*All photos are protected by copyright and the property of Briana Nickas unless they are stock photos or otherwise noted.
Planning a trip to Sedona, AZ? Your visit to Red Rock Country won’t be complete without getting some hikes in while you’re there. And Soldier Pass Trail is a must for anyone wanting to explore Sedona!
We did some truly incredible hikes in Sedona. But hiking Soldier Pass Trail was my favorite! The beautiful trail has numerous natural features that will keep you in awe throughout your hike, including the secret Soldier Pass Trail Cave.
Aside from the surrounding area being incredibly scenic, Soldier Pass Trail is also a fun hike in general. It requires some route finding as well as climbing to get up into the Soldier Pass Cave.
I always enjoy scrambling and climbing as I hike. But throw in tracking down hidden trails to secret places, and I’m all like…
Is that your thing too? If so, you’re going to love the Soldier Pass Trail in Sedona!
And guess what! In this post, I’ll tell you exactly how to find the hidden trail turn-off to reach the secret cave. Keep reading for all the details! And be sure to add the Soldier Pass Trail to your hiking list for your trip to Sedona!
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Hike Info for the Soldier Pass Trail
• Distance: 3.5-miles roundtrip (NOTE: I tracked our mileage using the AllTrails app, but I’ve seen others state the mileage as 4.1 to 4.5-miles. Somehow we ended up looping back on the Jeep road rather than the trail, so maybe that affected the distance.)
• Elevation: 620-feet (according to AllTrails)
• Difficulty: Moderate (climbing required to get into the cave)
• Trail Type: Out & Back
• Hiking Time: 3 hours (including time to explore the cave and take photos)
• Trailhead: Soldier Pass Trailhead
Doesn’t it look like I’m standing in front of a fake backdrop? Sedona is so picturesque! And the Soldier Pass Trail has some jaw-dropping views!
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Getting To the Soldier Pass Trail
From the main street of Sedona, head west on 89A. When you reach Soldiers Pass Rd, turn right heading North for 1.4 miles.
Then turn right on Rim Shadows Dr/Shadow Rock Dr into a private neighborhood. After 0.2 miles, you’ll see the gated entrance for the parking lot on your left.
As you’re driving through the neighborhood to reach the parking lot for the trailhead, take note of all the “No Parking” signs. Parking is NOT allowed in the neighborhood.
Parking Info for Soldier Pass Trail
Soldier Pass Trail parking is limited. Be aware that the gated parking lot is only open from 8:00am to 6:00pm. Also, there’s only room for 16 vehicles to park in the lot at the trailhead (as of June 2020 when we were there).
I didn’t notice any signs about a parking pass or permit being required to park at the trailhead (unlike other trailheads in Sedona).
And according to the Red Rock Country Map on the USDA website for the Red Rock Pass Program (the parking pass required for certain areas around Sedona), a parking pass is not required for the Soldier Pass Trailhead parking area (at least as of right now).
I’d recommend checking before you go though in case that changes. We had the pass from hiking and parking in other areas, so we displayed it just to be on the safe side.
We arrived at the locked gate a few minutes before 7:30am and were the second car waiting in line behind the gate. By 7:52am, there were already five cars lined up to get in. I recommend getting there early as the parking lot fills up when the gate opens.
Or you could try to find street parking outside of the neighborhood and walk to the trailhead. But be sure to pay attention to parking restrictions and “No Parking” areas.
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Soldier Pass Trail Highlights
The mostly shaded Soldier Pass Trail has something for everyone with unique natural features and stunning red rock views. Up until the turn-off to Soldier Pass Cave, the trail is pretty easy.
It starts off with a slight descent to cross a wash then gradually climbs back up and levels out. Just ¼ mile from the trailhead, you’ll reach the first highlight of the Soldier Pass Trail: the Devils Kitchen Sinkhole.
Devils Kitchen Sinkhole
As you approach the active sinkhole, you’ll see the large hole in the ground measuring roughly 150 feet across and 50 feet deep. I’m not a geologist or scientist by any means so bare with me as I try to explain sinkholes…
Sinkholes are often formed when water erodes the rock below the land surface dissolving the rock and resulting in the land above collapsing. If you want a more technical description for Devils Kitchen SInkhole, check out this article.
Based on my research the massive chunk of rock below is said to have fallen from a collapse in 1989 with the most recent collapse in 1995. Devils Kitchen Sinkhole may not be the main attraction on the trail, but it’s still an impressive sight to see.
After about another ½ mile, you’ll come to the second trail highlight: the Seven Sacred Pools.
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Seven Sacred Pools
The Seven Sacred Pools are an iconic photo-op in Sedona. The natural bowls in the rock fill with water forming seven consecutive pools lined up and pointing toward the scenic rock towers in the distance.
Sadly, the Seven Sacred Pools were mostly dry when we were there at the end of June. Boo! 🙁 The best time to see the pools with water in them is probably in the springtime or after recent rainfall.
