Emerald Pools Trail is one of our favorite hikes in Zion National Park and despite being heavily trafficked, we think it is hugely underrated. We’re going to show you exactly how to hike to Lower, Middle and Upper Pool on the unique Emerald Pools Trail in Zion National Park.
Zion’s Emerald Pools Trail is centered around three shallow pools called Lower, Middle and Upper Pool. Each pool is located at different points along a loop and spur trail about half way up Zion canyon.
Lower and Middle Pools are right on the loop, but you have to climb a short but steep out-and-back spur trail to reach Upper Pool.
We will show you the full hike with photos and explain how to navigate the confusing direction signs.
Let’s go find some Emerald Pools!
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What Are The Three Emerald Pools?
Lower Emerald Pool, Middle Emerald Pool and Upper Emerald Pool are three distinct ‘pools’ that have formed along a stream as it descends down a small portion of Zion National Park’s canyon walls.
Each pool is surrounded by lush vegetation, orange rocks and sandy paths. They collectively serve as the three major focal points along the family friendly Zion Emerald Pools Trail hike.
You might have guessed that Upper Emerald Pool is at the highest elevation, followed by Middle Emerald Pool and Lower Emerald Pool is the lowest elevation water feature on the hike.
A thin waterfall plunges from enormous U-shaped canyon walls above Upper Emerald Pool. That water continues down through Middle Emerald Pool and eventually falls over another ledge into Lower Emerald Pool via multiple wispy waterfalls.
Which Emerald Pool Is Best?
Personally, we think both Upper and Lower Emerald Pools are the two you should prioritize on your Zion National Park itinerary.
If you have plenty of time spare to hike the Emerald Pools Trail, definitely see them all. But focus on Upper and Lower if you’re short on time.
Upper has the best views over Zion and its slim waterfall drops through a dramatic U-shaped expanse in tall canyon walls.
Lower is by far the most photogenic and has a long narrow walkway curving underneath an alcove-like ledge.
Remember that visiting in Spring and early Summer will mean more powerful waterfalls with heavier flows. Fall and Winter will mean less powerful waterfalls and at times just a trickle of water.
Emerald Pools Trail Hiking Routes Explained
Here’s the confusing part of hiking Emerald Pools Trail in Zion:
There are several ways in which you can hike to each pool and the trail markers don’t make things crystal clear with directions and distances.
Here’s what you need to know:
- The start of the hike crosses a bridge over the Virgin River and you reach a fork.
- Each pool can be reached by turning left or right.
- You can hike in a loop or out-and-back both ways.
The first sign states Upper and Lower to the right and Middle to the left. Ignore that, you can go either way to any pool.
Here’s the simplified version – Turn left after the bridge if you want to make a slightly longer loop hike that takes in the entire Emerald Pools Trail.
But if you’re short on time, turn right after the bridge and make Emerald Pools a shorter out-and-back trail. You will still see all three pools.
Important – In this Zion Emerald Pools Trail hiking guide we are going to walk you through turning left after the bridge to complete the full loop.
Distances To Each Pool
Your total hiking distance will change depending on whether you turn left or right after the bridge. Let’s take a quick look at distances to each pool from the trailhead.
Total roundtrip distances if you turn right after the bridge to hike out and back:
- Lower Emerald Pool – 1.2 miles roundtrip
- Middle Emerald Pool – 1.6 miles roundtrip
- Upper Emerald Pool – 3 miles roundtrip
Total roundtrip distances if you turn left after the bridge to hike the full loop (and spur trail to Upper):
- Lower Emerald Pool – 1.8 miles roundtrip
- Middle Emerald Pool – 1.8 miles roundtrip
- Upper Emerald Pool – 3.2 miles roundtrip
Emerald Pools Trail FAQ’s
Here are the questions most hikers have about Emerald Pools Trail in Zion National Park:
How Hard Is The Emerald Pools Trail In Zion National Park?
Emerald Pools Trail is an easy or moderately difficult hike depending on which pools you visit. Lower by itself is rated as easy, but hiking to both Middle and Upper moves the difficulty up into the moderate category.
However, with that said, we think all three pools are easy enough for most hikers to reach. Upper Pool does require some extra elevation and parts are steep enough to work up a sweat.
There are no technical elements to the hike and it is well suited to families with younger kids.
Looking for hiking inspiration? Check out our popular guide to the 50 best hikes in the USA next!
How Long Does It Take To Hike Emerald Pools Trail In Zion?
Hiking the full loop trail (turning left after the bridge) and spur trail to Upper Pool took us 1 hour and 45 minutes total.
We stopped for loads of photos and the trail was busy so we waited in a few hiker jams on the narrower sections. Upper Pool was jam packed with families and we had to wait a few minutes to grab a person-free photo of the pool.
You can easily hike all of Emerald Pools Trail in 1 hour and 15 minutes if you’re in good shape and you just want to see the pools with no fuss.
But we would recommend you allow for 2 – 3 hours if hiking with the family or on a busy day in peak season.
Can You Swim In The Emerald Pools In Zion?
No, you cannot swim in the Emerald Pools in Zion National Park. All three pools are off limits for swimming.
