The Soldiers Pass trail in Sedona is a must-do hike if you’re planning a trip to Sedona and want to do a short hike. Soldiers Pass trail is one of the best hikes that take you through multiple landmarks, and it is no surprise that it is trendy.
On a single trail, you will be rewarded with stunning views, the unique Devil’s Kitchen sinkhole, the Seven Sacred Pools, and the Soldier Pass cave.
Since there are many ways to do this hike, it can get confusing, especially if you are here for the first time, and although the hike is easy, it is possible to get lost.
In this guide to hiking the Sedona Soldier Pass trail, we will share the trail details, including the step-by-step directions, distances involved, how to find the attractions on the way, the best time to visit, and some valuable tips to make your trip more enjoyable and safe.
THE BEST TIME TO HIKE THE SOLDIERS PASS TRAIL
Spring and fall are the most popular months in Sedona, as these months offer the best weather conditions, beautiful landscapes and the ideal time to be outdoors.
March to May and October and November are the best months. But this means that the attractions and famous landmarks get crowded during these months, accommodation can be expensive, and securing parking is a challenge if you get there early in the morning.
The temperatures in Sedona in the winter, from December through February are cold, but hiking is more enjoyable with fewer tourists and cooler weather. Accommodations are also less expensive in winter.
QUICK INFO AND HIKING DETAILS OF THE SOLDIER PASS TRAIL
- Distance – 4.5 miles round trip
- Type – Out and back
- Duration – 3 to 4 hours
- Trailhead – Soldiers Pass Trailhead/Soldier Pass Trail No. 66
- Elevation Gain – 850 feet
- Hike Difficulty – Moderate
- Parking – Limited parking at a 14-car gravel parking lot
- Best Time – Morning to afternoon
- Pass Required – No
IS THERE AN ENTRY FEE TO HIKE THE SOLDIERS PASS TRAIL IN SEDONA?
If you are going to access other trails when hiking the Soldiers Pass trail, you will need a permit to drive down the road.
Soldier Pass Trailhead and Posse grounds park do not require a pass, while if you plan to head to Jim Thompson trailhead, you need to show either a Red Rock Pass or America National Parks Pass. You can apply for your permit at recreation.gov.
RED ROCK PASS
If you plan to do multiple hikes in Sedona, we recommend getting a Red Rock Pass, as many trailheads and roads require a permit, and you can save a few bucks by having this pass handy.
1-Day Red Rock Pass costs $5, $15 for a week and $20 for one year. You can get the Red Rock Pass at recreation.gov.
HOW TO GET TO THE TRAILHEAD?
Soldiers Pass trailhead is located about 3 miles from the city centre, at the end of Forest Service 9904 Road.
From Sedona’s centre, start by heading south on 89A for about a mile. After driving for a mile, take a right turn onto Soldier Pass Road. Continue for about 1.5 miles, going through a little residential area.
After about 1.5 miles, take another right onto Rim Shadows Drive and continue for a short way on Canyon Shadows Drive. Soldiers Pass trailhead will be on your left at the end.
WHERE IS THE PARKING SPOT?
The biggest challenge about hiking the Soldiers Pass trail is finding a parking spot, especially during the peak hours and busy months. At the main Soldiers Pass Trailhead parking lot(save this map on your Google maps or reference), only cars up to 20 feet in length are permitted to park.
It is a small gravel parking lot that holds around 16 small cars or 14 cars at most. This parking lot has an automatic gate open daily from 8 am to 6 pm. There are no restrooms in this parking lot.
It is best to arrive at least 30 minutes before the gate opens if you plan to hike the Sedona Soldiers Pass trail in the morning during peak seasons, as every morning, hikers drive to the lot for a spot to join the long waiting line on holidays and weekends.
It depends on the season and time of your visit. But since cars will be in and out of the lot all day so you can get a spot if you arrive later, but expect to wait in a long line.
Also, since this parking lot is located within a residential community, there is no overflow parking along the streets.
