Zion chain trail

Emerald Pools Trail

General Description

Whether you are looking for a short stroll for the whole family or a moderately strenuous loop hike, the Emerald Pools Trail has it all.  Start at the Zion Lodge and hike the half mile trail to the beautiful falls of Lower Emerald Pools.  If you’re in for a little more adventure, continue up to the top of the falls at Middle Emerald Pools.  Still not satisfied? Then stair climb your way up to the sublime Upper Emerald Pools nestled at the base of sheer-walled Lady Mountain.  The nearby Kayenta Trail offers the option of making this trail a loop hike.  Whatever size adventure you are after, the Emerald Pools Trail is a fantastic showcase of Zion Canyon’s stunning diversity. The Emerald Pools Trail can be quite crowded later in the day, so it is best to hike this trail early.

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Getting to the Emerald Pools Trailhead

Between the months of March and December, the Zion Shuttle System provides the only access to the Emerald Pools Trailhead.  The trail can be accessed from the 5th stop on the Zion Canyon Shuttle at the Zion Lodge.  From the Zion Lodge, follow the sidewalk around the lawn to the road crossing.  The trail begins across the bridge and to the right.  During the winter months, when the Zion Canyon Shuttle is not in operation, you can drive directly to the trailhead. From the visitor center, drive 1.4 miles to the intersection of State Highway 9 and the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. Turn left onto Zion Canyon Scenic Drive and drive 2.7  miles to the trailhead on the left.

Things to do near Zion Lodge

While you are in the area, take advantage of some of the other recreational opportunities near the Emerald Pools Trail and Zion Lodge.  Enjoy a top-notch meal at the Red Rock Grill or Castle Dome Cafe located at the Zion Lodge.  Alternatively, have a picnic in the shade of the massive Fremont Cottonwood tree located in the center of Zion Lodge’s lush lawn.  Giddy-up and gallop on over to Canyon Trail Rides for a trail ride along the Sand Bench Trail.  There’s plenty to do in the canyon while you’re near the Zion Lodge.

Emerald-Pools trail

3 Options for hiking the Emerald Pools Trail

The Emerald Pools Trail is a hub for several day hiking options.  Here are 3 ways to enjoy your Emerald Pools Trail hike.

Route Miles Elevation Gain Difficulty Style
Lower Emerald Pools 1 mi 50 ft Easy Out and Back
Lower/Middle/Upper Emerald Pools 2 mi 400ft Moderate Out and Back
Emerald Pools/Kayenta Trail Loop 2.5-3 mi 400 ft Moderate Loop

1. Day Hike Option 1: Lower Emerald Pools

It is a easy day hike on the wide, paved trail to the falls at Lower Emerald Pools.  The pools are so named because of the algae that grows during the warmer months, staining the water a deep emerald green.  The pools are very fragile, and are an important water source to wildlife such as deer, turkeys, songbirds, and even canyon tree frogs!  Be careful when hiking under the falls.  The trail can be wet and slippery.

2. Day Hike Option 2: Lower, Middle, and Upper Emerald Pools

From the falls at the lower pools, continue through the grotto beneath the falls to connect with the trail to Middle Emerald Pools.  Take a left at the first trail fork, up the stairs to the top of the waterfalls.  Here the trail branches right up to the Upper Emerald Pools.  Take the left fork to the little spur trail that offers views from the top of the falls at Lower Emerald Pools.  The trail to the Upper Emerald Pools stair-steps its way up the steep hillside.  There is very little shade on this part of the trail, so it’s best to hike early during the summer.  Persevering hikers are rewarded with a serene pool in a beautiful alcove of Heaps Canyon.  The Emerald Pools are very fragile, so please refrain from swimming or wading in them.

3. Day Hike Option 3: Emerald Pools/Kayenta Trail Loop

If you like loop hikes, then this is the option for you.  After hiking to Middle Emerald Pools, or on the return trip from Upper Emerald Pools, take the Kayenta Trail to the Grotto Picnic Area.  This mile long trail follows the geologic layer known as the Kayenta Bench, 60 feet above the Virgin River.  Watch for lizards darting for cover under rocks or perched atop them showing off their push up skills.  The Kayenta Trail ends at the junction with the West Rim Trail to Angel’s Landing.  Cross the bridge to the Grotto Picnic Area and enjoy a snack or a little lunch, then take the half mile long Grotto Trail back to Zion Lodge to complete the 3 mile loop.

Maximize Your Visit to Zion National Park on a Hiking Tour

Guided day hike tours and multi-day packages allow visitors the opportunity to make the most of their time in Zion National Park and to do it hassle-free. Guided tours include gear (backpack, trekking poles, crampons in winter), meals, accommodations on multi-day tours, local transportation, and a professional Utah hiking guide. Through their knowledge, stories, and personal passion, guides can bring a place to life in a way that’s much more difficult to do on your own.


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3 Best Trails Near the Emerald Pools Trail

Take a little time to check out these other great hikes near the Emerald Pools Trail.

