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Hiking Cathedral Rock Vortex: A Sedona Must (Trail Guide)

Mar 4, 2022

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Pictures don’t do Cathedral Rock justice. Upon reaching the Cathedral Rock Vortex, you immediately feel this sense of otherworldly awe. The red rock pillars are larger than life and have a way of making you realize just how massive, magical, and unique our world is. 

Wow, I should be a Cathedral Rock salesman, huh?

As an Arizona local, I’ve done countless Sedona sunset hikes, but Cathedral Rock continues to be a favorite because it has so much to offer. If you’re on your way to Sedona soon, you better make sure this trail is on your list! In this blog, we’ll go over what to expect when hiking to the vortex, the best routes for getting there, and where to capture the best images. By the time you’re done reading, surely you’ll be ready to hit the trails and bask in all that Cathedral goodness.

You might never leave Sedona afterward! Let’s start with a couple of must-know details.

Disclaimer: This blog contains affiliate links which means I earn a small percentage of every purchase at no additional cost to you.

What Exactly is a Vortex?

Think of a vortex as a conglomerate of energy stemming from the universe. Some folks claim it’s so cleansing that it makes them break down in tears! Others feel a rush of energy and clarity upon entering a Sedona vortex. 

And there are a few things that make Cathedral Rock vortex special. Cathedral Rock is one of the best Sedona photo spots. It got its name from how its massive red rock formations resemble a cathedral. Some folks believe the shape is indicative of the vortex energy at the top of this red rock structure.

On clear evenings, hikers and vortex seekers alike are rewarded with pastel and golden sunsets they can admire at the main Cathedral Rock overlook. Getting there is an adventure in itself, which adds to the thrill of it all. In other words, the Cathedral Rock hike in Sedona has a lot going for it! It’s the perfect addition to any Sedona itinerary.

Planning Your Hike to Cathedral Rock Vortex

Because Cathedral Rock vortex is a unique adventure with some scrambling, I suggest bringing the following items. 

  • Sturdy Hiking Boots – If the scramble worries you, I 100% suggest you bring sturdy hiking boots with you on your trip.
  • A Reusable Water Bottle – I recommend bringing a Hydroflask for your hike!
  • A Headlamp – A headlamp is a necessity for hiking back!
  • A Comfy Hiking Pack I recently traded my old raggedy hiking pack for an Osprey Kyte 36L, and I LOVE it.  
  • A Hat – The Cathedral Rock Trail has no shade, so please make sure you wear a hat and sunscreen! Brixton hats have been my favorite for the past year.

Sedona Shuttle System

In spring 2022, Sedona, AZ implemented a free shuttle system that takes visitors to Cathedral Rock Trail. The shuttle runs Thursday through Sunday, year round. When the shuttle is operating, you will NOT be able to park at the Cathedral Rock parking lot. Therefore, you should visit SedonaShuttle.com to look over the schedule.

According to recent visitors, the shuttle system has some kinks to work out—running 30+ minutes late, etc. Plan accordingly!

When to Hike

Hike Cathedral Rock at sunset! On a clear day, you’ll have a cotton candy sunset, which will make all the effort you put into getting here that much more worth it. Your best bet to have great weather is hiking fall to lat spring! You can certainly visit in the summer, but you will have to watch the weather for excessive heat.

Speaking of getting there, there are multiple ways to hike to the Cathedral Rock Vortex. In this blog, we will cover getting there from Cathedral Rock Trail, then Baldwin Trail.

Let’s begin!

Route 1 — Cathedral Rock Trail

  • Cathedral Rock Trailhead: 34° 49’30.7″N 111° 47’18.3″W
  • Route: Cathedral Rock Trail > Cathedral Rock
  • Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous
  • Trail Length: 1.4 miles round trip
  • Time To Top: 40 – 60 minutes
  • Elevation Gain: 645 feet
  • Cost: $5 Red Rock Pass, use an American the Beautiful Pass to avoid the Red Rock Pass.
  • Parking: About 20 spaces (available Monday through Wednesday)
  • Shuttle Stop: Head to SedonaShuttle.com (available Thursday through Sunday)

Start of the Hike

Upon your arrival, you can pay the $5 Red Rock Pass fee. Your hike will start from Back O’ Beyond Road and will be clearly marked along the way! Please note that it may take about 30 to 40 minutes to the top! Google Maps is a bit off.

