Hiking Southern Utah: Many Pools
Day hike: Yes
Distance: It is 2 miles to the end of the Many Pools route and back, but if you continue to the East Rim it is a 4.4 mile round-trip.
Average hiking time: Plan on 2 hours to get to the end of the Many Pools route and back and 6 hours to East Rim and back.
Permits: Not required.
Difficulty: The route is moderate with a gentle uphill climb to the alcove, but plan for a strenuous hike if you continue to the East Rim.
Trailhead: 0.9 miles east of Zion’s smaller tunnel.
Trail access: Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway (State Route 9) is open year-round, and the route begins right off the highway.
Starting elevation: 5,391 feet
Highest elevation: 6,833 feet
Trekking above the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel is my husband’s favorite day-hike destination, but until recently, we had failed to find a path that was free of tourists or that was remote but didn’t trigger my trail terrors.
Many Pools trail, a little past the second tunnel, is our new easy, above-the-park day hike in Zion.
A few days after Christmas, my husband, our son, and his girlfriend, who were visiting from Canada, decided to hike away from the holiday crowds who stopped traffic to snap photos of mule deer. We packed some trail mix, water, and a bottle of wine in our packs and drove to the pullout near the second drainage on the north side of the highway about 0.8 miles after the smaller tunnel. We walked carefully up the road about 150 yards and dropped down into a sandy bowl on the north side of SR-9.
There is a trail for a short distance, and then the sand turns into large flat stones that you can pick and choose to walk on, depending on your sense of balance. It didn’t talk long for me to realize that we were going to rise above the large monoliths that towered over us near the car; in fact, we would eventually walk up to over 6,800 feet.
A short distance off the road, filled pools carved into the rocks started to appear, most of them frozen solid. My son, who is 30, couldn’t help turning back into a little boy and trying to break through the ice with his shoe. We left him more than a few times testing his luck on the ice.
Ponderosa Pines and Juniper trees, twisted by the wind are a good backdrop to the reds and whites ribboned through the rocks that we walked over. The sun was hot and we had to wrap our jackets around our waists as we hiked. After about a mile the trail grew steeper, more and more manzanitas, prickly pear cactus and pinyon pines dotted the landscape. More than a few times I grabbed onto the rocks with my hands to pull myself up as the hoodoos looked down on me. I tried not to look back until I was on steadier ground.
After about an hour we sent out a scout — my son — to see if we wanted to continue toward the East Rim. The trail was definitely steeper and there would be much bushwhacking if we were to continue, so we voted to head back to an alcove we had passed earlier in the hike and save the strenuous trek for another day.
Standing on top of the trail, we paused to take photos of the slickrocks that looked like smaller versions of Checkerboard Mesa and the mountains off in the horizon which were capped in snow.
The group took two different paths down, which is part of the fun when you hike on the slickrocks, being that there really is no trail.
Arriving at the alcove, a large sandstone bowl, we realized it was the perfect place to kick-back, have a snack and share the wine. We took more photos, laughed, sunned ourselves under the perfect blue sky, and marveled at the colors, the small waterfall, and the large pool of water that was only partially frozen.
We stayed almost an hour in the alcove, only seeing one other hiker. When the wine was finished, so were we. We hiked the short distance, about 0.7 miles, back to the road where we climbed into the car, headed home, and passed multitudes of people taking pictures of mule deer.
Candice Reed is the co-author of “Thank You for Firing Me; How to Catch the Next Wave of Success After You Lose Your Job.” She has published in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, the San Diego Reader, and many more. She lives in Springdale.