Situated in the heart of Zion National Park, the Emerald Pools Trail is a popular hike for families. Offering several stops along the route without requiring a ton of effort, this relatively short hike is a must-do for anyone visiting Zion National Park.
The Emerald Pools Trail is only 2.2 miles (round-trip) and can even be as short as 1.3 miles (round-trip) if all you do is hike to the Lower Emerald Pool. You can also extend the trip further by adding in the Kayenta Trail.
Though not as grand as the hike to Angels Landing or adventurous as the Riverside Walk to the Narrows, the Emerald Pools Trail is fantastic and highly recommended.
Here is what to expect while hiking the Emerald Pools Trail!
EMERALD POOLS TRAIL DETAILS
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Distance: 2.2 miles (round-trip)
- Trail: Out-and-back (or loop)
- Elevation gain: 340 feet
- Peak elevation reached: 4,665 feet
- Best time of year to hike: Year-round
- To beat the crowds: Arrive before 8:30 am or after 4:00 pm
- Footwear: Sneakers
- Watch out for: Sun exposure
- Restrooms: Located at the trailhead, but not on the trail
- Pets: Not allowed
- Time needed: 1.5 hours
Zion National Park is full of places to explore. Whether you stay just in the Canyon or venture to the Kolob Canyon area, you’re going to have a ton of great options. Ahead of your trip, be sure to download a copy of our Zion National Park itinerary. Our 12+ page guide will help you take the guesswork out of planning your trip, as well as assist with information on lodging, what to pack and what else to do while exploring the southwest corner of Utah.
PARKING AND TRAILHEAD FOR THE EMERALD POOLS TRAIL
Map of the Emerald Pools Trailhead, courtesy of the National Park Service
The trailhead for the Emerald Pools Trail starts across the main park road (Zion Canyon Scenic Drive) from the Zion Lodge. During the popular times of year (March through November), the parking area is only accessible via the Zion National Park Shuttle which can be accessed at the Zion National Park Visitor Center, or along many stops along Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.
During the slow times of year, parking is available rest of the year, the parking area is on the west side of Zion Canyon Road.
- Directions from the Zion National Park Visitor Center to the Emerald Pools trailhead (this will take about 15 minutes without traffic and is only about 4 miles).
- Directions from the Zion National Park East Entrance Station to the Emerald Pools trailhead (this takes about 45 minutes with an average traffic day, but if you spend a bit of time taking in the scenery, this could take a bit longer).
The parking area for the Emerald Pools Trail has room for about 35 vehicles. Since most hikers spend about an hour on the trail, you can expect a spot to open up about once every two to three minutes. Just be patient and make sure you take the time to park legally.
Restrooms are located in the Zion Lodge and are open to the public.
WHY ARE THE EMERALD POOLS GREEN?
The Emerald Pools are distinct colors of green, with each one slightly different. The shade also changes with the seasons, with warmer weather causing a deeper green.
The green is caused by the existence of aquatic algae, which tend to thrive in warmer temperatures. In fact, during the cooler months the water almost becomes a shade of yellowish-brown.
HIKING THE EMERALD POOLS TRAIL
Map of the Emerald Pools Trail, courtesy of the National Park Service
There are several ways of getting to the Emerald Pools, but the main method is to head to the Emerald Pools Trailhead across from the Zion Lodge. We will cover the alternatives to getting to the Emerald Pools in the latter part of this post.
The trail begins from northern edge of the Emerald Pools Parking lot (which is across the street from the Zion Lodge). Heading west briefly, it crosses the Virgin River. Even if the trail is crowded and you are trying to get on your way, this is a great spot to take a photo.
After crossing the bridge, the dirt trail turns to the right and heads along the Virgin River for about 0.25 miles. At the 0.2 mile point, the trail starts to climb up a shallow incline. While there are some flat spots, the trail stays climbing until the 0.6-mile point. Don’t worry, though, the incline is only about 100 feet as it approaches the Lower and Middle Emerald Pools.
