Cathedral Rock Elopement planning in Sedona, Arizona

Updated for 2022

A Cathedral Rock elopement is THE most requested place to elope in Sedona, and with good reason. The larger-than-life views, dynamic landscape, and monumental red rock spires are guaranteed to take your breath away both in person, and looking back on images of your Cathedral Rock wedding for years to come.

The dramatic views from Cathedral Rock are a photographer’s absolute dream, which is why you will see many Sedona elopement photographers try it at least once.  But be forewarned, this location is not for everyone.

As beautiful as it is, there are a few unique factors you should be aware of as you decide whether you want to say your vows at the top of Cathedral Rock during your Sedona elopement adventure.

Still looking for ideas and tips on eloping in Sedona? Check out the 11 Step Guide to Planning Your Sedona Elopement to help you plan your unforgettable wedding adventure!

Cathedral Rock Elopement in Sedona, Arizona
Couple on the edge of the Cathedral Rock ledge during their sunrise elopement

3 Reasons to choose a Cathedral Rock elopement

  • THE WOW FACTOR The views and dramatic rock formations are out of this world
  • THE ADVENTURE FACTOR is high with the intense incline and climbing scramble to reach the uppermost ledges, it is definitely an adrenaline rush the first time you reach the summit
  • THE WILD FACTOR A natural wind tunnel makes for a high probability of breezes coming through for incredible natural flowy dress and windblown shots

3 Reasons not to choose a Cathedral Rock for your wedding ceremony

  • LITTLE TO NO PRIVACY This is a highly trafficked trail, and the uppermost areas do not offer the privacy expectation most couples seek for their vow exchange.
  • PARKING LOGISTICS The trailhead is located in the middle of a neighborhood with very limited parking that is only available while the Sedona Shuttle is not running.
  • DIFFICULTY FACTOR This is not an easy to reach location. You will get sweaty and dirty. You will have to hike and climb up steep red rocks to get there.
couple out on a ledge during their Cathedral Rock wedding portraits

Cathedral Rock Elopement Quick faq’s

From the main trailhead parking area, Cathedral Rock is only a 1.25 mile round trip hike with a 740+ ft elevation gain. Beware, the distance is deceiving. The incline is pretty intense, so takes most people 40-60 minutes to reach the top with breaks for water and to enjoy the view, which is a 100% acceptable excuse to stop and catch your breath!

Alltrails lists this trail as hard. If you are not used to hiking in the desert at elevation it can be a somewhat strenuous climb to the top because of a steep elevation gain and several spots where you will need to use your hands to climb/ scramble up.

  • Sunset- The main ledge has the most dramatic lighting and the most intense red rock glow in the evening at sunset.
  • Sunrise- The spire has more dramatic lighting during sunrise. Sunrise also offers a bit more privacy and a softer sky at the main ledge.
  • I do not suggest mid-day unless it is a cloudy, overcast day, creating a soft box effect in the sky.

Most couples choose to change into their main wedding clothes towards the top of the trail so they don’t get their wedding attire sweaty and dirty or have to fight to move, but you can also throw a backpack over your dress/ suit if you don’t mind a bit of red rock ombre along the bottom and choose clothes that have enough give for big movements.  The main thing is to wear shoes or hiking boots with good grip and stability.  The climb can be slippery and you don’t want to get injured going up or down.

General Pack list:

  • Hiking boots/ good gripping soled shoes
  • Backpack to keep your hands free while carrying any gear
  • Wedding Attire
  • Any details- rings, bouquet, vow books, etc…
  • Touch up makeup and hair items
  • WATER!  At least 1 liter for each person.
  • Snacks- electrolytes, energy bars, dried fruit, etc…
  • Sunscreen- The desert sun is harsh, be sure to protect yourself with a strong sunscreen, sunglasses, ang possibly a hat depending on the day
  • Loose flowy clothing or moisture wicking fabrics 
  • Pants with plenty of stretch to take large steps
  • Hiking poles (optional, but very useful coming down the slick rock)
  • A great attitude- this hike is no joke!!!

Monday-Wednesday: The main trailhead parking is extremely busy, so plan on having to circle and snag a spot as hikers finish their descent. It requires either a Red Rock Parking Pass which can be purchased ahead of time, or with credit card through a machine at the trailhead, or if you have the America the Beautiful pass  it also covers parking. 

Thursday- Sunday:  There is now a year-round shuttle system in place to help the neighborhood with traffic and parking issues.  This means there is no parking available at the trailhead during hours the shuttle is running, so if you want a sunset session, you will either have to take a connector trail with a longer hike, plan for Monday- Wednesday, or arrange a pickup after the shuttles have stopped running.  For current shuttle schedules, visit Sedona Shuttle.

