Middle and Upper Emerald Pools, Emerald Pools Trailhead at the Zion Lodge, Zion National Park, Utah
Middle and Upper Emerald Pools - 3.0 Miles
Emerald Pools Trailhead at the Zion Lodge
Middle and Upper Emerald Pools
|Round-Trip Length:||3.0 Miles|
|Start-End Elevation:||4,275' - 4,425' (Middle) - 4,625' (Upper)|
|Elevation Change:||+150' net elevation gain to Middle Pool : +350' net elevation gain to Upper Pool|
The Emerald Pools, named so for their greenish tint caused by algae growth, were formed by the compression of water through porous sandstone rock. Water permeates sandstone and, with the help of gravity and time, finds its way out through cracks. If the terrain and volume are right, it may collect. The Emerald Pools - a series of 3 connected, descending pools - are the result of such an occurrence.
Water flowing through cracks makes plant growth possible in otherwise unlikely places. 'Hanging Gardens', The Emerald Pools' most recognizable feature, are dangling plant communities growing out of moist rock crevices. Most notable are the ferns, mosses and a handful of flowering plants that flourish in this vertical, water-fed environment.
Adding to the area's aesthetic is its overall abundance and diversity of vegetation, which benefits greatly from proximity to a perennial water source. Trees such as pinyon, juniper, oak, cottonwood and boxelder fill the narrow, vertical alcoves in which these pools have formed.
While the pools and hanging gardens are the main attraction, visitors will enjoy sensational views all around. Towering above the trail on Zion Canyon's west side are Lady Mountain (6,945'), Mount Majestic (6,750') and Cathedral Mountain (6,930'). Looking east you'll easily identify Red Arch Mountain and The Great White Throne (6,744').
The Emerald Pool Trails are among Zion's most heavily traveled, as they are easily accessed, short and family-friendly. Early risers, evening strollers and off-season visitors have the best chance of having these pools to themselves.
Regardless of traffic you needn't ever backtrack, as a small trail network serving the Pools provides a few different return options. The following descriptions provide out-and-back details only:
From the trailhead, cross the Virgin River and turn left towards the Middle and Upper Emerald Pools. The trail is intermittently paved for a short time, but for the most part climbs moderately along a well-worn dirt path. Unlike the trail to Lower Emerald Pool, this route is largely exposed despite dense forest all around.
The trail eschews the Lower Pool, though it's easy for your eyes and ears to locate it (to the north). The trail levels out after roughly 1 mile at the Middle Emerald Pool (which is actually two small adjacent pools).
Of interest here is the perspective you'll now have on the connection between all pools, as the in-flow and out-flow of water is vividly illustrated. The pools' slippery out-flow and nearby drop-off area create hazardous conditions, so a chain is in place to prevent missteps. Views across Zion Canyon are quite good from this location.
The trail continues for .5 miles up a markedly more rugged stretch to the Upper Emerald Pool. Well worth the effort, this more secluded pool is arguably the most attractive.
On the final approach you'll weave your way through dense vegetation and large boulders to its shaded edge. Upper Emerald Pool is surrounded by towering cliffs on three sides, and the vicinity itself is exceptionally lush.
This is a wonderfully serene place when crowds are thin, and exploring the cool alcove in which the Upper Pool lies is highly recommended (no swimming is allowed, however).
GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84View these GPS points on a Google Map
- N37 14.990 W112 57.400 — Emerald Pools Trailhead - Zion Lodge
- This is a family-friendly trail, though the final 1/2 mile is a bit rugged.
Rules and Regulations
- Swimming is not permitted in the Emerald Pools.
Take the Zion Canyon shuttle to the Zion Lodge shuttle stop. Cross the bridge over the Virgin River to the Trailhead.
Zion Canyon Visitor Center
Closed: December 25
Spring: 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Summer: 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Fall: 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Winter: 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. )
Backcountry Info, Camping & Permits Desk (including camping in the Narrows)