The highlight of the trail (for many) is when the trail passes underneath an alcove. Water falls over the alcove and forms the Lower Emerald Pools on the east side (right side) of the trail. This part of the trail is quite easy to get to for hikers of all capabilities, though it is not wheelchair accessible.
Be careful! There is a railing here for a reason. Don’t be tempted to climb over the rail or take any risks. People do fall here and perish, so please heed the warnings!
To continue to the Middle and Upper Emerald Pools, continue under the alcove. Head on the trail for another 0.1 miles (climbing about 100 feet) before coming to a junction that goes to the Middle and Upper Emerald Pools. After traveling for nearly 0.1 mile, the trail has a junction to the left which leads to the Middle Emerald Pools. These are the pools that form above the small waterfall. This is, again, a dangerous location, so please be careful!
Backtrack 0.1 mile (from the Middle Emerald Pool spur) and take a left to head to the Upper Emerald Pool. This part of the trail is quite sandy and rocky. It climbs approximately 300 feet over 0.2 miles. While it isn’t overly difficult, it is a bit more challenging when compared to the rest of the trail, especially considering the fact that there is slippery sand on much of the rock. Be sure to watch your footing!
The Upper Emerald Pool area is quite beautiful, but what we liked most about this part of the hike was how quiet it was as compared to the rest of the trail. The more-challenging nature of the footing on the Upper Emerald Trail tends to scare some would-be hikers away. While it is not dangerous, it does require you to be a bit more confident in your hiking and balance.
To finish the trail, return via the same path and back to the parking lot.
Note: swimming is not allowed in any of the Emerald Pools to protect the plant life.
ALTERNATE ROUTE: KAYENTA TRAIL AND GROTTO TRAIL
Emerald Pools Trail, Kayenta Trail and the Grotto Trail map, courtesy of the National Park Service
The Kayenta Trail connects with Upper Emerald Pool Trail when you are heading back to the Lower Emerald Pool Trail. You can take the Kayenta Trail to Shuttle Stop #6, which is about 0.6 miles from the junction with the Emerald Pools Trail.
The Kayenta Trail heads along the Virgin River. Be advised that there are steep drop-offs, though the trail is not steep itself.
Instead of taking the shuttle back once you get to Shuttle Stop #6, you can also hike on the Grotto Trail. The Grotto Trail heads south, about 0.7 miles back to the Zion Lodge. Taking the Lower Emerald Pools Trail to the Upper Emerald Pools Trail and returning via the Kayenta and Grotto Trails is nearly a 3.0-mile loop. This makes a great hike, especially if you are staying in Zion for several days and have the time.
OTHER ACTIVITIES IN THE AREA OF THE EMERALD POOLS
While the trails we covered are the main attractions in the area of the Emerald Pools, the other place that you need to check out is the Zion Lodge. Built in 1920’s, the Zion Lodge has a distinctively rustic feel that really adds to the enjoyment of being in a National Park. Though it has been rebuilt and remodeled several times (most recently in 1990), Zion Lodge still has the feel as it did when it was first built.
FURTHER INFORMATION ON ZION NATIONAL PARK OR THE SURROUNDING AREA FROM JUST GO TRAVEL STUDIOS
- Ahead of your trip, download a copy of our Zion National Park Itinerary. Cell phone service is really hard to come by in the park and you’ll want to be sure you have a great resource like our itineraries to help out!
- In addition to the Emerald Pools Trail, we also have a blog covering the Watchman Trail, Angels Landing and other Easy Hikes in Zion National Park. We also have a great overview of Zion National Park in our blog, Reasons to Love Zion National Park. Finally, make sure you check out the least visited part of the park in our blog Visiting the Kolob Canyons Area. If you are interested in camping, you can also check out our blog on Camping in Zion National Park.
- We offer over 50 different WPA posters, including our Zion National Park Poster of Zion Canyon.
- Our most popular product is our custom, vintage-style travel posters that we make just for you from a photo that you send us. This one-of-a-kind gift is an outstanding choice and will help you remember your vacations forever!