Planning a trip to Sedona? You’re going to love the iconic red rocks, amazing formations, and chill vibe of this desert town.
One of the best things to do during your time here is to get out and explore some of Sedona’s many amazing hiking trails.
To us, it feels like each of these Sedona hikes have hidden coves or secret caves (ever hear of Sedona vortexes?) and the Soldiers Pass Trail is no exception.
A moderate trail (aka great for the average hiker!), tons of features on Brin’s Mesa, and surprises around every corner, this gorgeous Sedona hiking trail is a must-see on anyone’s desert agenda!
In this post, we’re sharing what to expect on the Soldiers Pass trail, including step by step directions to exploring the elusive Soldiers Pass Cave!
Hiking Soldiers Pass Trail In Sedona, Arizona
One of the easiest passageways to the Red Rock Mountain Secret Wilderness, Soldiers Pass Trail is an explorer’s dream.
There are opportunities to extend this trail and connect with others, but we also think that the main trail has enough to enjoy even for the most experienced hiker!
Keep reading to discover all the features this trail has to offer.
Quick Facts About Soldiers Pass Trail
- Trail Distance: 4.5 – miles out and back
- Time To Plan For: 3 Hours
- Difficulty: Moderate (some climbing involved)
- Elevation Gain: 650 feet (830 feet if exploring Soldiers Pass Cave)
- Most Popular Hiking Times & Seasons: Early In The Morning, and Springtime
Tips On Getting To The Trailhead
Soldiers Pass Trail is one of the easiest trailheads to reach from the city of Sedona!
From the city of Sedona on 89A West, go north up Soldiers Pass Road. After 1.5 miles turn right on Rim Shadows for 0.2 miles. This will look like you are going through a private neighborhood – you are. The parking lot is only open from 8 a.m to 6 p.m.
Turn into the parking lot on your left, this is the main Soldiers Pass Trailhead No 66. It’s very important that you snag a spot either in the trailhead parking lot or on an approved spot on Soldiers Pass road. The neighborhood road on Rim Shadows is NOT allowed for parking and your car WILL get towed if you keep it there.
Want to stay for sunrise or sunset? The gate locks any cars in after 6:00 pm at Trailhead No 66. So if you’re hoping to capture desert dawn or dusk, you’ll need to park on the street.
Alternatively, you can start at the Jordan Road Trailhead (which has no time constraints) and walk the extra mile on Cibola Pass Trail to reach Soldiers Pass Trail.
Highlights of The Soldiers Pass Trail
If you are someone who gets bored easily, Soldiers Pass Trail is for you. There are so many natural features on this hike to discover – you’ll be entertained the entire way!
Here are some of the most popular destinations to look forward to on the trail:
After only a quarter mile of walking, you will reach your first feature on the Soldiers Pass Trail – The Devil’s Sinkhole!
It had its most recent collapse in 1995, but the hole had a major collapse in 1989. Back then, the north side fell in creating that trapezoid looking formation and increasing the hole by 40%!
As time passes, the rain will continually dissolve the limestone above and underneath the surface. These dissolving sessions will create underground caves, and the eventual weight above them will collapse and increase the size of the sinkhole over time.
The sinkhole is currently 150 feet wide and 50 feet deep, and continually growing. Come back the next time you are in Sedona to see if it has changed!
The Seven Sacred Pools
After another half mile of trail on level ground, you will reach your second feature of Soldiers Pass hike – The Seven Sacred Pools.
These are a series of seven consecutive pools on the side of the ridge on Soldiers Pass Trail. On or after a particularly rainy day, these pools cascade into one another.
On a very hot day (or after a very hot summer), these pools may even look dried up completely!
Photographer’s Note: For the best perspective of all seven pools, there are two locations to consider:
- Get all seven pools in the frame by viewing it from the Jeep accessible road (Forest Service 9904 Rd) facing east.
- Get the red rock formations in the distance by capturing them in the reflection of one of the pools. Keep a steady hand and get up close and personal!
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Beginning of Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness
A short while after continuing on from passing Devil’s Sinkhole and the Seven Sacred Pools, the jeep trail and hiking trail (which up to this point parallel one another) will converge into one common foot trail here.
At this point, you will be entering the Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness. This consists of many connected trails. Do a little bit of research about places nearby if you’d like to extend your hike on Soldiers Pass Trail!
