Cathedral Rock and the Scramble to the Top

The Cathedral Rock in Sedona is one of the area’s iconic landmarks. The sandstone butte emerges from a relatively flat section of uninteresting land. From a distance, it looks inviting but doesn’t seem that much different than other buttes in Arizona.

As we got closer and stood at the base of the mesa, the towering rock began to feel more stately and interesting to us. Its vertical walls and spires rose skyward out of the desert floor and begged to be climbed.

The funny thing – we nearly decided not to climb Cathedral Rock at all.

For some reason, we had mixed feelings about hiking it as we considered other trail options. The overall length of the climb is less than a mile long which seemed like a negative to us at the time. We also knew it was a popular place for tourists and might be crowded.

However, when we considered our other trail options and travel schedule it just made sense to climb it.

What a good decision! We totally enjoyed the entire experience.

Standing at the base of the mesa, this picture shows people hiking their way to the top.

The Hike and the Scramble

When we arrived at the trailhead mid-morning, we learned there were two small parking lots for cars. Our van Alice was a bit oversized for the lots but we got lucky. A couple in a 1-ton extended cab pickup was leaving a perfect parking place for us. With some quick coordination with them, they pulled out and we backed in.

After a short walk to the base of Cathedral Rock, we gathered our bearings and looked up at the sandstone rock. It looked simple enough, but also ominous.

The first section of the climb was pretty easy and basic. Knowing it was a short distance to the top, we were in no hurry. Each time we reached a plateau, we stopped to look over the valley and take a few pictures of each other. Instinctively, we followed other people and noticed the path was also marked with cairns to lead the way.

At about the midway point, the trail changed. The rock formation began to steepen and be more challenging (and more fun). This was the beginning of the rock scramble.

Although the crowds were not huge the day we were there, we did wait a bit for people climbing up and coming down these scrambles.

This was the part of the hike when we were thankful to have proper footwear (we both wear Oboz brand hikers and love them). In order to safely climb up these type rocks, it’s impotant to have shoes that don’t slip!

These precipitous rock formations do require some climbing skill and physical conditioning to maneuver though but there were all types of people doing it.

This section of the hike was the most strenuous.

Our Time at the Top of Cathedral Rock

Standing on the flat rock in an open space at the top, we knew we were in the place they call the “saddle”. On either side of us, enormous twin spires stood in granduear demanding our attention. The western view from the saddle created a framed picture perspective of the landscapes beyond us.

From there, we could go left or right to explore. On the right was a natural walkway that followed along the edge of the vertical rock wall. It was the ideal place for dramatic picture taking and enjoying the views.

On the opposite side of the saddle, the path continued for a short distance and no one was on it. We opted to follow the trail as it turned a corner and ended. Or did it end?

Looking up to our left, there was another short scramble to a rock plateau above us. Judging from footprints in the sandy soil, we could tell others had climbed this section. We decided to take it too.

At the top, we discovered a gorgeous natural vortex that looked over the eastern side of Sedona. This was the place we decided to sit for a while and enjoy the moment.

We spent about 30-minutes at the vortex before deciding to leave and head back down to the parking lot.

Our memories of Cathedral Rock are quite positive. We had a really enjoyable day there and recommend this hike to our readers!


Cathedral Rock should be considered a must-do hike when visiting Sedona. Overall, we would rate this trail as moderate for difficulty even though it is a short hike. About half the hike to the top is easy and there are about three sections that are steep and strenuous to get through. Proper footwear is highly recommended.

One thought on “Cathedral Rock and the Scramble to the Top

  1. Looks like a gorgeous day for a hike! Cathedral Rock was one of my favorite hikes in Sedona. We were hesitant as well after hearing how crowded it can get but I really enjoyed the scramble!

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