That’s probably not the answer you wanted to hear, especially if you’re planning to visit in Summer. But when you see the pools you will understand why.
Save your cooling-down dip for The Narrows!
Who Should Hike Emerald Pools Trail In Zion?
Emerald Pools is a very popular family hike in Zion National Park. It is great for younger kids looking for a piece of adventure but it’s also a hike we would recommend for all visitors to Zion.
Yes, go ahead and get your adventure on Angels Landing, The Narrows and hiking The Subway bottom up. But you can then balance out the adrenaline by hiking Emerald Pools. We didn’t expect to enjoy this one as much as we did.
Important – Emerald Pools Trail does have a small number of minor drops off for parents to be aware of when hiking with younger kids.
How To Get To The Emerald Pools Trail In Zion National Park
Emerald Pools Trailhead is directly opposite Zion Lodge.
There are three ways you can reach the trailhead:
- Take the Zion park shuttle bus to stop #5 – Zion Lodge.
- Drive your own car to the designated Emerald Pools Trail parking lot.
- Hike to the trail from either the South via Sand Bench Trail or from the North via Kayenta Trail.
Almost all visitors to Zion will have to use the park shuttle to reach Emerald Pools Trail. That is because most people visit the park between April and October and the canyon shuttle will be in operation 100% of the time.
You can drive your own car and park in the designated Emerald Pools Trail parking lot if you visit Zion National Park in Winter.
However, there are certain Winter weekends and periods when cars are not allowed into the canyon. You must use the park shuttle during these periods.
Zion Canyon shuttle leaves from the main Zion visitor center very frequently to keep up with demand. Here’s more information about the Zion shuttle with dates of operation and times.
Emerald Pools Trail Zion National Park Hiking Details
- Trail Distance: 3.2 miles roundtrip (full hike)
- Type of Trail: Loop and spur
- Trail Difficulty: Moderate
- Time Required: 1.5 – 2.5 hours
- Elevation Gain: 400 ft
- Trailhead: Shuttle stop #5 – Zion Lodge
Top Tips For The Hike
- Families with younger children – please watch your kids to make sure they stay away from drop offs.
- You don’t need to worry about getting the earliest shuttle of the day for Emerald Pools.
- There’s no need for technical hiking gear or footwear.
- Tag this hike on after Angels Landing by walking down the connecting Kayenta Trail.
- Dogs are NOT allowed on Emerald Pools Trail.
- This hike will get busier around late morning to early afternoon when most families are in the canyon.
Our number one tip for The Zion Emerald Pools Trail hike:
We’ve already eluded to it above but if you’re running short on time, skip the loop and head straight up past Lower Pool to Upper Pool.
They are the two best things to see and you’ll save a bit of time both on the clock and in your legs for more hiking!
Emerald Pools Trail Walkthrough
Now we’ve covered everything you need to know about the trail, let’s get into the hike itself. Emerald Pools Trail is a great hike in what is one of the very best places to visit in Utah.
We will be explaining the hike as though you will take on the full loop, which means taking a left turn after the bridge and going on to stop at each pool.
Start At Zion Lodge (Shuttle Stop #5)
Either hike, drive or take the shuttle to Emerald Pools Trailhead. Remember that early mornings and late afternoons will be quieter on the trail if you’re looking for a more peaceful hike.
If you can drive your own car, there are roughly 50 spots to park. Hiring a bike means you don’t have to worry about finding a parking spot if visiting in peak season. There are plenty of places to lock a bike up.
Once you’re at the trailhead and ready to go, simply cross a bridge to the other side of the Virgin River.
Left Turn To A Short But Steep Climb
As mentioned multiple times, you can take a right turn here if you are in rush. However, we recommend turning left so you can experience the full Zion Emerald Pools Trail.
A sign at the far side of the bridge you’ll see the sign stating Upper Pool and Lower Pool to the right, with Middle Pool to the left. Follow the sign for Middle Pool which is 1 mile to the left.
But remember we said it was confusing? Just 2-3 minutes later you will reach a steep incline with another sign stating Middle Pool is only 0.5 miles away (pictured above).
Now unless you have teleported, you can’t possibly have walked half a mile in 3 minutes. Assuming an average walking pace of 3 miles per hour, it would take 10 minutes to walk half a mile.
The trail markers leave a lot to be desired on Emerald Pools Trail.
Long Flat Walk
Slog it up the short but steep dirt packed trail. It’s not what you need on a hot day but gives you another reason to start hiking early or late in the day.
Once you’re up, it’s plain sailing until you reach Middle Emerald Pool. The first thing you will notice is how much the view has improved after such a short climb.
You can look down over the parking area, the Virgin River and the attractive bridge crossing it. If you’re in Zion in Summer or Fall, you’ll be able to enjoy green or yellow and orange leaves on trees illuminating the riverside.
You will pass by a very highly flowing natural water hole. It has a sign stating that you must purify the water before using. This a perfect source to fill your bottles on a hot day, as long as you can treat it correctly.
Middle Emerald Pool
After walking along the flat trail with awesome views out into the canyon and river below, you will reach a staircase leading down a flat table-like rock.
