Julie United States 16 Comments

Hiking to Cathedral Rock is an essential experience in Sedona. This hike is short and sweet, and with some rock scrambling and jaw-dropping views, it’s tons of fun from start to finish.

Cathedral Rock is one of the most popular hikes in Sedona. Do not expect solitude on this trail. This experience is much more about the climb up Cathedral Rock and the reward of panoramic views.

During the busy season, getting a parking space can be the most challenging part of this hike. There is one prime location, on Back O Beyond Road, that fills in the early morning hours. Fortunately, there are several other ways to get to Cathedral Rock. I cover all of your options in this post.

Let’s get started.

Cathedral Rock Hiking Stats

These hiking stats and the trail guide that follows are for the Cathedral Rock hike if you start at the parking lot on Back O Beyond. Later in this post, I cover more parking and hiking options if you aren’t able to get a parking space here.

Distance: 1.2 miles round-trip
Total Ascent: 700 feet
Difficulty: Moderate
Length of Time: 1 to 2 hours
Location: South Sedona
Trailhead: Cathedral Rock Trailhead on Back O Beyond Road
When to Go: All year. The best time is the spring and fall, when temperatures are mild, but expect big crowds. During the summer, expect very hot temperatures but lower crowds. In the winter, temperatures can get below freezing but crowds are also lower.
Red Rock Pass: You will need to purchase a Red Rock Pass to do this hike. The pass costs $5 per day or $15 for one week. The pass can be purchased at the fee machine at the trailhead (credit cards only). If you have an America the Beautiful Pass, you can use this rather than purchasing a Red Rock Pass.

Please practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace: plan ahead, stay on the trail, pack out what you bring to the hiking trail, properly dispose of waste, leave areas as you found them, minimize campfire impacts, be considerate of other hikers, and do not approach or feed wildlife.

Map of the Cathedral Rock Hike

Below is a map of the Cathedral Rock hike. This map shows the main Cathedral Rock Trail, as well as the three different routes to Cathedral Rock that start at other trailheads (covered later in this article). Each hiking route is a different layer, so click the tab in the top left hand corner to view the different layers and select and de-select the different routes. 

How to Use This Map: Click the tab in the top left hand corner of the map to view the layers (trailheads and the hiking routes). You can click the check marks to hide or show layers. If you click the icons on the map, you can get more information about each point of interest.
If you click the star next to the title of the map, this map will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.

Hiking to Cathedral Rock

Step-By-Step Trail Guide

Parking at Back O Beyond Road

The Cathedral Rock Trailhead is located on Back O Beyond Road. There are two lots here which sit side by side. Between these two lots, there is enough room to accommodate roughly 45 cars.

We did this hike in early April 2021. At 6:15 am, we got one of the last parking spaces in the second lot. To get a space, you will need to get here extremely early.

According to a recent visitor, the Back O Beyond parking lot is closed from 7 am to 5:30 pm from Thursday through Sunday. During this time, the only way to access this parking lot is via the Sedona Shuttle.

Even from Monday through Wednesday, try to get here be 7 am. If you arrive later, after 7:30 am, you could get lucky and snag a parking space from someone who just completed the hike. But this lot is located on a residential road, and starting mid-morning, a police officer was directing traffic at the entrance onto Back O Beyond Road, turning away hiking traffic. We saw this on two separate mornings…Back O Beyond Road was closed except for those who live on this road.

So, if you plan to do this hike, get here very early or plan to ride the Sedona Shuttle.

At this trailhead, there is a toilet and a machine where you can purchase your Red Rock Pass.

Hiking up Cathedral Rock

From the Cathedral Rock Trailhead, this hike is essentially a climb/rock scramble up onto Cathedral Rock. The trail ends at a saddle between two of the giant sandstone spires where you will have 360° views.

The climb starts almost as soon as your feet hit the trail. At first, it’s gradual, as you hike up onto the bottom layer of Cathedral Rock. The trail is marked by the large wire baskets of rocks. Follow these, or the line of people in front of you.

Cathedral Rock Trailhead

Cathedral Rock Trail just past sunrise.

