With soaring walls, deep pools, waterfalls, and hanging gardens, The Emerald Pools Trail is a Zion classic and one of the best family friendly hikes in all of Zion National Park.
With Lower, Upper, and Middle Pools, this trail ranges in difficulty from a simple walk to an easy hike, depending on how far you want to go. The entire trail is suitable for most healthy adults and children; however, the difficulty increases as you advance to the Middle and Upper Pools. The trail to the Lower Pool is paved and suitable for strollers and wheelchairs with assistance.
The Emerald Pools Trail begins at the Zion Lodge shuttle stop in Zion Canyon (37.252214,-112.956099). With the exception of a few months during the winter, the only way to reach the trailhead is by taking the free Zion Shuttle. The shuttle runs from the Visitor Center to the top of the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive at the Temple of Sinewava.
Parking is available at the Visitor Center in Springdale, but this fills up quickly. During busy seasons, it is often easier to park in Springdale and use the free town shuttle to get into the park. The town shuttle drops off at the entrance gate. Enter the park and board the Zion Canyon Shuttle at the Visitor Center (37.20042,-112.986926).
If you are visiting Zion in the winter, you may be able to drive your car to the trailhead. Check the National Park Service website or inquire at the Visitor Center upon your arrival.
From the Zion Canyon shuttle stop, follow the walkway towards the Zion Lodge and across the main canyon road to the beginning of the Emerald Pools Trail at a footbridge over the Virgin River.
From here, the one-way distances are as follows:
- 0.6 miles to the Lower Pool
- 1 mile to the Middle Pool
- 1.5 miles to the Upper Pool
- Visiting all three pools makes for a nice 3 mile round trip hike.
The path to the Lower Pool is paved and follows along the Virgin River, passing through tall stands of cottonwoods before turning away from the river and toward the Emerald Pools.
The Lower Pool has some nice waterfalls that pour right over the top of the trail. Swimming in the pools is no longer allowed, but hikers may still get a little cool down as the water drips onto the trail below the falls. The size of the falls varies throughout the year. They are typically larger in the spring and after storms but may slow to a trickle at other times.
Beyond the Lower Pool, the trail is no longer paved but is still well-maintained. On the way to the Middle Pool, large rocks have been constructed to form an impressive stairway winding up the hillside.
The Middle Pools are actually just the streams feeding the waterfalls you passed under at the Lower Pool. There are chains and warning signs to keep hikers from getting too close, so use caution in this area. From the Middle Pool the trail becomes more rugged and strenuous as it climbs the final half mile and 200 feet of elevation to the Upper Pool.
The Upper Emerald Pool is also the end of a difficult technical canyoneering route in Zion through Heaps Canyon. Canyoneering is a technical sport similar to rock climbing in which skilled teams descend slot canyons with ropes and other technical equipment. If you’re lucky, you might get to watch highly skilled canyoneers descend the final 300-foot free-hanging rappel.
In the spring and during wet weather, there is often a beautiful waterfall at the Upper Emerald Pool. At other times it may be nearly dry. There are plenty of rest spots on the rocks near the Upper Pool to take a break before heading back.
Alternate Route: The Emerald Pools may also be accessed from the Kayenta Trail, which begins further up Zion Canyon at The Grotto shuttle stop. The Kayenta Trail connects to the Emerald Pools Trail between the Lower and Middle Pools. Check with the Zion Visitor Center for more information.
Rules and Regulations
- No swimming or wading.
- No pets.
- No littering.
- Pack out what you pack in.
- Restrooms and a water bottle refill station are available at the Zion Lodge shuttle stop.
- Previously there was a trail that connected the Middle Emerald Pool back to the trailhead, making it possible to create a loop hike. A flood event damaged this trail, and it has since been indefinitely closed. Please obey all trail closure signs.