Cathedral Rock on A Sunday

January 19, 2024

By Sara Stiffler

The Dogies took advantage of well-constructed stone steps to reach the summit of the Cathedral Rock Trail.

On a recent, beautiful Sunday morning in December, the Dogies headed out to hike one of Sedona’s most popular and most photographed rock formations - the iconic Cathedral Rock. With hike leaders Trisha Travis and Kelly-Leigh Thomas at the helm, the hike promised to be exhilarating, challenging, and fun. Starting with a meet-up in the Village of Oak Creek, the group quickly divided up into vehicles to carpool to the Baldwin Trailhead to begin their adventure.

Saying that the Dogies “quickly” arranged to set off from the meet-up location is no exaggeration. The Westerners are an incredibly prompt bunch of hikers. When a meetup is scheduled for 9 a.m., you can bet that there won’t be a Westerner in sight at 9:02 – we’re already on the trail or in a carpool vehicle and headed off on the day’s expedition. Tardiness is not an option.

There are several options for accessing the Cathedral Rock trail including taking the free shuttle from the designated public parking lot on State Road 179. The shuttle drops hikers off at the Cathedral Rock trailhead on Back O’ Beyond Road. This provides for the shortest hike to reach the top of Cathedral Rock. But the Dogies chose to hike in from the Baldwin Trailhead near the parking lot at the end of Verde Valley School Road instead. From there the hike covers about six miles with an elevation gain of 1,200 feet. 

Not far into the hike, you have the option of going straight or to the right. Going straight, the Baldwin Trail offers a fairly flat, extremely picturesque stroll along Oak Creek before intersecting with the Templeton Trail for the climb up to Cathedral Rock. The trail to the right gives you other options for circumnavigating the iconic rock or, as you will read in next week’s article, there’s a different approach for climbing to the top - as told by our Rough Riders group. 

Cathedral Rock is a well-loved heavily used trail for both residents and visitors of Sedona alike. To make improvements to the trail, the US Forest Service has led an extensive, multi-year restoration project which is currently anticipated to be completed in the spring of 2024. Prior phases of the project have included temporary/partial closures of sections of the trail while the trail crew worked to install fencing, signage, rock steps, and other trail improvement features which the Dogies admired and put to good use during the hike.

As we climbed up Cathedral Rock, we frequently stopped to look around and admire the ever-changing but always spectacular views. There are a few hiking trails and vista points in Sedona where a person could stroll along in casual footwear while enjoying their cup of takeout coffee and enjoying the views. The trail to the summit of Cathedral Rock is not one of those trails. Like many trails in Sedona, this one has its fair share of rocks, tree roots, and other obstacles, as well as some fun rock scrambling. We make every attempt to follow the frequently spoken trail admonition of, “No gawking while walking,” but that’s not easy to do when the scenery is as beautiful as that surrounding Cathedral Rock. 

At a particularly lovely vantage point, the Dogies found some slickrock to sit down and enjoy lunchtime food and conversation. The topics were varied, as always, and covered recent and upcoming travels, and updates on the recent episodes of popular streaming shows (The Great British Bake Off finale had recently aired, but no spoilers here!). We even discussed how to see the International Space Station and asteroid Leona which would be visible in the Sedona nighttime skies not too long after our hike.

We retraced our steps for the journey back to the parking lot, glad to be hiking down the steep sections of the trail this time. We met several folks who were taking the hike to Cathedral Rock for the first time. When asked, “How much longer will it take?,” our response would be, “Well, it all depends . . .” Perhaps a frustrating response, the true answer was dependent on some pertinent variables. The distance to the top is deceptively short, but the time spent getting there depends on many factors, including the hiker’s fitness and time spent at the various vista points enjoying the views – and of course, the number of people on the trail that day.  But when asked, “Was it worth it?” by a trio who was pondering the steepest section of the climb, we enthusiastically chimed in with some version of, “Yes, absolutely!” 

Whether you make the steep and challenging climb to the top of Cathedral Rock and see the “End of Trail” sign at the summit or find a stopping point along the way for your own, personal “End of Trail” experience, the views are spectacular. Cathedral Rock is one of those special places where you can honestly say that the journey is just as important, or perhaps even more so, than the final destination.

As a member of the Westerners, you have a wide range of hiking opportunities to join in on each week. Go online to for a list of all the upcoming hikes. One of the advantages of membership is once you pick a hike, all you have to do is show up. There is no need to sign up ahead of time or register for each hike. You can decide when you want to hike and just head to the meetup spot at the designated time. When a member decides they’d rather stay in bed one morning instead, that’s okay, too. We understand, especially on a cold morning. But remember, if you’re running late, we might just leave without you – and nobody wants that to happen. We hope to see you on the trails soon.

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