An Oasis in the Desert: The Beautiful Emerald Pools Trail at Zion
Emerald Pools is one of Zion’s most popular hiking trails. This comes at no surprise as the stunning hike features quaint views of the river, several waterfalls, lots of greenery, and towering views of Zion Canyon. Starting at the Lower Emerald Pools and continuing on to the Upper Pools is a moderately challenging, gorgeous 3 mile round trip hike. It is the “the hike” if you have limited time.
Your trek starts with a walk across the Virgin River via a bridge. Stop here and take some amazing photos! Morning and evening are the best times for photography.
The Lower Emerald Pool trail is an easy 0.6 mile journey along a paved path to the Lower Emerald Pools and waterfall. Spring is the ideal time to visit, as the melting snow creates a more intense waterfall. If you visit in the drier months, the stream will more likely be nothing more than a slight trickle.
The scenery along the Lower Pools trail is beautiful and relaxing, an easy trek through a gorgeous area of Utah. You will enjoy lots of diverse trees and gorgeous overlooks of the canyon along the way.
From here on, you can continue 0.4 miles to the Middle Pools, and then another 1/2 mile to the Upper Pools. Although short, this is where the trail becomes more challenging. It’s a steep climb up to the Upper Pools along a sandy and rocky trail, thus good hiking shoes and a stick will come in handy. In exchange for your hard workout, you will be treated to a number of stunning overlooks.
If you are in decent shape and up for a bit of a workout, you must continue on to the Upper Pools. The trail leads to the base of a cliff where you may or may not see a gorgeous waterfall, depending on the season you visit. During our winter visit the stream was sparse, although still stunning. Arriving at the waterfall is a mesmerizing experience. When you finally reach this amazing natural wonder, you really feel like you have found a hidden treasure (especially so during the winter, when absolutely no one else is around!). The journey through nature feels like a true oasis: one not to be missed on your Zion trip!
Overall, Emerald Pools is a great hiking option for everyone visiting the Zion area because there are 3 different stopping points, enabling you to choose for yourself how far you feel like going that particular day. If you feel like only exploring the Lower Pools, then simply turn around, and save the Upper Emerald Pools for your next trip.
Believe me, you will be waiting for your next trip to Zion! As one of the most gorgeous places out West (or anywhere else for the matter), Zion is more than worthy of a repeat visit! And the gorgeous Emerald Pools trail is one view you will never tire of. The journey through nature feels like a true oasis: one not to be missed on your Zion trip!
When is the best time to visit?
A spring visit is the preferred time to plan your trek along the Emerald Pools trail as this is when waterflow is typically strongest. In addition, temperatures are much cooler (Zion is brutal in the summer), and crowds are still not out in full force. Fall offers the benefit of stunning foliage. And winter (check for trail closures) offers the most peaceful conditions (crowds are virtually non existent) along with cool afternoon hiking temperatures (be sure to avoid hiking in snowy and icy conditions and be prepared for extremely cold morning temperatures).
*Set out early in the day for fewer crowds and the best photo opportunities.
*A winter visit is great due to the absence of crowds, however, ice and snow could possibly close the trails. Stay updated on the National Park Website. Also dress in layers – it can be below freezing in the morning hours.
*Carry a hiking stick and wear quality hiking shoes with good traction.
*Wear a GPS watch and track your distance.
*If planning an evening hike, set out at least 2 hours prior to sunset. You do not want to get caught on a trail in the dark!
*Remember you are at high altitude (4000 feet). If coming from a lower elevation area, take extra precautions. Drink extra water and take your time! Don’t push yourself!
*Never get too close to any edges, especially true as you get into the Upper portion of the hike. This trail has had the most number of deaths in the park: more than the Narrows!
*Bring with your camera – there are so many overlooks with gorgeous views!
If driving, follow the signs to the Zion Lodge once entering the park (there is a parking lot across the street). As the lot fills up very quickly, a better option is to take the free shuttle (does not run during the winter months).
Admission: Entrance to the park is $30 per vehicle (good for 7 days) or $15 per person/cyclist (also good for 7 days). Considering purchasing an annual National Parks Pass for $80, good for an entire year: a great value for frequent travelers.
Round trip distances of the Emerald Pools Trails
Lower – 1.2 miles
Middle – 2 miles
Upper – 3 miles
Lower – 69 feet
Middle – 150 feet
Upper – 350 feet
How much time will the hike take up?
If planning just the Lower Pools, plan on about an hour or so. Completing the whole 3 mile distance will take anywhere from about 1.5-2.5 hours, depending on how many rest and photo breaks you take. It took us about an hour and 45 minutes, moving at a casual pace.
Have you ever completed the Emerald Pools trail? What are some of your recommended Zion hikes? Please share your recommendations!