Once you’re at the bottom you will see a chain fence to the right side in place to prevent people from falling. Water will be flowing and running left to right over the rocks into Lower Emerald Pool below.
Look to the left and you will see a shallow pool of water leading back into a V shape. In Spring and Summer there will be trees, bushes and vegetation sprouting up all around the water.
Expect to see less water here in Fall and Winter like in the photo above. But you might have to get your feet wet when crossing Middle Emerald Pool if you visit in Spring or early Summer with higher water levels.
Another Steep Climb
Up to this point, Emerald Pools Trail won’t have challenged you. However, if you want to make it to Upper Emerald Pool, you are going to have to climb a fairly steep, sandy and rocky trail.
Right after Middle Pool, you will come to a fork. Right would lead you down and to Lower Pool, but you want to take the left turn upwards to Upper Pool.
Soft sand and loose rocks make this section more difficult to hike. It is a short spur trail but you must be in reasonable shape to make it, especially on warmer days.
Upper Emerald Pool
The final approach to Upper Emerald Pool is over uneven and at times large rocks or boulders. Fearless kids will be fine but all hikers should take care with footing here.
Looking out, you will be rewarded with fine views over Zion behind you. Looking in, you will realize that this trail leads directly into a curving 90 degree right angle between two gigantic walls.
The waterfall was dry when we hiked this trail and the pool itself was very shallow. If you visit during a period of nearby snow thaw, expect to get wet here.
You’re close enough to touch the enormous canyon walls and your gaze will inevitably be drawn upward at those enormous intimidating cliffs.
It is well worth the hike to Upper Pool.
Back Down The Same Way
Now for the easy part. Take a nice, slow hike back down the sandy trail to Middle Pool. Watch your footing with deeper pockets of sand and loose stones.
In Summer, this trail is likely to be teeming with other hikers. Parts of this spur trail are narrow and you may have to wait for people hiking up.
But that’s fine, you can spend that waiting time soaking up those awesome Zion Canyon views. Once you get back down to the fork, take a left to begin walking down to Lower Pool.
Descend An Unexpected Narrow Staircase
The next part of the Emerald Pools Trail is completely unexpected.
Shortly after you take the turn and skirt around a minor drop off of a narrow dirt trail surrounded by vegetation, you will encounter a set of stone steps.
Take the steps down and you’ll reach another fork:
- Left would take you up more steps leading onto Kayenta Trail and eventually Angels Landing.
- Right leads you down an extremely photogenic staircase between two rocks, almost like a very short slot canyon toward Lower Emerald Pool.
Lower Emerald Pool
Moments after the narrow pass you will turn a right corner and it will lead out to an overlook for Lower Emerald Pool.
But the Pool itself is hardly noticeable. Your attention will immediately be drawn to various points along an impressive crescent moon shaped ledge over which water is falling.
You will walk down more tightly packed stone steps. They lead to a narrow walkway curving around to the left on the same trajectory as the crescent moon ledge above.
A barrier is in place to keep hikers on the trail as it follows the curve and as waterfalls splash down next to you.
This is the most photogenic part of the Emerald Pools Trail. Stop for plenty of photos but watch your camera or smartphone doesn’t get soaked from splash back.
Finish The Loop Back To Zion Lodge
Once you complete the crescent moon curve, the trail becomes flat, easy and paved all the way back to that first bridge you walked over a few hours ago.
A very gradual descent of 70ft spread out over half a mile will lead you back to the parking lot and shuttle stop.
Important – This section of the hike is wheelchair (assistance may be required) and stroller friendly. You can access Lower Emerald Pool only by wheelchair or pushing a stroller.
We always recommend checking live and current hiking trail information at Zion National Park before hiking. Trails are renowned for closing at short notice throughout the year.
Pros and Cons
- Surprisingly picturesque trail
- Waterfalls and canyon views
- Family friendly moderate hike
- Not as busy as Angels Landing or The Narrows
- Not an adrenaline pumping Zion hike
- Parking spots fill up fast in Winter
- The trail will be extremely busy at peak times
- Low running waterfalls aren’t as good in Fall and Winter
Zion Planning Guides
- 5 Ways You Can Day Trip Zion National Park
- 20 Easy Popular And Hard Hikes In Zion
- 9 Utah National Park Road Trip Itineraries
- Zion to Bryce Canyon 3 Day Road Trip
- 4 Top Hikes In Kolob Canyon Zion
- Zion National Park In Winter
- Best Airports To Use Near Zion
- Best Time Of Year To Visit Zion
- Where To Stay In Zion National Park
Zion Hiking Guides
- Angels Landing Trail
- The Narrows Bottom Up
- Zion Canyon Overlook Trail
- The Watchman Trail
- The Pa’rus Trail
- Taylor Creek Trail (Kolob Canyon)
- Timber Creek Trail (Kolob Canyon)
- The Subway Bottom Up (Kolob Terrace)
We hope this guide to hiking the Emerald Pools Trail to Lower, Middle and Upper Pool helps with planning your visit to Zion National Park!
Please let us know if you have any questions about the Emerald Pools Trail hike, Zion National Park or your visit to Utah in the comments below.
Mark and Kristen