Updated: Jan 4
Trail length: 2.2 round trip
Emerald Pools in Zion National Park is one of Zion's most popular trails for the following reasons. It is easy to get to the lower waterfalls, the views are quite nice, and there are many options and ways to experience this hike. Emerald Pools hike is broken up into three distinct locations, the lower emerald pools, the middle emerald pools and the upper emerald pools. Each are enjoyable, but with each step further in the trail, the route gets progressively harder. Because of the variety, the trail is one of the best for the entire family or for the more adventurous hiker.
Emerald Pools can be accessed from the Zion Lodge bus stop in Zion National Park. Simply enter the main canyon, find parking at the visitor center and then take the shuttle to the Zion Lodge bus stop. Hop out here and head towards the trail head on the other side of the road. You will have to walk across the parking lot and a large grassy field. You will see the trail head on the way up if you are paying attention. If not, follow the crowds or ask someone.
Emerald Pools trail begins by crossing over the virgin river on a foot bridge. From here the trail splits left and right. Left takes you directly to the middle emerald pools and right takes you directly to the lower emerald pools. I usually go right, but the left provides nice views too. I have not gone on it yet because it only recently re-opened. The trail is fairly easy, paved and follows the canyon towards the lower emerald pools. It should only take about 10-20 minutes to get there. ‘There’ in this situation is an information placard. The paved trail continues under the waterfall (usually just a trickle) and continues onto the middle emerald pools.
The middle emerald pools is a bit more difficult to get to. The trail as it goes under the waterfall converts from paved to a dirt and wood staircase that climbs quite steeply under and around a few huge boulders. There are signs that point the way, so don’t worry about getting lost. The signs then directly along a nice little dirt trail the next few hundred yards until you arrive at the middle emerald pools, which are mostly small streams trickling as they fall over the cliff. These are fun to see and the view is quite nice of Zion Canyon from here.
To get to the upper emerald pools, backtrack a bit from the direction you came and follow the signs to the Upper Emerald Pools, this climb is a bit more strenuous and can be hard for those out of shape. The trail is a dirt, fairly maintained trail that climbs up and over a ridge and drops into a bowl that makes up the upper emerald pools. The upper pool is a huge rocky/sandy pit with some water in it. This water comes from above your head where Heaps Canyon drains water from the top of Zion down into the main canyon. Most of the time the water fall is dry to mostly a trickle of water that runs most of the year, but if you are lucky a very large waterfall dumps right into this basin.
As a photographer, emerald pools is best to be visited in the fall. But as a regular hiker of Zion, this is a great hike all the time. Usually, it’s in the shade and you do not have to deal with the high heat of the day. I have hiked this trail probably a dozen times over the years with kids and without kids and will continue to do so. On that note, this is a kid friendly hike. On my last time through (Fall 2022) there had been some recent landslides that had rearranged the trail just past the waterfall as you climb towards the middle emerald pools. The trail looks a bit sketchy right now through there, I don’t recommend doing that part of the trail if there is a huge flooding event, as that’s when rocks tend to move around. But any other time is worth your time. I have not been to the upper emerald pools in a few years, but the few times I have been up there, it hadn’t dramatically changed. If you are lucky, you might see someone descending out of Heaps Canyon high above. It's really cool to see.
Though this article has been generally written as a long past tense I still do regularly visit this spot. My most recent trip around emerald pools was 1/2/2023 after some major rain and snow events. The result were some spectacular waterfall scenes.
If you want tips for photographing Emerald Pools head over to my photography blog to read more there: "Tips for Photographing Emerald Pools"
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