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10 Hiking Safety Tips You NEED to Know Before You Go
(Including the App that Could Save Your Life)

Keyhole Cave, the Best Hidden Gem in Sedona, Arizona

Sedona, Arizona is renowned for its stunning red rock mesas, cliffsides, and caves. While many of the trails in the area are packed with visitors, there’s still a few hidden gems, including the Keyhole Cave, an enormous cavern that provides one of the most jaw-dropping vistas over the surrounding desert landscape. Here’s everything you need to know about hiking to the Keyhole Cave, the best kept secret in Sedona. 

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Man standing at the base of the Keyhole Cave with red sandstone formations in the background in Sedona, Arizona
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About the Keyhole Cave Trail

Length

2.0 miles

Elevation gain

531 feet

Difficulty

Challenging

Couple standing at the base of the Keyhole Cave with red rock formations in the background in Sedona, Arizona

Do you need a pass or permit?

Yes, you need a Red Rock Pass to park at the trailhead, which you can buy online or in person in various places around Sedona (here’s a list of where you can buy it). Alternatively, you can pick up an America the Beautiful Pass, which, in addition to allowing you to visit almost 20 fee sites in Sedona, also covers admission to over 2,000 federally managed U.S. National Parks and other sites for an entire year. 

Finally, it’s worth noting that the trailhead for the Keyhole Cave is located in a residential neighborhood near downtown Sedona, so you may be able to find street parking in the surrounding area. Just make sure to triple check for “No parking” signs (there’s a LOT of areas in Sedona that don’t allow parking and the police here can be RUTHLESS with tickets!) and be respectful of the residents! 

Trail map

Woman standing along the Keyhole Cave trail with red rock formations in the background in Sedona, Arizona

How to get to the Keyhole Cave Trailhead

The trailhead for the Keyhole Cave is located here, just north of downtown Sedona.  

It shares a trailhead with several other popular hikes in Sedona, like the Teacup or Sugarloaf Trail. Accordingly, its tiny parking lot, which holds about 16 cars, can definitely fill up fast, especially during particularly busy times, like weekends in the spring or fall. 

Woman making a peace sign in front of a rock formation along the Thunder Mountain Trail along Sedona, Arizona

If you don’t want to worry about finding street parking, I’d highly recommend showing up early to ensure you can snag a spot!

What to Expect along the Keyhole Cave Trail

Trailhead to the Keyhole Cave

Starting from the trailhead, you’ll follow the Teacup Trail for the first 0.3 miles, which climbs gently uphill along the desert floor. 

At about 0.3 miles in, the pathway reaches a fork, with the Teacup Trail continuing on to the right and the Thunder Mountain Trail continuing on to the left. Instead of either of those, though, you’re going to keep an eye out for a social trail that continues straight and follow that pathway.

Trail sign for the Teacup and Thunder Mountain Trails with rock formation in the background in Sedona, Arizona

When my husband, Justin, and I hiked this trail, there were seemingly a LOT of social trails in this area, which was a bit confusing. Accordingly, I’d strongly recommend having the trail map downloaded on AllTrails so that you can follow along with GPS to make sure you’re headed the right way! 

You will need an AllTrails+ membership in order to download offline trail maps, but luckily, our awesome readers get a sweet 30% off discount to AllTrails+ — just use this link to save 30% on an annual membership!

From here, the rest of the hike is along an unmaintained and narrow social trail that weaves through the cacti and brush, which continues to slope upwards for about another half a mile. You’ll walk closer and closer to a cliffside to the north and will eventually see a giant cavern carved into it— the Keyhole Cave! 

Keyhole Cave in a red sandstone cliffside in Sedona, Arizona

Most of this trail is not particularly challenging, but the last section up to the cave is DEFINITELY difficult, climbing over 300 feet in just 0.1 miles along incredibly loose and crumbly gravel.

I’d recommend bringing along trekking poles to give yourself a bit more stability and to go extremely slowly on this section. I’d also recommend giving others around you plenty of space—it definitely wouldn’t be hard to create a mini-rockfall that might hit other hikers scrambling near you! 

Woman holding on to a red sandstone cliff as she climbs to the Keyhole Cave in Sedona, Arizona

Eventually, you’ll reach the opening of the cave. It’s absolutely HUGE—at least 100 feet tall—and offers jaw-dropping views of the surrounding red rock mesas and Ponderosa pine tree forests.

