If you want to explore some of the Caves in Sedona, you may know about Keyhole Cave Sedona as being one of the most challenging ones to hike. This post tells you exactly how to find the Keyhole Cave in Sedona, including directions and hiking tips for this adventurous trip safely.
Keyhole Cave is not for the faint of heart(afraid of heights) or beginner hikers as it involves challenging terrains, including climbing very high rocks and navigating through wilderness comprising cacti and rattlesnakes, as there is no maintained official trail.
But if you are a seasoned hiker looking for an adventure, you will be rewarded with fascinating views from the Keyhole Cave in Sedona. The views from the grand entrance of the caves are surreal and much better than the pictures you see.
Let’s find out all about hiking the Keyhole Cave right away.
QUICK INFO ABOUT THE KEYHOLE CAVE SEDONA
- Distance – 2.70 miles round trip
- Type – Out and back
- Duration – 3 hours
- Trailhead – Sugarloaf Trailhead
- Elevation Gain – 500 feet
- Hike Difficulty – Moderate to Difficult(a climb to the cave)
- Parking – Limited parking
- Best Time – Morning to noon
- Pass Required – Yes, Red Rock Pass or America The Beautiful
- Dangerous – Likely
BEST TIME TO HIKE THE KEYHOLE CAVE SEDONA
Like all other caves in Sedona, the best time to hike to Keyhole Cave are the spring and the fall months and the early winter days provided there is no snow.
The best time of day to hike Keyhole Cave is mid-afternoon as the light conditions are perfect at this time, especially the grand entrance of the cave since the cave is southwest facing.
Avoid going too early in the morning or early evening as the light will be away and the hike may be extra dangerous with little sunlight.
The trail is entirely in the wilderness with no shelter, so it is not recommended to do this in the summer. Also, the area lies in the flood region, so do not hike during the rainy and stormy seasons.
HOW TO REACH THE TRAILHEAD
The hike to Keyhole Cave begins at Sugarloaf Trailhead which is tucked back in a Sedona Neighborhood. Please use this link that takes you to Google Maps and download it for offline use.
You will begin your hike in Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness before passing into Coconino National Forest.
WHERE TO FIND A PARKING SPOT
You can find a small parking lot at the Sugarloaf trailhead located in a residential area on Buena Vista Drive, from where you begin your hike.
It is not big, with only a dozen spaces available and usually fills up most of the peak hours and days as most people hiking the Sugarloaf mountain also park here. It is best to arrive early if you want to park here. Note that since it is a residential neighbourhood, you cannot park on the road.
Alternatively, you can try parking at Andante Trailhead nearby, which is also a small parking lot.
HOW TO HIKE THE KEYHOLE CAVE SEDONA
After you park in the lot, it is easy to find the trail and start at the Sugarloaf Trailhead. You will begin the hike at Teacup Trail at the right, another name for Sugarloaf.
Unlike the other Sedona Caves which require a bit of hike into the forest depths before seeing the cave, you can spot the Keyhole Cave Sedona way off in the distance, a giant hole amidst the mountains, which is the mouth of the cave.
Make sure the cave appears at a distance as this will help you know you are going the right way especially if you get off track.
On the teacup trail, you will see the majestic Sugarloaf mountain on your right and the views get prettier along with the distinct desert vegetation as you walk along the trail.
Follow the trail without wandering off to the left or right until after hiking for about 0.5 miles, where you will come across a fork with signage indicating the Teacup Trail to the right and Thunder Mountain Trail. to the left. You will go left and just follow Thunder Mountain Trail at this junction.
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THE DIRECT ROUTE OR THE WASH ROUTE?
After you get on the Thunder Mountain Trail, you have two ways to reach the base of the Keyhole Cave in Sedona. The path of following along the wash is straightforward one without any confusion, and we recommend that. But that said, you can also take the trail in the north which goes to the cave.
No matter which you choose, one way to ensure you have not wandered off is to make sure you see the cave in the distance in front of you. As long as you see it and make your way towards it in the north, you will arrive at the base of Keyhole Cave.
TAKING THE WASH ROUTE
After you turn left to take the Thunder Mountain trail, there will be a wash on your right side. Take this wash and follow that up to the right until reaching the base of the cave, and this part is easy, and you cannot get lost at all.
On this path, you will notice many smaller washes branching off the main one. You need to stick along the larger wash.
But from here, the challenge begins as the wash is very rocky; plus, look out for rattlesnakes along the way.
Make your way slowly navigating through the tree branches occupying many portions, which will need you to use your hands along with placing firm and steady walk on the ground.