Quick pro-tip on getting there:

For Monday-Wednesday when you can park yourself, be sure to enter “Cathedral Rock Trailhead” into your gps. Many people have accidentally only put in “Cathedral Rock” and it will take you to a side road with that name a few miles away.

September through the end of April are generally going to be the best months to elope at Cathedral Rock.  January and early February can sometimes come with cold weather leaving ice and snow patches along the shaded areas, so extra precautions are required.   The summer has many days reaching into the high 90s and over 100F, along with unpredictable monsoon storms, making flexibility a must.  Side note: If you are up for a hot hike and the potential storm, some of my favorite Cathedral Rock elopements have been in the heat of the summer.  I do not shy away from the heat and LOVE the rain.  This is only advisable for avid hikers who live in hot climates, like locals or those coming from the valley.

There is no special use permit required at this time for groups of 25 or less with no setups.  Always check with the Coconino National Forest Red Rock District for current permit requirements for your desired activity, as they can change periodically.

No setups of any kind are allowed at the main trail.  This includes non hand held florals, arches, tables or benches of any kind, as well as confetti (yes, even the ones that say biodegradable), flower petals and bird seed.

Cathedral Rock elopement couple embrace as the sun rises behind the spire

Real Talk- Should I have my Elopement at Cathedral Rock

Cathedral Rock trail is one of the most popular hiking trails in Sedona, so it is an almost certainty it will be busy. The whole top of the trail is a U shaped ledge area with limited space to get by people, meaning no way to have a private moment away from the crowds for any length of time.  It also means that other hikers’ experience will be obstructed if you attempt to take over one of the main ledge viewing areas for longer than a couple minutes, which is not only highly frowned upon, but will force the forest service to reconsider whether they allow elopements in this location at all.  Being respectful of everyone’s enjoyment in shared spaces is an important aspect of “Leave no Trace Principles” of outdoor recreation.

You may be asking yourself at this point- “Should I have my elopement ceremony at Cathedral Rock?”  While the top ledge area of Cathedral is one of my all time favorite locations for wedding portraits, I *generally* steer couples towards saying their vows at the middle platform where the trail intersects with Templeton Trail, or at a separate location altogether, saving the very tippity top for elopement photographs of just the two of you.  This gives the best of both worlds!  You get a ceremony with more privacy, space for others to walk around, and great views- and you also get those once in a lifetime portraits nestled between magnificent red rock spires reaching towards the sky!  Win-win!

Alternatives to hiking up Cathedral Rock for your elopement

Are there alternatives to the main Cathedral Rock hike that still have the red rock formation in the background?

Yes!  There are several gorgeous, less traveled locations nearby where you will still have Cathedral Rock in the background without the steep hike.  Consider hiring a Local Sedona Elopement Photographer to help you find the perfect spot.

Are you interested in a Cathedral Rock elopement or wedding portraits?

Hi! I’m Shannon Durazo, and I would love to be your Sedona Elopement Photographer and planning consultant! 

I will hike that mountain, drive those bumpy 4×4 roads, ride behind you on a trail ride, gear up to either meet you at the take off and landing location for those balloon or helicopter tours, or ride with you if you want the whole flight documented.  Basically, no matter what activity you choose to add to your day, consider me your sidekick and adventure elopement documenter extraordinaire.

Contact me to begin planning your Couple’s Sedona Adventure Session today!

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8 Comments

  1. Holy cow Cathedral Rock looks so epic! And I’m obsessed with your tones, every photo is so perfect!! Love it!

  2. Wowww Cathedral Rock is such an epic location for an elopement!!! Sooo gorgeous and love all of the moments you captured!!!

  3. These are such great helpful tips and ideas. Also the thing about sun screen is key haha! I always forget little things like that.

  4. All your images are so beautiful!!! I haven’t been to Sedona yet but it’s on the list for sure. Thank you for including all that useful information in the beginning as well!!

  5. I really adore how there are tips on eloping at cathedral rock, combined with gorgeous images of the desert landscape!

  6. Both of these shoots look incredible! I can never get over the red sandstone of Arizona; for sure elopement goals.

  7. Kayla Altman says:

    I love how you captured the details of the tassels on Lani’s dress. Also thank you for including PRO TIPS-theyre super helpful

  8. These elopement planning tips for Sedona are so thorough and helpful! Sounds like you really know your way around the area. And the images are gorgeous!

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