There are several reasons why so many hikers rave about the Soldier Pass Trail. For one thing, it is relatively short and easy to hike. But the main reason why people love this trail is to visit the Seven Sacred Pools, hike past a sinkhole named Devil’s Kitchen, and hike to the Soldier Pass cave.
There are several different ways to do this hike. Which one you choose depends on your luck at getting a parking space at the Soldier Pass trailhead and whether or not you want to add on Brins Mesa.
In this article, we cover the different hiking routes with instructions on how to get to Soldier Pass cave.
How to Hike the Soldier Pass Trail
These hiking stats are for the out-and-back trail that starts at the Soldier Pass trailhead. These stats include the Soldier Pass cave. Trail stats for different starting points and doing this as a loop with Brins Mesa can be found later in this post (or skip ahead now).
Distance: 4.5 miles
Total Ascent: 800 feet
Length of Time: 2 to 4 hours
Location: West Sedona
Trailhead: Soldier Pass Trail No. 66/Soldier Pass Trailhead
When to Go: All year. The best time is the spring and fall, when temperatures are mild, but expect big crowds. During the summer, expect very hot temperatures but lower crowds. In the winter, temperatures can get below freezing but crowds are also lower.
Red Rock Pass: A Red Rock Pass is not needed if you park at the Soldier Pass trailhead parking lot.
This map shows the Soldier Pass Trail with the spur to the Soldier Pass Cave. It also shows the location of the 4WD road, the main trailhead (Soldier Pass Trailhead), the alternate trailhead (Brins Mesa Trailhead which is also called the Jim Thompson Trailhead), and the Brins Mesa Loop. If you park at the Brins Mesa Trailhead, you can get to the Soldier Pass Trail by hiking the Cibola Pass Trail and Jordan Trail.
Soldier Pass Trailhead & Parking
If you will be visiting Sedona during peak travel season, the most difficult part of doing this hike could be scoring a parking space at the main 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 total of 14 vehicles. This parking lot is gated and it is only open from 8 am to 6 pm. There are no restrooms at this parking lot.
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 here.
If you cannot get a space at this lot, your next best option is at the Jim Thompson trailhead parking lot (details below).
On the Soldier Pass Trail
On the east side of the parking lot is the trailhead. Do not walk through the gate on the north end of the parking lot…this is for the Soldier Pass 4WD road and it is not the trail.
It’s a short, mostly flat walk to the first landmark, Devil’s Kitchen. This massive sinkhole 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.
Another view of Devils Kitchen
Soldier Pass Trail
Seven Sacred Pools
Continue along the trail for another 0.4 miles until you get to the Seven Sacred Pools. This is one of the best photo-ops on the Soldier Pass Trail. Depending on recent rainfall, some or all of the pools will be filled with water.
Seven Sacred Pools
How to Get to Soldier Pass Cave
This once hidden cave is no longer a secret. 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 1.3 miles from the trailhead. 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.
This is the fork in the trail. Take the trail to the right to go to Soldier Pass cave. Take the trail to the left to continue on the Soldier Pass Trail.
To confirm you are in the correct spot, look for the very small Wilderness sign that is posted on the tree…or ask one of the other hikers who are nearby.
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.
First you will walk across this plateau
Once the trail heads into the trees, it gets rockier and steeper. It’s easy to follow all of the way to the cave.
The trail ends at the base of a rocky cliff. There are three caves here. Two are really just large arches in the rock wall. These are located to the right of Soldier Pass cave. Soldier Pass cave is tucked away in the trees on the right. Below are photos of the caves to help you identify Soldier Pass Cave, but most likely, just look for the line of people waiting to enter the cave.
Getting close to the caves
The view from the cave on the left.
The middle cave
The view from the middle cave
The outside of Soldier Pass cave
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.
The entrance into 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.
Completing the Hike
You can turn left and hike back to your car, ending the hike early. But to complete the Soldier Pass Trail, turn right. If you hike another 0.5 miles, one-way, you will climb up onto a ridge and then have great views down through the canyon. If you look closely, on the mesa to the left are the archways and Soldier Pass cave.
View from the Soldier Pass Trail, before it joins the Brins Mesa Trail. The caves are on the rock wall on the left hand side of this photo.
