Note: While Emerald Pools is neither a summit nor a canyon it needs to be included to any trip to Zion’s National Park. It is iconic, popular and listed on numerous sites as one of America’s “must see” hikes. It needs to be hiked if only to answer the inevitable question “did you hike Emerald Pools?”. With that in mind, Emerald Pools at least rates a route page….
Zion Park’s Emerald Pools hike is considered one of America’s most iconic hikes and is extremely popular with Zion Park’s summer crowds. I strongly suspect the hike’s popularity has less to do with the scenery (which is unquestionably spectacular) than it does with the hike’s overall ease/accessibility to the public. The hike features everything from hanging gardens suspended from high cliffs to panoramic vistas of Zion’s canyon. It only takes a couple of hours at most and is well worth the short delay before climbing Angel’s Landing or hitting The Subway.
The shortest possible hike, an out and back from Zion’s Lodge to the lower pool, is barely 1.2 miles roundtrip on a paved trail through a cool forest. This makes for a crowded, slow trail during the high season. While this is a hike well worth doing, the overarching goal is seeing the pools alone without the whole “nature-as-a-theme-park” feel. The longest common hike is Zion Lodge to Upper Pool, down the Kayenta Trail to the Grotto and along the Grotto to the Zion Lodge for a total of 4.5 miles.
The best way to enjoy the Emerald Pools trail without the crowds is to simply go when the crowds are somewhere else. Zion National Park is practically empty in the winter months and, on many days, you can take the short hike in total solitude. During the winter, the park is “drive-in” with plenty of parking at the trailheads. Early morning starts are absolutely spectacular and even the most amateurish
photographers can get stunning pictures along the Emerald Pools Trail.
Getting to the either of the two most popular trailheads is a no-brainer. Get off of I-15; follow the signs to the park/Springdale. Apr – Oct, either park along the street in Springdale and catch a shuttle to the park entrance or drive to the park entrance and park in the parking lot (sometimes really full—you can tell by how many cars are parked along the street in Springdale). Once in Zion, hop on the park shuttle and get off on either the Grotto or Lodge trailheads.
In the winter, Zion’s becomes “drive in”. In that case, simply drive to the park, pay the entrance fee and follow the signs to either the Grotto or Lodge trailheads. There’s plenty of parking available at both.
Fees to enter the park (7 Day Pass) are $25 per vehicle or $12 a person to walk/bike in.
Hiking along Virgin River
The full roundtrip course involving the lower, middle, and upper Emerald Pools is approximately 3 miles long back and forth to Zion Lodge. The entire trail is well marked and well maintained. The trail to the Lower Pool is paved while the trail up to the Middle/Upper Pool is well-maintained dirt and rock. Altitude gain for the whole hike (to the Upper Pool) is ~350 feet.
Distance to Lower Pool: 0.6 Miles
Distance to Middle Pool: 1.0 Mile
Distance to Upper Pool: 1.5 Miles
Zion’s Park reduces traffic during the high season (1 Apr – 30 Oct) by requiring visitors to use a shuttle bus. These buses troll up and down the Canyon and come by very frequently. This service allows hikers to get dropped off on one trailhead and get picked up at another without having to worry about getting back to their car. For Emerald Pool hikers, it gives an easy option of leaving from the Zion Lodge Trailhead and returning following a trail from the Middle Pool (on Kayenta Trail) to the Grotto Picnic area. The Kayenta Trail from Middle Pool to the Grotto adds 1 mile to the hike. If returning to Zion Lodge during the off-season (no shuttle) the hike from Grotto to Lodge adds another ½ mile.
The most popular trail heads to the pools are at Zion Lodge and the Grotto Picnic area. The Zion Lodge hike is the shortest.
Even though the Park Service makes all reasonable effort to make the trails safe, there are still hazards involved with seeing the pools. The primary hazards are broken and deformed limbs resulting from spills, falls, and long-long drops. Watch where you are going. The trail does get icy in winter so wearing light traction devices on your shoes is helpful. There is very little hazard from getting lost; the trail is well marked and well maintained. While 3 miles isn’t a particularly long hike, it is a desert, it gets hot during the summer and there isn’t an approved water source--bring your own (you can buy water at the Grotto Picnic area).
Cactii In Bloom
Zion’s National Park has a large camping area just past (1/4 mile) the entrance gate at Watchman Campground. There are 176 regular and 6 group sites available. 18 of the sites are tent only. There are some sites that are first come/first serve available during the winter. Reservations fill up fast for summer but camping is eminently doable during the late fall, winter and spring.
½ mile from the entrance gate is the South Campground with 127 sites available on a first come/first served basis.
Regrettably, temperatures are kind of chilly during the most reservable months---it really doesn’t warm up at night until mid-May. Campsites are reasonably priced at around $16 a night, $18 if you want electricity.
Non-rough-it summitposters can also stay downtown in Springdale (about a dozen hotels) or stay a in Zion’s Lodge in the park. For Reservations at Zion’s Lodge or the campsites, Call 1-888-297-2757 or 1-435-772-7700