Cathedral Rock: Tips for Sedona’s Best Photo Op

You may not of heard of Cathedral Rock, but I’ll bet you’ve seen pictures of it.  Sunset shots of Cathedral Rock are one of the iconic images of the Southwest and it is on the ‘bucket list’ of many a photographer.  Situated near the beautiful and quaint little town of Sedona Arizona, it is in the heart of the famous “Red Rock” landscape that has captivated so many of us.  If you plan to make a trip to the area, then read on and let me help make the most of your visit to Cathedral Rock:  Tips for Sedona’s Best Photo Op.

Cathedral Rock perspective from Buddah Beach (location #2 on the map below)

I thought I had done a solid job researching Cathedral Rock before my first trip.  I had read How to Photograph the Southwest by Laurent Martres (a great series of books for any landscape photographer) as well as a number of other books and internet articles.  For some reason, I had gotten the mistaken impression that I could just drive up a half hour before sunset, walk five minutes down a nice little path, set up my tripod and be good to go. Well, as it turns out….you can’t.  I didn’t get a decent shot until my third trip here.  Here is what I wish I had known:

First of all, you have to find the place:

  • Cathedral Rock is located in a park about 7 miles from ‘downtown’ Sedona.  If you look online you might easily get confused about exactly where the park is and what it is actually called  (I certainly did).  Sometimes it is referred to as Red Rock Crossing Park…other times as the Crescent Moon Picnic Area Park
  •  This website provides a map and good directions.  If you are using GPS, be careful that it selects the right place.  You specifically want the Crescent Moon picnic area in Red Rock Crossing Park.  Again, leave early and give yourself plenty of time.
  • From the “Y” (intersection of US89A and 179) in downdown Sedona, drive west on US 89A.   Just outside of town, turn south on FR 216 (Upper Red Rock Loop Road). Drive about 1.5 miles and follow the signs to Red Rock Crossing. All roads except the short segment leading from Red Rock Crossing Road to the picnic area are paved
  • GPS: N34° 49′ 33.78″, W-111° 48′ 26.7114″

Plan to be at the park at least an hour and a half before sunset:

  • Why so early?  Well the first reason is because sunset will actually be 30 minutes before the “official” time because mountains to the east will block light on Cathedral Rock.  I didn’t know this my first trip and as I pulled into the park, I was greeted by an incredible sunset…but Cathedral Rock was dark: completely in shadow.  I didn’t get a shot worth keeping.
  • Second, traffic in Sedona can be challenging.  It’s one of the few places I’ve photographed in the Southwest where you have to add extra travel-time to your schedule because of traffic.
  • Third, you will need time to scout the area (see below).
  • As of June 2018, you can’t enter the park after dusk but they don’t ask you to leave if you are already there.  However, you are not allowed to stay in the park overnight (no Milky Way shots).

My favorite vantage points:

  • I wasted my second trip to the site by rushing from one end of the park to the other trying to find the ‘classic’ views I had seen in all those photographs.  The park is pretty big and if you don’t know the best vantage points you should expect to invest a lot of time scouting locations.
  • Let me save you some effort by sharing a map with my top 4 favorite spots to set up and photograph Cathedral Rock:
  • Cathedral Rock Photo Guide_0002
  • The map below covers a wider area and lets you see where Cathedral Rock is located in comparison to Crescent Moon/Red Rock Crossing Park:
Photographer's Map of Cathedral Rock

This map shows you the orientation of Cathedral Rock from the Crescent Moon/Red Rock Crossing Park

A word to the wise:

  • Don’t try to cross the river unless you have a waterproof bag for your camera.  Although parts of the river are shallow (there are even ‘stepping stones’ at one location), the rocks are very slippery.  I have seen a couple of photographers fall in the river and I’m sure it ruined their day.  Frankly, all my favorite locations are on the north side of the river, so I haven’t had an overpowering urge to tempt fate.


  • There are a slew of different passes and tickets for the multiple photo ops around Sedona.  I found it throughly confusing and expensive.  The one-day entrance fee (Day Pass) is $10 per car at Crescent Moon/Red Rock Crossing .  A better option if you are going to be in the area for a couple of days is to buy a Red Rock Annual Pass for $40.  It will allow you access to all the Red Rock areas including Crescent Moon and it also serves as a parking pass for all the scenic parking areas around town (otherwise, you will pay repeatedly for parking and it will likely add up to more than $40).  This link will take you to a website with details about the ticket options.