Climbing to the top ledge of the Keyhole Cave

This is where the trail REALLY gets interesting. To reach the very top ledge of the cave, you’ll need to scale a 40-foot wall—which is so steep that this is much closer to rock climbing than regular ol’ scrambling. 

Route to climb up the cliff to the top of the Keyhole Cave in Sedona, Arizona

There are three different routes you could theoretically climb up—one to the right, center, and left of the cave. We tried to go up the leftmost pathway, which appeared to be the least steep and to have the most footholds to us. However, we couldn’t figure out a route that felt safe enough and so ultimately, didn’t get all the way to the top. 

After the fact, I researched how the heck people usually get up on top of the ledge and found out that most people believe the pathway to the right is actually the easiest route. I’ve also heard that, at times, there’s a rope to help people climb up the ledge, but it definitely wasn’t there when we visited, so I wouldn’t count on it! 

Either way, please only attempt to make this climb if you feel confident and safe in doing so. This last teeny bit of the hike definitely is not for those that are scared of heights and no cave is worth injuring yourself for! And if you do make it all the way to the top, be extra careful around the ledge—it’s easy to slip off! 

Red sandstone rock formations in the background from the opening of the Keyhole Cave in Sedona, Arizona

Whether you climb to the top of the ledge or not, give yourself plenty of time to take in the view of the surrounding valley. Justin and I have hiked all over town and, in our opinion, the Keyhole Cave offers one of the best views in Sedona! 

When you’re done soaking in the views, retrace your footsteps back to the trailhead—just remember to go SUPER slowly and carefully on the steep and crumbly section as you exit the cave!

Tips for the Keyhole Cave Trail

Bring sufficient water

Justin and I assumed this hike would be a piece of cake, given how short it was, and didn’t bring that much water along. That was a HUGE mistake—given how steep and crumbly parts of the trail were, we absolutely cooked through all of our water.

Man walking through green brush along the Keyhole Cave Trail with rock formations in the background in Sedona, Arizona

So don’t make our mistake and bring along a full bottle of water (we each have one of these comically giant Nalgene bottles), especially if you’re hiking in the heat.

Wear long-sleeves and pants (weather permitting!)

As mentioned above, you’re going to be hiking mainly on an unmaintained social trail, so there’s lots of stabby plants along the way. I’d suggest wearing pants and long-sleeves if you can—so you don’t wind up with a bloody arm along the trail, like I did! 

Red sandstone rock formations from the Keyhole Cave Trail in Sedona, Arizona

Follow the Leave No Trace principles

Hopefully, this goes without saying, but please leave this beautiful and unique place better than you found it. Pack out anything you pack in, stay on the defined boot trail, and otherwise, don’t be a jerk to other visitors, locals, or the land.

When to hike the Keyhole Cave Trail

One of the awesome things about Sedona is that you can visit it and explore its beautiful rock formations year round—however, you’ll definitely have a much better time depending on when you visit. 

Generally, the weather is most enjoyable in the spring and the fall, when the weather is pleasantly warm and the skies are clear. 

Man hiking along the Keyhole Cave Trail towards red sandstone rock formation in Sedona, Arizona

That being said, be ready for the crowds! I’ve visited Sedona multiple times, during different seasons, and it’s always the MOST packed during the spring and the fall, making driving, parking, and frankly, even hiking more chaotic. 

While Sedona is at higher elevations than many other destinations in Arizona, it still can get swelteringly hot in the summertime, often exceeding 100 degrees (not what you want when you’re scrambling up that rocky hill to the base of the cave!).

Couple standing in the Subway Cave along the Boynton Canyon Trail in Sedona, Arizona

On the other end of the spectrum, winters are definitely on the cool side, with highs in the low 60s and lows occasionally dipping below freezing. Despite the colder weather, I think Sedona is one of the best places to visit in Arizona in winter, with perfect hiking weather during the day, lower crowds (and hotel prices!), and even a chance to see the town’s stunning red rocks dusted with snow. 


There you have it—everything you need to know to visit the Keyhole Cave, one of the most unique and under-the-radar gems in Sedona! Do you have any questions about hiking here? Let us know in the comments below!

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