Before starting your ascent up the rock, you will cross a dried-up creek. Immediately following the dried creek, you will be presented with your steep ascend MUAHAHAHA.

It’s not that bad, trust me. Less than a mile away from the parking lot, you will reach a plateau and continue to follow the Cathedral Rock Trail cairns that will lead you up and up the rock. Make sure you stop to take in the views! The surrounding area of Cathedral Rock Trail is so damn beautiful.

PRO TIP: Use an American the Beautiful Pass to avoid the Red Rock Pass.

The Scramble

At just about the halfway point of hiking, Cathedral Rock Trail Sedona is a small crag area that requires you to do a bit of hand and knees scrambling. Wear sturdy hiking boots, and you’ll be just fine!

Take the Cathedral Rock Trail scramble slow, and you’ll make it. The crag also has some notches for your feet to go in, making it much easier to complete than most think. This lasts for about 0.1mi IF that. Immediately following the Cathedral Rock scramble, you will reach another plateau. I suggest taking a break here because the rest of your hike will be uphill.

The views in this area are amazing! Take a break also to snag some pictures. You will continue to follow the rock cairns up the Cathedral Rock Trail. Eventually, you will reach some stone steps that will lead you to the top, and my, my, if this isn’t what dreams are made of, then I don’t know what is!

End of Trail

You’ll know you have reached the top of Cathedral Rock Trail because a sign reading “End of Trail” will be greeting you.

Before we get into more details. I want to describe the alternative route to getting to the Cathedral Rock vortex.

Route 2 — Cathedral Rock Vortex via Baldwin Trail

  • Baldwin Trailhead: @34.8196508,-111.8060294
  • Route: Baldwin Trail > Templeton Trail > Cathedral Rock Trail > Cathedral Rock
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trail Length: 3 miles round trip
  • Time To Top: 1.5 hours
  • Elevation Gain: 161 feet
  • Cost: $5 Red Rock Pass, use an American the Beautiful Pass to avoid the Red Rock Pass.
  • Parking: About 20 spaces.

I like to go up to Cathedral Rock vortex via our second option: the backside, down Verde Valley Road! You’ll start your hike to the Cathedral Rock vortex by crossing the road (from the Verde Valley Parking lot) and hopping on the Baldwin Trail.

This route is very flat in the beginning. And after a few hundred feet, you’ll find yourself hiking near Oak Creek, making it more “luscious” than Cathedral Rock Trail. This is where you’ll hop on Templeton Trail until you get to Cathedral Rock Trail. I love this route because you get a jaw-dropping view of Cathedral Rock almost immediately!

In addition, Baldwin Trail and Templeton Trail can be used to get to Red Rock Crossing, which offers an almost similar view to what you’ll have. After hiking along Oak Creek, you’ll reach a series of switchbacks that gradually climb up to meet with the Cathedral Rock Trail. Once that happens, your hike to the vortex will continue as previously described!

Please note taking Baldwin Trail will not allow you to avoid the scramble. Choose this trail for a more scenic route!

Exploring the Top of Cathedral Rock

No matter what adventure you choose for getting here, the top of the Cathedral Rock Sedona hike is where all the magic happens. So let’s get into the details! 

Right Side — The Edge

By taking a right at the top of Cathedral Rock, you’ll see the small trail that leads to “The Edge” and gives you the classic insta-famous photo people take at Cathedral Rock Sedona. Beware that this is a popular Sedona photo spot on the Cathedral Rock trail, so there may be a line for the picture.

Left Side — The Pillar (AKA the Vortex)

To get to the Cathedral Rock vortex, take a left at the very top of Cathedral Rock, then climb up the rocky trail until to reach a hidden pillar. This is the vortex!

