The Cathedral Rock Trail is one of the classic hikes in the Sedona area. It’s an adventurous hike with some scrambling to a spectacular viewpoint. The hike takes about one hour out and back. I combined the trail with 4 other trails, creating a nice day hike circumnavigating the larger Cathedral Rock formation.
Cathedral Rock and Hiline Trail, Sedona
Location: Sedona, Arizona, USA
Trails: Cathedral Rock, Templeton, Baldwin, Hiline, Slim Shady
Distance: 8.8 miles (14,1 km)
Elevation gain/loss: 1,302 ft (397 m)
Highest point: Cathedral Rock saddle 4,685 ft (1.428 m)
Time: 4 hrs walking time, 5 hrs total time
Hiked: November 5, 2022
Getting to the Trailhead
The (small) parking lot at the Cathedral Rock trailhead tends to fill up before 7 a.m. every day, and even before 6 during peak season. That’s why it is recommended to use the free Sedona Shuttle bus. I took the shuttle bus nr. 15 that leaves from the North State Road 179 Park and Ride (called ‘B’ on shuttle maps) to the Cathedral Trailhead (‘F’). I took the earliest bus at 7 a.m. When the bus reached the roundabout exit that leads to the trailhead, the road was already blocked for all traffic except the shuttle.
Cathedral Rock and adjacent trails
Cathedral Rock Trail
The heavily used trail towards Cathedral Rock
When I arrived at the trailhead, it was still very quiet. Just me and two couples of hikers that came with me on the shuttle bus. We took turns taking pictures at the trailhead sign. Before me stood the Cathedral Rock, glowing warm orange in the early morning sun.
The actual Cathedral Rock trail is spectacular but fairly short. It only took me 30 minutes to reach the Cathedral Rock saddle. To get to the saddle, some steep scrambling was required. The first part of the trail was an easy stroll on a dusty red rock trail. Halfway the trail more ore less disappeared on the red slick rock and I followed the markers (wire baskets of rocks). I had to use both hands along a narrow crack in the rock to climb to a higher level of the rock. This led to a spectacular view of the Rock on one side and of Sedona and the surrounding buttes on the other side. What a great way to start a Saturday morning!
Cathedral Rock saddle 4,685 ft (1.428 m)
Arriving at the saddle, there was the famous ‘End of Trail’ sign which was kind of useful, because as I reached the saddle so quickly I wondered if I should continue hiking somewhere.
There were about a dozen other hikers coming and going to admire the views. And these views were spectacular in all directions. In the distance was a yellow-red air balloon floating in the sky, adding an extra spacious effect to the already astounding scenery.
View from the Cathedral Rock saddle with photo opportunity spot
From the saddle ran a short ridge path to the corner of the main rock, populair with photographers and hikers. While everyone was gently waiting their turn for the photo opportunity and I was looking at each hiker posing for the perfect Instagram photoshoot, I had to admit: this ìs a wonderful spot. Had I not been alone, I would probably have made a similar picture. At least I had a photo with one of the other hikers now.
I headed down from the saddle to the trail but instead of going back to the trailhead, I turned left (west) halfway, to the Templeton trail. Immediately I had the trail all to myself. A path contoured around the mesa in anticlockwise direction. I crossed a dry riverbed and continued towards the northernmost point of the trail, where steep switchbacks led all the way down to the Oak Creek river.
Oak Creek below Cathedral Rock
Arriving at Oak Creek, the scenery had changed from a red desert to a shaded green and yellow oak forest. The trees dressed in autumn colors, backed by the dark red rock provided a beautiful combination of colors. The Templeton trail followed the creek for a while until the junction with the Baldwin trail.
Templeton-Baldwin trail junction
Baldwin is a circular trail around a lower hill west of Cathedral Rock. The eastern part connects Templeton with the Hiline trail. This short part of the Templeton trail followed a dry creek bed and the scenery changed from oak trees and a sandy floor back to the desert environment of pine trees and a red dust trail.
From the Baldwin-Hiline junction, the trail returns to a higher elevation. There were a few steep and slick parts to negotiate, not difficult but actually quite fun to do. The Hiline Trail was busy. Not with hikers (I was the only one) but with mountain bikers and trail runners. I must admit I do not like bicycles on the trail, as they disturb the quiet scenery – but who am I to judge.
The runners were doing some kind of mountain marathon. I was happy that I was hiking in a moderate pace with more time to enjoy the scenery.
View from the Hiline Trail: Cathedral Rock seen from the South side.
The Hiline trail runs all the way around Cathedral Rock on the south side. The trail was much more beautiful than I expected, great views in all directions and how I love that red desert rock below my feet!
Near the end of the Hiline trail, view of Courthouse Butte
At the southernmost point, I crossed a ridge and descended steeply and turned northwest back in the direction of the Cathedral Rock trailhead. Below the ridge I found some cool shade, which I welcomed after the hot sunny trail on the south side.
Slim Shady Trail
Below I found the Slim Shady trail sign (I still don’t know if there is a deliberate connection with the Eminem alter ego). The trail ran through low shrubs and trees, following dry river beds, slick rock and sandy trails. Part of the trail offered unobstructed views of the Cathedral but on part of the trail I hiked under cover of the trees.
View from the Slim Shady trail
Back at the Cathedral Rock trail around noon, it was quite busy with hikers and the majestic atmosphere of the giant rock was somewhat broken.
I had been hiking for exactly 5 hours when I returned to the trailhead. I was just in time for a returning shuttle bus. When I returned at the Park & Ride at US 179, just half an hour past noon, this Shuttle bus parking was now completely full. Moreover, the entrance to the parking was blocked. This is how crowded Sedona can be on a Saturday in november – not even the busiest time of the year.
I was glad I had started today at the earliest hour possible. Cathedral Rock was my introduction to the Sedona area, and a lovely one!