Brins Mesa is not a flat, horizontal mesa, but rather a tilted plate
that gradually rises from the west trailhead until you come to its south east facing drop
off near the Jordan Road Trailhead. It's surrounded by spectacular mountains, cliffs and buttes
. The basic Brins Mesa Trail route follows the tilted plate up from the west trailhead and drops down over the edge into Mormon Canyon on the way to the Jordan Road trailhead.
This trail is an incredibly versatile trail, offering many enjoyable options and side excursions. Often people just hike the 1.5 miles one way (600 ft elevation change) from the Jordan Road trailhead to the mesa rim, admire the spectacular view and then hike back
. This gives you a good cardiovascular workout combined with some beautiful scenery. Or you can hike the trail from one end to the other, about 3.6 miles one way with a car shuttle. A third possibility is a loop hike, starting either at the Jordan Road or Soldiers Pass trailhead (4.7 to 5 miles, depending on where you start). You can add a side excursion to the Lost Canyon (1.7 miles round trip) near the west trailhead. And you can follow the rim to a rocky promontory (0.5 miles round trip) or go further to the Mormon Canyon overlook(about 1.5 miles round trip) where you can admire the Angel Falls in spring or after some heavy rains. If you feel adventuresome, you can scramble up another 250 feet elevation from the mesa rim to Brins Ridge for an even more spectacular view.
I've hiked the Brins Mesa trail in all seasons and all kinds of weather -- on cool days
, in light snow, in rain and most recently on a hot July morning. I left the Vultee Arch Road trailhead about 7 am, with the sun already quite warm, but the air still pleasantly brisk. The trail is obvious; it appears to be an old jeep road
for most of the way. A couple of hundred feet after leaving the parking area, you'll see an unmarked trail leading off to the right.
This is the unofficial trail to the Lost Canyon. This side trail, too, is easy to follow. There are many hiker made cairns. The trail leads up, slowly at first, then very steeply until it tops at a little mesa. You cross the mesa, heading essentially south until you come to the rim on the other side. There you get your first view of Lost Canyon
; it's utterly spectacular. You follow the ledge high above the bottom of the canyon, with redrock cliffs to your left. A short way into the canyon you'll see some ruins to your left
under a huge overhang. You can scramble up to them as probably too many people have done: they seem to be in pretty bad shape. Once you follow the ledge to the head of the canyon
, you'll see some more ruins below you, inaccessible from where you are. (I guess you could rappel down). If you turn around here, the Lost Canyon detour is 1.8 miles long round trip. The trail continues on around the next promontory into the next canyon. You'll see Devil's bridge from across the canyon. I've never followed the trail to its end, so I don't know if it leads to a pass, loops around to Devil's bridge or just peters out.
The Brins Mesa trail follows a small generally dry creek, crossing it at least a half dozen times. Some of the crossings are quite picturesque
, with small redrock ledges and slickrock. The trail is a mixture of beach sand and round river rock, rising very gently. It's easy, enjoyable going through a juniper, cypress and pinyon forest
, with manzanita clearings here and there. At this point most of the beauty is close in; there aren't any vast views yet.
1.2 miles from the trailhead you come to the wilderness boundary and the trail starts a short slightly steeper climb. The trail now leaves the creek and the footing becomes rockier, but it's still easy going. After this, the trail reverts back to its slow, comfortable rise. But the trees are lower now, more like bushes and you're more exposed to the sun. About 0.4 miles after the wilderness boundary you come to the marked junction with the Soldiers Pass Trail. Soldiers Pass Trail goes off to the right, the Brins Mesa Trail continues straight on, with the vegetation getting more and more open
About a tenth of a mile further on, there is an unmarked trail going off to the right. A hiker built cairn marks the turn-off, but it's hard to see coming from this direction. Take your time and look for the turn off; it leads in a few hundred feet to some beautiful rocks overlooking the Soldiers Pass valley
. The view is worth the little side excursion. There is a hiker maintained trail leading down the rocks, well marked with cairns and not difficult at all. It follows at the foot of the cliff
for 0.3 miles to the Soldiers Pass Arches
, some nice, but not awe-inspiring redrock arches. From the arches you can connect to the main Soldiers Pass Trail and either hike back up onto Brins Mesa and to the Brins Mesa trail for a short loop (1.4 miles total) or down the Soldiers Pass trail for a longer loop. More about that loop later.
In half a mile you arrive at the mesa rim and a spectacular view over Sedona
, all the way to Bell Rock. Before heading down the trail, take the time to explore a bit. A trail goes off to the left (north) following the rim. In about 0.2 miles you get to some rocks sticking way out
over the rim, giving you an even better viewpoint. In another half mile following the rim and gently climbing, you come to the highest point of the mesa proper, about 5300 feet elevation
. If it has rained or in spring, you can see the Angel Falls from here
When you come back to the main trail, you'll see a trail going south (right) towards Brins Ridge. It's a bit of a scramble to get to the top, I'm told, but everybody who's done it says it's worth the climb. Brins Ridge is scramblable from this side but has a vertical dropoff on the Soldiers Pass side.
