Hiking Sedona’s Cathedral Rock at Sunrise

Cathedral Rock is one of Sedona’s more popular hikes, and we completely understand why. This trail is short in distance and the views are incredible. But if you hate crowds like we do, the groups of people can sometimes draw from the full enjoyment of the adventure. However, early on a weekday winter morning, we found that we had the place completely to ourselves for much of the hike.

Amazing views along the whole trail leading to Cathedral Rock
Amazing views along the whole trail leading to Cathedral Rock

Getting to the Cathedral Rock Trailhead

The Cathedral Rock trailhead lies west off Highway 179 a short ways down Back O’ Beyond Road. As you drive down the residential street, be cautious of wildlife, pedestrians, the residents, and their property along the road. You’ll see the parking lot off to the left. When you park, you must pay the day use fee at the fee station, which is $5 per vehicle payable only by card. You may also use an Annual Interagency National Parks Pass.

The parking area has quite a few spots, but it’s not always enough to accommodate the crowds, so you may have to wait for a spot, come back later, or hike to Cathedral rock from another farther access point (Yavapai) if you visit during a popular time/season. We don’t recommend parking on the street near the trailhead parking lot as this is not permitted. There are restrooms at the trailhead.

The towering rock pillars of Cathedral Rock
The towering rock pillars of Cathedral Rock

Hiking to Cathedral Rock

When we started our hike, it was below freezing outside. The sky was still starry and the ground glistened as our headlamps skimmed over the frost-covered rocks and bushes. From the start, the trail was very well marked. We crossed the dry riverbed, following the stone pillars that guided our way up the path. We were easily able to follow these oversized cairns and the occasional white marking on the rocks, even in the dark.

These cairns mark the trail for the majority of the hike
These cairns mark the trail for the majority of the hike

Shortly after the start of the hike, the trail steepened and became slick rock. Though the whole hike is fairly short, the steep sections deter some hikers. With the frost on the ground, there were points where we were scrambling up the trail using our hands to help us and prevent us from slipping. However, wearing shoes with solid tread should be enough to get you up the trail safely.

There is very little shelter along the trail, which we imagine would get very hot in the summer. Once you reach the top, there may be some shade up against the cliffs.

Sunrise lighting up Cathedral Rock
Sunrise lighting up Cathedral Rock

After 0.7 miles, we made it to the stone platform that marks the end of the trail. Rock walls tower up on either side and the views of the valley from between them are incredible.

This sign marks the top of your climb!
This sign marks the top of your climb!

Exploring Cathedral Rock

When you reach the top, the views are instantaneously great, but don’t stop there! There is further exploration to do. When looking at the ‘End of Trail’ sign, head to the right. There is a ledge that follows the edge of the cliff, offering more great views of the valley and of Cathedral Rock.

The first light of day in Sedona
The first light of day in Sedona

To the left of the sign, you’ll see a small trail that runs along the west side of the cliff. Follow this trail, and climb the short incline. You’ll find yourself between the towering pillars of rock with valley views in the background. It’s a classic and breathtaking Sedona view that you don’t want to miss!

Cathedral Rock is a great place to watch the sunrise
Cathedral Rock is a great place to watch the sunrise

To complete your hike, you’ll just follow the trail back down the way you came. This makes for a great half-day hike, leaving plenty of time to hit another Sedona trail or explore the town!

Hike Overview

Adventure Cost: $5 per vehicle

Hike Distance: Approximately 1.4 miles (2.25 kilometers) depending on path taken and exploration at the top.

Hike Duration: 1-2 hours – enjoy your time at the top!

Elevation Gain: Approximately 650 feet (198 meters)

What to Bring: Plenty of water, snacks, sunglasses, sunscreen, credit card for parking payment, hiking shoes with solid tread, camera

What is your favorite Sedona hike?

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