    Cathedral Rock: Tips for Sedona's Best Photo Op

    View from location #4. This is near the far western edge of the park

  • Although photography is best near the end of the day when the setting sun shifts the color of Cathedral Rock into wonderful red hues, there is plenty you could do here if you have interests other than photography (God forbid!)


  • Cathedral Rock is off in the distance a bit, so you won’t need an extremely wide-angle lens.  Most of my shots were taken between 35 and 50mm on a full frame camera (22-31mm on a crop-frame APS-C camera).
  • You will need a tripod to take the long exposures necessary to give the water that entrancing ‘silky’ look.  A tripod will also come in handy since you will likely want to use HDR to capture the full dynamic range…especially as the light begins to fade.
  • Cathedral Rock: Tips for Sedona's Best Photo Op

    I took this shot as an afterthought, but it ended up being one of my favorites. Look for location #3 on the above map)


  • HDR can be really helpful here.  As a mentioned, Cathedral Rock will be shaded as sunset approaches, so the dynamic range can be quite extreme.
  • There are a number of other stellar locations near Sedona, including Devil’s Bridge, Bell Rock (covered in a previous post), Airport Mesa, Soldier Arch and the incredible Oak Creek Canyon that runs north of town.  If you like to hike, you will be in heaven.  There are an incredible number of trails that run thru some of the world’s best vistas.

Hope you get a chance to visit Sedona soon!

Cathedral Rock: Tips for Sedona's Best Photo Op

The ‘classic’ view from the western border of the park along Oak Creek (Location #1). This is near the ‘stepping stones’ down a dirt path about 150′ or so beyond the end of the park’s concrete walkway. When you see a small house along the river, stop at the park’s fence line, walk down to the river and you are at the spot.


Cathedral Rock: Tips for Sedona’s Best Photo Op


If you enjoyed this article, Get email updates by subscribing (it’s easy!)

This entry was posted in Landscape Photography, Southwest U.S.A. and tagged , , , .

    Adsense infeed


  1. Ming Lo April 5, 2020 at 2:47 pm #

    jeff, really love your site, and grateful for all the tips and suggestions. keep up the great work!


  2. Linda April 24, 2018 at 9:25 pm #

    Jeff, what a great site full of tips and direction! Could you give some insight on what would be the best photo spot for a early to mid-morning shoot at Cathedral Rock? This would be an amazing view for a reveal! Thank you for any tips you have!

    • Jeff Stamer April 25, 2018 at 2:32 pm #

      Hi Linda, Normally I shoot Cathedral Rock from the e Crescent Moon Picnic Area at Red Rock Crossing Park. Unfortunately, this is really a sunset location, the sun rises behind the Cathedral Rock at that location which isn’t ideal for morning photography. I’d suggest driving south on 179 from downtown Sedona and scout out the overlook parking lots. Cathedral Rock will be to the west from 179, so it will receive direct sunlight after sunrise.
      Good luck and have fun…Sedona is beautiful!

      • Linda April 25, 2018 at 2:54 pm #

        Thank you, I will give that a trial run and see how it works. Your photography is beautiful!

  3. Hillary February 9, 2018 at 9:36 pm #

    Hi Jeff!

    I am going here tomorrow at sunset to photograph and was hoping to get the sun behind Cathedral rock, and not facing it. (Does that make sense?) So as the sun sets, get it kind of coming through back of the mountain. Im not from this area and was wondering if you know if it sets behind the mountain or if it rises behind the mountain?

    • Jeff Stamer February 10, 2018 at 5:32 pm #

      Hi Hillary,
      If you are going to be at the Crescent Moon Picnic Area, then the sun will rise behind Cathedral Rock. At sunset, the sun will be over your right shoulder and it will light up Cathedral Rock.
      Good luck!

  4. Corinne February 4, 2018 at 12:28 am #

    Thanks for sharing these great tips. We’re heading to Sedona next week for a second time, and I’m hoping to get some better pics of Cathedral Rock. Our previous trip was in late January and we arrived for sunset, however baby spire in the middles was always in shadow (the rest of the rocks were lit beautifully). (Here’s an example: I took pictures in the park, and also at a vantage point along the road, same shadow in both places. I think it’s probably the angle of the sunset at this time of year and suspect it will be the same this time around! What time of year were you taking your pictures – the baby spire seems to be nicely lit up.

