The Rough Riders Climb Cathedral Rock the Hard Way

January 26, 2024

By Clay Dunsmore

The Rough Riders hike along a steep red rock ledge toward the Cathedral Rock spires.

Wise Cracks seems like an odd name for a hike. It might be odd, but it was intriguing enough to get a group of Sedona Westerners to show up for the Rough Riders hike on a chilly, windy Saturday morning. The troupe assembled at the Baldwin trailhead parking lot and quickly covered club rules and a brief summary of the hike. The hike would be approximately 6.5 miles with an elevation gain of 1,500 feet taking us to the top of Cathedral Rock. For now, everyone was keen on getting out of the wind and onto the trail. 

Off we went down the Baldwin trail taking the path in a counterclockwise direction. The pine and juniper trees that line the trail were beautiful and, thankfully, served as effective windbreaks. Twenty minutes down the trail we got our first clue regarding the name of the hike. A steep narrow red rock crack appeared, shooting upward along an unnamed butte west of Cathedral Rock. Instead of gaining elevation gradually, we clamored up 250 feet through the narrow crack. Phew, we all made it to the top - and were warmed up by the exertion.

Ambling across the top of the butte we enjoyed the beautiful views of Cathedral Rock to the west and Capital Butte to the north. As we continued, we passed by the large red rock outcropping which the Westerners named Napoleon’s Tomb. We also saw our first sign of the area's ancient volcanic past. A slash of gray basalt amidst the red sandstone marked the location where magma had once flowed and then cooled creating a dike. At the northeast corner of the butte, we descended yet another steep crack back to the valley floor.

The next task on the agenda was to find a sunny spot out of the wind for a snack break. We passed a rock outcropping that some called Mini Lizard Head. (The larger Lizard Head rock formation is located in West Sedona near Chimney Rock and Capitol Butte.) Just around the corner, we found what we were looking for - a gentle south-facing slope out of the wind.

After a short break, we continued past a large spillover onto a broad red rock shoulder overlooking the Little Park development. A short steep climb put us one level up, still well below Cathedral Rock, so there was more climbing to do. But there was another narrow crack and this one was tight. We had to carefully select each hand and foothold to wedge their way up. Despite the challenge, once again, we all managed the climb. 

Next, we shuffled across a steeply slanted red rock shoulder and hopped up onto a Fort Apache Limestone ledge. We were almost there. One more crack to climb. Once over a final basalt dike, we were on Cathedral Rock. The view was fabulous. We took in the scenery, happy with our unique vantage point. We quickly moved on - the cold December wind was fierce, and we were ready to find another windbreak.

The trail wound around to the north and dropped down to Oak Creek via - you guessed it -another crack. The creek was flowing nicely, and a few yellow leaves still clung to the Cottonwood trees. We followed the Templeton and Baldwin trails back to the trailhead, all the Wiser for our adventure. 

The Sedona Westerners Rough Riders are a group of experienced and fit hikers who like to level up to do more challenging hikes. While we are happy to share their adventure to Cathedral Rock with you, we do not recommend you attempt such challenging hikes on your own. 

Consider joining the Sedona Westerners for adventures like this one and other weekly hikes throughout our hiking season. Our skilled and knowledgeable hike leaders welcome new members. We have hikes for all abilities. A complete list of the hikes still to come is listed on our website at  It only takes a few minutes to sign up and start your own new adventure with the Sedona Westerners here in the Red Rocks.

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