When visiting Sedona, it’s really all about the natural beauty you’re surrounding yourself with. Your time should be spent soaking in the red rock views, hiking, and enjoying beautiful sunsets. But there is a man-made destination that should be on your itinerary as well—the Chapel of the Holy Cross.
“All those hikes to do and you really want me to visit a church??” I know, but hear me out. Not only does the chapel have a special architectural pedigree, but it does so in such a way as to highlight its gorgeous surroundings.
The Chapel of the Holy Cross has stood guard over the Red Rock Scenic Byway just a few miles outside Sedona since it was completed in 1956. It’s an icon of the area, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t show you why!
While it had already been on my list, I actually didn’t plan my visit well…I was headed out on the Scenic Byway mid-afternoon (when it’s more crowded and the sunlight is harsher) and saw the sign for the chapel, so stopped on a whim.
If I’d been planning ahead, I probably would have tried to visit around sunset for beautiful views and lighting. But regardless, it’s a great experience any time of day.
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As you drive in this is what it will look like. The chapel is on your left up on the cliffs. This is the first main parking area, and then there’s one partway up the hill and one at the top at the chapel. All three are small, so I tend to take a “if you see a spot, take it” mentality. But it is quite a walk up to the top.
However, when I was there at least, there were one or two volunteers driving a golf cart up and down the hill to shuttle visitors to the top and back to their cars. It’s free (though tips are appreciated!) and depending on the size of your group and when you visit you might need to wait a few minutes.
Given the heat I took advantage of a ride up the hill for sure (though walked back down)!
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The Chapel of the Holy Cross was designed by sculptor Marguerite Brunswig Staude, who was a student of architect Frank Lloyd Wright. She’d initially attempted building a church inspired by the Empire State Building (which is a bit confusing to me, but I’m not an architecture expert…) in Hungary in the 1930s, but the outbreak of World War II made it impossible.
Instead, she turned her eyes toward her native Arizona, and ended up building a church right into the red rocks that Sedona is known for. I don’t know about the Empire State Building, but you can CLEARLY see the Frank Lloyd Wright influence in the final product.
The structure rises out of the red rocks, managing to both starkly stand out and also blend fairly seamlessly into the cliffs. The main stained glass window is held together by a giant cross (making it a little hard to see the colors in the glass, I might add nit-pickingly).
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Once you get to the top you can enjoy the view, or go inside the chapel to look around. As you can tell from the outside, it’s pretty small. The inside maintains a similar aesthetic, almost spartan. The cross on the outside has a structural purpose, and on the inside supports both the altar and the giant crucifix.
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As with pretty much anywhere in Sedona, as soon as you get up high you’ll also get a great view over the surrounding area. The Chapel of the Holy Cross is no different, and you can look out on a section of the Scenic Byway while enjoying the peaceful ambiance of the chapel.
One tip…this parking lot up top is supposed to be a great place to come at night and stargaze as well (in addition to nearby Cathedral Rock’s trailhead parking lot).
A few tips for your visit to the Chapel of the Holy Cross:
- You can look at current opening hours and any restrictions at their official website. Generally it’s open 9a-5p seven days a week except Christmas and Easter.
- It’s free to enter the chapel. There are sometimes volunteers taking a golf cart up and down the hill to give visitors a ride to the top, and tips are appreciated (but not required).
- Parking is limited, with three different areas…at the base when you first drive in, a small lot midway up, and then some parking at the top by the church.
- Because it can get very crowded midday, consider visiting in the morning or evening for a better shot at parking (and honestly I think the light would be prettier).
Other cool architectural religious sights for roadtrip exploration:
- Scotland’s Elgin Cathedral & Driving The North East 250 Route
- Zelve: The Best-Kept Secret In Cappadocia, Turkey
- St. Michael’s Mount & A Whirlwind Tour of Cornwall
- Clonmacnoise Monastery, Ireland: A Road Trip Must-See
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