Cathedral Rock Trail

Cathedral Rock is a system trail in the Coconino National Forest. Designated as Trail #170, Cathedral it's well marked with signs and wire baskets. Cathedral Rock is arguably the most recognizable rock formation in Sedona, because it's the most photographed.
Cathedral Rock saddle
The view most people know from calendars and post cards is captured by professional photographers down by the creek at the Crescent Moon Recreation Area (aka Red Rock Crossing). This is where the reflection of Cathedral Rock lights up in the still waters of Oak Creek almost every night. That location is covered on a separate page. For now, we're talking about the Cathedral Rock TRAIL, which climbs up the formation itself and into the saddle between the spires (shown above and below).
Hikers at Cathedral Rock Saddle
Some New Age visitors claim that "powerful vortex energy" emanating from this iconic formation leads to personal transformation. The concept of vortex energy in Sedona was first promoted by psychic Page Bryant in 1980, though she never made the hike herself because she was morbidly obese and wheelchair bound.
New Age believers trying to feel the vortex
While scientists at the US Geological Survey claim there are no electro-magnetic anomalies here (I've hiked Cathedral many times and never had any mystical experiences) the view alone (shown below) is enough to keep me coming back.
Cathedral view 
This is an extremely popular hike with a small parking area, so you'll have to arrive early in order to get a parking spot here. In fact, the hike is so popular that the police will block the entrance to Back O'Beyond when the lot is full, in order to prevent visitors from parking along the roadside in this residential area.


The main trailhead starts from a tiny parking area on Back O'Beyond Road, which is off Hwy 179, about halfway between Uptown Sedona and the Village of Oak Creek. There is a traffic circle at the intersection. A Red Rock or America the Beautiful Pass is required to park in either of the designated parking areas at the bottom of the hill.

At 0.25 miles, the trail emerges on a broad ledge with nice views. Then, it ascends steeply over bald rock and in a shallow cleft with a few toeholds notched into the rock to help on the steeper places (shown below). While the Cathedral Rock Trail is easy enough to follow, parts of this route are more of a rock climb than a hike. Though they are too small to notice, there are numerous hikers visible in this photo.

The Cathedral Rock Trail

Emerging on a small knob, cairns show the way up and across several ledges toward the deep drainage ahead which it follows, climbing more moderately to the top of a wide saddle between two spires (shown below).

Cathedral view 
There are beautiful views along the way (shown below), as well as two social trails near the top that loop around the spires, giving you the opportunity to extend you hike beyond what we've described.
Cathedral trail view
The photo below shows one of the social trails as it comes through the upper saddle, down along the bottom of the wall on the right, then wraps around the larger spire to reconnect with the system trail.
Cathedral Rock social trail


RATED: Difficult due to steep rocky terrain.

1.2 miles out and back
740 ft
2-4 hours round trip
All year, late afternoon