Distance: 1.2 miles | Type: Out-and-Back | Time: 1 hrs – 2 hrs | Level: Moderate – Hard
Hiking Cathedral Rock Trail in Sedona at sunset needs to be at the top of every hiker’s Arizona bucket list. Cathedral Rock is iconic to Sedona and worth every bit of the hype it’s received.
The hike is short, scrambly, and awards hikers with breathtaking views in every direction. While the trail is far from secluded, the remarkable views at the top keep hikers returning to this trail time and time again despite the crowds.
There are several things to keep in mind before hiking this popular trail. In this guide, I highlight why sunset is the best time to hike Cathedral Rock Trail in Sedona, the most scenic and secluded route to take, and what to expect on the hike.
I also cover nearby cant-miss hikes for the ultimate adventure trip to Sedona.
Complete Guide to Hiking Cathedral Rock Trail in Sedona
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Parking Fee and Shuttle Services
Hiking Cathedral Rock Trail requires a $5 Red Rocks day pass. Passes can be purchased at a Kiosk in the lot and displayed in your vehicle.
If you have an America the Beautiful Park Pass, your fee is covered.
There is a free shuttle that takes hikers to a handful of trailheads around Sedona, including Cathedral Rock Trail. The shuttle runs Thursday – Sunday, year-around, from 8:00a.m. – 5:30p.m..Visitors can park at the North SR-179 Park and Ride to catch the shuttle.
You can learn more about the shuttle here.
Best Time to Hike Cathedral Rock Trail
We went back and forth when deciding between sunrise or sunset to hike Cathedral Rock Trail. We finally settled on sunset and absolutely chose correctly.
There are several factors that make sunset a great time to hike Cathedral Rock Trail, such as cooler temperatures and fewer crowds. However, the ultimate reason to hike Cathedral Rock at sunset is the golden view.
Due to the sun’s position, the surrounding rocks glow vibrant orange and red as the sun sets. The sight is sure to take your breath away regardless of which way you’re looking.
A third of the hikers were facing toward the sun, watching it slowly disappear below the horizon. A handful of people were gazing up at the towering nearby rocks admiring their golden glow. While the last third sat facing opposite the sun, soaking in the pink and purple hues of the rocks on the backside.
Do you know what’s even better? If you’re prepared and confident in your hiking abilities to hike back down at dusk, you get a few moments at the top nearly all to yourself.
Sitting at the top of Cathedral Rock Trail while other hikers made their way back down before the sun officially set, was one of my top Sedona experiences.
The magic in the air was palpable. Cathedral Rock is a powerful vortex location, after all.
Best Route to Cathedral Rock for the Ultimate Experience
Cathedral Rock Trail
The majority of people choose to hike to Cathedral Rock via the 1.2-mile out-and-back trail. This is the quickest, most direct route. The cons to hiking this route are that it’s less scenic and more crowded.
Not to mention the risk you run of not getting a parking spot. There are two parking lots for the Cathedral Rock trailhead and both are full by early morning and typically remain that way throughout the day.
While you can wait for another hiker to leave and possibly snag a spot, you’ll have better luck parking and hiking from a connector trail.
Cathedral Rock via Baldwin Trail
Distance: 3.7 miles | Type: Out-and-Back | Time: 1 hrs – 2 hrs | Level: Moderate – Hard
I recommend hiking Cathedral Rock via the Baldwin Trail. There are several benefits to doing so.
This alternate route to Cathedral Rock is less trafficked and more scenic. The Baldwin Trail is mellow and allows hikers to explore some not-so-typical Sedona scenery. The trail cuts across a grassy valley and dips into some forested areas.
The Baldwin Trail eventually connects to the Templeton Trail which hugs up next to Oak Creek. Oak Creek is a beautiful and refreshing sight in contrast to the classic Sedona red rocks.
Had we known such gorgeous creek access was available on the trail, we would have come early and spent the day cooling off in the river before the hike.
Perhaps my favorite part of the trail was the lack of other hikers. We were prepared when gearing up to do such a popular Sedona hike at sunset, to be surrounded by hoards of other hikers.
This was not the case in taking the Baldwin Trail route.
Another bonus was that the Baldwin Trail parking lot was nearly empty when we arrived. We also only passed two other couples while hiking the Baldwin/Templeton sections. It wasn’t until we merged with Cathedral Rock Trail that we began seeing other hikers.
If you don’t mind the extra length, I highly recommend hiking Cathedral Rock Trail via the Baldwin Trail. It will save you the headache of parking, offer unique views of Sedona, and provide you with some secluded time in nature.
This alternative route to hiking Cathedral Rock Trail in Sedona is truly a gem.
What to Expect Hiking Cathedral Rock Trail in Sedona at Sunset
The trek to the top of Cathedral Rock is a steep uphill climb. While the hike is short, it earned its hard rating in AllTrails due to its elevation gain and technical sections.
Don’t underestimate the trail difficulty.
From the get-go, hikers make their way up the side of the red rocks. Along the trail, there are caged rock stacks or cairns marking the correct path. Follow these rock markings to stay on the trail.
Do note that these cairns particularly come in handy when navigating back. The designated path becomes tricky to stay on as the sun goes down.
Prepare for the trail to get increasingly more technical the further up you ascend. You need both hands free when navigating Cathedral Rock Trail. Many sections, including one large one, require your hands.
