The Brins Mesa and Soldier Pass Loop combines two scenic hiking trails into one awesome experience.
Since this is done as a loop, you are always hiking through new landscapes, so the view is always changing. From Brins Mesa, you get panoramic views of the surrounding red rock mountains. On the Soldier Pass Trail, you get to see Devil’s Kitchen and the Seven Sacred Pools, with the option to add on the Soldier Pass cave.
If you plan to spend several days in Sedona, the Brins Mesa and Soldier Pass Loop is a great trail to add onto your to-do list. Here’s how to do it.
Brins Mesa – Soldier Pass Loop Hiking Stats
Distance: 6 mile loop
Total Ascent: 1,200 feet
Length of Time: 3 to 5 hours
Trailhead: Brins Mesa Trailhead (aka the Jim Thompson Trailhead) or Soldier Pass Trailhead
Red Rock Pass: If you start at the Brins Mesa Trailhead, you will need to purchase a Red Rock Pass to do this hike. The pass costs $5 per day or $15 for one week. The pass can be purchased at the fee machine at the trailhead (credit cards only). If you have an America the Beautiful Pass, you can use this rather than purchasing a Red Rock Pass.
These hiking stats include the detour to Soldier Pass cave.
Please practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace: plan ahead, stay on the trail, pack out what you bring to the hiking trail, properly dispose of waste, leave areas as you found them, minimize campfire impacts, be considerate of other hikers, and do not approach or feed wildlife.
Clockwise or Counter-Clockwise?
Since this hike is done as a loop, you can do this in two different directions. There are advantages to doing this in each direction.
If you do this loop in a clockwise direction, you will hike the Soldier Pass Trail before the Brins Mesa Trail. Devil’s Kitchen, the Seven Sacred Pools, and the Soldier Pass cave will come early in the hike. If you can get an early start (before 8 am), you can get to the cave before the crowds, so this is a huge advantage. There is one climb on this hike, as you hike up onto the mesa, and this will come in the second half of the hike.
The advantage of hiking the Brins Mesa – Soldier Pass Loop in the counter-clockwise direction is that you get the climb over and done with early in the hike. Enjoy the sweeping views from the mesa before descending on the Soldier Pass Trail.
What We Did: We did this in a counter-clockwise direction, starting at the Brins Mesa Trailhead. Our original plan was to only hike Brins Mesa out-and-back, adding on a detour to the Brins Mesa viewpoint. However, this spur trail was blocked off, so we did not do it. At the last minute, we decided to hike the entire loop.
Our Recommendation: In my opinion, the Brins Mesa – Soldier Pass Loop works best in a clockwise direction, especially if you plan to visit the Soldier Pass Cave. The Soldier Pass hike has become an extremely popular trail in Sedona, and for the best experience, it’s best to do this part of the loop first. End the hike with the less crowded Brins Mesa Trail.
Best Trailhead/Starting Point
There are two starting points for the Brins Mesa -Soldier Pass Loop.
Brins Mesa Trailhead
This trailhead, which is also called the Jim Thompson Trailhead, is the best starting point for this hike, in my opinion. This large lot is open 24 hours per day. Getting a space here is MUCH easier than getting one at the Soldier Pass Trailhead.
You will need a Red Rock Pass to park here ($5 per day, $15 per week). There is a machine at this trailhead to purchase your pass (credit cards only) as well as toilets.
The Brins Mesa Trailhead is located at the end of W Park Ridge Road. To get here, you will drive through Uptown Sedona. A gravel road leads to the parking lot and it is suitable for standard cars.
This lot holds approximately 50 cars and will fill by mid-morning, so you still need to get here relatively early. But it’s a lot easier to get a space here than at the Soldier Pass parking lot.
Brins Mesa Parking Lot
Soldier Pass Trailhead
The Soldier Pass trailhead is located at the end of Forest Service 9904 Road. There is a small gravel parking lot that holds a grand total of 14 vehicles. This parking lot is gated and open from 8 am to 6 pm. There are no restrooms at this parking lot. You do not need a Red Rock Pass.
