Sedona, Arizona is known for its stunning red rock formations and plethora of hiking trails. I’ve been to Sedona a dozen times now and my jaw still hits the floor when we roll up to the red rocks towering above. But one trail that truly stands out among the rest in Sedona is to the Keyhole Cave.
While this off- trail hike may not be for the faint of heart, those who make it up into the cave are rewarded with breathtaking views and an unforgettable experience.
In a place as popular as Sedona, finding a place off the beaten path is special. Be sure to treat the cave with respect, following the leave no trace principles, and never draw on the red rocks!
Still quite a hidden gem, it can be confusing to find the trail and know exactly how to get yourself up into the cave. And if there’s one place you definitely do want to know where you’re going- its the desert!
So keep reading to learn more about what makes the Keyhole Cave hike so unique and how you can prepare for your own adventure in Sedona. I’ll also share the best places to stay nearby, and other fun activities in this red rock paradise!
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Where is the Sedona Keyhole Cave?
The Keyhole Cave is located in the Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness in Sedona, Arizona.
Sedona is a 2 hour drive from Phoenix‘s International Airport, and a 35 minute drive from Flagstaff’s Regional Airport.
The Keyhole Cave is in West Sedona, and the easiest trailhead to access it from is the Sugarloaf Trailhead parking lot. It is also sometimes referred to as the Keyhole Rock.
Keyhole Cave Hiking Stats
2.2 miles round trip & 472 feet of elevation gain
The actual hike to the Keyhole Cave is short and rather easy. About 1.1 miles one way, the sandy trail is pretty flat.
But the trail can be easy to lose at times so I would personally recommend downloading an offline map with GPS to keep track of where you’re at. There are a few times where other short trails intersect the off trail to the Keyhole Cave and it could be easy to get lost.
Luckily though, since the Keyhole Cave is so prominent and you can see it from far away, you can easily reorient yourself to know which direction you need to go in!
How to get to the Keyhole Cave in Sedona
Keyhole Cave Trailhead Information & Parking
The best trail to use to get to the Keyhole Cave is the Teacup Trail. You will park at the Sugarloaf trailhead, which has only 12 spots; this is also known as the Teacup trailhead.
To park here you must show your Red Rock Pass or an America the Beautiful National Parks pass. Put your pass on your dashboard before embarking on your hike.
I was there in January during mid day and easily got a spot, but if you’re there during the peak tourist season (spring & fall months), I recommend getting here early.
You cannot park on the street around the residential neighborhood that the trailhead is located in- there will be signs everywhere indicating they will tow your car!
- Park at the Sugarloaf Trailhead
- There are only 12 parking spots here
- Get here early during peak tourist season (spring & fall) to secure a parking spot
- Show your Red Rocks or America the Beautiful Pass
Map of the trail to the Keyhole Cave
Below is a screenshot of the Alltrails Keyhole Cave trail map. It’s a pretty straight shot from the Sugarloaf trailhead to the cave.
You will be able to access this interactive map with GPS only if you pay for the Alltrails app, which I think is very useful and reasonable. I’ve had the app for almost 3 years and have used it numerous times to keep me on trail.
The hike to the Keyhole Cave in Sedona
As mentioned above, you will park at the Sugarloaf Trailhead, and start your hike via the Teacup trail.
You will take the Teacup trail about 0.4 miles until it intersects with the Thunder Mountain Trail.
Once you get to this intersection where Teacup is on the right and Thunder Mountain is on your left; you are going to go straight!
There will be a faint trail, but be aware that you will be going off trail, as this is not a maintained trail and there will be no signs. Follow this faint trail straight forward, heading North toward the Keyhole Cave. The trail is sandy and mostly flat.
Once you get to the Keyhole Cave, the trail will then turn much steeper. Keep in mind there may be cactus on the side of the trail so be cautious not to bump into them.
How to get up into the Keyhole Cave
I provided a photo below of the easiest path to get into the cave. This trail is on the RIGHT side of the cave. I saw someone go up the left side of the cave but it is incredibly more steep with hardly any foot or hand holds.
I will preface that I feel like the picture doesn’t *fully* capture how steep it is. Many have been to the cave and not gone up; they felt it was too sketchy or steep to get up. I’ve seen at times that there is a rope that is attaches to make it easier for people to climb up, but don’t count on this.
You will have to use your arms and legs to fully pull yourself up and scramble into the cave. Some portions of the cave are a very smooth slick rock which makes it hard to grip.
As someone who is scared of heights and doesn’t enjoy climbing- I didn’t find this climb to be too terrible. Luckily my boyfriend was there as well that kept a few paces ahead of me to help guide and pull me up as needed. But I regularly will ‘freeze’ due to my fear of heights on climbs like this, and I didn’t do that once on this.
Once you are in the cave, tread carefully and use caution as there is a high exposure risk and the ledge is not huge.
Things to keep in mind to make it easier to climb up into the Keyhole Cave:
- Bring a friend; unless you are very experienced with climbing, definitely do not attempt to go up into the cave by yourself.
- Maintain 3 points of contact at all times. This mean always keeping either 2 feet and 1 hand, or 2 hands and 1 foot stable on a surface at all times!
- Wear shoes with good grip. This is imperative to be sure you don’t slip going up or down into the cave.
- Practice. If this is your first time in Sedona or your first time hiking on slick rock; don’t make this your first hike! A good hike to prep and practice hiking on slick rock would be Cathedral Rock. If you find Cathedral Rock to be scary or not doable, I would maybe think twice before attempting the Keyhole Cave.
