Cathedral Rock Trail has long been one of our top 10 favorite hikes in Sedona, but the recent crowds in the area have kept us at bay for a couple of years. Then it dawned on us that we had never hiked the monolith in the snow, so we set out to explore one brisk winter morning. A word of caution: This trail is hard enough in perfect weather. If you’re attempting it after a snowstorm, be prepared for icy conditions. We really only recommend doing this if you’re an experienced hiker. Metal crampons would help, too.
The Cathedral Rock Trailhead is located at Back O’ Beyond Road, and the trail basically starts climbing as soon as you leave the parking lot. After only 0.18 mile, you hike out of a juniper and piñon-pine forest onto the red rock base of Cathedral Rock. From here, you’ll be following cairns – wire baskets filled with rocks – as you climb to the saddle between Cathedral’s spires and its dome. Cathedral Rock Trail intersects with Templeton Trail at 0.22 mile. Follow the signs and stay left. You’ll soon reach a large fissure in the rock face. This is where things get really slick. You’ll need to use your hands and feet to shimmy up the crack (you’d do that even in dry weather). Alternately, you can end your hike here and still enjoy stellar views of the Chapel Area. If you’re brazen, begin your ascent. There are actually two fissures you’ll need to negotiate, one right after the other, but the trail becomes more manageable after you reach the top of this section.
The views really start to get good once you’ve worked your way through the cracks. You’ll continue to climb; keep your eye on the cairns – it’s easy to get off-trail in this area. Enjoy views of Airport Mesa, the Chapel of the Holy Cross, the Nuns formation, Lee Mountain, the Rabbit Ears and Courthouse Butte. After hiking 0.68 mile, you’ll reach the saddle of Cathedral Rock. If you thought the views were breathtaking this far, just wait until you get to your destination. Below you, Oak Creek winds its way through red rock knolls and leafless trees. Mingus Mountain and Jerome are also easy to spot. Take the trail to your right (watch out for cactus that grow very close to the trail), and sit on a point perched above a sheer drop. When you’ve had your fill of that vista, go back the way you came and then take the trail that goes left. You’ll need to scramble over some slippery rocks, but you’ll wind up at a point that faces one of Cathedral Rock’s soaring spires. With all of our exploring, our slippery hike measured 0.85 mile one way. Even though we wound up on our derrières a few times, we had the trail all to ourselves, and that was worth the bruises.