With that being said, make sure to carry a day pack so you can house your water, phone, camera, etc. in a secure place while freeing up your hands. As I mentioned earlier, don’t forget your headlamp.
There are several sections along the trail where you’re more so crawling. You need to use your hands and sometimes knees to scurry up the side. Take your time.
With several other hikers also attempting to make it to the top for sunset, expect the trail to be crowded. There was nearly a line at times while we were navigating both up and down the trail.
On that note, be patient with others and mindful of those around you.
You’ll know you’ve made it to the top once the elevation evens out. The trail culminates in a saddle-like ridge. Hikers were seated along the saddle, facing the sun, watching the sunset over the valley.
To the right of the saddle is a narrow ridge wrapping along the rock face. Hikers brave enough can walk this ledge to the end for an incredible view of the valley. Expect a small line here to walk out on the ledge or to get a photo.
To the left of the saddle, you’ll see a small footpath wrapping around the rocks and out of sight. Follow this small trail around the bend and up the backside for a less popular, yet just as breathtaking, view.
This point what actually my favorite spot along Cathedral Rock Trail. Cole and I were completely alone, admiring the towering pinnacles and cotton candy skies above the red rocks.
We nearly had to tear ourselves away from the enchanting spot to make it down in time before total nightfall. Luckily we left when we did because going down surprisingly took longer than going up.
With the impending darkness, everyone started the trek down at about the same time. This caused a long line of hikers and added some time to our descent.
We ended up hiking about 30 minutes or so in the dark on our way back to the car. We were prepared with headlamps and knew this was going to be the case before we started so we paid close attention to trail markings on our way in.
Tips for Hiking Cathedral Rock at Sunset
Hiking Cathedral Rock Trail in Sedona at sunset was truly a magical moment for me. I wouldn’t change anything about the experience and would go for sunset, time and time again.
With that being said, anytime you do a hike at sunset it’s important to be prepared and to keep a couple of things in mind.
Nothing ruins a sunset hike quite like having to feverishly race the sun all the way to the top. It never fails, we almost always cut it too close with sunset hikes, and hiking Cathedral Rock Trail in Sedona at sunset was no different.
My biggest piece of advice is to allot more time to reach the top than you think you will need. This way you can actually enjoy the hike without the worry that you won’t make it in time to see the sunset.
Be Mindful of Time
Additionally, monitor how long the hike takes you. Anytime you do a sunset hike you want to monitor time closely to make sure you allocate enough time for the return hike.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the colors of sunset and forget you still have to trek all the way back to the car. Watch the clock and leave enough time to safely hike out.
Pack a Headlamp
Lastly, always, always have a headlamp on hand. My headlamp is an essential accessory in my daypack regardless of whether I’m doing a sunrise or sunset hike. It’s good a safety practice to implement.
For those planning to hike Cathedral Rock Trail in Sedona at sunset, it’s a necessity. If you stay until the sun goes down, you will be hiking out in the dark.
Other Must-Do Sedona, Arizona Hikes
Bear Mountain Trail
If you’re looking for a good workout and 360-degree views, take a trek up Bear Mountain. Bear Mountain Trail was recommended to us by an Arizona native and one of our favorites during our trip to Sedona.
Bear Mountain Trail is a strenuous 5-mile hike that leads hikers on a beeline path straight to the top. The trail makes you work for the views but they’re definitely some of the best in all of Sedona.
Check out my guide Bear Mountain Sedona: A Challenging Hike Worth the Climb to see why it’s one of my favorite trails in Sedona.
Fay Canyon Trail
Just down the road from Bear Mountain is Fay Canyon. Fay Canyon Trail was also recommended to us by a local and is a perfect hike to pair with Bear Mountain.
The trail is short and flat but surprisingly delivers on views. While most of the hike is along the canyon floor and covered under the canopy, just past the “Trail ends here” sign is an incredible viewpoint.
Make sure to explore just past the sign to witness a breathtaking view of the area. Read my full guide on How to Find Hidden Gems Along Fay Canyon Trail.
Devils Bridge Trail
Devils Bridge is another iconic trail in the Sedona area. It’s a popular hike so don’t expect to have the trail to yourself.
While Devils Bridge wasn’t my favorite hike from the trip, it’s definitely worth seeing. The bridge itself is the hike’s main appeal and is situated in front of a beautiful red valley backdrop.
I recommend hiking Devils Bridge via Chuck Wagon Trail. You’ll encounter less people and take a more scenic path to the bridge.
Wilson Mountain Trail
Our award for the best hike in Sedona goes to Wilson Mountain Trail. The trail is lengthy, 11.5 miles, and warrants a whole day of exploring.
The trail provides stunning views the entire way as you navigate a series of switchbacks to the top. As the hike is longer and more challenging, you don’t encounter as many hikers as you do on most trails in Sedona.
The trail covers a lot of ground and the scenery changes as you climb. We even got to trudge through snow for a bit at the summit when we visited in February.
If you’re up for the challenge, check out my complete guide to hiking Wilson Mountain Trail and add this adventure to the top of your Sedona hiking list.
Have you taken a trip to Sedona or planning one? If you have any questions about other hikes or adventures in the area, drop me a message in the comment section below!
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