Alright, so you’ve booked a trip to Sedona, Arizona.
First of all, YAY! You’re one step closer to walking amongst those towering red pillars, gorgeous desert plants, and downright mystical spaces.
But where to start?
On our last trip to Sedona, one of the most rewarding (and easy!) hikes we did was the Cathedral Rock trail during sunset.
It was the perfect mix of stunning scenery, hidden treasures, and the perfect spot to enjoy our first night in Arizona.
In this post, we’re sharing what you can expect on your own sunset hike at Cathedral Rock in Sedona, and how you can make the most of your trip.
Read on for the good stuff!
Hike Cathedral Rock In Sedona During Sunset
First time in Sedona, Arizona? We’ve written a lot of other helpful articles about other adventures in the Red Rock State Park. Read the posts below to help you plan your next amazing trip!
- Hiking to Devil’s Bridge During Sunrise
- The 5 Best Sedona Hiking Trails You Must Take On Your Next Trip
- Best Instagram Spots in The Southwest
- How To Go Camping For Free
- Car Camping 101: The Complete Guide To Sleeping In Your Car
Quick Facts About Cathedral Rock Trail in Sedona
- Difficulty: Moderate (short trail, but some parts require being on hands and knees/climbing)
- Trail Length: 1.4 miles out and back
- Elevation Gain: 645 feet
- Most Popular Hiking Times: Summer, mid-day
- Best Photography Lighting: Sunset
Getting To The Cathedral Rock Trailhead
Let’s get started.
Cathedral Rock trail is one of the most popular spots to visit in Sedona. This means that at any of the Red Rock Visitor Centers, you can easily find information on the trailheads that lead to this desert beauty.
There are many trails that lead to Cathedral Rock, but we are sharing the most direct and easy trail to reach the top.
Cathedral Rock Trailhead No. 170 Coordinates: 34°49’30.7″N 111°47’18.3″W
Directions from the USDA Website: “From the junction of Routes 89A and 179, take 179 south 3.5 miles to Back O’ Beyond Road on the right. Go 0.6 miles to the trailhead parking turnout on the left.”
Important Note: This trail is heavily used, with limited parking available.
The easiest times to find a spot would be in the morning before sunrise, mid-day (when the sun deters most people!), or around common meal times.
There are also pit toilets to use at Cathedral Rock trailhead.
Starting The Ascent To Cathedral Rock
Cathedral Rock trail in Sedona is not a long hike, but it is a steep one. The total trail out and back is 1.4-miles, with 645-feet of elevation gain.
The trail starts out relatively flat but quickly turns into a steep climb on red Sedona sandstone. Make sure to wear sturdy shoes – we saw a lot of hikers struggling to climb in flip flops and flimsy shoes!
There are a few parts of the trail that will have you using your hands and feet to climb between rocks. Many of the rocks have natural footholds and handholds (worn away by years and years of traffic!) so you can look for those as guides.
Another Adrenaline Inducing Hike: Angels Landing at Zion National Park, UTAH
The View From The Top of Cathedral Rock
Once you reach the top of the Cathedral Rock trail, there are tons of places to explore!
We discovered that the top viewpoint was spread out from right to left, kind of like a really wide balcony that gives everyone at the top a fantastic sunset view.
There were mini trails to the right and left, each giving a unique perspective of the surrounding rocks and beautiful Sedona landscape.
Love Sedona views? Check out these ones on a hike through Soldiers Pass.
Time To Spare Before Sunset?
Explore This Mini Side Trail
At the top of Cathedral Rock hike is a semi-hidden trail to this amazing singular towering pillar.
To reach here, veer to the left of the viewing platform and take a small trail just around one of the large rocks. After you turn the corner, the remainder of the trail requires a bit of climbing, likely using your hands and feet.
This area also serves as a sort of wind tunnel and is shaded from the sun, so keep your jacket at the ready. It’s colder than the other places at Cathedral Rock!
We arrived an hour before sunset, but we’re told that the sun hits the rock beautifully around 9-10am. If you have time, it’s worth taking another trip during the day to see it with fresh light!
Best Locations at Cathedral Rock For Sunset
Coming for sunset at Cathedral Rock and want to scout the best location for your photos? Read below for our favorite perspective, and things to consider at each location.
This particular spot is located at the top of Cathedral Rock trail, just to the left of your first view.
While it looks like a straight drop-off, it’s actually not that scary. The edge is a steep slope down, but not fall-to-your-death high. Regardless, stay safe and don’t step too close to the edge.
The Edge of The World
This perspective of Cathedral Rock is dramatic, beautiful, and dwarfs you (in the best way) among the amazing sandstone pillars.
It can be located to the far right of the viewing area at the top. Take caution however, the drop is high and steep in this area.
In the pictures below, we’re showing different ways you can photograph this location.
You can make someone look super tiny by having them stand on the edge and shooting it from the entrance of the viewing area. See an example photograph below!
You can also walk to the edge and have someone take your picture from this angle (see below). It doesn’t show the dramatic cliff, but it illuminates the red rocks during sunset for a dreamy backdrop.
Just be careful getting close to the edge!
Love Adrenaline? Try Hiking Angels Landing In Zion National Park
Views of Courthouse Butte and Sedona
On the trail up to Cathedral Rock, you’ll be able to see many iconic red rock formations in the surrounding Sedona area.
In the pictures below, we captured images on our way back down the trail, after the sun had set.
The following hour right after sunset is commonly referred to as Blue Hour, where you can bring out the moody blues and muted tones of the coming evening.
Sedona during sunset brings a unique setting – the red rocks, green landscape, and blues in the sky blend beautifully together!
Tips For Hiking Cathedral Rock During Sunset
Know The Sunset Time
It’s important to be timely when hiking to Cathedral Rock during sunset. This is one of the most (if not THE most) popular hikes in Sedona, so you can expect a crowd to start forming right before the sun sets.
If you are shooting with a tripod, it’s important to scout your desired location and stay there to keep your place.
However, be kind and considerate of others when thinking about camera placement – this trip could be a first and only for many visitors!
When we hiked to Cathedral Rock during sunset, we returned back to our cars in the dark. If you are hoping to catch a sunset at the top, remember to pack a light source for the way down.
We would usually recommend a flashlight, but for this particular hike, we suggest a headlamp to keep your hands free! If you want more specifics on what to wear for a trip to Sedona, read our complete Sedona packing list!
Bring Water And Snacks For The Wait
Sedona, Arizona is in the desert. This means mid-day in the summer can get VERY hot, and the weather can stay hot even into the sunset time.
Pack plenty of water to stay hydrated on the trail, and hiking snacks for the wait. You’ll thank us later!
Notice The Smaller Details
Coming from the Pacific Northwest, we noticed the prickly pear cactus and stunning red sandstone right away. This was all a new scene for us, and we took it in with fresh eyes.
If this is your first time (or 100th time!), spend some time focusing on all of your senses. What do you see? What do you smell? Hear? Feel?
Experiencing a Cathedral Rock hike this way can enable you to have more vivid memories and lots of stories to tell later!
Have you ever hiked Cathedral Rock during sunset? What was your experience like? Tell us in the comments below!
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