Zion National Park -- Emerald Pools Trail (4-19-17)
I had heard the Emerald Pools of Zion described on other sites as an 'Oasis in the Desert'. In a landscape of vertical rock, this is an area of trees and green and falling water. It sounded like a place not to be passed up. Thus it was that after the Canyon Overlook and Riverside Trails we decided to complete our Zion trifecta this day with a walk around the trail system surrounding the Emerald Pools. I will say this right up front. This hike was a bit disappointing. Don't get me wrong, the scenery was spectacular. Zion never disappoints in that way. It was the crowds...the suffocating, never-ending lines of people. I should have read my guidebooks closer and I would have better expected it. The Emerald Pools trail system starts right out front of the busy and popular Zion Lodge bus stop. Combine this with the fact that the trails are fairly easy to walk and you get one of the most popular hikes in the park. So, let me be the one to warn you...the Emerald Pools are indeed beautiful but if you enjoy solitude I'd pass on this one.
The Emerald Pools are located about halfway up Zion Canyon, tucked into its western wall. The 'pools' are comprised of three areas where the waters of a small tributary of the Virgin River get caught briefly before continuing their cascading journey down the valley. The Upper Pool is, as the name implies, the highest of the three pools. It is formed at the base of a towering 300' rock wall out from which sprays a delicate fount of water. At the base of the cliff is the Upper Pool. Below the Upper Pool, about 3/4-mile by trail, is the Middle Pool. The Middle Pool is the least impressive of the three though, arguably, it touts the nicest views. The Middle Pool sits directly above the cliff forming the Lower Pool. Water briefly collects here before spilling over the cliff below in a handful of tiny falls. The Lower Pool is perhaps the most dramatic of the three. Water from the Middle Pool above spill off the edge of an enormous overhanging cliff face which the trail follows beneath. Four or five small waterfalls are formed creating a cool mist as they drop into the tree-filled ravine below and forming the Lower Emerald Pool. Sound enchanting? It is, but its a busy place.
The trails themselves were in decent condition and for the most part easy to follow. The Lower Pool Trail is the easiest, gaining very little elevation and being smooth and wide. The trail system above the Lower Pool is much more rugged. Most of the elevation gain on the hike was accumulated here and the trail goes from wide and smooth to narrow, steep, and rocky. It's still a suitable trail for just about anybody, but you should be prepared for a workout if you decide to go above the Lower Pool. Our intent was to ascend via the Lower Pool Trail, take the out-and-back hike to the Upper Pool, and then take the Middle Pool Trail back to the Lodge. Unfortunately, we found out in the middle of the hike that the Middle Pool Trail was closed for rehabilitation so this entire hike turned into a big out-and-back one. So, as mentioned many times already. This is a wildly popular hike. Crowds are the rule not the exception here. That said, the area comes by its popularity honestly. Its a beautiful place. Few places in Zion are as lush creating a stunning contrast with the barren vertical rock faces which rise all around it. The pools and falls are nice, though after a good rain I'm sure they're even better. Come on along with us on our second-to-last hike in Zion National Park and as always...ENJOY
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 37.251123, -112.957232
Route Type: Out-and-back Difficulty: MODERATE
Mileage Hiked: 2.5 miles Hike Duration: 3:00
Trailhead Temp: 75'F Trail Traffic: 100+ people
Min. Elevation: 4,250' Max. Elevation: 4,750'
Total Vertical Gain: 500' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 200'
Trails Used (blaze color): Lower Emerald Pool (unblazed), Middle Emerald Pool (unblazed), Upper Emerald Pool (unblazed)