And it’s important to know that if you park in this lot, you must get back to your car by 6 pm as the gate gets locked at 6, and you will have to go without your vehicle that night.
ALTERNATIVE PARKING OPTIONS
1. JORDAN ROAD TRAILHEAD(JIM THOMPSON TRAILHEAD)
If you want to start hiking before 8 AM or during sunset and later than 6 PM, consider parking at the Jordan Road Trailhead, also known as the Jim Thompson trailhead, off W Park Ridge Drive.
This lot holds up to 50 cars, is open 24 hours, and has a restroom and other facilities. This parking lot fills around 9 AM, so if you intend to hike in the morning, plan accordingly.
To park here, you must display either America the Beautiful pass or a Red Rock Pass. You can purchase a Red Rock Pass in the parking lot for $5.
If you park here, you can arrive at the Soldier Pass cave by walking for a mile along Cibola Pass Trail to reach Devil’s Kitchen sinkhole directly, passing through desert vegetation and pretty views.
If you plan to hike the complete Soldier Pass / Brins Mesa Trail, it is best to park here. It takes about 30 minutes more if you take this route.
2. DOG PARK AND POSSE GROUNDS
Alternatively, you can head to Sedona Dog Park, Posse Grounds Park & Ride.
From here, a shuttle leaves for the Soldiers Pass trail and it takes only 5 minutes to reach the trailhead. Buses start at 8 AM, and the last bus leaves at 5:50 PM. More on Sedona Shuttle is below.
Sedona offers a free shuttle service to the trailhead from Posse Grounds Park & Ride, located within central Sedona. The service operates Thursday through Sunday and is free and open to the general public. You can park at the lot at the Posse Grounds Park & Ride on 20 Carruth Dr for free and use the Sedona Shuttle to access the trailhead.
For more information on shuttle schedules and park & ride locations, check here.
DRIVE SOLDIERS PASS ROAD
There is another slightly expensive but adventurous way to explore Soldiers Pass cave. If you have a high-clearance 4WD vehicle, you can drive Soldiers Pass Road, which runs parallel to the hiking trail.
You can hire a 4×4 off-road Jeep and drive it through the Soldier Pass parking lot beyond a metal gate and onto Forest Service Pass 9904 Road to get on the Soldier Pass road.
From this road, you can drive to Devil’s Kitchen and the Seven Sacred Pools via road trails and the road dead-ends near the spur trail to Soldier Pass cave. It means you can cover all three attractions of the Soldiers Pass trail on only a 1-mile roundtrip on the road.
You can park your vehicle, hike the rest of the way to Soldiers Pass Cave, and hop back into your car.
It is the best and the easiest option, where you get to see the best sights along the Soldier Pass Trail without doing much hiking.
A permit, a special Soldier Pass Motorized Use Permit, is necessary to drive on this road. Permits are available all year for day use only on the Soldier Pass Road, and only 12 are given out per day, and you can get it on the Recreation.gov website.
HOW TO HIKE THE SOLDIERS PASS TRAIL SEDONA
BEGINNING FROM THE SOLDIERS PASS TRAIL
The Soldier Pass trail starts at the east end of the trailhead parking lot. Stay away from the gate on the north end of the parking lot, as this is for the Soldier Pass 4WD road.
You will hike for about 0.25 miles, passing through bushes and junipers, and a wash and then ascend on moderate grades to a junction for a mile.
At this fork, you need to take a left turn to continue on the Soldier Pass trail Going to the right will take you to the Jordan Trail here.
DEVIL’S KITCHEN SINKHOLE
Look out for the Devil’s Kitchen to the righthand side of the trail about a quarter-mile into the hike. Starting on this trail after continuing on the left on the Soldiers Pass trail, you’ll quickly reach Devil’s Kitchen, a splendid geological formation, a sinkhole formed by the collapse of enormous underground caverns.
The Devil’s Kitchen sinkhole is one of 7 sinkholes discovered around Sedona. Devil’s Kitchen is the most well-known and active of the 7, only about 0.4 miles from the Soldier’s Pass Trailhead.
