Zion National Park is a magical world full of contrasts. When most people think of Utah, they will conjure up an image of high orange sandstone rocks, Mars-like landforms, and endless deserts. While this can be found in Zion, you’ll also be hiking amongst snow-capped mountains and cascading waterfalls. With all this diversity on offer, there’s no better place to soak it in that at the Emeralds Pools.
While hiking down Zion National Park’s Emerald Pools Trail, you’ll be passing the same tall orange cliff faces and mountains that make Utah famous. Among these pinnacles of red rock, lush greenery lines either side of the trail, and waterfalls feed into the breathtaking pools below.
Now that we’ve got you convinced to journey to Zion to explore the Emerald Pools yourself, you probably have a million questions running through your head. Not only will you have to ask yourself what route to take, but also what you should bring along, and when you should travel to the park for the best experience.
All your questions will be answered in our one-stop guide to hiking the Emerald Pools Trail. Now you’ll have everything you need even before you set foot in the park!
Do you have your cameras ready? You’re sure to get some amazing shots along the trail thanks to our guide.
Don’t leave home without your own: Lonely Planet USA’s National Parks (Travel Guide)
How to Hike the Zion Emerald Pools Trail
Know Before You Go
Zion’s Emerald Pools Trail is one of the most popular hikes in the entire park. Due to how short and flat the route is, travelers of all ages and experience levels should add this sight to their itineraries.
Even though the Emerald Pools is one of the most famous places to visit in the park, you’ll have to decide how you want to get there.
The Emerald Pools Trail leading to the Lower Pools is paved; afterward, visitors will be hiking along a well-trodden path to the other pools. The trail to the Upper Pools and back is about two miles long and takes an hour and 30 minutes to finish.
If you’re looking for a longer trail, you can always visit the Emerald Pools via the Kayenta Trail, which takes hikers from the pools to the Grotto Picnic Area. The Emerald Pools by way of the Kayenta Trail is roughly three miles long and takes three hours to finish.
Who Should Hike the Emerald Pools Trail?
Unlike many other hikes in Zion National Park, the Emerald Pools Trail is easily completed by everyone. The first stretch of the path is paved, so the Lower Pools can be accessed by those with strollers and wheelchairs.
Continuing from the Lower Pools to the Middle and Upper Pools, hikers will find a well-maintained trail. The elevation gets slightly steeper, but nothing your average visitor can’t handle. There are steep drops on the side of the trail, so be sure to keep an eye on small children.
If you’re a traveler who likes to stray off of the beaten path, you may want to rethink visiting the Emerald Pools. Although the views are stunning, this is one of the most crowded trails in the park. If you want to avoid other tourists, set off early or choose one of Zion’s more demanding routes.
Location & How to Get There
There are several different places to start and finish the Emerald Pools Trail. The most obvious starting point is from the Emerald Pools Trailhead across from the Zion Lodge.
Alternatively, hikers can start the hike from the Grotto Springs Trailhead. Although there is a loop, some people choose to start from one trailhead and end at the other to change up the scenery. This is what we did, starting at Grotto Springs and ending at the Zion Lodge.
No matter which trailhead you choose, you’ll have to grab the shuttle from the Zion National Park Visitor Center. The shuttle costs 1 USD and may need to be booked in advance to secure your spot.
Visitors will want to get off at either the 5th stop, Zion Lodge, or the 6th stop at the Grotto. After hiking the Emerald Springs, travelers can easily reach other popular hikes via the Kayenta Trail, such as Angels Landing.
Of course, if you are staying at the Zion Lodge you will be able to drive your car to the parking lot there. This is the only way to enter Zion National Park without using a shuttle service, apart from biking or walking in, of course.
Best Time To Go
During winter, some of the other trails and roads are impossible to use due to heavy snowfall. The Emerald Pools, on the other hand, is a year-round destination. Even though hikers will be able to visit the pools no matter the season, there is still a best time to go.
For those looking to travel to Zion National Park and the Emerald Pools during the summer, you’ll have to be able to deal with heavy crowds. Being one of the most accessible hikes in the park, you’ll be elbow to elbow with other tourists – unless you arrive early.
The best time to visit Zion National Park and the Emerald Pools is either during spring or fall. Fall is preferable as you won’t have to avoid melting snow and patches of mud as you would during early spring.