If you want to get a space here, you need to get in line early, before the gates open. How early? That really depends on the season. People start arriving around 7:30 am during peak travel season.
This parking lot is located within a residential community. There is no overflow parking along the streets.
And it’s important to know, if you park in this lot, you need to get back to your car by 6 pm. Once the gates are locked, your vehicle will be spending the night in the parking lot.
You can also get to this trailhead on the Sedona Shuttle. Learn more here.
Brins Mesa – Soldier Pass Loop
Step-By-Step Trail Guide
This hiking route is for the Brins Mesa – Soldier Pass Loop in the clockwise direction starting at the Brins Mesa Trailhead.
Cibola Pass Trail to the Jordan Trail
Brins Mesa Trailhead. To do this loop in a clockwise direction, follow signs for Cibola Pass.
From the Brins Mesa Trailhead, follow the trail signs for the Cibola Pass Trail. Almost immediately you will hike up and over a small hill. This is one of the few climbs of the hike so you get this one over with almost right away.
View from the Cibola Pass Trail.
The Cibola Pass Trail is about a half-mile long. It then connects to the Jordan Pass Trail. Take the Jordan Pass Trail to the right. Follow this for 0.3 miles until you reach Devil’s Kitchen and the Soldier Pass Trail.
Devil’s Kitchen is a massive sinkhole that has had two major collapses, one in the early 1880’s and the other much more recently, in 1989. In 1995, part of the north wall caved in. Another collapse is predicted in the future.
On the Soldier Pass Trail
Continue along the Soldier Pass Trail for another 0.4 miles until you get to the Seven Sacred Pools. This is one of the best photo-ops on this loop. Depending on recent rainfall, some or all of the pools will be filled with water during your visit.
Seven Sacred Pools
Continue on the Soldier Pass Trail for another 0.6 miles until you get to the spur trail to Soldier Pass cave.
Optional: Soldier Pass Cave
The Soldier Pass cave was one of the busiest spots we saw on our recent visit to Sedona, so do not expect solitude at this cave, unless you are here very early or late in the day.
The spur trail to Soldier Pass Cave is located 0.6 miles from the Seven Sacred Pools. There is an obvious fork in the trail. The wider, busier trail to the right goes to Soldier Pass Cave. The slightly narrower trail to the left is Soldier Pass Trail and this continues to Brins Mesa.
To confirm you are in the correct spot, look for the very small Wilderness sign that is posted on the tree.
To get to the cave, it is a 0.5 mile walk, one-way. It’s mostly uphill and it has some very steep, rocky sections. If you have hiking poles, this is a good place to use them.
On the first part of the spur trail, you will hike across this plateau.
The trail ends at the base of a rocky plateau. There are three caves here (see our photos of each below). Soldier Pass cave is on the far right; it is tucked away in the trees and it is a little harder to see. This is the main cave to visit…the other two are optional, if you are looking for a cool photo spot or just like the idea of thoroughly exploring this area. The middle cave is quick and easy to visit. The cave to the far left is harder to visit, as you have to scramble up a steep hill to get to it.
Soldier Pass Cave is on the far right. This is the entrance to the cave and the line of hikers waiting to enter.
View from the middle cave
Looking up at the third cave (the cave farthest to the left).
Inside Soldier Pass Cave
To get into Soldier Pass cave, you will have to rock scramble up a pile of rocks that somewhat resemble steps. Getting up the rocks is relatively easy…getting back down was difficult for a bunch of people, as we saw on our visit.
Steps into the cave
Inside Soldier Pass Cave
Once in the cave, have fun taking your photos. A popular photo spot is in the open archway on the side of the cave.
Returning to the Soldier Pass Trail
Retrace your steps back to the Soldier Pass Trail. Stay on the same spur trail you used to get here. There are numerous other smaller, less-used trails that criss-cross through the Secret Mountain Wilderness, but to prevent unnecessary damage to the forest and landscape, stay on the main spur trail.
