Cathedral Rock Hiking Trail
★★★★★ Difficult / Sedona:
No matter how many times I hike this iconic red rock trail, its juniper laden slopes and towering summit spires make it a mind-blowing outing every time. As one of the most captivating rock formations visible on the drive into Sedona, Cathedral Rock is a popular destination for those who enjoy scrambling up the area’s sandstone surfaces. As an added bonus, the breathtaking view from the top of the Cathedral Rock Hiking Trail – with its almost “too-good-to-be-believed” photo-perfect backdrop – is truly wondrous.
TRAILHEAD: BACK-O-BEYOND ROAD, SEDONA (.6 W of 179) • DIFFICULTY: DIFFICULT • DISTANCE: 0.75 MILES (1.5 MILES RT) • APPROX. TIME: 1.5 -2.5 HOURS • ELEVATION GAIN: 600 FEET (50 STORIES) • APPROX. CALORIES BURNED: 255-285 • BEST TIME OF YEAR: YEAR ROUND (HOT IN SUMMER) • PETS: YES (Note: trail is steep!) • KID FRIENDLY: YES (agile 10 AND over) • FACILITIES: yes (no water) • FEES: red rock ($5 daily, $15 weekly, $20 annual) or National Park pass ($85 Annual) required
The view of Cathedral Rock is impressive from the very start: a poster-perfect mix of bright blue sky and vermillion cliffs, with an occasional hawk tossing its shadow onto the vertical rock walls. The Cathedral Rock Hiking Trail starts out gently winding its way up and around a series of Sedona’s archetypal curved stone “mounds”. Although most of the trail traverses these billowing formations, it is easy to follow, being clearly marked with basket cairns and white arrows painted onto the curvilinear slopes. Juniper pines, agaves and prickly pear cactus accompany the trail the entire way up, somehow having forced their being into the minuscule crevices carved out by infrequent rains.
About a quarter of a mile into the hike (at the juncture of the Templeton Trail) there is a lovely overlook, offering panoramic views of Sedona’s Northeastern landscape. For those less comfortable with the ensuing steepness of the trail – this is a great turnaround point.
For those who are A-OK with a bit of a challenge in their climb – the Cathedral Rock Hiking Trail becomes steeper from this point on, crisscrossing additional stone mounds, ascending a long steep rut between knolls (with footholds thoughtfully carved into the surface) and finally terminating in a smooth saddle between two spires of this immense landmark. There are outstanding views from the top, of both the Northeastern and Southwestern terrain (looking quite small below). A natural walkway beneath one of the cliff walls provides a perfect photo location for those whose vocabulary has never included the word “vertigo.”
After taking a break – and hopefully getting some great pictures, it is time for the descent. For me, I totally ‘fess up to incorporating the “butt-slide” technique to descend the steeper slopes (while humbly watching a 12-year-old tackle the exact same slopes like a nimble billy goat). I also learned from my “technique” that, in this region, brown is probably a better clothing color choice than my preferred black, since butt-slides = a nice coating of red dust = “Umm, where the heck were you?,” and “Are you OK honey?” looks from strangers.
If desired the Cathedral Rock Hiking Trail can also be accessed from the Baldwin Trail – whose trailhead is located on Verde Valley Road. This route is a bit longer (approximately 3.75 miles each way, or 7.5 miles RT) and offers refreshing views of both Oak Creek, at the base, and Sedona’s red-rock canyons.
Cathedral Rock is the most photographed location in Sedona, for good reason.
Directions From the intersection of I-17 and AZ-179 (I-17 exit 298) head north on AZ-179, towards Sedona. Drive 13.3 miles on AZ-179 to the Back-O-Beyond Roundabout. Turn left/west onto Back-O-Beyond Road and continue approximately 1.5 miles to the Cathedral Rock Hiking Trail Trailhead.
- Cathedral Rock, Dayhike, Difficult, Hiking, Northern Arizona, Red Rocks, Sedona, Short
- February 20, 2015