• Elizabeth Nelson

Photographing at Cathedral Rock: The Truth Behind the Gorgeous Views

I didn't understand the hype until I hiked to the top and witnessed the views for myself. Having said that, I believe this is a very underestimated hike and so I wanted to provide some advice to all of my couples who inquire about having their engagement photos or elopement photos taken a Cathedral Rock in Sedona.

Imagine this, you have been dreaming about the perfect locations for your photo session and someone tells you about a trail in Sedona called Cathedral Rock. Intrigued, you look it up and find tons of photos on instagram about this magical trail and it peeks your interests. Getting outdoors and into the red rocks with a backdrop that takes your breath away seems like the perfect spot to celebrate your new engagement or to tie the knot.


Now imagine getting into Sedona, hiking up a short trail and it opens up onto this beautiful plateau of red rock. Its stunning and then you look up. You can see tiny dots of people practically scaling the rocks and you are suddenly wondering if the amazing look out point is even worth getting too.


Let me tell you first and foremost, yes. It is worth it.


However, it isn't without some climbing, good old fashion sweat and some heavy breathing. So let's break it down.


Short and sweet. I mean steep.

Having done this hike a couple times now, I will say it takes about 30-45 minutes to get to the top. Depending on how much experience you have with hiking, you can crank it up and get to the top pretty quickly but you will be panting by the time you reach the top. Remember, elevation is a thing and in Sedona it is about 5,000 ft. Typically I will encourage several breaks as we are hiking up because it is very steep at certain areas.


The hike starts out pretty easy with a mostly flat hike up to an open plateau area. This area is gorgeous on its own and can be the perfect spot for your photos if you aren't wanting to or can not go all the way up to the top. It has some wonderful views looking down onto Sedona and the backdrop of the towering Cathedral Rocks behind you is just stunning.

If you are wanting to go all the way up to the iconic view point, I will say it again. The hike is very steep. The only place I can compare it to is if you have hiked Camelback mountain in Scottsdale, AZ, I would say it is similar to that but without railings to help out.


At one point near the beginning of the ascent to the top there is a crack in some big rocks that you are essentially climbing in. You will need your hands to help you which brings me to my next part.


Backpacks are a must

This is 100% a must. Especially if you are hiking up with the intent of changing outfits or shoes at the top, which I suggest as well.


The first time I hiked up to the top of Cathedral Rock I did it for an elopement and the couple I went with were super excited but we were all underprepared. Because this was their elopement it made sense to have a change of clothes and shoes for sure, but come time to head out there the bride got flustered and they forgot a backpack. Thankfully they had tote bags but this really limited the use of their hands for grip and balance on the hike. We ended up playing hot potato with their bags the entire way up and down to ensure that we were hiking up safely.


The second time I went up we all had our backpacks and it made hiking up a lot "quicker" because we didn't have to pass a bag to each other or set it down at any point.


Your clothes and shoes matter

I'm going to bring up the first time I hiked this trail again with my elopement couple because it was one for the books for sure. They both were going to swap clothes at the top but when it came down to the day, they decided to hike up in their bridal attire. Her dress was a loose material so I wasn't too worried but hiking up in a tux is another thing entirely. Slacks are not exactly the most forgiving material and so there were a couple moments I worried about his pants splitting and tearing on the way up. We had to take several breaks because of the heat and the groom was definitely sweating by the time we got to the top.


So, for the hike itself, I highly, highly recommend wearing athletic clothes or some comfortable type of hiking outfits like cargo shorts or basketball shorts. You will want some room to move around and if you plan on wearing jeans for your photoshoot, it wont necessarily be the best option to hike up in them, no matter their stretch ability.


With this hike you will be using your legs a lot and that might sound like a no brainer because you are hiking, but you really do have to step up onto tall rocks on the way up and work your way down them on the decent and you wont want to be restricted by what you are wearing.


Once you have your clothes figured out, the shoes are next. I have hiked up and back comfortably in good ol' tennis shoes but I'll be the first to admit that it's not the best shoe for the job. The rocks that you will be hiking up are quite slick due to the high volume of hikers that visit and there are some parts of the hike with looser sand/gravel type paths that would probably be better to walk on with true hiking shoes.


One couple that I went up with, she wore hiking sandals and faired pretty well in them because they had traction and grip.


If you are an avid hiker or adventurer who wears chacos or teva's then those might be your best option because you are familiar with them. Regardless of skill level, wearing athletic clothes and hiking boots/shoes are your best option for making it to the top without problems.


Now, once you are at the top, because this is a very popular hike, we wont be alone. If you do want to bring a change of clothes because you can not hike in them, I would also suggest bringing a towel up as well. That way you can cover yourself and provide some privacy for changing. There are some more private areas off to the side at the top that I have found perfect for quick changes that I can guide y'all too should you choose this hike for your photo session.

From there it's just the basics

Like with any other hike, bring plenty of water with you. The hike is strenuous and at elevation which is a double whammy in my book which calls for a lot of breaks for water along the way up and down. If you are a fan of summit snacks, having a little something at the top of the trail to refuel is always a good idea as well. Something salty is recommended because it can help replenish your energy and keep you sweating!


Having a small first aid kit is always a bonus but not required. I typically will have something in my car or backpack to bring up for small accidents that could accrue on the hike up or down.


So, if you have seen any photos of mine from Cathedral Rock or anywhere else and think that it is the perfect spot for your photoshoot, I hope you now have a clearer idea of what this hike requires.


And if you haven't been scared off, then let's go! We got this and I promise the view is worth it from the top. Even after the two false summits! 😉

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Phoenix, Arizona  elizabeth@nelsoncinematic.com  480-268-5795

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