Conquer the short, steep Cathedral Rock Trail in Sedona for spectacular views of red rock landscape

If there’s a bad hiking trail in Sedona, I haven’t found it. I’ve found a bunch of great ones, though; including Cathedral Rock Trail.

View of Sedona valley from Cathedral Rock Trail
View of Sedona valley from Cathedral Rock
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The trail isn’t that long – only 1.5 miles round trip – but it’s pretty steep. So steep that when I hiked it, one area resident bailed onto a connecting trail because he knew the incline was too much for his pups.

small puddle with ice layer over the top
Cathedral Rock Sedona frozen puddle at beginning of trail

As my buddy and I set out on the trail, it was cold enough that a puddle near the trailhead had frozen over. I wondered if my flannel shirt and wind breaker would be enough to keep me warm. Thanks to an almost continuous ascent, the stairmaster-like workout had me peeling off the outer layer before the midway point.

It was about then that my companion and I found ourselves carefully plotting each foot and hand placement as we spider-manned our way up a nearly vertical section with a crack running through it that could have swallowed me whole.


Cathedral Rock Trail summary:

  • Start at Cathedral Rock Trailhead parking lot | map>
  • Red Rock Pass or America the Beautiful Pass required to park at the trailhead.
  • Distance: 1.5 miles (round trip)
  • Elevation gain: 744 feet
  • Bring: water, hat, sunblock, camera
  • Don’t bring: pets, toddlers, anyone with poor balance

Note to summer hikers: You’ll want to do this hike early in the morning to avoid heat exhaustion.


Cathedral Rock Sedona end of trail sign
Cathedral Rock Sedona end of trail sign

Getting lost up here would be easy if it weren’t for white dots and cairns of stone placed strategically to guide the way. Where the markers lead you is an “End of Trail” sign about 1,200 feet higher than the parking lot where most people begin this hike.

Thankfully, at the moment we arrived at the end point, a ranger was about to head down. He encouraged the handful of us within the sound of his voice to venture beyond the sign a few hundred feet in two directions. I’m glad we took his advice. That’s where the most spectacular vantage points were.

Left of the “End of trail” sign doesn’t look like much, but it is. After you meander about a hundred yards over the smooth sandstone rock, you’ll see a narrow chute. You can climb up another 50 yard or so to get real close to the base the iconic spire that is shown in so many epic photos of Sedona. Bonus: you get amazing views of the valley floor in both directions.

People posing for pics atop Sedona's Cathedral Rock Trail
People posing for pics atop Sedona’s Cathedral Rock Trail

If you go right of the sign, there’s a narrow, cactus-lined path that takes you out to a ledge that’s perfect for photos like the one above if you can talk someone into taking it.

You probably have more questions, so I’ll answer the ones a lot of people ask Google.

How long does it take to hike Cathedral Rock in Sedona?

Although I saw one individual literally running laps on the trail and clearly focused on his time, Cathedral Rock Trail is one to be savored. Plan to take your time and get the most out of it. A good rule of thumb is to give yourself an hour to go up, an hour to come down, and thirty minutes to take in the sights.

Can you climb Cathedral Rock?

Apparently the rocky spires near the top of Cathedral Rock Trail are pretty popular for rock climbers. Even though we saw no climbers on the day of our hike, the ranger we met at the top of the trail told us hair-raising story of people climbing the rock faces without the aid of ropes or anchors.

According to summitpost.org, Cathedral rock is not well-suited for climbing due to soft, crumbly sandstone. Bottom line: if you’re a rock climber, you know rocks better than I do. My suggestion is to do a little more research before committing a bunch of time to getting here.

Is Cathedral Rock a vortex?

Many people in the know about vortex energy in and around Sedona swear that it can be felt at Cathedral Rock. Wondering what a vortex is? Check out this primer.

According to the experts, one of the telltale signs of vortex energy is twisted trees trunks. I saw a few of those. Other than that, I experienced none of the occurrences believed to be associated with a vortex.

There are many spectacular hiking trails in the Sedona area. Cathedral Rock Trail isn’t long, but it’s steep. It’s not easy to get to the top of the trail, but the views are so worth it.

How do I get to Cathedral Rock Trail in Sedona?

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