Check out the vast 150 ft by 90ft wide hole averaging 50 ft deep.
You can walk around the sinkhole but be careful because there are no railings or fences. Check out some exciting signs to read about the sinkhole here.
SEVEN SACRED POOLS
After stopping at the sinkhole, continue on the Soldiers Pass trail for another 0.4 miles until you come to the Seven Sacred Pools, one of the best spots on the Soldier Pass Trail.
These small pools, formed into the rock, are located amidst a striking desert backdrop with red mountains and rocks. This series of small potholes hold water even during dry periods, and you can see pools filled with water depending on when you go.
SOLDIERS PASS CAVE
After spending some time at the Seven Sacred Pools, turn to your right to continue walking on the Soldiers Pass trail for one mile.
After a mile, you come across a fork with a tree with a sign that says “entering wilderness area”. This tree is on your right and is the only one with a sign, so it is easy to spot. It leads you to a trail next to a small hill which you need to take to reach the caves.
The left side of the fork is a smaller trail and is a continuation of the Soldier Pass Trail. This trail continues to the Brins Mesa Trail. You need to take a right to head to the caves.
From the fork, it is a 0.5-mile walk to the cave. This half-mile is the hardest part of the hike and has a steep grade. You will be upon the rocky hill and need to climb to the top. This region is full of boulders and offers many places to enjoy stunning views of the valley below.
About one mile on your hike here, take a left after reaching the top of the hill. You can see Soldier’s Pass Arch, a large archway in the red rock, where the cave is located. Keep heading in that direction to reach the caves.
Once you arrive at Soldier’s Pass Cave, you can climb up into the cave. You will have to scramble up a pile of steep rocks, which can be done, but you need to be careful.
The cave looks like a large arch in the rocks with a deeper hole above it. Inside the cave, you can rest, taking the spectacular views of the towering red rocks and the surrounding mountains through the huge window.
Inside the cave, you can walk a short way to explore the opposite end to reach another entrance/exit for the cave. If you get down on the opposite end, you will have to climb back into the cave, as there is no trail to go back to the other side.
Note that the inside of the cave can get pretty crowded on the weekends, so it’s best to start your hike early. There are a few other large archways next to this main cave, which you can also climb and explore.
Getting down from the cave is more challenging, and although you can use ropes, it is better to get down scrambling on all fours.
RETURNING TO THE SOLDIERS PASS TRAIL OR GOING FURTHER
After exploring Soldier Pass Cave, you can extend your hike or return the way you came.
Retrace your steps to the Soldiers Pass Trail if you wish to return. Stay on the same trail you used to get here. On the track, if you take a left, you will head back to the parking lot.
If you are not making the Brins Mesa Loop, ensure you don’t walk back on the 4WD road on the hike back to the parking lot. You will see a wider trail and a narrow one on the left. Look for the sign Soldier Pass Trail. While the wilder one is the road, take the route to the left for hiking.
MAKING THE BRINS MESA TRAIL LOOP
If you want to go further, take a right and continue on that trail. If you hike another 0.5 miles on this path, one-way, you will climb up onto a ridge from where you can check out splendid views down through the canyon.
From here, you can see the archways and Soldier Pass cave. Continue on the trail for some time, which ends at the Brins Mesa Trail.
You can turn around here and return the way you came to the parking lot or make this hike a loop, taking the Brins Mesa Trail to the Cibola Pass Trail to the Jordan Trail, which ends at the Soldier Pass Trailhead and then the parking area.
BEGINNING FROM THE JORDAN ROAD TRAIL(JIM THOMPSON TRAIL)
If you end up parking at the Jim Thompson trailhead, you can take the same trail as it will connect with the Soldiers Pass Cave. It is the easiest way to reach Devil’s Kitchen as the one-mile-long course is flat and adds about 20 minutes.
Start on the Jordan Trail by getting on the Cibola Trail, which is only one mile long and meet the Soldier Pass Trail at Devil’s Kitchen. From here, follow the Soldiers Pass trail north to the Seven Sacred Pools and the Soldier Pass cave.