Keep following the curving dry river bed for about 0.75 miles as it snakes north toward Keyhole Cave. As you reach closer, along the way, you can see the gaping mouth of the cave in the distance.
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HEADING VIA THE DIRECT ROUTE IN THE NORTH
If there is rain or recent rain and you can’t go up the wash, or you want to go direct, then just follow the trails North directed at the cave, and you will eventually run into it.
After a while, the wash narrows a bit, but you keep moving alongside it navigating through the branches.
The elevation also catches up as you get closer to the cave, gaining about 500 feet in the last 20 minutes of the hike, making it more challenging with each step. The climb up is very steep and slippery.
It is pretty common to lose your footing which will make you land on thorny cacti and rocks. So watch your footing and for cacti along the narrow trail. Take your time, watch your steps and you will arrive safely at the base of the cave.
Once you are at the entrance, you can see how gigantic Keyhole Cave is and mystic.
ENTERING THE CAVE BY CLIMBING
The hardest part of the hike awaits you here. We recommend only climbing up inside the cave if you are a seasoned hiker, athletic and have ropes and do not mind heights. Because you will need to climb a high, slick wall to get into the Keyhole Cave
If you plan to go until the end of the cave, it is best to bring a rope that will be extremely useful as the last part of the hike is complex and very dangerous. A rope will help you come down safely. It is best not to go all the way into the cave if you have a fear of heights.
There are two sides to entering the cave, and both need climbing, most people take the right side as it is easier as there is space and many rocks to hold on to, which you need as the ground is slippery with loose rocks and sand.
To make your way, you will have to use your hands, feet and core to pull yourself up. Use the placements in the rock to help you land easily.
Ropes can come in handy at this point, especially if you are in groups to help one another move around. After the climb, you will land on a ledge, from where you will be in the cave.
The views from inside the Keyhole Cave Sedona are spectacular, and rewarding after the climb. Feel the breeze and cool temperatures. You can get far enough back inside the formation. Enjoy the views of the grand Sugarloaf mountain and the desert landscapes on the horizon.
For the best light conditions, plan to be here in the late morning or noon to get splendid pictures. Do not graffiti or move the rocks around and respect the land.
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MAKING YOUR WAY BACK
Getting down is harder than getting up as there is no support to rely on unless you have the ropes. It is best to get down on the right side, the same way you went up. Here, the path is slippery again so take your time and it is best to take small steps to prevent slipping and falling back into a cactus.
Ideally, it is best to sit down and use your hands to move slowly for better support, instead of being upright, which can also feel scary.
After you get down, follow the same trail along the wash until you find the fork that will lead you to the parking lot
THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE HIKING THE KEYHOLE CAVE SEDONA
It is best to wear fully covered clothing as there are cacti with long and thick thorns and animals like rattlesnakes and other insects.
Most importantly, wear a good pair of hiking shoes that will facilitate an easier hike overall.
You’ll be traversing in a wash so be aware of the possibility of flash floods. It is best to avoid hiking during or after flash floods season. Check the weather and water conditions before you embark on the hike.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE KEYHOLE CAVE IN SEDONA
IS THE KEYHOLE CAVE SEDONA DIFFICULT?
The hike to Keyhole Cave is moderately difficult mostly become of the scramble and climb required to get into the cave. It is easier to reach the base of the cave but you will have to navigate through thorns and cacti as the trail is not marked anywhere.
HOW LONG IS THE SEDONA KEYHOLE CAVE HIKE?
The Sedona Keyhole Cave hike is 2.5 miles round-trip, out and back with getting into the cave being the most challenging and dangerous part of all.
WHAT IS THE ELEVATION GAIN OF THE KEYHOLE CAVE IN SEDONA?
The elevation gain of the Sedona Keyhole Cave is 520 feet. The majority of it comes at the end when you hike up from the wash up the hill to the face of the cave.
IS THE SEDONA KEYHOLE CAVE HIKE DOG-FRIENDLY?
Although you can take your dog on the hike while keeping it on a leash at all times, it is best not to hike with your pets due to the difficulty in accessing the cave, including the steep climbing and slippery floors, along with the rough vegetation on the forest floor.
IS KEYHOLE CAVE SEDONA WORTH IT?
It is definitely worth visiting Keyhole Cave, the biggest cave you can hike to in Sedona on your itinerary. You may need to be extra cautious and plan things for this adventurous hike, but the challenge makes it more appealing adding it to the list of the best Sedona hikes.
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