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On my first Utah road trip in 2015, we stopped at Zion and I hiked to the Emerald Pools with my friend Danny. I know we had fun but, looking back, I don’t know if I was like, blown away it at all. I don’t think I was disappointed by it either though.
I just checked with Danny and he thought the trail itself was fine and the pools were really pretty. I do remember thinking the pools didn’t look like I thought they would but I did like them.
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And since I couldn’t remember like, anything from that first hike, I knew I wanted to do this one on our January Zion trip. Also, this is my last Utah hike post 😭 It makes me sad to think about that, that I won’t have anymore Utah hiking posts until I go back just to visit. So weird.
I still have plenty of other Utah content coming, and one non-hiking activities, but no more hikes. Wild. Anyway, back to the Kayenta Trail and Emerald Pools.
We actually did this pretty close to the end of our trip and my expectations were low because, in my head, I didn’t like it that much in 2015, but I don’t know if I didn’t like it that much or if I just think that looking back.
Because we were here in the winter and it recently snowed, it was pretty cold, and part of the main Emerald Pools trail was too icy so it was closed. Instead, we just had to go via the Kayenta Trail.
This trail leaves from the same spot as Angels Landing so you cross the river then head to the left. As you gradually go up, you’re walking along the side of the cliff. The views are nice but this part isn’t particularly exciting. Still not bad though.
After a while, you’ll curve around to the inside of the alcove, I suppose it could be called. This is where you’ll start to see the waterfalls (water pending) and be walking more in trees and rock.
The more we hiked, the more waterfalls I saw. There was some bigger ones and some really small ones thanks to the snowmelt. It felt like everywhere we looked there was another one.
On the first trip, I went to all three, but I think we just went to middle and upper this time. Either way, the main draw is the Upper Emerald Pool. And boy was it good this time!
We saw a few other people on the trail but never more than like, five or six at a time, like at the upper pool. The trail was a little icy in spots but not bad until the section between the middle and upper pools.
It wasn’t impassable but we definitely had to be careful, especially since it was an incline. Microspikes would have been very helpful on this part of the hike. It was also pretty shady here so the ice didn’t really melt.
Once we made it to the upper pool, we were greeted with freezing temperatures and a fantastic waterfall! We spent some time enjoying the falls but it was SO cold, I took my pictures then huddled behind a boulder to avoid the wind.
After a while we headed back down, spotting even more waterfalls. The hike down went by a lot faster, as it always does and instead of just heading back right away we decided to hike The Grotto Trail.
This just connects the Angels Landing trailhead to the Zion Lodge and I would really only use it to walk between them and skip it as an actual hike. It’s short and pretty boring.
So, I would skip the Grotto Trail but would definitely recommend the Emerald Pools hike if you have time and want to do something other than the two main hikes. I would still probably pick the Sand Bench Trail or Watchman Trail over this but it’s still pretty great.
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Where is the Kayenta Trailhead in Zion?
The Kayenta Trailhead is at the same stop as the Angels Landing Trailhead. You get off at that stop and cross the street, then once the trail forks, the Emerald Pools will be to the left and Angels Landing is to the right.
How long is the Kayenta Trail to Emerald Pools?
if you’re taking the main trail, it is three miles round-trip to the Emerald Pools. And I believe that includes seeing all three of the pools. This is the route I took in 2015. Whichever way you take, the first part of the hike is pretty similar just on opposite sides of the pools (this is on the left if you’re looking at where the pools are.)
In the winter, the main trail may be closed and the Kayenta Trail to the Emerald Pools will be the route you have to take. This route is 2.4 miles round-trip so it is a little bit shorter, which is nice. You can go this way any time of year though, not just in the winter.
Is the Kayenta Trail to Emerald Pools hike hard?
I would say it’s moderate. It’s pretty par for the course in Zion since most of the hike start by the river and go up. Both routes have about 630 feet of elevation gain. It’s definitely easier than Angels Landing and The Narrows, the two most popular hikes in Zion.
Is the Kayenta Trail to Emerald Pools worth it?
Yes! For the most part. I would skip this if it hasn’t rained recently or if there isn’t really snowmelt happening. The waterfalls are what really made this trail so beautiful for me.
It’s ok without them but not as good. You may be able to see some of them from the road but some of them were pretty small. I didn’t love it the first time I did it (early July 2015) but I loved it in January 2022.
If you’ve only got one day in Zion, I’d pick other things I think because there are better trails and this is also a very busy trail, especially in the summer.
What’s the best time to hike to the Emerald Pools?
This is tough to say, but I would go with spring, winter, and late July-September because these all seem like the times there would be either snowmelt or rainfall that would create all the waterfalls we got to see.
The hike is still nice without the waterfalls, but I also definitely remember not being as impressed the first time I did this hike when there were no waterfalls. It wasn’t bad but our winter hike was waaaaay better.
The main Emerald Pools Trail can sometimes close in the winter if there is a lot of ice on the trail but then you should be able to get there via the Kayenta Trail, which is what we had to do. They are pretty much the same difficulty.
As for time, I think afternoon/early evening would be best because it will be shady on the inner part of the trail, if that makes sense. The upper pool was fully shaded which was nice.
Emerald Pools Trail photo gallery
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Have you hike to the Emerald Pools in Zion? Which route did you take? What did you think of it?