    • Jeff Stamer February 4, 2018 at 10:44 am #

      Hi Corrine,
      Glad to hear my blog was helpful and I’m sure you will have a great time visiting Sedona again. The shots in my blog were taken in late July…You are correct that the baby spire is in shadow during the winter months. Still a beautiful image though!

  5. Hope Serate December 27, 2017 at 5:43 pm #

    Hi Jeff,

    Thank you so much for sharing this great article on Cathedral Rock. I will be in Sedona next week (first week of Jan 2018) and am hoping to shoot this iconic landmark. Your tips and the maps will greatly help me. I will follow you!


    • Jeff Stamer December 28, 2017 at 6:54 am #

      Hi Hope,
      Glad you found the blog helpful. Good luck in capturing some memorable images!

  6. Ray November 27, 2016 at 1:48 pm #

    Great stuff here! will follow you. Making my first trip to Sedona in Feb. will I see any green or color during that time of year? Thanks, Ray

    • Jeff Stamer November 28, 2016 at 7:10 am #

      Hi Ray,
      Spring normally starts in March, so February might be a bit early. But every year is different.
      Good luck!

  7. Akash Srivastava November 4, 2016 at 2:00 am #

    Hi Jeff,

    First of all kudos for an informative article, which is short and concise but well articulated.

    I am visiting Sedona this weekend, which is first weekend of November. In your opinion is it the best time for photographing Cathedral Rock at sunset from Red Rock Crossing and Sedona’s Tower of Virgin at sunrise from Yavapai Point.


    • Jeff Stamer November 20, 2016 at 1:24 pm #

      Hi Akash,
      Sorry, I was in Kenya doing a wildlife shoot and didn’t have access to the internet until today. Hope you were able to get the photos you wanted without my help!

      • Akash Srivastava November 20, 2016 at 2:12 pm #

        Hi Jeff,

        Yes, I was able to get the photos I want. The 101% credit for the photos goes to this article of yours which is accurate with regards to location as well as time. I photographed both cathedral rock as well as mini tower of virgins.

        I will post the online links to photos once I post-process and upload them.


  8. Jay October 20, 2016 at 4:02 pm #

    Thanks so much for this . . . exactly what I was looking for. I wish there were more photography-guide type posts with this kind of detail out there.

    • Jeff Stamer October 22, 2016 at 8:05 am #

      Thanks Jay! Glad you found the blog helpful!

  9. krystal October 14, 2016 at 2:32 pm #

    im planning a family photo in front of red rocks such as the ones in sedona, what colors for clothing would you suggest? thanks

    • Jeff Stamer October 15, 2016 at 9:18 am #

      Hi Krystal, Well, I don’t know if I have ever had a fashion-related question before, but I’ll try my best to answer! Personally, I’d choose a color that would contrast and stand out from the red rocks…black might be a good choice. Thanks!

  10. Michelle September 20, 2016 at 4:34 pm #

    Hi Jeff!
    We are coming up to Sedona from the valley for a wedding on October 1. We are in need of a photographer to take pictures of our family of 5 on October 2. We have 3 little ones, so it would be quick, more of a “mini session.” If you are not interested, do you have anyone you would recommend? Thanks! Michelle

    • Jeff Stamer September 20, 2016 at 8:08 pm #

      Hi Michelle,
      So sorry but I actually live in central Florida and won’t be in Sedona in October! Unfortunately, I don’t know any of the photographer’s in the Sedona area, so I can’t make a recommendation.
      Best of Luck!

  11. Jim October 13, 2015 at 10:11 pm #

    Thank you for the detail in your blog(s). It’s really helpful. My wife and I, along with another couple who also do photography, plan to spend two weeks in the Sedona area at the end of October/first wk of November. Since we have some time, do you have suggestions (other than what’s on your bog) of what to make sure we get to? Also, are the jeep tours and/or balloon rides worth it or can you get to sites via hiking that will provide good photo ops? We are all in our mid 60s, but plan to do a fair amount of day hiking.