The Soldiers Pass Cave
One of the coolest features of Soldiers Pass Trail is Soldiers Pass Cave – actually an offshoot from the main trail. Once you enter the Red Rock Mountain Secret Wilderness, there will be a fork in the trail at this point.
When we hiked here, the trail was haphazardly covered by branches and other natural debris, but simply step over it to reach the less-used trail to the mesa in the distance.
Once on the trail, it quickly becomes exposed to full sun. Bring sunscreen and consider a shaded hiking hat like this one from The North Face.
Here’s how to get inside The Soldiers Pass Cave:
After climbing to the edge of Brin’s Mesa, you’ll find an arched hole, with another deeper hole above it. This is the cave!
There is also a deeper cave to the left of the main one in the mesa wall. There is no cave access here, but it’s a great place to take a break and shoot some photos!
On the right side in the main cave, you’ll see a small pile of stacked rocks made by previous hikers. These act as ‘stairs’ to get inside the cave. Use your hands and feet to get all the way up, and watch your balance at the top. Nature doesn’t have guard rails.
Once inside, there is a little sliver of light coming from the top of the cave, as well as light from the hole in the wall.
Spend some time wandering around inside! It’s much cooler inside the cave than outside, so we took a snack break here to regain our energy for the hike back.
Love Sedona Caves? Then you’ve got to check out The Birthing Cave next!
Want to get a crystal clear (aka super sharp!) image of the inside of the cave? Set your camera’s aperture at the lowest number it can go and adjust your ISO between 500 and 1000.
These are great adjustments for capturing light, but not so great if you don’t have stable hands. To solve this problem, pack a travel tripod and set your camera on it for maximum stability.
Just make sure your camera and the tripod are on stable ground, the fall is a loooong way down for such an expensive piece of equipment!
Soldiers Pass Trail: The Return Trip
To return to the trailhead, return the exact way you came!
Not ready to end your trail?
Here are some extension attractions to Soldiers Pass to continue your adventure:
Special Considerations For Soldiers Pass In Sedona, Arizona
This gorgeous Sedona trail has it all. But like many other desert hikes in this popular town, there are some things to know before making a spontaneous trip out to the trailhead.
Here are some things to consider before you plan your fun trip to Soldiers Pass Trail:
The First Half of the Trail is Generally Busy
Within the first mile of the trail, hikers will get to experience the Devil’s Kitchen Sinkhole and the Seven Sacred Pools.
Hikers will be visiting these places alongside Jeep tourists, so the number of people on the trail essentially doubles in these popular areas.
The more you venture off deeper into the trail, however, the fewer people you will come across. Be prepared for crowds at these features on the weekends!
The Soldiers Pass Trailhead Parking Lot Has Very Strict Rules
If you didn’t catch our emphasis on this earlier in the post, now’s the time to listen up. The Soldiers Pass Trailhead No. 66 has a gated lot, opening only from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm.
Before and after the opening times, the gates are locked. This means if you arrive back late from the trail, your car may be locked up overnight and you may get a ticket.
Trip Tip: Want to get a spot in the main parking lot? Double check the opening times (seasons and special occasions may affect the usual 8:00 am opening) and arrive 15-20 minutes before the gates open.
Berty and I did this and were one of a few cars waiting at the gate. We got a spot no problem. However, 10 minutes after opening, the parking lot was entirely full!
LEAVE NO TRACE
Because of the large volume of people that explore this trail every year, there is a high chance for soil erosion, trash, and misuse.
In order to be as mindful of your surroundings as possible, here are some things to remember or consider during your hike on Soldiers Pass Trail:
- Read up on the seven core Leave No Trace principles before heading out on your hike.
- Stay on the designated trails. Don’t use smaller ‘shortcut’ trails because this erodes the plants on the ground quickly!
- Consider bringing a small trash bag to pick up any garbage you may come across.
- Don’t take anything from the trail. Leave soil, plants, and rocks in their place.
Final Thoughts On Soldiers Pass Trail in Sedona, Arizona
If you are only talking a short trip to Sedona, we think this trail should be the biggest priority on your agenda.
Not only do you get to see amazing desert features like caves and sinkholes, but you get in a good workout too, with the 4.5 miles of trail!
Have you hiked Soldiers Pass Trail in Sedona? What are some of your memories from your trip? Share with us and other readers in the comments below!
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