Once you hike over the first level of sandstone slickrock, the trail gets steeper. For the rest of the hike, it’s a moderate hike up the different levels of rock. You will use your hands and you will do some rock scrambling. If you are here with kids, they will love this hike.

Even with the elevation gain and the rock scrambling, there are no ledges or major drop-offs on this part of the hike. The only place on this trail that you have any really exposure is at the end, when you are standing on the saddle. But this saddle is wide enough that if you have a fear of heights, you still should be fine.

Here are photos from the hike up Cathedral Rock.

Sedona Rock Cairns

Cathedral Rock Hike

Cathedral Rock Scramble

Looking down the Trail

Cathedral Rock View

Cathdral Rock in the morning

Cathedral Rock Trail

How to Hike Cathedral Rock

Juniper Tree

When you get to this juniper tree you know you are getting close to the end of the trail.

The trail ends at a wide saddle. There is an End of Trail sign at this point, letting you know you made it. From here, turn around and enjoy the view.

For a great photo, walk out along the saddle to the right and have someone on the saddle take your photo. Note: This trail is about 5 feet wide with a drop-off on one side, so if you have a fear of heights or are doing this with kids, you might want to skip this photo-op.

Cathedral Rock Photo Spot

Our Shadows

Early in the morning you can capture your shadow on the rock.

To complete the hike, retrace your steps back to your vehicle.

Sedona Travel Guide

Alternate Routes to Cathedral Rock

Sedona Shuttle

There is now a shuttle that drops hikers off at the Cathedral Rock Trailhead. The shuttle is free and runs from 7 am to 5:30 pm. Park at the SR 179 Park and Ride. Get more information on the official website.

Cathedral Rock from the West

You can also hike to Cathedral Rock from the west. There are two different trailheads here, Red Rock Crossing and the Baldwin Trail.

Red Rock Crossing

Park at the Crescent Moon Picnic Site. If the water levels are low, cross Oak Creek to the opposite side and follow this along the creek, heading in the direction of Cathedral Rock. The trail changes names from Red Rock Crossing to the Templeton Trail and heads around the north side of Cathedral Rock, eventually joining the Cathedral Rock Trail from the Back O Beyond parking lot.

This hike is 4 miles round trip, has 1,000 feet of elevation gain, and takes 2 to 4 hours.

Note: If you want to photograph Cathedral Rock, there are several great spots from the Crescent Moon Picnic Site where you can capture Cathedral Rock and Oak Creek in one photo.

Cathedal Rock Sedona

To visit the Crescent Moon Picnic Site, you will pay an $11 entrance fee. They are open from 8 am to dusk.

PRO TRAVEL TIP: To get to the Crescent Moon Picnic Site, it is a LONG drive from Back O Beyond Road (10 miles, 40 minutes), since you drive up to Sedona and enter the picnic site from the west. This hike is best in the afternoon, when the west side of Cathedral Rock is illuminated by the afternoon sun.

Baldwin Trail

The Baldwin trailhead is located on Verde Valley School Road, which is in the Village of Oak Creek. The final mile is on a well-graded gravel road that is suitable for all vehicles. There is a toilet here as well as machines to purchase your Red Rock Pass.

From the Baldwin Trailhead, take the trail north to Red Rock Crossing, continue on the Templeton Trail along the north side of Cathedral Rock, and then you will hike up the Cathedral Rock Trail. This hike is 4 miles long, has 1,000 feet of elevation gain, and takes 2 to 4 hours.

We were at this parking lot at 8 am on a Saturday and there were still a bunch of parking spaces remaining, so this makes a great option if you are struggling to get a spot at Back O Beyond Road. From the Back O Beyond Parking lot, it is a 9 mile drive that takes 20 minutes to get here.

Note: There was a sign posted on the road at Verde Valley School Road next to the Baldwin Trailhead that stated only local traffic was permitted past this point. If you want to hike Red Rock Crossing from the end of this road, park in the Baldwin Trailhead lot and walk down the road to this point. It’s just 0.2 miles one-way.

Yavapai Vista Point

Yavapai Vista Point is located on Highway 179, just a short distance from Back O Beyond Road (2.3 miles, 7 minute drive). This is a large parking lot, but since it is an “overflow” lot for many hikes in the area (including Bell Rock), you still need to get here relatively early. I recommend getting here no later than 9 am, but even earlier is better.