If you look below the pillar, you might see a very smooth and round stone with what looks like perfect hand placement areas. The stone is called the “birthing stone.” Women come to the stone hoping that it’ll grant them healthy fertility.

I would have to say that the pillar is my favorite area of the Cathedral Rock Trail because it tends to be much more secluded than the classic viewpoint.

Where to Take the Best Photos

Here is where to take the best photos on Cathedral Rock Trail!

  • The Edge
  • The Main Vista
  • Along Cathedral Rock Trail
  • The Pillar (AKA the Vortex)

Let’s explain these in detail!

The Edge

Take the small trail to the right of the main vista, and you’ll be presented with the edge spot. Stand or sit for photos with you and the Cathedral spires in the background. Please be careful here! While it is very photogenic, standing at the edge can be dangerous.

The Main Vista

Various large stones at the top of the Cathedral Rock make quite the viewing area and are so great for pictures! I love taking pictures here because it’s so open.

Along the Trail

Looking behind you from the Cathedral Rock Trail, you’ll be presented with a view of multiple Sedona rock formations in the distance, like Courthouse Butte and Bell Rock. It’s pretty dreamy, and I recommend taking pictures here if you have the time.

The Cathedral Rock Vortex

And, of course, we have the “pillar” located in the Cathedral Rock vortex. You’ll need a wide-angle camera lens or an ultra-wide lens. I love the Canon 5D Mark IV and the 16 – 35mm f/4 lens! The pillar is MUCH taller than it appears in photos. For your best chance at decent light, get here before sunset.

Cathedral Rock FAQ

Here are some frequently asked questions about hiking to the Cathedral Rock vortex in Sedona.

  • How Tall is Cathedral Rock? Cathedral Rock is a red rock formation that stands about 300 feet tall.
  • Why is it Called Cathedral Rock? Many Sedona red rock formations get their names because of their shapes. Cathedral rock has strong pillars that look cathedral-esque. It used to be called Courthouse rock!
  • Are Dogs Allowed on the Cathedral Rock Hike? Yes! However, dogs must be kept on a leash. It is also recommended that your dog has hiking experience.
  • Where is Another Cathedral Rock Vortex? You can go to Red Rock Crossing to witness the power of another Cathedral Rock Vortex.

Want to get your fill of vortexes? Click here to book a vortex tour! 🔮

Final Tips for Hiking Cathedral Rock Vortex

So have I convinced you to add the Cathedral Rock hike in Sedona to your list yet? Good! Here are some more things to know before you go.

Be Respectful

Folks come from worldwide to feel the Cathedral Rock vortex energy. You might not believe in vortexes, but that doesn’t matter. People from all walks of life deserve to enjoy the outdoors in whatever way they see fit. Please be respectful of how folks choose to use their time at this view!

Hike Around Sunset or Early Morning

Not only will doing the Cathedral Rock hike for sunset give you some great light, but you’ll beat the crowds! I mean it when I say that the Cathedral Rock vortex is a popular destination. But, unfortunately, the parking lot does fill up rather quickly. 

Sunset is the better choice, but if you’d rather hike in the morning to beat crowds, you can do that too! If you want to hike for sunrise, though, try something like:

Keep Track of Time

While the Cathedral Rock Trail is a short 1.4 miles long, it may take some more time to complete depending on how you handle the scramble and the uphill. It can be 30 minutes for some people, while others taking multiple breaks and photos can expect to reach the top in about an hour.

Bring Snacks

The Cathedral Rock vortex hike is a THIGH burner! I recommend you have some snacks to munch on when you get to the top. The first time I did the Cathedral Rock hike; I was so pissed I didn’t have food and was a cranky bear when I was at the top, LOL. It wasn’t great, FYI.

Hopefully, this blog convinced you to hike the Cathedral Rock vortex! It’s such a Southwest icon, and the challenging climb is worth it. 

For more help with planning an epic trip to Sedona, check out my other Sedona blogs!

Happy exploring!

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I'm a burrito loving explorer who got fired from corporate America and turned that into my dream career as a photographer and blogger. Now I'm here to help you explore life's magic. Thanks for stopping by!