If you are looking to plan a trip to Sedona, it’s likely you’ve heard about Soldier’s Pass Trail – and for a good reason. If you start at the trailhead, it’s a moderately short hike, there are scenic stops along the way…oh – and there’s a hidden cave off the beaten path.
Thanks to the Internet, the hidden Soldier’s Pass spur cave has grown in popularity largely because it’s so uniquely picturesque. While the hidden cave on the Boynton Canyon trail resembles a subway, this one is a little harder to describe. If I’m standing inside of the cave at the far end, it almost reminds me of a time machine. Except, you know…time machine but make it nature.
Soldier’s Pass Trail at a Glance
Ready for me to share all my secrets for how to get here? This blog post covers where to park, the best maps to hike the trail, what to bring on your hike, and of course, how to get to the spur cave. Keep reading to discover the best way to find the hidden cave on Soldier’s Pass Trail.
HIKING ETIQUETTE: LEAVE NO TRACE
Sedona’s beauty is hard to match, and that is largely due to proper hiking etiquette and following the Leave No Trace principles implemented by the city. These guidelines help to keep nature and the outdoors in the most preserved, pristine conditions possible. Before hiking and/or visiting, check out 7 of Sedona’s Leave No Trace principles here.
Hiking Tip: Get A Red Rocks Pass
In order to park at most trails in Sedona, you will need to purchase a Red Rocks Pass (an America the Beautiful Interagency Pass will also suffice). This pass needs to be displayed on the windshield of the vehicle, or it can be purchased online using the vehicle’s corresponding license plate number.
You are able to purchase a pass for 1 day, 1 week, or annually using the link above. Click here for more information about the Red Rocks Pass program.
But First: Download the AllTrails App
Why You Need the AllTrails App
If you are doing anything that involves hiking, AllTrails is a must. This app has saved me more times than I would like to admit. I can’t take direction at baseline (if you’ve followed this blog for awhile, you’re probably wondering how I made it through Europe on my own, and honestly, same) – so if you’re in the same boat, make sure you have this app downloaded before your hike.
This app enables you to look up popular trails and plan your hike accordingly. The Navigation feature makes following the right path easy, so I was not afraid of getting lost. The map also shows you other popular spots (for example, vortex sites) along the way.
AllTrails has a paid version ($35.99/year) and a free version, but I found the free version to be enough for what I needed.
Finding the Soldier’s Pass Cave on AllTrails
Thanks to the increased popularity of this cave, AllTrails now has a trail route specifically to find it! The route is called “Soldier’s Pass Cave Spur Trail.” But before you lace up your hiking shoes, make sure you are starting off at the right place!
Further down in this post, I talk about the best parking options for this hike. Your 2 main options are to park at the Soldier’s Pass Trailhead or the Jim Thompson Trailhead.
- If you are starting at the Soldier’s Pass Trailhead, you are fine to put Soldier’s Pass Cave Spur trail into your app. This is where AllTrails has you starting this hike from.
- If you start at the Jim Thompson Trailhead, your route will be longer because you will begin your hike from Cibola Pass/Jordan Trail to eventually reach Soldier’s Pass Trail. I found that the easiest way to navigate to Soldier’s Pass Trail is to type in “Seven Sacred Pools via Cibola Pass Trail” on AllTrails. Once you get to the Seven Sacred Pools on the Soldier’s Pass Trail, you can then enter the Soldier’s Pass Cave Spur trail into your app.
The Biggest Drawback to Using AllTrails (Just FYI…)
After going on a few hikes myself and talking with other hikers, I have concluded that the distances and elevations listed on AllTrails are not always accurate.
I believe this is because people are allowed to submit new trail routes and updates, so the trail maps are largely based on people’s hiking experiences vs. calculating distance via coordinates the way that Google maps does.
- To simplify this, think as if you and I were standing on a hill and had to cut through a forest to get to a pot of gold on the other side. You walk straight through the forest and directly to the pot of gold. I walk into the forest, get distracted by the flowers off to the left, cross a river, go through a cave, and climb over some fallen trees before I make it to the pot of gold. We each get to the destination, but your route took 0.5 miles and mine took 3 miles. Make sense?
- Keep in mind, the new routes and updates ARE verified for accuracy via app moderators before they are uploaded.
Because of this, all the distances mentioned in this blog post will be based on Google maps, not AllTrails.
What to Bring With You on Your Hike
No matter what trail you hike, it’s smart to carry a backpack and bring a few essentials with you. I brought the following things with me on my hikes in Sedona:
- Plenty of water (~3 large bottles)
- Protein bar (I always pack 2, just in case)
- Cell phone + portable cell phone charger
A lot of people also had hiking poles. I personally do not use these, but I know they are a must for many hikers!