The downside of parking here is the long walk to Cathedral Rock. There are multiple trails that lead to Cathedral Rock but the Hermit Trail –> Templeton Trail –> Cathedral Rock Trail is the shortest. This hike is 6 miles round trip with 1,100 feet of total ascent. The hike is mostly flat until you get to Cathedral Rock.

You can also take the Slim Shady Trail to the Templeton Trail. The distance is about the same but there is slightly more elevation gain on the Slim Shady Trail.

Our Recommendation

If you have your heart set on hiking Cathedral Rock and you couldn’t get a spot at Back O Beyond Road, starting at the Baldwin Trailhead is our first choice as an alternate starting point. It’s a longer drive but a shorter hike (than starting at Yavapai Point) and you get to see Cathedral Rock both from the west and the east. Starting at Yavapai Vista Point works if you don’t mind a longer hike.

Cathedral Rock Vortex

Tips to Have the Best Experience

The best times for photography are at sunrise and sunset. Our photos were taken just past sunrise. If you plan to hike Cathedral Rock from the west (from the Baldwin trailhead, Red Rock Crossing, or the Crescent Moon Picnic Site), this is best in the afternoon.

To get a parking space at the Cathedral Rock Trailhead on Back O Beyond Road, get here early, ideally by 6 am, especially during the peak travel season.

Leave No Trace. Practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace. This includes packing out what you bring to the hiking trail, be considerate of other hikers, and staying on the trail. 

What to Bring on the Hike

Hiking shoes. You can get by with a good pair of walking shoes or running shoes for this hike. However, hiking shoes are ideal, since the extra traction will make the rock scrambling section of this hike much easier.

Water and snacks. Bring at least 1 liter of water in the summer.

Sunscreen, hat, and sunglasses. There is no shade on this trail.

Camera. Even a smartphone will do.

If you are new to hiking or are curious about what you should bring on a hike, check out our Hiking Gear Guide. Find out what we carry in our day packs and what we wear on the trails.

If you have any questions about hiking to Cathedral Rock, or if you want to share your experience, let us know in the comment section below.

More Information for Your Trip to Sedona

SEDONA: To learn what there is to do in Sedona, read our article Best Things to Do in Sedona. To help you plan your time, check out our One Day in Sedona Itinerary and Sedona Itinerary Ideas for 1 to 6 days. For links to all of our Sedona articles, check out our Sedona Travel Guide.

HIKES IN SEDONA: Some of the top trails in Sedona include the Soldier Pass Trail, Boynton Canyon, Bear Mountain, the Birthing Cave, and Devils Bridge. For more ideas, read our guide to the Best Hikes in Sedona.

SEDONA 4WD ROADS: One of the best things to do in Sedona is to drive the 4WD roads. Here are six 4WD roads in Sedona to choose from and a detailed guide on how to drive Broken Arrow, the most popular 4WD experience in Sedona.

PLACES TO GO IN ARIZONA: Go hiking in Sedona, visit Saguaro National Park and Petrified Forest National Park, explore Monument Valley, photograph Antelope Canyon, and visit the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Learn how to put all of this together in our Arizona Road Trip Itinerary.

ARIZONA ITINERARIES: If you are looking for road trip ideas through Arizona, we have a couple of good ones. See the highlights of Arizona in our 10 Day Arizona Itinerary, visit the Grand Canyon and Utah’s Mighty 5 in our Two Week American Southwest Itinerary, and visit parts of Arizona, Las Vegas, and southern Utah in our 10 Day American Southwest Itinerary.

We have TONS more information about Arizona in our Arizona Travel Guide. And to see all of our articles about the United States, check out our USA Travel Guide.

