The must-do hike for families in Zion is definitely Emerald Pools. We found this trail to all three pools (upper, middle, and lower) very manageable with our 3, 6, and 9 year-old boys, though the littlest did require a little carrying. Here is our recommendation on how to get the most out of this hike.
Start by riding the shuttle to Stop 6, the Grotto. Most people go to Stop 5, which is great if you’re just going to the Lower Pool, but Stop 6 works very well if you want to see all 3 pools. This is because you can get to the top with a less steep climb that is about the same distance as from Stop 5 (Zion Lodge) by using the Kayenta Trail.
The Kayenta trailhead is located across the street from Stop 6 at the Grotto in the same spot as the Angel’s Landing trailhead. However, instead of turning right, turn left and head along the cliffside. There isn’t a lot of danger on the Kayenta Trail as it climbs from the canyon floor, but keep an eye on little ones as you move along the hillside. Some of the steepness is taken out of the trail as the canyon dips down, and you slowly climb. The views along this trail are amazing and we only saw a few other people on the Kayenta trail.
After a little less than a mile, you’ll find a sign which points to the right for the middle and upper pool and to the left for the lower pool. Don’t turn left (if you were only planning on hiking to the lower pool, you should have started from Stop 5: Zion Lodge) and come straight up the bottom). Turn to the right and continue to climb toward the middle pool.
A second junction appears and the right fork will lead you to the middle and upper pool, while down and left between the towering rocks goes to the lower pools. Don’t worry; you’ll return to this junction after you visit the middle and upper pools so you can go down the stairs between the rocks. Our boys loved walking between these rocks!
The middle pools are just around the corner from this junction, and they are beautiful little pools that form between the two waterfalls at the upper and lower pools. We spent a few minutes admiring the water, and then continued the climb to the upper pool. It is 0.3 miles up from the middle pools up to the upper pool.
The waterfall at the upper pool is definitely worth the climb if you are up for it. But be warned, the trail here goes from wide and easy to rocky and narrow. There isn’t really any scrambling, but you will be picking your way among big rocks in the trail. It is an additional 0.3 miles to the upper pool, which means over half a mile roundtrip, but our 3 year-old made it with a little help.
We were surprised to see a deer along this trail as there really isn’t anywhere for it to come from or go to in this bowl. At the top of the trail is a large pool that is fed by a high waterfall, at least in the spring, though it may dry up in summer as there isn’t a lot of water flowing. It is hard to estimate the distance the water actually falls, but it seems to be 150-200 feet as you’ll see in the video below. You’ll also notice that Emerald Pools aren’t very green in the spring– they should probably be called Mustard Pools.
It’s a one-way trail to the upper pool, so you have to backtrack to the junction and head down the rocky trail toward the middle pools. Along the way there is a short side trail to the right from the 0.3 mile sign which used to go through, but has been closed. It is only 50 yards, and you’ll stand on top of the waterfall for a nice view. There’s a chain, but don’t let the kids too near the edge.
After you look over the edge to the Lower Pool, head back past the middle pool to the junction with the big rock “tunnel” to pass through. Walk between the rocks and follow the trail down to the Lower Pool.
As you follow the trail down to Lower Pool (if I’ve confused you, don’t worry, every junction has a sign and the trail is very well-marked), you will come around a corner and see two waterfalls. The trail goes behind the waterfall, which is much like dripping rock. Our kids enjoyed standing right in the shower for a few seconds. Unfortunately, it is like Grand Central Station at the lower pool, so you won’t have much solitude! From here, the trail continues down to Stop 5 where you can catch the shuttle at Zion Lodge. It’s 0.6 miles back down to the shuttle from the Lower Pools. If you don’t think your kids can handle this hike (it’s about 2.7 miles round trip to go all the way up as we’ve written it), then you can start at Shuttle Stop 5 and hike 0.6 miles up to Lower Emerald Pool, and then .6 miles back down.
Tips for Families
- Don’t stress about directions. Just remember: Kayenta to Middle Pool, decide if you are up for Upper Pool, then go back down and enjoy the Lower Emerald Pool. Lower Emerald Pool is the prettiest and most exciting since you walk behind the water, so you should definitely hike to Lower Emerald Pool no matter which route you take.
- We spent about 2 1/2 hours doing this hike. We rested and had a snack at Upper Pool, and spent quite awhile enjoying Lower Pool. So plan on 2-3 hours with kids.
- You hike out in the open mountainside on the Kayenta trail so wear hats and bring sunscreen. We went first thing in the morning and the sun wasn’t quite over the huge canyon wall, so morning might be the best time, especially in the heat of summer.
- The trail to the Lower Emerald Pool is paved, but it is definitely quite a climb, but if you need to push a stroller or wheelchair you probably could from the Zion Lodge up to the Lower Emerald Pool.