What To Bring on the Emerald Pools Trail
Compared to some of the other hikes in Zion National Park, The Emerald Pools Trail is fairly straightforward. With the first section of the trail leading to the Lower Pool, little preparation is needed. Even so, there are still a few things you can bring along to make your trip more comfortable.
At Zion Lodge, you’ll find everything you need to start your journey. With restrooms, drinking water, a store, and even a restaurant, it’s easy to pick up some snacks before you hit the trail.
While out on the Emerald Pools Trail, it wouldn’t hurt to bring along some food and water for an impromptu picnic. If nothing else, it’s very important that you bring at least 2 liters of water per person.
During the summer months, the weather can be hot and unpredictable. Bring sunblock and a hat to protect yourself from the sun. Also, pack a light raincoat just in case one of those pesky Utah thunderstorms decides to roll in.
Do you have the right hiking gear? No worries we have put together 40 Hiking Essentials items that every hiker should have when hiking any of the trails in Zion National Park.
Step by Step Guide to Hiking Emerald Pools Trail
Starting at the Zion Lodge or Grotto Springs
Located in the shade of the iconic orange sandstone mountains, Utah’s historic Zion Lodge is the first stop for most travelers looking to visit the Emerald Pools. The lodge is the 5th stop on the shuttle from the visitor center.
You don’t have to spend the night at the Zion Lodge to take advantage of everything they have to offer. Whether you’re about to start your journey or are returning from the pools, the lodge will hook you up with everything you need along the trail, as well as a hot meal from the restaurant.
Alternatively, if you’re starting from the Grotto Springs shuttle stop, you’ll be able to use the restroom there and refill your water. Once you’re ready to hike, cross the road, then the bridge and then head to the left following signs for the Kayenta Trail and Emerald Pools.
Lower Emerald Pool
After stocking up on some snacks from Zion Lodge, you can start your journey to the first stop along the Emerald Pools Trail – the Lower Pool. This is the easiest stretch of the hike since the path is paved and well maintained.
From the trailhead to the Lower pool is only 0.6 miles, which takes most people around 30 minutes to complete. It’s easy to know when you have arrived at the lower pool, with two massive waterfalls and lush greenery nestled between the sandstone walls.
If you’re starting from Grotto Springs, the hike is equally as easy as it stays mostly flat and follows the Kayenta Trail along the Virgin River before joining onto the Emerald Pools trail you use from the Zion Lodge. The distance from Grotto Springs to the Lower Emerald Pool is 1 mile.
Middle Emerald Pool
As you continue along the Emerald Pools Trail, the path will go from paved to a well-trodden earth trail. This part of the hike is still reasonably easy despite not being wheelchair accessible. The path leads up above the waterfalls to the Middle Pool.
The Middle Pool section of the Emerald Pools Trail consists of several streams that make up the waterfalls. Be prepared to get your feet wet; the water sometimes flows through the trail itself. That is unless you visit near the end of the dry season when the pools will be very low.
From the trailhead, the Middle Pool is approximately one hour away, stretching 1 mile.
Be sure to keep your eyes peeled while hiking! You’ll come across other famous sights in the park, such as the Red Arch, Lady Mountain, and the Great White Throne.
Around the Middle Pool is also where you’ll find the end of the Kayenta Trail, which leads to the Grotto Trailhead and shuttle stop.
Upper Emerald Pool
The last section of the Emerald Pools hike continues up the side of the cliff, giving visitors the most demanding challenge on their journey. Despite the switchbacks and change in elevation, many hikers will have little difficulty making their way to the Upper Pool.
After pushing yourself up the last stretch of the path, you’ll be rewarded with jaw-dropping views of a high waterfall from Heaps Canyon overhead. Towering 300 feet above, this is a sight you’ll want to soak in for a while. Many travelers decide to use this spot to have a picnic.
From the trailhead, it takes only one hour and 30 minutes to reach the Upper Pool. After relaxing in sight of the waterfall, you’ll have to make your way back to the Middle Pool. From there, you can either take the loop back to Zion Lodge or hike your way along the Kayenta Trail to the Grotto Trailhead.
Again, if you’re there at the end of the dry season, you will not find a waterfall at the upper pool but instead, only a pool. Regardless, it’s still worth taking the time for this popular hike when you visit Zion National Park.
More on USA Travel:
Did you like this story? Share it!
Article by David Stock
I have always been an outdoorsman so becoming an adventure traveler was just the next natural step. I love nature, I love to get off the beaten path and I like to explore. I enjoy scuba diving and cars. And yes, Lina and I have a naked dog.