Cathedral Rock Hike Sedona Arizona

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Comments 16

  1. Avatar for Pollyanna

    With the Parking lot closed thursdays to sunday 7-5 could you park at 6am and not have an issue ? or would you recieve a ticket/ be locked in

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      That’s a good question and I’m not sure of the answer. I don’t know if they just prevent people from driving in after 7 am (that’s what they did on our visit) or if there is now a gate that is closed. It might be the first scenario. You could try getting there early and see if there is a gate. Or just play it safe and take the shuttle. Sometimes other travelers write in with answers to these questions so you could also check back to this comment thread to see if someone else writes in with some info. Cheers, Julie

  2. Avatar for Rachel

    This hike looks amazing! Is it 4 miles one-way or round-trip from the Baldwin Trailhead, and does that include the climb up Cathedral Rock?

    Thank you so much, I love your guides and can’t wait to explore Sedona!

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      Hello Rachel. The hike is 4 miles round trip from the Baldwin Trailhead and it includes the hike up Cathedral Rock. Have a great time hiking in Sedona! Cheers, Julie

  3. Avatar for Victoria Livingston
    Victoria Livingston

    We visited Sedona last week, and I think younger people do not understand the difficulty of scrambling for those over 60. My husband said: As a 65-year-old male, I’d say this is not for beginners. This is not a hike because you have to use mountaineering techniques with handholds and footholds for scrambling.

    I am 76, and I work out and am in great shape for my age. I hiked Bright Angel the week before. It was arduous but doable. As you age, you lose strength and balance, and often, your joints are stiff. It’s hard for young people to imagine this. I was not able to complete the hike because of the scrambling which requires strength, balance, and flexible joints. Is there another route to the top? If it was longer but avoided a scramble, I would do it. There was one young lady who was afraid of heights and did not make it to the top, but all the other people in their 20s and 30s did fine. I did not see anyone over 50 on that hike other than my husband.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
  4. Avatar for Michelle

    Hi- Can you be a little more specific when you say “rock scramble” ? I am 54 and in ok shape but have not hiked much at all. I am just wondering if I could physically do the rock scrambling. I have looked at your pictures and it is hard to visualize how steep the scrambling would be. Thanks for your input.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      Rock scrambling means to climb up a steep section of trail, rocks, or boulders, usually using both your hands and your feet. It’s kind of like easy rock climbing. Early in this article, there is a vertical photo of Tim hiking up a steep section of rock. This is one of the rock scrambling places on the trail. In terms of difficulty, the rock scrambling on Cathedral Rock is easy. If you have not hiked much, this could be a little bit challenging, but we love trails with rock scrambling, since it makes them a little more fun than just hiking. I think it’s worth a try! Cheers, Julie

  5. Avatar for Serena
    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      It depends on how bad your fear of heights is. You will have to do some rock scrambling and will be walking along a few drop offs of roughly 10 feet. But once on top of Cathedral Rock, the drop offs are bigger and of course at this point you are higher. If you fear is mild, then you will most likely be fine. But if it is more severe, then you will have some issues, especially the higher you go. Cheers, Julie

  6. Avatar for Geronimo

    Minor typo under the Our Recommendation header: “It’s a longer drive but a shorter hike”. I understand Baldwin Trailhead as a starpoint to Cathedral Rock is both longer drive, longer hike and greater elevation gain.

    Maybe you meant shorter among the alternatives?

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      You’re right. Thanks for writing in with this. I meant in comparison to Yavapai Point but it still can be confusing how I wrote it (and I just fixed it in the post). Cheers, Julie

  7. Avatar for Lynn

    Are the rock scrambles so tight or precarious as to not do with a baby? We are taking our six month old on an epic trip and would like to do this hike.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      You can do this with a baby in a toddler/infant carrier. There are a bunch of rock scrambles but none of them are through tight spaces. There is a photo of Tim in this post hiking/rock scrambling up a crevice. This is the toughest rock scramble of the day but really not bad at all, especially if you have prior hiking experience. Cheers, Julie

  8. Avatar for Ricki

    Thanks for the tip. I’m planning on doing this hike for sunrise in mid May, what time do you think I should arrive to get a parking spot?

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      Sunrise is at 5:30 am. If you want to be on top of Cathedral Rock for sunrise, get to the parking lot around 4:45 am to give yourself enough time to hike up onto the rock. Make sure you bring a headlamp. This early in the morning you shouldn’t have a problem getting a space. To hike to Cathedral Rock without catching sunrise, the latest I recommend is 6 am. Have fun in Sedona! Cheers, Julie

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