- Maintain a good pace going up. I personally find it easiest to hike up steep slick rock with keeping a good pace; it’s easy to clam up and freeze but this makes everything more dangerous. Swift movements where you’re actively seeking your next move is the best way to climb up.
Once you make it up into the cave- enjoy it! It’s a lot bigger than you’d expect. Soak in all of its vastness.
Take your time by taking all your epic shots around the cave because you’ve earned it! It’s like a two for one hike. You get a crazy adventure into a huge cave AND jaw dropping views deep into Sedona’s red rocks!
Are dogs allowed on the Keyhole Cave trail?
Dogs are welcome on the Teacup trail on a leash. But since there is such a steep, slippery climb up into the cave, I highly suggest leaving your pups at home!
Best time to hike to the Keyhole Cave in Sedona
There are two main things to keep in mind when it comes to hiking in Sedona: crowds and heat. Both can ruin your experience!
Sedona’s busiest months are: March-May and September- Mid October. During this time you’ll have great weather! But, as much as I adore (!!!) Sedona, the crowds can really ruin it for me. It’s such a small town that it easily feels crowded.
If you happen to be hiking during the peak season, hike early in the morning or in the mid afternoon to be arriving after the morning rush.
I wouldn’t recommend going to Sedona in the summer though, with temperatures getting up to highs of 100°F in July. If you do happen to visit in summer, be sure to only hike early in the morning or in the late afternoon to beat the heat. Also don’t forget to pack lots of water and wear sun protection.
Keep in mind monsoon season is July & August as well which can cause heavy rains and flooding!
The last time I went to Sedona in mid January I thought the temperatures were very comfortable. It did get chilly at night with lows of 34°F but the crowds were very manageable. I’ve also been in November and felt the crowds were still pretty bad!
Overall, from my experiences, I’d recommend the months of December- February. But also keep in mind if you visit during a holiday it will be more crowded.
What to pack to hike the Keyhole Cave
- Day hiking backpack. I love my Osprey daypack which has lasted me years and dozens of hikes.
- Lightweight, moisture wicking clothes to stay comfortable.
- Hiking boots or shoes with good grip. I love my Columbia Newton Ridge Waterproof hiking boots. But for desert hiking I like wearing my Altra Trail Running Shoe that have great grip!
- Water. I would take 1L a person for this hike, more if you’re hiking in the summer months.
Where to stay near the Keyhole Cave
The town of Sedona is pretty small, so no matter where you choose to stay you won’t be far from main attractions in town.
Sedona has two major sections: Uptown Sedona and West Sedona. The Keyhole Cave is located in West Sedona, so stay near this area if you’d like to be close to the trail!
Uptown Sedona is where most of the restaurants, shops, and hotels are. West Sedona still has many restaurants and shops, but also more local neighborhoods, and is closer to many hiking trails.
Oak Creek is about 15 minutes from Sedona, and Cottonwood is about 30 minutes away. You can also camp for free at the dispersed camping on Loy Butte Road about 20 minutes from town.
This luxury resort is located in West Sedona and has a full service spa on site. There is also an outdoor pool, hot tub, and a restaurant onsite. Pets are allowed on request here.
The Wilde Resort is the closest hotel to the Sugarloaf Trailhead, just a 4 minute drive away.
Located in West Sedona, the Sky Ranch Lodge is highly rated with spectacular views of the red rocks. It is an 8 minute drive from Sky Ranch to the Sugarloaf trailhead.
The hotel features an outdoor pool and hut tub, as well as a bar and spa & wellness center onsite. They also have a free shuttle system that can take you into some parts of town. Pets are welcome here.
Orchards Inn is in Uptown Sedona and has amazing views from the rooms. There is also a balcony at the hotel with views of Snoopy Rock, Cathedral Rock, and more.
Many restaurants and shops are within walking distance. There are also pet friendly rooms available here. It is an 8 minute drive from Orchards Inn to the Sugarloaf trailhead.
More fantastic things to do around Sedona
Have more time in Sedona and looking for epic views? Some of my other favorite trails are to the Merry Go Round Rock Cave and Shaman’s Cave. I also love Cathedral Rock at sunrise to beat the crowds, and Bell Rock at sunset! Red Rock Crossing also makes a great spot for a sunset.
One of my favorite places to eat is the Hideaway House for great pizza and wine (with a view!). And you can never go wrong with getting a refreshing smoothie or acai bowl after a hike- my favorite stop here is Berry Divine Acai Bowls.
If you’re looking to get off grid away from the crowds by going camping- head up to the Edge of the World. It’s located between Sedona and Flagstaff and will take a few hours via a long dirt road; but the view is UNMATCHED!
Have more time in Arizona? Spend a few days in Phoenix and Tucson exploring the Saguaro cactus larger than life and hiking the many great trails in the area!
Conclusion: The Keyhole Cave in Sedona
In conclusion, the Keyhole Cave Hike in Sedona is a must-do for outdoor enthusiasts and adventure seekers alike.
The picturesque views of the red rock formations combined with the challenge of getting into the cave make this hike an unforgettable experience.
While it may be physically demanding, reaching the Keyhole Cave and climbing up is a rewarding hike. I am sure it will be one of your favorite memories from your trip to Sedona!
So, grab your hiking boots and get ready to embark on an unforgettable journey through one of Sedona’s most unique natural wonders!