After visiting the Soldier Pass Cave, follow the Brins Mesa Trail and make a loop if you want to avoid coming back the way you came. The length of this loop is over 6 miles.
NOTE – The Jim Thompson parking lot is also the starting point for the Brins Mesa Trail. You can hike the Brins Mesa Trail out and back from here or combine it with the Soldier Pass Trail, making a loop 6 miles long.
TIPS FOR HIKING THE SOLDIERS PASS TRAIL SEDONA
START THE HIKE EARLY
As mentioned earlier, starting the hike early in the morning is best, ideally around or right after sunrise. Apart from securing parking spaces, you can hike without crowds and enjoy photographing and peacefully exploring the trail and cave.
KEEP TRACK OF YOUR PATH WHILE HIKING
Keep looking at the GPS and track your trail once you begin your hike to know your route and to ensure that you can periodically check in and see you’re on the right path.
RESPECT THE LAND
The Soldiers Pass Trail and the surrounding areas, including the Sedona Subway Cave, are spiritual significance and sacred sites to the Native Americans that should be respected at all times. Do not remove anything from the area, make rock piles, or move the rocks or graffiti rocks.
LEAVE NO TRACE
Please practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace when hiking:
- Packing out what you bring to the hiking trail.
- Being considerate of other hikers.
- Staying on the course.
- Minimising campfire impacts.
- Not approaching or feeding wildlife.
If you are specifically planning to do photography of the Soldiers Pass Cave in Sedona, it is best to go in the morning or afternoon when there is sufficient light in the cave premises.
But these times will be crowded as the cave has become a popular hiking destination in Sedona, so you will have to wait for your turn. Expect a waiting period of at least 30 minutes to one hour here.
FOLLOW THE TRAIL
The last part of arriving at the cave involves climbing. Take the bank climb, not the rock climb, as it is steeper and more strenuous.
ALTERNATIVE PARKING AND TRAILHEAD
If you are worried about the parking or hate waiting to secure a spot, consider starting at the Jim Thompson trailhead(Jordan Road trailhead). It is much easier to get a parking space here when compared to the Soldier Pass trailhead, and it only adds 2 miles to your hike.
FAQS ABOUT SOLDIERS PASS CAVE SEDONA
WHY IS IT CALLED THE SOLDIERS PASS TRAIL?
The Soldiers Pass cave and the surrounding areas were named after General Crooks Army Scouts who lived in Fort Verde from the 1870s through the 1880s as they frequently traveled through these parts of the Arizona Territory.
HOW LONG IS SOLDIERS PASS TRAIL SEDONA?
The Soldiers Pass trail is about 2.5 miles one way and close to 5 miles out and back. Including covering all three attractions on the trail and spending some time, it takes about 3 to 4 hours to do this trail conveniently.
DO YOU NEED A PASS FOR SOLDIERS PASS TRAIL SEDONA?
No, if you plan to park at the main Soldiers Pass trailhead, you do not require a Red Rock Pass or permit, but it does fill up quickly. You will need a Red Rock Pass or National Parks permit to use the Jordan Road trailhead(Jim Thompson trailhead).
IS SOLDIERS PASS TRAIL DOG-FRIENDLY?
Yes, Soldier Pass Trail is a dog-friendly hike in Sedona, but dogs must be kept on a short leash at all times.
IS SOLDIERS PASS TRAIL DIFFICULT?
Soldiers pass trail is a beginner-friendly trail mostly easy except for a few parts where it is moderate due to the climbing and uphill involves.
CAN YOU DRIVE SOLDIERS PASS TRAIL SEDONA?
If you have a high-clearance 4WD vehicle, you can drive on Soldiers Pass Road parallel to the trail, but you cannot directly drive on the trail.
IS SOLDIERS PASS TRAIL WORTH IT?
Soldier Pass Cave Trail is a short, easy and popular family-friendly hike worth adding to your Sedona trip to explore the caves and admire the gorgeous views of the red rocks and rugged desert vegetation.
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