Soldier Pass Trail: Everything You Need to Know

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Sedona, Arizona is packed with incredible hikes, where you can stand in awe of those iconic red rock cliffs, towering above. Soldier Pass Trail is perhaps the most unique hike in the area, taking you past deep sinkholes, the famed “Seven Sacred Pools”, massive red rock formations, and even a secret cave!

So lace up those hiking boots and pack your water bottle- here’s everything you need to know about the Soldier Pass Trail.

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Pssst… are you looking for more hikes in Sedona? If so, check out our other posts about hiking in the area:


About the Soldier Pass Trail

Length

4.5 miles

Elevation gain

839 feet

Difficulty

Moderate. There’s nothing technical about this hike, so anyone in reasonably good shape should be able to enjoy it!

Man hiking along the Soldier Pass Trail in Sedona, Arizona

Dog-friendly?

You’re welcome to bring your furry best friend, but they must stay on a leash.

Trail map

How to Get to Soldier Pass Trail

The good news? Soldier Pass Trail has its very own parking lot, located here.

The bad news? It’s pretty tricky to park here, given that this is one of the most popular hikes in Sedona and its lot only holds about 14 vehicles. The lot is gated and is only open from 8 AM to 6 PM- if you want to snag a spot here, I’d suggest coming early. My husband, Justin, and I rolled up around 7:40 AM on a Saturday and were surprised to see about 30+ cars in front of us. So when I say get here early, I mean early early.

Curving road in Sedona, Arizonqa

On that note, if you plan on watching sunrise or sunset on the trail, it’s important to keep the timing of when the gate is open in mind- if you’re not out of that gate by 6 PM, your car will be spending the night there- and, to add insult to injury, you may get a ticket. 

In addition to this parking lot, there are a handful of spots along Forest Service 9904 Road where you can park (be sure to triple check for signs), but the surrounding upscale residential neighborhood does not permit on-street parking (and you’ll almost certainly get a ticket or even towed if you park there). 

Woman hiking the Brins Mesa Trail in Sedona, Arizona

If you can’t snag a parking spot here, you can alternatively access the Soldier Pass trail from another trailhead, Jordan Road trailhead (located here), which has at least 30 parking spots, is a short 15 minute drive from Soldier Pass’ parking lot, and- bonus- is open 24/7! This route will add about half a mile to the total hike (you’ll follow the Cibola Pass Trail to the Jordan Trail to Soldier Pass Trail and finally back to the trailhead via Brins Mesa Trail).

To park at the Jordan Road trailhead, you will need to purchase a Red Rock Pass ($5/day or $15/week at the time of writing), which is available via machine in the lot, or have an America the Beautiful pass, which gets you unlimited annual access to over 2,000 federally managed lands, including several other popular trails in Sedona.

If you’re really desperate, back at the Soldier Pass trailhead, there was a woman who appeared to be running some kind of park-and-ride operation out of her house close to the trailhead (word to the wise- it can be so challenging to find parking in Sedona that the locals are literally capitalizing on it!).

She said something kind of snarky to Justin and me, so I honestly didn’t check to see how much her services cost. But if you’re in dire need of a parking spot, keep your eyes peeled for a snarky lady handing out park-and-ride fliers. 

What to Expect Along Soldier Pass Trail

Once you’re at the trailhead, the hike starts right off with a bang. After hiking for just about a quarter mile through a wash, you’ll climb your way straight up to the first point of interest along the trail, the Devil’s Kitchen Sinkhole.

The Devil’s Kitchen Sinkhole is a 150-foot wide by 50-foot deep sinkhole, created as water dissolves limestone along and under the ground’s surface, causing the ground to collapse. There’s been two significant collapses to date, one in the 1880s and more recently in 1989, when the hole expanded by 40%! It keeps growing and changing every year- it might just be different the next time you visit Sedona.

Devil's Kitchen Sinkhole along the Soldier Pass Trail in Sedona, Arizona

You’ll continue on for another 0.4 miles, when you’ll run into the Seven Sacred Pools on the left hand side of the trail. These are a series of consecutive pools along a sandstone ridge, sitting in the shadow of red rock formations rising above you in the distance.

While the pools were pretty low while we visited (and can even be completely dry in the hot summer months), they form a series of cascading waterfalls after a night of heavy rain. Another fun fact- I was wondering whether the term Seven Sacred Pools was rooted in American Indian religion or culture, but seemingly, nope- it appears that Jeep tour drivers started referring to the pools by that name and it simply stuck!

Woman walking by the Seven Sacred Pools along the Soldier Pass Trail in Sedona, Arizona

Time to move on to the next point of interest along the trail- Soldier Pass Cave. You’ll continue along the trail for a bit over half a mile past the Seven Sacred Pools, until you reach an obvious fork in the road (keep a look out for a small National Forest Wilderness sign tacked to a tree to the right of the trail).

