Two easy trails start near Zion Lodge, half way along Zion Canyon, and head towards the mountains opposite, following a stream up past a sheet waterfall to the Emerald Pools - an intrinsically peaceful, secluded location though one sometimes over-visited. In summer large crowds climb up to the first of the pools, take a few photographs and hurry back down without seeing any of the smaller, more hidden ponds or the large mini-lake further up, at the foot of another, much higher waterfall.
Location: Trail map for Zion Canyon.
The Trails: After crossing the Virgin River via a footbridge, the path splits into the two routes, leading to the lower and middle pools; the former is the most popular as the gradient is gentler and the trail more shaded, running beneath large cottonwood trees. This follows first the river then a tributary stream, ascending to a wide overhang beneath a curving cliff face, where several elongated waterfalls flow from the pools above. The path passes behind the cascades, which create pretty rainbow-like light patterns if the sun is appropriately oriented, although the water flow dries up almost completely during summer. A short, brisk climb completes the 15 minute walk to the first pools (0.6 miles). The stream feeding them flows from the overgrown hillside beyond, through other sheltered, tree-lined pools and small waterfalls between a jumble of boulders. There is no trail past this section, but scrambling up the streamway is easy enough.
Upper Emerald Pool: Rather fewer people continue to the upper pool - another half mile along a steeper, rockier trail with an additional 280 foot elevation gain. Beneath a high cliff of colorful, streaked Navajo sandstone lies a large pool, deep enough for swimming most of the year, a practice once allowed but now prohibited to protect water quality and aquatic life. During winter and spring a powerful waterfall cascades down the rock face though in summer this dries up completely. The waters originate from Heaps Canyon, a long drainage with many narrow passages, waterfalls and deep potholes - probably the most demanding of Zion's technical slot canyons, this flows for 10 miles across the high country above, ending with a drop of 150 meters into the upper pool.
The Return Path: From the cliff edge in front of the lower pool there is a fine view over the wooded Virgin River valley, and such landmarks as Red Arch Mountain, the Great White Throne and Lady Mountain. The alternative return route to Zion Lodge (the Middle Emerald Pool Trail) stays level for a while, traversing the cliffs back towards the main canyon with more sweeping views, then switchbacks down to the river. A round trip, including a visit to the Upper Pool, takes about 2 hours. There is another option, for a longer loop hike, which is to take the path branching northwards from the lower pool; this is the 1 mile Kayenta Trail that descends back to the Virgin River, crossing on a bridge then joining the park road by the Grotto picnic area. The original trailhead is then half a mile south, reached either by taking the park shuttlebus or walking along the Grotto Trail - see the Zion Canyon map.
|A popular path that climbs a little way up the west side of Zion Canyon to three pretty pools, the uppermost set beneath sheer cliffs below the end of Heaps Canyon. Also gives good views up and down the main valley
Length: 1.5 miles, one way
Elevation change: 350 feet
Type: One way, or loop, since two trails lead to the pools, both starting and finishing together
Season: All year
Trailhead: Opposite Zion Lodge - shuttle stop 4; 37.250658,-112.958342