Even though I was bummed the pools didn’t have water in them, they weren’t the main attraction I was hiking the Soldier Pass Trail for. The feature I was most interested in seeing on this hike was the top-secret Soldier Pass Cave!
Secret Soldier Pass Cave
The secret cave is the best part of hiking the Soldier Pass Trail (IMO)! Locating the entrance to the Soldier Pass cave and climbing into the narrow opening to discover an expansive cavern behind the rock wall is such an awesome experience!
The cave takes a bit of an effort to get to, but #worthit! You won’t find Soldier Pass Cave on the main trail and have to know where to turn-off to find it. Lucky for you though, I’m going to give you the scoop and tell you exactly how to get there!
Hidden Turn-Off for the Soldier Pass Cave
After the Seven Sacred Pools, continue on the trail leading through the trees to the right. Roughly 0.7-miles ahead at this point, the trail forks at the wilderness area boundary sign. You’ll need to take the trail to the right leading to the cave.
Be on the lookout for the following site with two signs – one on the right attached to a tree and one on the left posted in the ground stating “Trail” with an arrow pointing straight. The trail on the left is the main trail. Don’t go that way. Instead, follow the trail to the RIGHT.
This is the WAY TO GO on the RIGHT to reach the Soldier Pass Cave >>>
Do NOT go this way to the Left for the main Soldier Pass Trail >>>
Here’s the approximate mileage from certain points to the trail fork and turn-off to the right:
- 0.7-mile from Seven Sacred Pools
- 1.1-miles from Devils Kitchen
- 1.4-mile from Soldier Pass Trailhead
After you turn off from the main trail, you’ll have a short incline to a large, flat mesa. Keep LEFT as you cross the mesa to find where the trail picks back up and climbs towards a wall of red sandstone.
Eventually, you’ll see an arch formed on the side of the rock wall. That’s where you’re headed. Once you get closer, you’ll see there are actually two arches.
There’s a large arch to the left that doesn’t provide cave access but is a great spot to take in the view. The arch to the right with a hole above it is where you’ll access the cave.
From the outside, you wouldn’t know it to look at it. But through that arch is a crevice on the right that opens up to the cave above.
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Accessing Soldier Pass Cave
From the arch on the right with the hole above it, look for the crevice to the right side. You’ll see some rocks stacked on each other forming steps leading up into the cave. This is where you’ll climb up into the cave.
Be careful as you step on the uneven rocks as they might be wobbly. Also, the steps don’t lead all the way up into the cave. You’ll have to climb into the opening and hoist yourself up from the last step using your hands and feet.
Make sure you wear shoes with good traction. My HOKA ONE ONE hiking shoes definitely came in handy and did great getting me in and out of the cave!
It also helps to have someone to give you a boost up or pull you into the cave going in and be there to spot you as you’re leaving. If you think it’s hard getting into the cave, it’s actually even more challenging climbing out.
Once you’re inside the cave, the deep crack you entered the cave through will be below you. It’s a little nerve-wracking walking alongside the crack as the rock ledges are narrow, and the steep drop-off can be dangerous. Again, wear shoes with a good grip. And watch your footing as you’re exploring the cave.
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Exploring Soldier Pass Cave
When we reached Soldier Pass Cave, it seemed like everyone else had the same idea as us getting to the trailhead right when the parking lot opened at 8:00am. The cave was pretty crowded when we got there and made it challenging to move around inside.
So we sat back and waited. After hanging out for about 30 minutes while everyone else enjoyed the cave, our patience paid off! We had it all to ourselves for another 30 minutes to take photos to our hearts’ content. It was amazing!
*PHOTO TIP: The cave is dark inside. To capture a clear photo of the cave’s interior, bring a lightweight tripod like this one I love hiking with to keep the camera stable for a longer exposure photo.
*On a side note, please be respectful of the cave. Don’t leave anything behind, including trash or writing (like one person did, unfortunately). Please follow the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace.
Returning to the Soldier Pass Trailhead
This is an out and back trail. So once you’re done taking in the beauty of the cave and the surrounding area, head back the way you came to return to the trailhead. Somehow, we ended up looping back on the 4×4 Jeep road parallel to the main trail. Oops! Luckily we made it back just fine as they intersected.
We finished our hike around 11:00am, roughly 3 hours later from when we started. When we left, there were a couple of parking spots open. So if you wanted to try to start hiking the trail later in the morning, you might be lucky enough to get a parking spot.
Keep in mind that it can heat up later in the day though, especially in the summer months. Luckily this trail is pretty shaded. But you’ll still want to bring plenty of water, stay hydrated, wear sunscreen, and use a hat.
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Wrapping Up the Soldier Pass Trail in Sedona and How To Hike to the Secret Cave
Sedona’s Red Rock Country is an amazing place to explore with stunning views practically everywhere you look.
The Soldier Pass Trail is no exception and is a must-do hike if you’re visiting Sedona, AZ! If you’re short on time in Sedona, make sure you fit this rewarding trail into your agenda!
If hiking is your jam, be sure to grab your free Hiking Log to keep track of all the amazing hikes you do!
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