Destination Miles Elevation Gain/Loss Difficulty
Sand Bench Trail 5.5 mi 700 ft Moderate
Angel’s Landing 5 mi 1500 ft Strenuous
Observation Point 8 mi 2000+ ft Moderately Strenuous

1. Sand Bench Trail

The Sand Bench Trail is largely overlooked due to its proximity to Emerald Pools and Angel’s Landing, but it has views that make it a worthy day hike.  As its name suggests, the trail is quite sandy and also used by horses on trail rides.  However, the willing hiker is treated to relative solitude and fantastic views of the soaring walls of Zion Canyon from the perch atop the bench at the far end of the trail.  This is a great winter hike when the horses have taken a break for the season.

2. Angel’s Landing

The Angel’s Landing Trail is one of the most iconic hikes in the park.  Hikers who brave the knife-edge ridge to the viewpoint are treated to stunning 360 degree views of Zion Canyon.  The first 2 miles of the trail switchback their way into the aptly named Refrigerator Canyon to the famed Walter’s Wiggles.  The Wiggles are a series of 21 tight switchbacks that crawl their way up the vertical canyon wall to Scout’s Lookout.  From here only the boldest of hikers hike the last half mile along the chains with precipitous drops of 800 and 1000 feet on either side of a narrow trail.  Thrill seekers from all across the globe flock to Zion Canyon to experience the place where it was once said that only angels could land.  Please exercise extreme caution on this trail and wear appropriate hiking footwear.

3. Observation Point

The hiking trail to Observation Point is one of the most challenging and rewarding day hikes in Zion National Park.  At 8 miles round trip, your legs and lungs will certainly get a solid workout.  Along the way, hikers catch sneak peaks into the alluring slot sections of Echo Canyon and the sheer walls of Cable Mountain.  The trail leaves Echo Canyon and opens into the slick rock wonderland of the park’s upper east side. This hike conquers over 2000 vertical feet of solid sandstone and is chiseled into the side of the canyon walls offering dramatic views out into the main canyon.  Day hiking the Observation Point Trail is a great way to enjoy some of the best views of Zion Canyon while towering 700 feet above the more popular Angel’s Landing Trail.

Join a Guided Zion National Park Trip

Joining a backpacking tour near Zion National Park is a worry-free, adventurous way to experience Southern Utah. With your gear, meals, local transportation, permits, and fees taken care of for you, you can travel light and focus 100% on enjoying the hiking experience, while the guide company takes care of everything else. Also, by going with local experts you’ll enjoy a greater level of safety and gain a much better understanding of the history and ecology of this remarkable region. Read more about a guided backpacking trip near Zion National Park.

Hikers emerald pools

When to Hike and Seasonal Considerations

The Emerald Pools Trail can be hiked year-round.  During the winter months, portions of the trail may be closed due to falling ice.  It is best to hike to the Upper Emerald Pools early during the summer months.  There is very little shade and the hike from the middle pools to the upper pools is in direct sun.  Wear hiking shoes with good grip and use the railing or chains if you hike under the waterfall at the Lower Emerald Pools.  The trail is somewhat steep and can be slippery.  Again, the pools are very fragile, unique habitats so please refrain from swimming or wading in them.

Necessary Permits

Day Hike Permits

No permits are needed to day hike the Emerald Pools Trail

Backpacking Permits

Permits are required for all overnight trips in Zion National Park.  Hikers can apply for permits 3 months in advance on the 5th of each month.  There is a $5.00 non-refundable fee for an online calendar reservation, and there is an additional charge for a permit that is determined by the size of your group.  About one third of backcountry permits can also be obtained the day before or day of a trip by walk-up only. For more information on Zion National Park’s permit system, click here.

Suggested Packing List

Day Hike Packing List

  • 2-3 liters of water (more in summer)
  • Salty, calorie-rich snacks
  • lunch
  • backpack
  • trekking poles
  • crampons (in winter)
  • wide-brimmed hat
  • sunscreen, sunglasses
  • cotton t-shirt (spring-fall)
  • non-cotton t-shirt (winter)
  • rain jacket
  • warm non-cotton layer
  • 1st-aid kit

Backpacking Packing List

  • all items listed for day hikes PLUS
  • multi-day backpack
  • 3-season tent
  • sleeping bag
  • sleeping pad
  • backpacking stove and fuel
  • backpacking meals
  • 2-3 pairs wool socks
  • extra t-shirts

Please Respect Our National Parks – Leave No Trace

We strongly recommend abiding by all Leave No Trace ethics guidelines and practices so that our national parks and public lands are preserved for the enjoyment of future generations and for the people and animals who call these places home. Simple things like packing out your trash, obeying national park rules, and respecting the peace and quiet of our national park trails is a great start. If you’re going on a backpacking trip, you can read about more about the 7 Leave No Trace Principles.

About WildlandTrekking

Wildland Trekking, a home-grown USA adventure travel company started in 2005, has become one of the world’s leading trekking companies. Learn about the origins, mission and people of Wildland, America’s #1 source for Unforgettable Hiking Vacations!

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