Cathedral Rock Elopement planning in Sedona, Arizona
If you have been searching for epic red rock backdrops in Sedona, Arizona for your wedding day, the odds are 10 to 1 you have come across at least a few images taken during a Cathedral Rock elopement. With it’s towering otherworldly spires, incredible views of the valley below, and it’s close proximity to downtown Sedona, this is one of the most sought after locations in all of Arizona!
This also means Cathedral Rock is one of the busiest trails for hikers in Sedona. You will rarely have the trail to yourself, and during cooler months- early September through the end of April, you will usually have a line to take pictures at the top overlook. The good news? There are several less traveled locations nearby to find more privacy to say your vows, then after we can climb (and I mean CLIMB) to the top of the actual Cathedral Rock trail for those insane cliffhanger views to take portraits. Best of both worlds!
Cathedral Rock Elopement Information at a Glance
There is no special use permit required at this time for groups of 25 or less with no setups. Always check with the Coconico National Forest for current permit requirements, as they can change periodically.
Up to 25 on the main trail.
No setups of any kind are allowed at the main trail.
From the main trailhead parking area, Cathedral Rock is only a 1.2 mile round trip hike. Alltrails lists this trail as moderate, but 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.
Yes! There are several gorgeous, less traveled locations nearby where you will still have Cathedral Rock in the background without the steep hike.
The main trailhead 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 are like me and have the America the Beautiful pass it also covers parking.
The main trailhead parking is usually extremely busy, and there is currently construction making traffic and parking even more difficult. I highly suggest Sundays-Thursdays, and even then you should be prepared to have to wait in line to park.
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 named that a few miles away.
It depends. The best lighting for pictures is going to be in the afternoon for a sunset elopement. If you would prefer more privacy, hiking up in the dark for a sunrise elopement is going to be a better choice for you.
Even though Sedona is at higher elevation than much of Arizona, it still has many days reaching over 100F in the summertime, along with unpredictable monsoon storms. For these reasons, September through the end of April are generally going to be the best time to elope at Cathedral Rock.
Side note: If you are up for a hot hike and the potential afternoon 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.
Most couples choose to change into their main wedding clothes towards the top of the trail so they don’t wedding clothes 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 good hiking shoes. The climb can be slippery and you don’t want to get injured going up or down.
Looking for more information to help you while planning your Sedona Elopement or Intimate Wedding including marriage legalities, things to do, and vendor recommendations?
Check out the full Sedona Elopement Guide
Emily and Skeeter’s Cathedral Rock Elopement adventure
When Emily told me she and Skeeter had lived in Arizona their entire lives but had never been to Sedona, I knew we had to rectify that immediately! As we planned for their big day, I was a bit nervous because we were already hitting triple digits regularly, and they are not avid hikers. Coming from Phoenix, I knew they were used to the heat, but many people underestimate the toll the elevation takes on their ability to breath while doing strenuous activities.
I planned a pre-hike day to go up on my own and video the more difficult portions to send over for them to make their final decision. Bonus of hiking Cathedral during the middle of the week in August? Barely any company! After watching the videos and talking through prep and backup plans, they decided it was still the place they wanted to go.
Armed with plenty of water, sunscreen, and hats for shade, we took our time and let them enjoy every moment of the spectacular views on the way up. At the top, they changed into their elopement attire and we squeezed as much out of the remaining daylight as a breeze made Emily’s dress take off. The song “Send me an Angel” goes through my head every time I look back at the images of her flowy dress enveloping her. If you haven’t chosen an elopement dress yet, definitely keep in mind how the elements can affect it, both good and bad.
After a last dance at the sky turned to dusk, Emily and Skeeter changed into their hiking clothes and we made our way down the mountain with headlamps in the dark and the sound of the full moon drummers who gather on the lower ledge.
Lani and Scott’s elopement styled anniversary day with their little girl
When Lani and Scott said they wanted to combine their anniversary celebration with their first family pictures with their little girl, I knew we were going to a a fun filled relaxing day.
We began the afternoon at one of the lesser traveled trails below the main rock formation so we could have more privacy. Lani’s best friend (and hairdresser!) came along to help with their sweet little girl. (Pro-tip- I highly suggest bringing along a family member or close friend to elopements if you have super young kiddos or pets that require a bit more attention so you can be more relaxed!) While the main trail was bustling with activity, we had the offshoot all to ourselves except for the occasional mountain biker. Their little one was able to explore along the path with mom and dad while the light afternoon sprinkle graced us with a gorgeous rainbow over Courthouse Butte in the distance.
After a quick bite to eat and wardrobe change, we headed up to the lower plateau section of the main trail for dancing at sunset and an incredible moon rising as we ended our day together.
and I want to be your Elopement or Intimate Wedding Photographer!
I love helping couples visualize and craft an experience that feels true to you. The way your marriage begins matters, and I would love to help you tell your story. Set your marriage up for success by allowing yourself to get married your way!
What to read next: