Thursday, May 16, 2013

Hiking the Emerald Pools at Zion National Park

We took a couple of days over spring break and headed south to warmer temperatures and Zion National Park.  I had not been to Zion in many years, and I was looking forward to re-acquainting myself with this wonderful park.  The shuttle system was up and running as the park geared up for peak tourist season, and so we parked at the base of the canyon, hopped a shuttle, and headed into Zion.

Shuttle at Zion National Park

The shuttles run frequently and stop at every major point up the canyon.  Drivers narrate your journey and point out vistas, geology, climbers, and wildlife along the way.  We did have to wait in a line to catch our first shuttle, but the line moved quickly.  I was skeptical of using the shuttles, but they were pretty convenient, and I can see why they are the only efficient way to handle the volume of visitors to Zion National Park. 

Zion Lodge

For the Emerald Pools hike, we got off the shuttle at the Zion Lodge stop.  The trailhead is across the street from the lodge, and is clearly marked.  At the lodge, you can pick up small necessities that you forgot before beginning your hike, like sunscreen or sunglasses. Zion National Park does not sell bottled water, however, you may purchase a reusable bottle and fill it with spring water at the lodge.  We made sure our bottles were full before beginning our hike.

Sign directing visitors to the trailhead.

We crossed a bridge over the Virgin river at the beginning of the hike.  The hike to the Lower Pool is pretty easy, and many families were on the trail as we set out.

View of the Virgin river

Once you cross the footbridge, turn right and follow the paved trail to the lower pool.  The trail to the first pool is paved, and the elevation gain is under 70 feet.  The first pool is just over half a mile away.  When we arrived, we were a bit disappointed in the muddy color of the pool.  I am not sure if these pools are a different color at another time of year, but in April, the description of "emerald" seemed a misnomer.

Not very "emerald" lower pool.

Water falls over the canyon wall from the middle pool to the lower pool and it is very beautiful.  It also provides a cooling mist.  Be careful on the trail here, as the pavement can be wet and slick.

Water cascading to the lower pool.

We decided to hike to all of the pools on this trail, and continued on up the trail.  Once arriving at the Middle Pools, we found if you take the time to wander up around the pools, you get a better view.  The trail here is not particularly well-marked, but there were so many people, it was easy to tell which way to go.

The Middle Pool of the Emerald Pools.

The trail to the Upper Pools is marked as "moderate" in the park newspaper.  Since I was still recovering from cancer treatments, I wasn't up to much of a challenge, but I decided to give this hike a try.  Unlike the Lower Pool trail, this trail is not paved, and has more of an ascent, but it is not long, and I managed it just fine.

Me and my son on the trail to the Upper Pool

We passed through a very short slot on the way to the Upper Pool.  I wouldn 't really call it a slot "canyon", but it was still fun to walk through it on our hike.

Upper Pools at Zion National Park

During rainy weather, I am sure these pools can fill up quite a bit.  The pool next to the canyon wall in the background of the photo is wider and deeper than the small pool in the foreground.  There was a good-sized crowd here, but there were plenty of boulders around for kids to climb on.  Many people found a spot to sit and just enjoy the scenery or have a snack.  This was a very enjoyable hike.

Water running down the canyon wall to the Upper Pool.

It was pleasantly warm during our hike, and we carried water and snacks with us.  The one drawback of not having your car in the canyon for the day is having to plan what you will need and carry it with you so you don't have to take the shuttle all the way back to your car.  However, with a little forethought and the help of the park map, you can easily plan your day.  Food is available at the Zion Lodge, and water and bathrooms are available at several of the shuttle stops.  Once we finished our hike, we bought ice cream cones at the lodge, then hopped back on the shuttle and continued up the canyon.  Stay tuned for more about our visit to Zion National Park!