Continuing to Brins Mesa
For the next half-mile, the trail climbs up onto the mesa. This climb is similar to the hike up to Soldier Pass cave. At the top of the climb, turn around and take in the view down the canyon. If you look closely, on the ridge to the left are the archways and Soldier Pass cave.
View from Soldier Pass
Brins Mesa Trail
Just beyond the climb the trail will fork. Stay to the right to hike the Brins Mesa Trail.
Now you are on top of the plateau. The trail continues to climb, ever so slightly. Some of the best views will be behind you, so every so often, turn around and enjoy the view.
Once you reach the end of the plateau, it is a rapid descent towards the parking lot. You will hike on steep, rocky trails and series of steps. Then the trail levels out and it is a quick, easy walk to finish the hike.
The view looking southeast, before the last descent on the Brins Mesa Trail.
This photo is looking back at the Brins Mesa Trail. You will hike down these stairs as you hike back to the Brins Mesa parking lot.
Tips to Have the Best Experience
Start the hike early. By starting early, you can get one of the limited parking spaces in the trailhead parking lot. You will also get ahead of the crowds and hike in the cooler part of the day.
Leave No Trace. Practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace. This includes packing out what you bring to the hiking trail, be considerate of other hikers, and stay on the trail.
Be prepared to spend about one hour at the Soldier Pass cave. This has become a popular hiking destination in Sedona, so expect to wait to have your photo taken.
What to Bring on the Hike
Hiking shoes. You can get by with a good pair of walking shoes or running shoes for this hike. However, if you plan to hike to the Soldier Pass Cave, I recommend wearing hiking shoes. The extra traction on hiking shoes will make your climb up into the cave and on the cave ledges much easier and safer.
Water and snacks. Bring at least 2 liters of water in the summer.
Sunscreen, hat, and sunglasses. Most of the trail is exposed to the sun, so make sure you pack your sunscreen.
Camera. Even a smartphone will do.
If you are new to hiking or are curious about what you should bring on a hike, check out our Hiking Gear Guide. Find out what we carry in our day packs and what we wear on the trails.
If you have any questions about hiking the Brins Mesa – Soldier Pass Loop, let us know in the comment section below.
More Information for Your Trip to Sedona
SEDONA: Get links to all of our articles in our Sedona Travel Guide. To help you plan your visit, we also have guides to the best things to do in Sedona, the best hikes in Sedona, and how to plan the perfect Sedona itinerary. Learn where to stay in our Sedona Hotel Guide.
MORE HIKES IN SEDONA: Some of the top trails in Sedona include the Soldier Pass Trail, Boynton Canyon, Bear Mountain, the Birthing Cave, and Devils Bridge. For more ideas, read our guide to the Best Hikes in Sedona.
SEDONA ITINERARY: To help you plan your time, check out our One Day in Sedona Itinerary and Sedona Itinerary Ideas for 1 to 6 days.
ARIZONA ITINERARIES: If you are looking for road trip ideas through Arizona, we have a couple of good ones. See the highlights of Arizona in our 10 Day Arizona Itinerary, visit the Grand Canyon and Utah’s Mighty 5 in our Two Week American Southwest Itinerary, and visit parts of Arizona, Las Vegas, and southern Utah in our 10 Day American Southwest Itinerary.
For more information about things to do in Arizona, take a look at our Arizona Travel Guide. And if this is part of a bigger road trip through the USA, you can read all of our USA articles in our United States Travel Guide.
All rights reserved © Earth Trekkers. Republishing this article and/or any of its contents (text, photography, etc.), in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited.
Thanks for this excellent description! Very accurate.
We did the loop anti-clockwise and it worked out well. We got the big climb out of the way first.
The caves are worth the visit. Since it is winter, the trail is a bit muddy, and the rocks are a bit slippery, but nothing too dangerous.
Our stay in Sedona from June 27 to July 1 is kind of frustrating. All trails in Sedona are closed. All forests access in Sedona are closed. Most if not all parks and picnic areas in Sedona are closed. Most if not all scenic drives in Sedona are closed. Please check with local authorities before heading out there this summer.