The trail drops off quite steeply from the edge of the mesa; you go down about 400 feet in 0.4 miles. At the beginning the trail is full of loose rock (at least not round loose rock), but then the path descends over several slickrock ledges
. There are several spots where you can get off the trail for even better views, by walking out on some of the ledges. The trail here is a proper single track hiking trail, not the jeep road it has been up to the top of the mesa edge and that it will be again as soon as you get to the bottom.
As you get to the bottom, an unmarked trail blocked with branches and sticks goes off to the left. Allegedly this is the trail that leads to the bottom of the Angel Falls. I've never been able to follow it for more than about half a mile before losing the trail. Maybe you have better luck than I have and manage to get to Angel Falls. Of course, most of the year the excursion to Angel Falls is pointless, because the falls only fall in spring and after heavy rain.
From the Angel Falls turnoff, it's about 1 mile of easy walking on an old jeep road through a juniper and pinyon forest until you get to the Jordan Road trailhead. If you've arranged for a car shuttle, you would end your hike at this point. But if you don't have a second car and are planning to hike back, or if you just would like to extend the hike, you have several options.
You can tack on the about 3 miles of the Jim Thompson/Lower Wilson Canyon trail, an easy trail heading east to Midgely Bridge. You'd have to have a car there unless you want to backtrack. You get to the Jim Thompson trailhead by walking down the dirt road towards Jordan Road for a few hundred feet. Jim Thompson Trail is marked on the left (east) side of the road. Jim Thompson Trail is mostly an old wagon trail and therefore very easy to follow. It stays high above Oak Creek Canyon, at the foot of Steamboat Rock
, until it descends into Wilson Canyon. There it joins the Wilson Canyon trail and you have to turn right, south, down canyon to get to Midgely Bridge. (Check out the old bridge buttresses off the trail on the right shortly before getting to Midgely Bridge)
My preferred hike extension makes a partial loop going back. You cross over the Cibola Pass to Devil's Kitchen, then head up Soldiers Pass Trail until it meets the Brins Mesa trail, about 2.8 miles. The trailhead for the Cibola Pass Trail is less than a hundred feet down the dirt road on the right side of the road. It's an easy to follow trail, first leading through a nice Cypress forest
and then climbing for 0.4 miles and less than 200 feet elevation change to the crest of Cibola Pass. Once at the saddle with the old barbed wire fence
, you can just follow the trail back down. Or you can add yet another half mile side excursion to a saddle northwest and a couple hundred feet higher, surrounded by cliffs
and good views. You follow the unofficial trail paralleling the fence, going right. The trail is at times hard to follow and you have to scramble over some ledges, but the views are worth it.
The Cibola Pass Trail joins the Jordan Trail 0.3 miles after you come off the top of the pass. You turn right (west) Jordan Trail is a heavily traveled bike trail meandering through shrubs and ledges to Devil's Kitchen. Devil's Kitchen is a spectacular sink hole
, only marred by too many pink and other tour Jeeps. At Devil's Kitchen, look for the Soldiers Pass Trail signs. Initially things are a bit confused, because of the jeep road and many unofficial trails. Don't follow the Soldiers Pass Trail sign going to the trailhead (left or west). You may want to follow the jeep road for a few hundred feet or a trail to the right of it paralleling it, but do not follow the road down when it turns left. You should see a sign for Soldiers Pass Trail or Sacred Pools on your right before then.
Soldiers Pass Trail follows the right (east) side of the valley going north. After a tenth of a mile or so, you get to the Seven Sacred Pools, some rather attractively shaped small pools in the rock which generally contain some water, even during a drought. Along with the pools, you may also find Jeeps again -- for the last time.
After the pools, the trail keeps on going for a mile or so until it gets to the wilderness boundary and shortly after that you reach the Soldiers Pass Arches junction. It's not very well marked; the trail to the right (basically going straight) is the side trail to the arches, the trail turning left is the "main" trail going up to Soldiers Pass. The arches are ok, but nothing to write home about
. The climb up to them is 0.3 miles, steep und fun, with some good views. At the arches you can backtrack to the main trail or press on going north for 0.3 miles on a hiker made trail, at the foot of the cliffs
. It's well marked with small cairns and requires only a very small scramble at the very end. You'll climb the rocky edge of Brins Mesa and then join up with Brins Mesa trail.
If you decided against going to the arches or you backtracked, you then follow the Soldiers Pass trail for 0.7 miles until it joins Brins Mesa trail. You climb about 300 feet in a fairly short distance, crossing some ledges
and with some good views. Depending on where you started your hike, you'll turn left (north) towards the Vultee Arch trailhead or right(south) to the Jordan Road trailhead.