    • Jeff Stamer October 14, 2015 at 9:16 am #

      Hi Jim, I’m always very happy to hear that my blogs have helped out a fellow photographer! Wow…two weeks in Sedona, you will have a wonderful time! Here are some of my suggestions:
      1) Do a jeep tour with the “Pink Jeeps.” The “Broken Arrow” tour is my favorite. The guides are great and the photo ops wonderful.
      2) I’ve booked the balloon tour twice but they were both cancelled due to winds. It looks like a lot of fun to me and if I was going to be there two weeks I’d try it again.
      3) Do a day trip down to Montezeuma’s Castle. It is a wonderful site and your camera will be happy.
      4) Take at least a day to explore Oak Creek Canyon. Lots of photo ops (expecially when the leaves change in the fall). Great hiking
      5) Try Airport Mesa for sunrise and sunset. Everyone does it and with good reason.
      6) Bell Rock is cool and has great hiking trails as well.
      7) Chapel of the Holy Cross is very photogenic…certainly worth a couple hours.
      8) Personally, I love photographing Devil’s Bridge but it is a bit of a hike. I believe that there are some places you can rent 4 wheel drive jeeps which would save you quite a bit of walking.
      So, there are my thoughts, don’t hesitate to let me know if you have more questions!

  12. Shrikant Dhodapkar March 23, 2015 at 3:00 pm #

    Thanks for the excellent tips for the best location to take sunset shots. Your comments and directions were accurate and useful to the last detail. Thanks.

    • Jeff Stamer March 29, 2015 at 1:12 pm #

      I’m glad that my blog helped you make the most of your chance to photograph in Sedona!

  13. Jennifer pack in March 2, 2015 at 12:15 am #

    I am visiting Sedona for four days – we are capable of longer hikes and want to pack in as many photo ops as possible – what would be your best suggestions? Thanks in advance!

    • Jeff Stamer March 2, 2015 at 7:35 am #

      Hi Jennifer,
      One of my favorites is Devil’s Bridge, which is a great photo op. Cathedral Rock has some good hikes with good photographic potential. If you are willing to go a bit outside of Sedona, the West Fork Trail Walnut Canyon is also a must do! With four days, you should be able to cover all the highlights. Check out the website at for more possibilities!
      Have a great trip! Jeff

      • Jennifer pack in March 29, 2015 at 10:25 pm #

        Thanks for the suggestions! I will definitely be checking our Devil’s Bridge and Cathedral Rock! By chance would you have a suggestion for where to watch the lunar eclipse on April 4th?

        • Jeff Stamer March 30, 2015 at 7:43 am #

          Hi Jennifer, If you are going to be in the Sedona area for the lunar eclipse, then there are three locations I would consider: The mesa near the airport, Cathedral Rock and Bell Rock. The airport mesa would give you the most panoramic view since it is on a plateau. However, I think you could make a dramatic image if you could position yourself so that your multiple shots of the moon arch over Cathedral Rock or Bell rock. Good luck and let me know how it turns out!

  14. Bob Garrigus February 23, 2015 at 6:19 am #

    Jeff, I’m planning an Easter visit to the area and came across your blog while scouting locations. This is extremely useful! I so appreciate you taking the time to do this. Having a few spots/shots in the back pocket just facilitates those first couple days and puts my mind at ease. Can you give me some ground truth on the opening hours for some of the viewpoints like Crescent Moon? It says 0900-dusk on the website making it appear that sunrise will not be an option from that vantage point. Also, what does “closing at dusk” entail? I want to be sure to not get locked in by a gate enjoying the twilight color

    • Jeff Stamer March 1, 2015 at 1:34 pm #

      Hi Bob,
      Sorry for the delay in responding…I’ve been on the road on a photo shoot and had poor to no internet access.
      I don’t recommend Crescent Moon for a sunrise shot…everything would be backlit. The location really ‘shines’ as a late afternoon/sunset location when the ‘red rocks’ are illuminated by the sun.
      The parking lot is small, I wouldn’t worry about being locked in. The guards usually do a sweep to ensure that no cars are still in the lot when they leave and besides, the best light is long gone by dusk and I’ve never seen a good reason to stay that late.
      I’d recommend planning on a couple hours to scout the location and be ready to start shooting about two hours before the scheduled sunset (sunset will be earlier than the ‘scheduled’ time due to the mountains to the west which will block the sun).
      Best of luck!