How to Get to Soldier’s Pass Trail
Parking at the Trailhead
The main parking lot at the Soldier’s Pass Trailhead has a whopping 14 parking spots. In other words, if you don’t either get there at the crack of dawn or get REALLY lucky throughout the day, I suggest you have a Plan B as far as parking.
Thankfully, there are other parking options available, although parking at the trailhead is your best option in terms of saving you time and distance.
Alternative Option #1: Take the Shuttle
Sedona has a shuttle that usually runs from Thursday through Sunday. However, when I was there, they were running a shuttle to and from the Soldier’s Pass Trailhead when they realized the lot was full. I do not know if they do this all the time (although it would be REALLY helpful).
You can visit the Sedona Shuttle website here to know which trails the shuttle services, where the pick-up spots are, and even view the real-time Sedona shuttle tracker to know exactly when your ride is arriving.
Alternative Option #2: Park at the Jim Thompson Trailhead (Will Lengthen Your Hike Time!)
An alternative route to getting to Soldier’s Pass Trail is to arrive via Cibola Pass/Jordan Trail. The trailhead to Cibola Pass/Jordan Trail is known as the Jim Thompson Trailhead.
The Cibola Pass Trail leads you to the Jordan Trail which will lead you to the Soldier’s Pass Trail. This parking lot is much larger than the one at Soldier’s Pass, so many people choose to park here. When I hiked Soldier’s Pass, this is where I parked.
A couple caveats to doing this:
- The parking lot is BUMPY -> There are potholes that will eat you alive. Seriously. If your car sits low to the ground, you may want to re-think this strategy.
- This will significantly lengthen the time of your hike -> 6.4 miles vs. 4.8 miles if you start at Soldier’s Pass Trailhead.
- Cibola Pass/Jordan Trail is not very well marked -> Unlike a lot of the other hikes throughout Sedona, I did not see a lot of signs or cairns that helped mark your path and keep you on your trail. When doing this part of the hike, I relied heavily on AllTrails.
Hiking Soldier’s Pass Trail and Finding the Hidden Cave
Soldier’s Pass Trail Landmarks
Once you get on Soldier’s Pass Trail, there are a few landmarks to watch out for to make sure you’re headed in the right direction and give you an idea of how close you are to the cave:
Devil’s Kitchen Sinkhole
You will approach Devil’s Kitchen Sinkhole relatively early on in your hike. Located 0.2 miles from Soldier’s Pass trailhead, it is on the right hand side of the trail and pretty difficult to miss. It looks exactly like what you would imagine: a massive hole in the ground covered with rocks, dirt, and some greenery.
The Seven Sacred Pools
The next landmark you will come to on Soldier’s Pass Trail is the Seven Sacred Pools. This is located 0.4 miles from Devil’s Kitchen Sinkhole.
The Seven Sacred Pools are natural pools (think of way oversize puddles) in the rocks that are filled with natural water. They are called “sacred” because the Native Americans that inhabit Sedona consider them so. In my opinion, the best time to see them (and photograph them) is after the sun has started to set.
- Before going on this hike, I read where a lot of people found the Seven Sacred Pools somewhat underwhelming. Although they are beautiful, after seeing them myself, I would have to agree. However, I also saw the pools when Sedona was not experiencing a lot of rainfall.
- I have seen photos where the water from each of the higher pools cascades down into the lower ones like a waterfall. I think it would be fascinating to experience them like this after it has rained!
Finding the Hidden Soldier’s Pass Cave
After you reach Seven Sacred Pools, it is 1.8 miles to the hidden spur cave. You will know you’ve reached it when you see a large wall of rock with 2 openings. You will also have to climb up a somewhat steep hill of dirt and rocks in order to get to the entrance. If your shoes don’t have good traction, this part could be difficult.
- As I mentioned, there are 2 openings in the wall of the cave. I attempted to go to the one on the left first, and this was NOT the correct one. If you accidentally try to get in this way, you’ll quickly realize that while this is a cool little nook in the side of the rock, it is NOT the opening of the cave. If you’re looking at the wall of rock, the opening to the cave is towards the RIGHT side.
Once you get to the entrance of the cave, you will see the way to get up inside is narrow, steep, rocky, and could require some effort in the form of upper body strength. There aren’t a lot of good places to hold onto in order to pull yourself up. I stumbled into 2 guys during this hike, and we all helped each other figure out how to get up into the cave. You basically have to stand on some of the rocks and hoist yourself up until you make it inside. This is the hardest part of hike, but 100% worth it.
Once you get up inside the spur cave, this is your view! I think it looks like someone chopped down a tree, hollowed out the inside, and made it into a time machine. There’s even an opening in the wall of the cave that you can sit on and look out into the forest! The lighting wasn’t the best in this picture below, but the background and the details make for a great photo op.