How to Elope at Cathedral Rock
If you’ve been looking into Sedona at all, then it is almost impossible that you haven’t come across this iconic spot. From the hike to the views there is information everywhere in travel blogs, hiking sites, numerous ads and of course many wedding photos. We call it the classic hike of Sedona. It is one of the most popular elopement locations in all of Arizona. In this blog we will tell you everything that you need to know to get married at Cathedral Rock and how to plan for the best experience there. As local Sedona elopement photographers, we have photographed many engagement sessions, proposals and you guessed it, elopements here and we can not wait to share all of this info with you, so let’s get to it!
- Where is Cathedral Rock?
- When is the best time to Elope at Cathedral Rock?
- Can I get married on Cathedral Rock?
- Is Cathedral Rock a difficult hike?
- Can I bring guests for a Cathedral Rock Elopement?
- Where is the best place to stay for a Cathedral Rock Wedding?
- Advice from a Cathedral Rock Elopement Photographer….
- Your Cathedral Rock Elopement Photographers!
Where is Cathedral Rock?
Cathedral Rock trail head is just off of the Arizona state route 179, between Sedona and the Village of Oak Creek. Cathedral Rock Trailhead is not the only access point to the trail that will take you to the top of the rock though. You can also take the Templeton trail for a longer hike, more parking (more on parking later) and different views along the way. The Templeton access will also start closer to the VOC (aka – Village of Oak Creek).
Parking at the trailhead for Cathedral Rock will cost $5 unless you have a weekly or yearly Sedona Red Rock Parking pass. America the beautiful passes distributed by the national park service will also cover parking here. Your parking pass can be bought at the trailhead with a debit or credit card at the parking ticket machine or any various gas station or visitor centers which also sell the pass. The most important thing to note about parking at this trailhead is that it is always packed, especially on weekends. Our best advice is to arrive at least 30 minutes early to get parking and to wait patiently in the line rather than circling around. Do not park in areas that are not designated for you. You will very likely get a parking ticket.
The road to cathedral rock is a residential road and due to the heavy amount of traffic that is experienced here, the trailhead parking lot and street access are both closed to thru traffic Thursday through Sunday. So unless you’re staying on the road or you live on it, then you’ll have to park and take Sedona’s free shuttle system. You can find information on the route, where to park for the shuttle and times of each ride by visiting the Sedona Shuttle’s website. The shuttle is not very big so I recommend assuming you wont get on the first ride especially on the weekend. It may be best to book a private shuttle to get to Cathedral Rock, especially with any guests. Also note, Uber drivers or similar services are extremely unreliable in Sedona, so don’t count on this being a potential option.
When is the best time to Elope at Cathedral Rock?
In our opinion based on the weather and tourist traffic, the best months to elope at Cathedral rock is November through March. Let’s dive deeper into this, if you didn’t guess this from the information above, you want to avoid weekends and holidays. The important thing with Cathedral is you really can’t avoid crowds since it is the most popular location in the town for hiking and photos. This is for good reason because it has one of the best spots to watch the sunset, so embrace the other hikers and maybe even other folks getting married! Sunset to us is half of why this location is so iconic. Getting to watch the sun set behind the mountains surrounded by red rock walls is breathtaking.
If privacy is important for you, then you should elope here at sunrise for a whole different view and experience. At sunrise you still can see the sun come up and get beautiful colors. It’s a different experience but not in a bad way at all. Even though Cathedral Rock is located in Northern Arizona, it still gets really hot in the summer. This is why we recommend eloping here during the early fall through the early spring.
Best day to hike Cathedral Rock?
Cathedral rock is a very busy hike, the best day to hike it is probably Tuesday or Wednesday since they are days in the middle of the week and not likely to be a part of a long weekend trip. Either way you want to avoid any holidays for this hike as it will see even more traffic an days that are not considered “work days.” The other thing to consider when picking your day is check local Phoenix schools for their spring break time as Sedona is a very easy and common place to visit during spring as it is in driving distance for a lot of people in the city.
Can I get married on Cathedral Rock?
Yes, you can!!! To seal the deal, you will need a marriage license from the state of Arizona obtained from a clerk office within the state of Arizona. You must be at least 18 years of age to obtain your own marriage license without parental consent. To obtain your license you can set an appointment by phone and then go together to get it. If you are local to Arizona you may apply and get yours in the mail currently due to covid.