  15. Yasothye February 17, 2015 at 5:47 pm #

    I would like to make the trip for Sedona this weekend. Really loved the location #2 and #4. I’m a photographer. Appreciate if i can get more guide from you Jeff. What are the gears i supposed to bring if i wanted to be there during sunset. Hiking down and up, are they intense hike for this 2 locations? Please help to guide me further 🙂

    • Jeff Stamer February 18, 2015 at 6:08 pm #

      No hiking at all. Just a stroll. The locations are less than 15 minutes from each other. Just get there a bit early so you can scout it out. That way, when the color starts to change at sunset, you should be able to capture both locations during the best light. Let me know if you need more info!

      • Yasothye February 19, 2015 at 9:38 pm #

        that is great!..i do wish i will have clouds as these past 2 days! Thanks again for the guide 🙂

      • Yasothye February 22, 2015 at 1:53 pm #

        Its was awesome! I manage to find the place without any difficulties and i love everything i see there! Many thanks Jeff, your guidance really the best one 😀 The clouds dissappeared as the time goes and we don’t have anything greenish (basically most of the trees are bold now and just started to have few leaves here and there). The best time during mid spring?

        • Jeff Stamer February 22, 2015 at 5:07 pm #

          Glad my blog helped you out! You are correct, it is prettier after the leaves pop…even better is in the fall when the cottonwoods turn golden yellow!

          • Yasothye February 23, 2015 at 2:31 pm #

            Wow…guess i missed both season. I shall try again when i’m back to US in different season.

          • Jeff Stamer March 1, 2015 at 1:37 pm #

            Have a safe trip and I hope you get a chance to visit again!

  16. anthony restar December 27, 2014 at 12:53 pm #

    Thanks a million for the tips!

    • Jeff Stamer December 29, 2014 at 7:06 am #

      Thanks Anthony! I just checked out your photostream on Flickr…great work!

  17. Sharon November 19, 2014 at 7:12 pm #

    Hi Jeff:
    Awesome tips and a huge THANK YOU! I wanted to take photos with my daughter up there. I’m down in Phoenix and wanted to know what you would suggest for portraits with Cathedral Rock in the background? Do you suggest Buddha Beach location for this?

    • Jeff Stamer November 25, 2014 at 9:56 am #

      Hi Sharon,
      Sorry for the delay in responding…I was in Central America on a shoot and didn’t have internet service! Buddha Beach would be an excellent choice for a portrait with Cathedral Rock in the background. Another good location would be on the riverbank on western edge of the park.
      Glad you found the tips helpful and have a great time in Sedona!

  18. gallopingphotog October 30, 2014 at 3:50 pm #

    Admire your photography and your site. My husband and I will be driving the 89A-179 byways next week; unfortunately have a fixed date we need to meet so the time will be limited. Your suggestions and diagrams will help us make the most of our time.
    Have you ever been to Palo Duro Canyon, about 20 miles south of Amarillo, Texas? Less traveled and more accessible than some better-known spots. If you are ever likely to be around that area, email me. We live midway between town and the canyon and I will use almost any excuse to wander around down there! For a photo walkabout and a few shooting tips, we’ll treat you to the juiciest steak and the coldest beer you’ve ever had at a real Texas roadside cafe!

    • Jeff Stamer October 31, 2014 at 8:21 am #

      Glad my blog gave you the info to make the most of your time in Sedona…that’s why I do this! If I get to the Amarillo area again I’ll send you an email and take you up on that beer and steak!

  19. Dang Ngo October 13, 2014 at 11:27 am #

    Great tips about photographing Cathedral rock. We’ll be there this weekend 11/18. Hopefully, the color and weather will be right for it.


    • Jeff Stamer October 14, 2014 at 1:38 pm #

      Good luck with the weather…share with me some of your shots when you get home!

  20. Leon September 9, 2014 at 1:00 pm #

    Jeff, Great website! I’m an older guy 68 YO. So I can’t go on the extended hikes to get great views, It looks like your map info here on Sedona is something I could tackle. I love personal blogs like yours, they really help stay out of the Traps in popular photo destinations. I got a booklet from a fellow Photographer a few years back that covered most of the popular photo opps in the Tetons, but also covered some really nice Photo opps that were a little off the beaten path, I have some great shots of the Tetons in the fall. Since then I have grown a penchant for doing Video Landscapes, quite challenging for sure.So we want to come out to Sedona and enjoy it and capture it, with the least amount of wasted expenditure as possible. So any additional tips you could give us would be wonderful.

