How to Elope at Cathedral Rock

You have seen this iconic beauty, Cathedral Rock, in travel blogs, hiking sites, numerous ads and of course many wedding photos. I call it the classic hike of Sedona. It is one of the most popular elopement locations in Arizona. In this blog I will tell you exactly how to get married at Cathedral Rock and how to plan for the best experience there. As a Sedona local elopement photographer I have photographed many engagement sessions, proposals and you guessed it, elopements here and I can wait to share all of this info with you, so let’s get to it!

Where is Cathedral Rock?

Cathedral Rock trail head is just off of the 179 going into Sedona from the Village of Oak Creek. Cathedral Rock Trail is not the only access point to the route that will take you to the top of the rock though. You can also take the temptation trail for a longer hike, more parking and different views. That access will also start near 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 count for parking here. Your parking pass can be bought at the trailhead with a debit or credit card at the machine or any local gas station can sell you a pass. The most important thing to note about parking at this trail head is that it is always packed, especially on weekends and Tuesday evenings for a local event. My best advice is to arrive 30 minutes early to get parking and 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.

Recently, the city of Sedona put in a shuttle system to get to the Cathedral Rock trail head because of how busy it has become. So on some days you can not park there at all and must take the shuttle. 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 does not exist in Sedona 🙂

When is the best time to Elope at Cathedral Rock?

In my personal opinion based on weather and tourist traffic the best months to elope on Cathedral rock is November to March. Let’s dive deeper into this, if you didn’t guess this from the information above you want to avoid weekends, holidays and Tuesdays (local event happens and parking gets crowded). I typically say the best days are Wednesdays and Thursdays to avoid crowds. The thing with Cathedral is you really can’t avoid crowds since it is the most popular location in the area for hiking and photos. This is for good reason because it has one of the best spots for sunset, so embrace the other hikers and maybe even other folks getting married! Sunset to me 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 you do want less crowds you can 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 different but not in a bad way at all. Even though Cathedral is more Northern Arizona, it still gets really hot in the summer. I recommend considering eloping here during the early fall or the late spring.

A man and woman sit on a rock together looking at the Rock they just climbed as the sun sets behind them.

Can I get married on Cathedral Rock?

Yes, you can!!! Currently the Red Rock Forest service district does not require a permit to get married here (as of Jan 2021). This could change in the future so be sure to ask your photographer or call the forest service ranger to speak with them. However, they do have rules for your ceremony: no arches, no flower petals or birdseed to be thrown, no set up of chairs and do not block trail or disturb other hikers. Outside of that you will need a marriage license for the state of Arizona from a clerk office in the state, this also means you must be at least 18 years old. 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 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.

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. I think this question is hard to answer in a yes or no way. To us, the hike is super easy, but we hike and climb and have lived in the desert 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 a little bit of scrambling. The only thing you need to do this hike is some water and a good pair of hiking shoes. Either way, I 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 bike routes along the base of Cathedral.

How long does Cathedral Rock hike take?

If you are simply just hiking the trail it can take 1 hour to 4 hours depending on if you are just doing the main trial, your speed of hike and comfort level, etc. If you are hiking this for your elopement we recommend no less than 3-4 hours of time. If you are doing your ceremony then you need 4 hours if you are doing just portraits then you can typically do it in 3 hours. However, due to how busy Cathedral Rock has gotten we typically hike in from a different area which can take 5-6 hours.

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. You do not currently need a permit to get married here either, however we never know when this may change and is up to Red Rock National Forest office. So if you already have a parking pass this makes it one of the free places to get married in Sedona.

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. I would say half of my brides hike it with their dress on and half of my brides change at the top. What do you do if you are changing at the top?? There are a few areas you could do the ceremony that are more private, slightly off 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 that want to change up top and want privacy to do so. Otherwise there are plenty of trees or more private areas to change. 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 photos, but I would highly recommend not wearing heels at the top.

A couple walk together along the red rocks in the morning sunlight in Sedona.

I plan to bring family and friends to my Cathedral Rock Wedding, will this be okay?

Yes, you can totally bring guests along for the adventure for this location. This is also a dog friendly trail, 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 do the 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 I allow usually 40 minutes from ceremony locations. The hike down usually takes 30-45minutes 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 are plenty of restaurants in these areas as well. Restaurants I recommend in the Village of Oak Creek: Butterfly Burger, Tortas de Fuego, The Hudson, Javelina Cantina and Oak Creek Espresso. Restaurants I recommend in the Uptown area are The Hudson, The Vault, The Cowboy Club, Mariposa and Creek side Coffee.

Best places to stay in the VOC:

Best Places to Stay in Uptown:

Advice from a Cathedral Rock Elopement Photographer….

Cathedral Rock is iconic. I totally understand the draw to eloping at it, from conquering the hike together as newly weds, to the stunning sunset views and the ability to have a family ceremony and an adventure. I think Cathedral Rock offers a great space for a ceremony with family and sunset photos, but I strongly suggest doing part of your elopement day somewhere else too. Why? To offer you some privacy to enjoy your day or 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 here, what this day means and thinking about your future together. A nice thing several of my 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 do a breakfast picnic together where ever you go for sunrise or back at the Airbnb. Sedona has over 50 million acres and offers opportunities from hot air balloon rides, hiking, horseback riding, rock climbing, cliff jumping into the river 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 has hiked it since 100s of times. Bill has rock climbed to the very tip top of Cathedral Rock and explored all over the feature. We have captured many elopements here and know just all the secrets to having the best elopement experience at Cathedral Rock. We would love to connect with you two and tell your love story here!

A couple shares a kiss as they leave Cathedral Rock after their mountain biking elopement with their son in tow.

“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

A groom hold his bride as they smile and laugh together.

16 Responses

  1. Um first off – you’re clearly a total PRO at elopements on Cathedral Rock! but more than that, your photos are SO stunning and speak for themselves. Amazing work!

  2. This place and your work (wow) are amazing! Love that you included places to stay that could work well. Sometimes small things like that can be a pain in the butt to find!

  3. This is soooo much good information for anyone looking to elope in Sedona at Cathedral Rock! It definitely pays off to have a local elopement photographer guiding you to the iconic places like this because you know ALL this wealth of information!

  4. This little slice of Arizona looks like heaven! It also definitely pays off to hire a photographer who’s familiar with the area, especially relating to avoiding crowds etc!

  5. I visited here a year ago and it is such a beautiful location!! Highly recommend it for an Elopement!! And all the tips in here are sooooo helpful!! Thanks for sharing!

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