For the ceremony (Looking for Inspiration for your Elopement Ceremony?) you will need an officiant and two witnesses above the age of 18 as well. The great news about Cathedral is if you do not have any friends or family present at your elopement, there will be plenty of folks to ask along the hike to sign as witnesses! After the ceremony and signatures, your officiant will mail the license back in for you and boom, you’re married!!!! You can only hold the ceremony at the bast of Cathedral around the first rock shelve. Ceremonies are only allowed to be held on Forest Service land and the top of Cathedral Rock is considered Wilderness land. Don’t worry though, because this is really quite nice as the lower rock shelve is less crowded meaning you will have a more private ceremony.
Do I Need a Permit to Elope at Cathedral Rock?
Currently the Red Rock Forest service district does not require a permit to get married here (as of February 2023). This could change in the future, so be sure to ask your photographer or call the forest service ranger to speak with them. While a permit isn’t required to hold your ceremony here, the forest service does have rules for your ceremony: no arches, no flower petals or birdseed to be thrown, no set up of chairs and to not block the trail or disturb other hikers. If you as the couple reach out the the forest service with a specific request, it is possible that they may grant you permission on a special basis. Their official rules say no, but if you catch the right permit officer on the right day they have been known to be lenient with certain reasonable requests!
Is Cathedral Rock a difficult hike?
On AllTrails Cathedral Rock is labeled as a Hard Hike. According to Verde News more than 200,000 people hike it each year. We feel this question is impossible to answer in a yes or no way. To us, the hike is easy, but we hike and climb and have lived in the desert for a long time. Whereas, for many people who are visiting the desert for the first time may find this trail to be scary and hard to do. There is one section of the trial that requires scrambling. This is where a lot of the older folks or people with a fear of heights decide to turn back. We promise you, if this section feels uncomfortable to you, it is 100% worth pushing through for the epic summit. Unless you have special circumstances that need accommodation, the only thing you will need to do this hike is some water and a good pair of hiking shoes. Either way, we can say the trail is safe as long as you are being safe 🙂
Also fun to note, Cathedral Rock is not just known for the fact that it is a hike. There are also several rock climbing routes on the rock and there are many mountain biking routes along the base of Cathedral.
How long does Cathedral Rock hike take?
If you are simply just hiking the trail it takes on average 1 hour to 4 hours depending on your hiking speed, comfort level, etc. If you are hiking this for your elopement we recommend no less than 3-4 hours of time. If you are holding your ceremony here, then you will need 4 hours of time for sure. If you are doing just having portraits captured here, then you can typically do it in 3 hours. However, due to how busy Cathedral Rock has gotten, we sometimes recommend to hike in from a different area which can take more time, but opens up more variety and privacy.
Do you need a pass to hike Cathedral Rock?
No, there is no permit or pass needed to hike Cathedral Rock. You do need to pay for a red rock parking pass or a National Parks pass will cover you as mentioned earlier. You do not currently need a permit to get married here either, however this may change and is up to Red Rock National Forest office. So if you already have a parking pass and are able to utilize the main trailhead parking, then this makes it one of the free places to get married in Sedona.
Where do I park to Catch the Cathedral Rock Shuttle?
With the new shuttle system in Sedona, there are currently four different shuttle buses all with their own numbering system. The one that you’ll be looking to catch is shuttle number 15 Cathedral Rock/Little Horse. While the other three shuttles share the same parking lot which they operate from, the Cathedral Rock Shuttle operates from it’s own parking lot. The parking lot is called “North SR-179 Park & Ride 1294 SR 179”. This is not far from the cathedral rock trailhead and the shuttle system runs every fifteen minutes from the parking lot with a ten minute transit time to the trailhead. The shuttle is completely free, and operates from Thursday through Sunday. The hours vary depending on the time of year, but expect the shuttle to be up and running by 7 am.
Can I wear my wedding dress to hike up Cathedral Rock?
Short answer, it depends on the dress. Long answer – It truly depends on your comfort level and your mobility in the dress. If the dress is too tight around your thigh area, you wont be able to move as freely as you need to get up the scramble part of the hike. If you have a large heavy dress like a ball gown I wouldn’t recommend hiking it in because you want your hands free for that section as well, so if you can hold the train of your dress in one arm that is more ideal. We would say half of our brides hike it with their dress on and half of our brides change at the top.
What do you do if you are changing at the top? There are a few areas you could hold the ceremony that are more private, slightly off the trail, and that you could hike to in your dress and then change to go up and then change again. We have a changing tent that we carry with us for our brides when requested to change on location with some privacy. Otherwise there are plenty of trees or more private areas to sneak in and out of. You for sure want to wear hiking boots to do this hike. Some experienced hikers will do it barefoot, so if you are conditioned for that, feel free. You can always bring a change of shoes for the photos, but we would highly recommend not wearing heels at the top.
Can I bring guests for a Cathedral Rock Elopement?
