking out at red rocks and blue sky

The view out of Keyhole Cave is spectacular and you can get far enough back inside the formation to easily frame the background through the cave entrance.

Looking out through a sandstone rock formation at blue sky

This angle looking straight ahead is exactly where you started the hike to Keyhole Cave. It looks quite far away but it won’t take you long to get back.

Sugar Loaf Mountain through Keyhole Cave in Sedona Arizona

Move around Keyhole Cave to the far right side. You can see Sugar Loaf Mountain looking like a perfect green and brown cone shaped hill in the distance.

The Hike Back

Cactus plants on a hike in Arizona

Decide which way to go down and take care with your footing when you’re ready to leave Keyhole Cave.

We went down the same way we went up, which is right as you approach the cave, but left if you are inside the cave looking out.

You can use Sugar Loaf Mountain as your landmark to aim for on the hike back. Keep it slightly left of center and follow the lightly beaten trails or wash back to the Teacup / Thunder Mountain Trail crossroads.

Keyhole Cave Trail Pros And Cons

  • One of the most impressive caves in Sedona
  • Adventurous off-trail hike
  • Not many know about this cave
  • Parking is very limited
  • Rough vegetation can hurt
  • Accessing the cave isn’t easy

Best Time To Hike Keyhole Cave Trail

The ideal time to hike Keyhole Cave Trail would be mid afternoon on a weekday in Spring or Fall so you can benefit from perfect hiking and light conditions.

But it’s not always that simple!

Season

If you visit Sedona in Spring or Fall when it is at peak tourist season, you simply have to be out early at trailheads or you’ll have problems getting parked.

Winter and Summer offer quieter periods in Sedona, which means you have more chance getting parked up without issue. It’s less about temperatures and busy trails, more about finding free parking spots.

We visited Sedona in December and it was surprisingly busy in town. No matter which season you visit, try to avoid weekends, holidays and the 10am-1pm rush.

Time Of Day

The best time of day to hike Keyhole Cave is mid afternoon. The cave is southwest facing, which means the gaping hole entrance will flood with more light in the afternoon.

Early morning and early evening the sun will be too far to either side of the cave entrance and it will mostly be in deep dark shadows.

What To Pack For Hiking Keyhole Cave Trail

  • Footwear – Footwear with good grips and traction are going to help you on the unmaintained trail and help you climb into Keyhole Cave. Shoes with strong outer shells would help deter spiky plants sticking into your feet.
  • Water – Keyhole Cave is a 3 hour round trip hike and it is completely exposed. Carrying plenty of water is essential. 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. Almost all of the trail is exposed and rough so it might pay to wear longer pants and top layers for protection against the sun and vegetation.
Hiker in red coat on a sunny winter day hiking in red rocks and green vegetation

5 Tips For Hiking Keyhole Cave Trail

  1. Try parking at Andante if Sugar Loaf Trailhead parking is full
  2. Go direct off-trail to save time vs the wash
  3. Take rope if you’re not confident of climbing into Keyhole Cave
  4. Get into the cave just after lunch through late afternoon for the best light
  5. Use one of the best hiking apps like Gaia GPS or All Trails offline maps for navigation

Sedona Arizona Visitor Summary

Keyhole Cave Sedona FAQ’s

Let’s take a look at some of the most asked questions about hiking to Keyhole Cave in Sedona, Arizona.

Is The Keyhole Cave Trail Hard?

The hike to Keyhole Cave is moderately difficult. A scramble and climb is required to access the upper cave chamber. Thorns and cacti can cause problems and the trail is not marked at all.

But the actual hike isn’t very difficult. You will have to pass over undulating hills with a steeper gradient at the end.

Is Keyhole Cave Dog Friendly?

Yes Keyhole Cave is technically a dog friendly hike in Sedona. However, we would highly recommend against taking your dog on this trail due to exceptionally rough and unmaintained vegetation.

Just remember dogs must be kept on a short leash at all times and you’ll have to pick up after them.

None of us need a smelly surprise as well as a cactus in the foot on this hike!

Is Keyhole Cave Worth It?

Keyhole Cave is the biggest cave you can hike to in Sedona. The huge cave opening provides striking views over northern Sedona and the adventure elements make this one of the very best hikes in Sedona.

If you’re looking for an escape from the crowds at Cathedral Rock Trail and Devils Bridge Trail, head out responsibly into the Sedona wilderness and climb into Keyhole Cave.

More From Sedona
  • Cathedral Rock – Sedona is filled with amazing hikes but Cathedral Rock Trail is one of the most iconic. If you’re short on time, this is the adventure hike for you.
  • Bell Rock – Hike the Bell Rock Courthouse Butte Loop Trail for stunning Sedona views, a fun slick rock climb and our hidden loop half way up the formation.
  • Boynton Canyon – Exactly how to find the famous Subway Cave on Boynton Canyon Trail, the most photographed cave in Sedona.
  • Birthing Cave – The easiest cave to reach in Sedona is Birthing Cave on Long Canyon Trail, ending with amazing views and a crowd free climax.
  • Soldier Pass – Hike to Devils Kitchen and Seven Sacred Pools before climbing into Soldier Pass Cave on the family friendly Soldier Pass Trail in Sedona.
  • Hideout Cave – Hike Robbers Roost Trail to Hideout Cave in the far northwest of Sedona for the quietest and most secluded cave in town.
  • Fay Canyon – How to hike Fay Canyon Trail to an optional adventure ascent and steep climb to Fay Canyon Arch.
More From The Southwest

We hope this guide on hiking to the hidden Keyhole Cave helps with planning your visit to Sedona, Arizona!

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

Happy Hiking,

Mark and Kristen

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