The trail continues a little farther, ending at the Brins Mesa Trail. You can turn around here or make this hike a loop, hiking the Brins Mesa Trail to the Cibola Pass Trail to the Jordan Trail, ending at the Soldier Pass Trailhead and your vehicle.
PRO HIKING TIP: On the hike back to the parking lot (if you are not doing the Brins Mesa Loop), make sure you don’t walk back on the 4WD road. Just beyond the detour to the Soldier Pass Cave the trail will split. The wider, more obvious trail goes to the right and leads to the 4WD road. You can walk down this and it will be a direct shot back to the parking lot, but there is not much to look at and you will have to scoot off of the road whenever a vehicle passes.
Instead, take the trail to the left. You will have to make a 90° left-hand turn to stay on the trail. Keep an eye out for a trail sign labeled “Soldier Pass TR.” It’s easy to miss (we did at first) and we saw a lot of people walking down the 4WD road.
Alternative Starting Points for the Soldier Pass Trail
Here are two different alternative starting points for this hike.
Jim Thompson Trailhead
This large parking lot is located at the end of W Park Ridge Road. This parking lot is also the location of the Brins Mesa Trailhead. To get here, you will drive through Uptown Sedona. This parking lot can hold at least 50 cars. There are toilets and a machine to purchase your Red Rock Pass (a Red Rock Pass is necessary if you park in this lot). It does fill by early to mid-morning, so you still need to get here relatively early to get a space.
Bonus! It’s open 24 hours, so you can get here super early or stay late and your car won’t be locked up for the night.
It’s a longer walk from here but it is beautiful.
The quickest way to get to the Soldier Pass trail is to take the Cibola Trail to the Jordan Trail. The Jordan Trail will meet up with the Soldier Pass Trail at Devil’s Kitchen. From here, follow the trail north to the Seven Sacred Pools and the Soldier Pass cave.
This hike is 1 mile one-way, mostly flat, and takes about 20 minutes.
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, doing one big loop. This loop is 6 miles long.
The Jordan Trail
Drive Soldier Pass Road
If you have a high-clearance 4WD vehicle, you can drive Soldier Pass Road.
Soldier Pass Road runs parallel to the hiking trail. From this road, you can drive right to Devil’s Kitchen and the Seven Sacred Pools. The road dead-ends near the spur trail to Soldier Pass cave. You can park here, hike out to the cave, and then hop back into your vehicle. You get to see the best sights along the Soldier Pass Trail without doing much hiking.
At the Seven Sacred Pools
We did both…hiked Soldier Pass Trail (as a loop with Brins Mesa) and drove Soldier Pass Road. Both are lots of fun but Tim and I liked driving the road more than hiking the trail.
A permit is necessary to drive this road. Only 12 are given out per day and you can get your permit on the Recreation.gov website.
Tips to Have the Best Experience
Consider starting at the Jim Thompson trailhead. It is much easier to get a parking space here and you help limit how much vehicle traffic goes through the residential neighborhood for the Soldier Pass trailhead. This only adds on 2 miles to the hike and you get to see more of the red rock landscapes.
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 Subway 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.
More Information about Sedona
BEST OF SEDONA: 15 Epic Things to Do in Sedona
HIKES IN SEDONA: 12 Amazing Hikes in Sedona
SEDONA ITINERARY: Sedona Itinerary: Best Way to Spend 1 to 6 Days in Sedona
ONE DAY IN SEDONA: How to Spend One Perfect Day in Sedona
WHERE TO STAY: Where to Stay in Sedona: Best Hotels for Your Budget
DEVILS BRIDGE: Complete Guide to the Devils Bridge Hike
BOYNTON CANYON: How to Hike to Boynton Canyon & the Subway Cave
CATHEDRAL ROCK: How to Hike the Cathedral Rock Trail
BELL ROCK: How to Hike the Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte Loop Trail
BIRTHING CAVE: Complete Guide to the Birthing Cave Hike
BROKEN ARROW: Complete Guide to the Broken Arrow 4WD Trail
4WD ROADS: Six 4WD Roads in Sedona…Which Ones are Worth It?
If you have any questions about hiking the Soldier Pass Trail or to Soldier Pass cave, let us know in the comment section below.
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