Many people visit Cathedral Rock with the intention to make it to the top but end up turning around. Why? Cathedral Rock Trail is a short yet fairly challenging hike featuring steep inclines where you need to use your hands to scale up the rocks. That, plus other things you should know about the Cathedral Rock hike is what I’m going to be sharing with you in this post!
Here’s everything you need to know to hike the Cathedral Rock Trail in Sedona, AZ!
How to Hike the Cathedral Rock Trail in Sedona
How to Get to the Cathedral Rock Trailhead
- Directions: 500 Back O Beyond Rd, Sedona
- Parking: Minimal; get there early!
- Fee: $5 for the Red Rock day pass, or free/included if you have an America The Beautiful national park pass / other Federal Interagency pass
Getting to the Cathedral Rock trailhead in Sedona is fairly easy. It is a 10-minute, 4.3-mile drive from Uptown Sedona. As for parking, Cathedral Rock has one parking lot at the trailhead and one lot just around the bend in the road. Both will hold about two dozen vehicles each. Since parking is so minimal, sometimes overflow parking is allowed on the backstreets on the Back O’ Beyond Rd, but note you’ll still need to pay and display your pass.
You can get the Red Rock day passes ($5) in the machines at the trailhead. Also, there’s only one stinky bathroom on-site at the trailhead. Make sure to go before you climb! And please remember to pack out the trash you pack in and leave nothing but footprints.
Cathedral Rock Hike Time + Trail Length
- Trail Length: 1.2 miles round-trip
- Elevation gain: 650 ft elevation gain
- Difficulty: Moderate-challenging
- Time: Plan for 1 hour up, 40-50 mins down
- Crowds: Busy after 9 AM and after 6 PM for sunset
Follow the official cairns (rock piles) to help you navigate the Cathedral Rock Trail on the journey up and down. Don’t make your own little rock pile and stay on the correct path to avoid damaging fragile plant life.
When is the best time to hike the Cathedral Rock trail?
The Cathedral Rock vortex hike is good during any time of the day, but the best time will be either for sunrise or sunset. We hiked at sunrise and although the parking lot was full, we ended up having the top of Cathedral Rock virtually to ourselves since we hiked fast. Everyone climbs at a different pace and the trail is wide open once you reach the rock slopes. If you plan to hike at sunset, make sure to bring a flashlight or headlamp so you don’t get caught in the dark on the way down.
How long does it take to hike Cathedral Rock?
It took us around 45 minutes hiking up at a brisk pace and a little less to get back down. If you are not a frequent hiker, take it slow and go at a steady pace since the elevation gain is around 650 ft. You should also factor in time for water breaks and ample time for enjoying the view at the top. We also explored the cradle of Cathedral Rock and reached another viewpoint which took a little climbing to get to. Well worth it though!
How difficult is the Cathedral Rock hike?
It is a short yet strenuous hike for most. There are several locations where you need to use your hands to climb up the rocks. At one point, you need to scramble up what seems like a staircase of near-vertical rocks (more like a 60-degree angle). It looks more daunting than it is, and my partner who has vertigo was able to accomplish it just fine!
Can you see Cathedral Rock without hiking?
Yes, and no. You can see Cathedral Rock from below but you won’t be able to see the cradle of Cathedral Rock and the panoramic valley views that it offers from the top. The Templeton Trail is a good alternative if you want to see Cathedral Rock from a distance (it branches off from Cathedral Rock before the climbing starts).
Is Cathedral Rock Trail dog-friendly?
The start of the Cathedral Rock trail is dog-friendly, but once you reach the rock climbing portion it is not really ideal for doggies. We saw several couples with dogs at the start but they must’ve continued onto either the Templeton Trail or the Easy Breezy Trail. Both trails split off the Cathedral Rock Trail and are easier alternative hikes that skirt the bottom of Cathedral Rock.
At the Top of Cathedral Rock Trail
Once you near the end of the steep climb up to Cathedral Rock, you will be magnificently rewarded with a deep view of the valley on the other side. At the top, there’s a somewhat narrow walking ledge (around 8-ft wide) that opens up to the Cathedral Rock cradle or saddle. You are essentially pitted between two huge canyon walls on either side.
Off to the right of this saddle, there’s a daring ledge you can walk out on for incredible photo ops. Have fun, but be safe if you’re taking photos or videos here.
Before you head back down the way you came, skirt the rocks on the left side of the cradle. This will take you up a mini trail and climb to another awesome viewpoint. It’s smaller and less panoramic, but pretty cool and quiet nonetheless!
When you’re ready, head back down the way you came. It should take less time on the journey back but be careful not to slip and fall on the loose rocks.
About the Cathedral Rock Vortex Energy
When you visit Sedona, you may hear people share stories about their powerful vortex experience. This vortex energy is one reason why many people hike the Cathedral Rock Trail. I actually passed one woman who was sharing a story about her friend who claimed to feel the vortex energy “Right here!” as the woman spread her arms wide at one random section of the rock wall.
So, can you feel the vortex energy up in the Cathedral Rock saddle, or not?
I personally didn’t feel any tingling sensation, but I did feel calm and at rest. Was that because I just had a dose of endorphins from finishing a strenuous hike, the vortex, or simply because I was feeling well after quiet meditation from looking at our beautiful mother earth?
Whether you believe in vortexes or not, Cathedral Rock is known as being one of the best of four vortexes in Sedona. The energy that Cathedral Rock is supposed to emit is considered feminine energy that calms, inspires, and grounds you. I also heard that the vortex “spot” is at Red Rock Crossing at the conjunction of Cathedral Rock and Oak Creek.
When I shared one of my photos on my Instagram sharing about the vortex, there were several people who commented back with stories of their own – some felt tingling in the hands/body and some cried for no reason. I think everyone experiences the vortex energy in Sedona in their own way. So don’t be disappointed if you set out on the Cathedral Rock Trail and don’t get swept up into a magical portal (haha, as I hoped I would!).
Last Hiking Tips for Cathedral Rock
Water: Bring at least 2 bottles of water per person on this hike. There are no services or water fill-ups nearby. It’s also wise to bring and eat a handful of salty snacks whenever you hydrate.
No shade: There is virtually zero shade on this exposed trail. Definitely take advantage of the fresher air in the morning to do the Cathedral Rock hike.
Chapel of the Holy Cross: Either before or after your hike, make sure to swing by the stunning Roman Catholic chapel called the Chapel of the Holy Cross. It’s just a couple of minutes away. The chapel is built right into the sandstone and it’s a sweet little spot to visit. Panoramic views over Sedona await you at the top.
Cathedral Rock ended up being one of my favorite hiking trails (and vortexes) in Sedona. If you love a good challenge and don’t mind getting a little sweat or dirty, then you’ll love this hike too. Make sure to grab my 3-day itinerary to make the most of your trip to majestic Sedona, Arizona!
Is hiking the Cathedral Rock Trail in Sedona on your bucket list?