How to Hike the Soldier Pass & Brins Mesa Trail in Sedona, Arizona
Hike Soldier Pass Trail in Sedona Arizona. The Soldier Pass & Brins Mesa Trail is one of the top three hikes to take when visiting Sedona, Arizona.
The beauty of this hike is that you encounter many special places along the way; the Devil’s Kitchen Sinkhole, the Seven Sacred Pools, and the Soldier Pass Cave. These sights are within the Coconino National Forest, in the Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness. This is a great hike if you want a real sense of the history of the region. You will see the red rock that Sedona is famous for, sacred Native American sites, and the results of millions of years of geological evolution. Not only was this area an ocean floor and a coastal plain, but it was also the home of dinosaurs!
You will definitely want to hike the Soldier Pass Trail in Sedona, Arizona.
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I’ve included some specific instructions to help you to have the best day ever!
If you follow my lead, you will park the car as the sun is coming up and will be back in the car by 12:30 ish. I found that the 6 mile loop not at all strenuous. We paused multiple times for photos, snacks, relaxing, and enjoyed the beauty of the Brins Mesa and Soldier Pass region. We encountered people along the way, but it never felt crowded at all. Because we saw the caves in the earlier part of our hike, we missed the crowds. This is key because this is a very popular site.
When we returned to the car and the lot was totally full, we were really happy to be heading back to the VRBO rental for lunch and a hot tub.
Know before you go
When to Go
Sedona is gorgeous all year around. However, the summer can be very hot with temperatures in the 90’s during the day. The fall and spring are probably your best bet with temps ranging from 70’s to 80’s. The winter months can get pretty cold, but of course there are fewer people visiting. I visited in November and we had ideal 75° degrees each day, with dips into the 50’s at night.
These are ancient and sacred lands. Please be respectful and follow all the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace!© Plan Ahead and Prepare,Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces, Dispose of Waste Properly, Leave What You Find, Minimize Campfire Impacts, Respect Wildlife, Be Considerate of Other Visitors. And, I would like to add, NO Drones Allowed in National Parks! They are disturbing to both wildlife and people.
Hike the Soldier’s Pass Trail Sedona, Arizona. It can be hiked as an easy to moderate 6 mile loop.
The recommendation is to start clockwise, beginning at the Brins Mesa Trailhead, AKA the Jim Thompson Trailhead.
If you are a visual person, like me, It may help to imagine a picture of a clock, on which you begin the hike at 5, reach Devil’s Kitchen around 7, the Seven Sacred Pools around 9, and Soldier Pass Cave around 11. The Brins Mesa Trail begins around 12 and brings you all the way back to your 5 starting spot.
The whole loop is designated as an Easy to Moderate level of difficulty. There is an increase in challenge on the .5 mile spur trail up to the cave and climbing up into the cave and then a climb as you get up to the Mesa. The total ascent is 800 feet.
Recommended: Get to the Jim Thompson/Brins Mesa Trailhead parking lot on West Park Ridge Road no later than 6:30 AM – 7:00AM if you want to be guaranteed one of the 50 spots. This lot is open 24 hours. The trailhead is accessible from the parking lot. We arrived at 6:15 AM, in the dark, and initially thought we were in the proper lot. Luckily we kept driving on an unpaved road for about another mile and found the actual lot! Phew!
There is another lot which has only 14 spots and is only open from 8AM to 6PM because it is in a gated, residential community. It is called the Soldier Pass Trailhead parking lot at the end of Forest Service 9904 Road.
We met people who tried to line up in their car to wait for the gate to open. They were turned away and not allowed in until 8AM. I have read that people wait in their cars for an hour before they get a spot. There is no toilet facility in this lot and your car will be locked behind the gate if you aren’t back by 6PM. You do not need a Red Rock pass for this lot. Starting from this lot takes 2 miles off the loop, but I recommend the extra 2 miles of beauty in your day!
Red Rock Pass
The Red Rock Pass program is a conservation tool designed by the U.S. Forest Service to protect, enhance and maintain Sedona’s awe-inspiring red rock lands. A pass is required when recreating on National Forest Land in Red Rock County. The pass is $5 per day or $15 for a week. You are subject to a citation if your car does not display one in the windshield.
The passes can be purchased at trailheads via a machine which accepts credit cards. Our VRBO rental provided us with one for the trip which was a super benefit!
There is a toilet facility in the Jim Thompson trailhead parking lot.
Download a trail map before hiking.
Bring plenty of water and snacks.
Wear hiking boots or sneakers with some tread.
Don’t forget the sunscreen!
Dogs are allowed, if you want to bring your furry friend.
Expect to wait a short time to take photos inside the cave.
How To Hike the Soldier Pass Trail & Brins Mesa Trail
This is a well travelled hike with excellent cairns with signs to guide you. Remember this order and take a screenshot:
- Start at the Jim Thompson/Brins Mesa trailhead
- Take the Cibola Pass Trail
- Take the Jordan Pass Trail
- Take the Soldier Pass Trail to Devil’s Kitchen
- Continue on Soldier Pass Trail to the Seven Sacred Pools
- Continue on Soldier Pass Trail to the spur Soldier Pass Cave Trail
- Retrace back to the Soldier Pass Trail and continue on clockwise.
- Soldier Pass Trail becomes Brins Mesa Trail which leads back to the parking lot.
You will Hike the Cibola Pass Trail for about a half mile before joining the Jordan Pass Trail. After about 0.3 miles, you will be at the Devil’s Kitchen Sinkhole.
The Devil’s Kitchen Sinkhole was formed in 1888 when subterranean limestone caves suddenly and violently collapsed. Reports are that the crash was heard miles away and that the sky filled with dust all day. Another section of the hole fell down 101 years later, in 1989, making it one third larger than it was. Another collapse happened in 1995 and more are predicted, so be careful!
Now you are on Soldier Pass Trail for about 0.4 miles when you reach the Seven Sacred Pools. If you are lucky, they will be flowing with water.
The Seven Sacred Pools is a series of pools created out of sandstone and filled by a natural seasonal stream. When there has been a lot of rainfall and the pools are full, the water flows from one to the other like a magical water feature.
Continue on the Soldier Pass trail for another 0.6 miles to reach the spur trail for the Soldier Pass Cave.
There is an actual fork in the road and you will take the wider trail to the right. Look for a small wilderness sign on a tree to confirm you are on the correct path. The cave is half a mile up a hill. You will see three caves at the base of the rocky plateau.
The Soldier Pass Cave is to the far right. You can visit the others as well, but the Soldier Pass Cave is the one to experience! Climb up a very narrow crevice and enter a magical cave with windows onto the mesa. Take your time and enjoy. When else do you get to hang out inside an ancient cave?
The Soldier Pass Trail and Cave were named after the famous General Crook’s army scouts who traveled the area in the 1870s while living at Fort Verde.
Retrace your steps back down the spur trail and then continue on to hike the Soldier Pass Trail until you join the Brins Mesa Trail. At the fork, stay to the right on Brins Mesa Trail. From this top of the plateau, your views are epic. The sun is high in the sky by now, but not to worry because you are now on the descent back to the parking lot.
Travel safe, hike healthy, and let me know how it was!