Yes, you can totally bring guests along for the adventure for this location. This is also a dog friendly trail (Learn more about bringing your dog along!), if your dog is comfortable with heights to get to the top. The lower areas to elope on the rock shelves are family friendly, but not accessible by wheel chair. Getting to the top is a 1.2 mile hike that is very steep, so everyone may want to go to the top. The most important thing when bringing guests along to this location is to carpool or have people dropped off. Plan ahead for any drop offs because there are only a couple of Ubers in town and one taxi. A lot of folks will hold their ceremony at the bottom and then hike up for sunset for portraits. The walk to several of the ceremony options is approximately ten minutes. To get to the top we usually allow 40 minutes from the ceremony locations. The hike down takes 30-45 minutes depending on folks comfort levels.
Where is the best place to stay for a Cathedral Rock Wedding?
Your closest options will be in the Village of Oak Creek or in Uptown Sedona. There is no shortage of lavish private rentals on both Vrbo and Airbnb in either area. For choosing the best place, you really want to consider what experience you’re looking for during your time in Sedona. If you’re looking to be in the hustle and bustle of the main tourist area, then we recommend staying in Uptown. If you want a more laid back feel and to escape a bit of the tourist crowds, then look for a place in the Village of Oak Creek. Both are completely surrounded by stunning red rock views, so there really isn’t a wrong choice!
What is the Traffic Like Driving To Cathedral Rock?
As Sedona has continued to grow in tourism, the town sometimes gets backed up by an hour or two due to their inefficient round about systems. All of the congested areas of the town between SR-179 leaving the Village of Oak Creek and taking SR-89A North from West Sedona into uptown (where the two main roads meet) only have single lane traffic and no stop lights. Match that with the fact that much of the visiting traffic comes off of I-17 onto SR-179 and you can sometimes find yourself wondering if the line of cars will ever move.
Take this advice from a local! If you only have a limited time in Sedona and when making dinner reservations or any activities in general, be sure to avoid that section of Sedona like the plague between the hours of 4pm and 7pm, especially on the weekends. This is when everyone is heading to their dinner reservations and getting off the trails headed to their rentals all at once. We strongly advise making an itinerary that only travels through that intersection early in the morning or later in the evening. Of course there is no guarantee that a traffic backup will be there, but we’d hate for you to miss sunset or your dinner reservation since you weren’t aware of this common traffic issue!
Best Places to Eat Near Cathedral Rock
There are plenty of restaurants in these areas as well. Here is a list of our favorite restaurants we love going to in the Village of Oak Creek:
If you’re staying in Sedona proper, here is our list of the places we love in the area:
Advice from a Cathedral Rock Elopement Photographer….
Cathedral Rock is iconic. We totally understand the draw to eloping there, from conquering the hike together as newly weds, to the stunning sunset views and the ability to have a family ceremony and an adventure. We think Cathedral Rock offers a great space for a ceremony with family and sunset photos, but we strongly suggest doing part of your elopement day somewhere else too. Why? To offer yourself some privacy on such an important day and to enjoy a different adventure too. The thing is, it’s your wedding day so you should celebrate this whole day, giving it the attention it deserves to start off your marriage. Eloping at a place like Cathedral is STUNNING and exciting, but not private. It is nice to spend some time with just you two on this day reflecting on the time that got you where you are in that moment, what this day means and thinking about your future together. A nice thing several of our couples do is get up for sunrise to do a hike together to share private vows or a letter. This is a great way to set the tone and experience for this day. You can also share a breakfast picnic together where ever you go for sunrise or even back at your stay. Sedona has over 50 million acres of wilderness and offers opportunities from hot air balloon rides, hiking, horseback riding, rock climbing, cliff jumping, and so much more.
Your Cathedral Rock Elopement Photographers!
Hiya! We are Traci and Bill, your Cathedral Rock Elopement Photographers. Traci’s first hike in Sedona was Cathedral rock, many years ago when you used to be the only person at the top and we’ve both hiked it since probably 100 times. Bill has climbed to the very tip top of Cathedral Rock and explored all over the feature. We have captured many elopements here and know all the secrets to having the best elopement experience at Cathedral Rock. We would love to connect with you two and to capture your love story here!
“We emailed Traci & Bill after reading their blog in regards to “why you should elope” which solidified our decision to skip the stress, & just make it about us.
Traci was there every second, every question, every recommendation. She got to know us as individuals to listen to what really meant most to us to allow us to ensure we had the most perfect day.
Bill was able to officiate the wedding with our own personal vows, plus additional legal vows, and he also added his own beautiful message in there as well that was perfect for our setting in Sedona.
Both of their dedication to their craft is not only admirable, but sincerely shows in all our wedding pictures that we will continue to cherish forever. Thank you Bill & Traci!” – Ashliegh