Here, you’ll turn right (northeast) and follow the boot trail up to an open mesa, where you’ll continue left towards the base of a cliff. Once along the mesa, you should be able to spot an archway in the cliff, where the Soldier Pass Cave is hidden. Word of warning- the hike up to the cave is pretty steep and can take a bit of scrambling over loose rocks.

Woman sitting in the Soldier Pass Cave along the Soldier Pass Trail in Sedona, Arizona

At the base of the cave’s opening, you’ll need to climb up a stack of rocks, which very loosely resembles stairs, to hoist yourself up into the cave. Getting yourself up is actually the easy part- getting down can be pretty tough though!

Once you’ve made your climb up, though, you’ll get to explore one of the most unique caves in Sedona, complete with an arched window overlooking Sedona’s red rocks and nifty light (so much fun to play around with if you’re a photography enthusiast- although, due to the low light, you’ll likely need a slow shutter speed, so be sure to bring a tripod!).

View of a red rock formation out the window of the Soldier Pass Cave along the Soldier Pass Trail in Sedoa, Arizona

The trek to the cave will add about a mile-round trip to the total hike- a totally worthwhile addition in my opinion!

If you continue along the trail, it eventually ends when it converges with the Brins Mesa Trail (B on the map below)– here, you can either trace your steps back along the Soldier Pass Trail back to your car or, alternatively, make a giant loop, taking the Brins Mesa Trail to the Cibola Pass Trail (C) to the Jordan Trail (D), back to the Soldier Pass Trailhead (A, E).

This is the same path you’d take if you parked at the Jordan Road trailhead (just starting and ending at a different spot), so as mentioned above, taking this loop will add about half a mile to your total journey. The views of Sedona’s red rocks are incredible if you choose to take the latter route, so if you have time to take the loop back (and your legs are up to the challenge), you should go for it!

Tips for Soldiers Pass Trail

So how can you make your hike as epic as possible?

Show up bright and early

As noted above, this trail is popular. Not only is Soldiers Pass one of the must-see hikes in Sedona, but it’s also a common stop on many Jeep tours. So some of the features along the trail, namely the sinkhole and Seven Sacred Pools, can get insanely busy with visitors, especially on weekends.

If you don’t want to stress about parking and prefer to be one with nature as opposed to feeling like you’re waiting in line at Disneyland, showing up early or going during the off-season (Sedona is one of the best places to visit in Arizona in the winter!) is definitely your best bet. 

Bring sun protection

Soldier Pass does not offer a ton of shade, so you’ll be hiking directly in the hot desert sun for hours at a time. Remember to slather on the sunscreen and bring along a hat and some sunglasses.

Be sure to also bring plenty of water with you- Justin and I both have giant Nalgene bottles that we take everywhere, from international vacations to RV trips around the Pacific Northwest and, yup, even hiking in Sedona!

Woman hiking along the Soldier Pass Trail in Sedona, Arizona

Follow the Leave No Trace Principles

Because Sedona and Soldier Pass, in particular, are such popular places for visitors to explore, there’s also unfortunately more opportunities for people to cause erosion, dump trash, and otherwise abuse this beautiful land. But you can help that!

Brush up on the seven Leave No Trace (“LNT”) principles and be sure to follow them here, particularly disposing of waste properly (pack it in, pack it out), leave what you find (take only memories, leave only footprints), and travel on durable surfaces (avoid using social trails, as this can cause unnecessary erosion and kill plant life on the ground).

Come prepared

This one goes hand in hand with tip #3, given that it’s literally a LNT principle- plan ahead and be prepared! In particular:

  • There’s MANY trails here- both official ones and social ones, created by erosion from other hikers. Make sure you have a map of the trails in the area, either on Google Maps, All Trails, or another hiking app so that you can follow along and make sure you’re staying on the trail.
  • While this trail isn’t technically challenging, there’s still rocks, roots, and other uneven terrain along the trail. Especially if you plan to climb the rocky path to Soldier Pass Cave, you should wear shoes designed to be hiked in, like hiking sandals, to provide better traction and support.

    Justin has a pair of Tevas he swears by (options for women and men) or Chacos are another popular hiking sandal choice (options for women and men). I wore actual hiking boots (here’s my boots and men’s equivalent) and personally think, if you’re planning on doing this and other moderately challenging hikes in Sedona, they’re worth bringing along.
  • If you’re planning on doing this as a sunset or sunrise hike, be sure to bring along a headlamp so you can avoid tripping on said rocks and roots on the trail. We’ve been on so many hikes where we run into a terrified hiker, fumbling their way around a trail, either with a very weak cell phone flashlight or without any kind of lighting source to help them make their way back to the trailhead.

    Don’t be that guy- there’s literally 50-foot sinkholes just waiting for you to fall in. My husband, Justin, and I have these headlamps that came in a pack of two AND are rechargeable, so you don’t have to mess around with carrying extra batteries.

Have you tried the Soldier Pass Trail in Sedona? Do you have any tips or recommendations that I missed? Let me know in the comments below!

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