    Anyhow, I have a few questions, My Wife and I are planning on coming out to Sedona the first week in October, 2014. How is the weather at that time? What is the best seasonal time for getting any fall color shots? Can I expect crowds of photographers at your suggested locations at that time of the year? Any additional info would be great. Look forward to your reply,

    Again, Thank You!

    Leon Kolenda

    • Jeff Stamer September 9, 2014 at 2:32 pm #

      Hi Leon,
      Glad you like the website and blog…it’s always nice to get positive feedback!

      Sorry I won’t be able to take you up on that beer…I’ve got jury duty the first week of October here in Central Florida. I think I’d rather be drinking with you though.

      The weather in Sedona the first week in October is usually in the upper seventies during the day and in the low 50s at night. Sunset will be about 6pm. You have a 30% chance of clouds and thunderstorms but otherwise expect clear skies. Your timing for fall color is perfect. Late September thru mid October is peak leaf-peeking time!

      I’ve done the Pink Jeep tour in Sedona. It was a lot of fun and I got some great photos too. Cost is about $90 each. I believe I took the “Broken Arrow” tour.

      Some other suggestions:
      1) Drive up Oak Creek Canyon north of Sedona. It is beautiful anytime of year but can be magnificent in October.
      2) While in Sedona, drive to the airport (yes, the airport). It sits on top of a butte and there is a large parking area just as you get to the airport on the right where you can see great sunsets.
      3) There are a lot of nice overlooks just south of Sedona on Highway 179 that you can get some nice shots from after a short hike
      4) Buy a Red Rock Annual Pass for $40 it will allow you to park at most overlooks. If you don’t you will pay separately for parking at nearly every overlook you stop at…and the total cost will be more than $40
      5) I did another blog about Sedona you might be interested in:
      6) One last thought, if you like Indian Ruins, then you should visit Montezuma’s Castle. It is only 25 miles south of Sedona.

      Hope you have a great trip and get some wonderful photos!

  21. Aaron September 1, 2014 at 9:28 pm #

    I recently traveled from Phoenix to Sedona to have a much needed break from the heat. I found your blog post about Cathedral Rock and decided to try a sunset shoot myself. I ended up taking my shot from spot #4 and I was really excited with the shots. I wish the sky had some additional drama (all day long there were fantastic clouds, sunset shows up….nada). I appreciate you putting this posting out there. Next time you’re in Phoenix, look me up and I’ll buy you a burger to say thanks in person.

    Aaron Bachler

    • Jeff Stamer September 3, 2014 at 5:35 pm #

      Hi Aaron,
      I love burgers, so next time I’m in your neck of the woods I’ll let you know! I’m glad the blog came in helpful and you got some great shots…that makes the time I spend on this blog worthwhile.
      PS: I can’t remember the last time it wasn’t in the 90s here in Central Florida, so I understand about the heat!

  22. lance August 26, 2014 at 2:14 pm #

    Great info and great shots. Thanks for taking the time to do this.

    • Jeff Stamer August 28, 2014 at 9:52 am #

      Glad the article came in handy. Let me know how your shoot at Cathedral Rock turns out!

  23. Matt April 6, 2014 at 10:52 am #

    Hey, just a tip for your website… all of the links open in the same tab. So when I click on a link, I’m navigating away from your site. It would make it easier if links opened in a new tab! For some reason I can’t even right click on a link to do this, either.

    • Jeff Stamer April 6, 2014 at 2:18 pm #

      Hi Matt,
      Thanks for the tip. Unfortunately, I can’t figure out a way for the link to open in a new tab (photography is my specialty…I’d starve as a programmer!). I’ll ask some of my more technically inclined buddies to see if they can help. Thanks again!

      • Jeff Stamer April 6, 2014 at 4:41 pm #

        Hi Matt,
        Just figured out how to fix the issue you described. I updated the Sedona blog as well as the Manatee one I just wrote. I should be good to go in the future. Thanks for helping me improve the blog!

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *