Hiking Southern Utah: Emerald Pools Trail
Trail name: Emerald Pools Trail
Location: Zion National Park
Difficulty: Easy to lower pool, moderate to middle pool, strenuous to upper pool
Distance: Round trip distances are 1.2 miles to lower, 2 miles to middle, and 3 miles to upper
Total elevation gain: 70 feet to lower, 150 feet to middle, and 350 feet to upper
Average time: 1–3 hours
Family-friendly: The hike to the lower pools is great for all ages. As you proceed to the middle and upper falls, the level of difficulty gets progressively more challenging for young children and older adults.
Dog-friendly: No dogs are allowed on this trail.
Access: To the west entrance- From I-15, take exit 16 if you’re driving northbound from St. George or exit 20 if you’re coming south from Cedar City. Continue to La Verkin and turn onto SR-9 toward Zion National Park.
To the east entrance– Follow US-89 to Mount Carmel Junction. Take SR-9 to the east park entrance.
Take the park shuttle to the Emerald Pools parking lot. If you leave late in the day during shuttle season, make sure that you make it back to your shuttle pick up area before the last shuttle leaves for the evening. You can check the shuttle schedule online at nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit/shuttle-system.htm.
The Trail: The trailhead to Emerald Pools Trail is located across the street from the Zion Lodge. Choose the lower trail to access the lower pools first. You can traipse along the paved trail shaded by box elder trees and cottonwoods. After approximately a half mile, you will reach the lower pools. Enjoy the majestic green foliage and waterfalls that spill off the sandstone walls from the middle pool on the shelf above the lower pool. At this point, the path takes you under and behind the falls, offering a nice cool mist, something which is especially welcomed in the hot summer months.
To continue to the middle pools, follow the path that leads you behind the falls. At this point, the trail becomes unpaved and will lead you up some switchbacks until you reach the middle pools. The stream crosses the path before pouring out into the first pool below. Make sure that children stay away from the slick edge. Two popular canyons amongst canyoneers allow drainage that creates the middle pools. Water from Behunin Canyon fills the first pool and the second pool is filled by the Heaps Canyon watershed. From this point you will also be rewarded with a majestic view of Red Arch Mountain.
Continue on the trail between the two middle pools to venture onward to the upper pool. This part of the trail is a bit steeper and more strenuous; however, if able, I highly recommend enduring the last stretch. Upon arrival, you will greeted by towering sandstone cliffs and a leafy paradise. If you look up, you may find canyoneers descending from Heaps Canyon. This is a nice spot to sit and have a snack, some water and visit with your hiking partners or nature itself.
To return to the trailhead, turn around and go back the way you hiked in.
As always, remember to bring plenty of water, snacks, a camera and sunscreen.
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