Many people dream of Cathedral Rock wedding after seeing ceremonies in pictures and videos online. But as a Sedona local and frequent wedding photographer, I can tell you a Cathedral Rock wedding ceremony isn’t easy.
There are many challenges like the crowds, shuttle timing, and travel challenges. Found in the Arizona’s Coconino National Forest — three hours south of the Grand Canyon National Park — Cathedral Rock is one of Sedona’s most popular outdoor trails. I recommend people plan for a Cathedral Rock elopement if they want the iconic red rocks, mystic vortexes and beautiful hiking trails.
As a Sedona local who attended Red Rock High School before starting her own wedding photography business, I can guide you to an easier Cathedral Rock elopement.
Keep reading to learn how to avoid the pitfalls.
Cathedral Rock wedding ceremonies
The internet is ripe with questions about how to get married at Cathedral Rock.
If you’re looking for a big and elaborate wedding, I recommend you search for a different location. I personally recommend all of my couples to only plan small weddings, or elopements, at Cathedral Rock. Here are a few reasons why:
- No event space
- Limited parking
- Limited seating
- Crowds of hikers
- A new Cathedral Rock shuttle system
- No vendor space
Larger marriage ceremonies often include decorations, seating, and bathrooms. Cathedral Rock does not have a set wedding space to support a large wedding.
Any large wedding would have a direct impact on the delicate ecosystem of Sedona. People are drawn to this stunning landscapes from around the world, and I believe it’s my job as a photographer to protect this environment for future generations.
Smaller elopements and smaller photo shoots fit Cathedral Rock’s space and popularity especially if they follow the Forest Service’s event rules.
You may or may not be surprised, but Sedona has been overloaded with so many people that the city implemented a new weekend Cathedral Rock shuttle system. The new shuttle reduces overflowing parking and crowd parking problems, but causes road blocks for people planning any wedding. I cover this topic in depth below.
I recommend people plan for a smaller elopement or wedding photo shoot at Cathedral Rock during the weekdays — not a larger wedding — to avoid these headaches.
What do I need to know to plan my Cathedral Rock elopement?
What do you need to consider when creating your Cathedral Rock elopement plan? Below we cover cost, crowds, parking, shuttle, and weather.
Is Cathedral Rock a hard hike?
I think the views from Cathedral Rock are something everyone should experience, but I fully understand that the hike is not for everyone.
AllTrails currently lists Cathedral Rock as the fourth-best hike in the United States. AllTrails and the Forest Service describe Cathedral Rock as a hard hike. As a photographer who often hikes it with pounds of photography gear on her back, I promise you they aren’t lying.
First, the ascent is steep in many locations. The trail is only 1.2 miles and takes about an hour one way to hike. However, climbers ascend 741 feet in elevation during that time. The most difficult section requires hikers to use their hands, legs, and sometimes back-end to traverse a large crack in the rock.
Climbers will get dirty. Hiking to the top isn’t the best for inexperienced or ill-equipped hikers. (For less experienced hikers, I can recommend other stunning locations to my couples.)
If you’re wondering how a bride and groom can climb to the top of Cathedral Rock and still look good in the photos, well that’s a secret of the trade.
How much does it cost?
If you’re between a Sedona venue or the great outdoors, consider the cost and value of your purchase.
Sedona venues include hotels, resorts, spas, or shopping areas. Many Sedona venues have amenities, views, changing spaces, and accommodations one expects with a larger wedding. But for my couples looking to save money, I always recommend outdoor adventure elopements.
Smaller adventure elopements allow couples to have an intimate, low cost moment in Sedona’s natural setting to tie the knot.
Of course, all weddings are special because of the love between the engaged couples. So I always recommend couples find what setting matches the magic they want at their dream wedding.
Are there a lot of people on the hike?
As one of the country’s best hikes, weekends at Cathedral Rock get busy.
People have been flooding to outdoor locations in recent years. Cathedral Rock is no different. Lines form at the top of the hike as people wait to add the iconic red rock photo to their Instagram. My recommendation: plan your Cathedral Rock ceremonies Monday through Wednesday.
My clients give raving reviews about their small and intimate outdoor ceremonies on weekdays. If you’re able to make the time in your schedule for a weekday elopement, you’ll be glad you did. You’ll avoid the crowds and find quieter path beneath some of the most iconic spaces in the Southwest.
If you can only plan your elopement for the weekend, I’d recommend finding a different location because the shuttle makes planning your elopement incredibly difficult.
How is parking?
With an influx of people comes an influx of cars.
Adding to the challenge, the parking lot of Cathedral Rock is small. While hundreds of people attempt this hike everyday, there are only about 20 parking spots.
The city of Sedona created the Sedona Shuttle to help manage this problem on the weekends, so I have covered that in the next section.
I recommend my couples arrive early on the weekdays to ensure they have enough time to find a spot if one is not immediately available. The lucky ones find a parking spot when they arrive. Finding a quick parking spot means you have more time to enjoy the views while climbing to the top of Cathedral Rock.
How does the Cathedral Rock shuttle work?
The City of Sedona created the Sedona Shuttle in March 2022.
The shuttle takes riders to four hiking locations around the city — Cathedral Rock, Soldier Pass, Dry Creek and Little Horse.
The shuttle only runs Thursday through Sunday and picks people up at a designated parking lot for free. Anyone who tries to avoid the shuttle and head straight to Cathedral Rock will find a Forest Service ranger blocking the road to the trailhead.
The shuttle is a great alternative for hikers and locals but makes timing weekend photo shoots difficult.
If you are still on the mountain after the last shuttle ride, you’ll have to find your own way back to your car. Uber and Lyft are unreliable in the small town of Sedona. I recommend booking with Sedona Quick Rides to ensure you have a ride after the hike.
For each of these reasons, I recommend my clients plan for weekday ceremonies at Cathedral Rock. Weekday ceremonies avoid the crowds, parking problems and traffic, providing an easygoing and intimate elopement experience.
If you need a weekend ceremony, Sedona is gorgeous and has plenty of other wild outdoor locations that can fit your needs. Explore our blog to find a neat spot.
What weather should I expect?
The Southwest is known for its endless drought, but Sedona gets a good amount of precipitation during the summer and winter.
During winter the area snows and during the summer monsoon seasons Sedona rains. People on the trails who don’t check the forecast can easily expect sun and instead get drenched. At Cathedral Rock, the water can cause rocks to become slick, so hiking it with rain in the forecast is not recommended.
I have learned to maneuver the weather, but during winter and summer I warn my clients to prepare a backup plan besides Cathedral Rock. The summer monsoon season brings lightning and thunder, which is hazardous for photographers like me carrying pounds of metal gear on my back.
And lastly, remember to watch out for hot, desert days. Always bring water, stay hydrated and avoid the trails when temperatures reach more than 95 degrees.
Victoria Nabours, a Northern Arizona local, founded White Desert Photography in 2018. Since then, the company has bloomed into one of the most in-demand wedding, elopement and engagement photography companies in Sedona. Additionally, her years of expertise has taken her to international wedding destinations and attracted the eye of local and bridal magazines.