The Emerald Pools are beautiful pools located on the west side of the Zion Canyon Parkway. The main Emerald Pool trail starts opposite the Zion lodge 2.7 miles from the start of the Scenic Canyon Drive.
This is a popular trail and is quite busy all year long.
Water drains into the Upper Pool from Heaps Canyon far up on the Cliffside. From here this drainage flows down and over an overhanging cliff and into the lower pool. Water drains into the Middle Pool from Behunin Canyon and thence over the overhanging cliff to the lower pool.
In winter access to the lower pool may be closed due to ice buildup on the overhanging cliff above the trail and large chunks of ice on the trail. In this case access to the middle and upper pools is from the Kayenta Trail which leaves the Grotto parking lot 1/2 mile beyond the Lodge.
Overall rating = moderate
Distance: 4.5 miles total to the upper pool – moderate
Elevation gain: ~500 feet – moderate
Terrain: Wide gravel trail with some boulders – easy
Exposure: The Kayenta trail portion travels along the cliff edge high above the river – moderate
To see the trail rating system used here see Trail Rating System
If coming from the west take SR9 through Springdale, Utah, into Zion National Park. Turn left at the Canyon Scenic Drive just after crossing the Virgin River bridge.
If coming from the east turn onto SR9 at the Mount Carmel Junction and drive into Zion National Park. Drive through the main Zion tunnel and take the switchbacks down the mountain to the junction of the Canyon Scenic Drive and turn right.
From April to October the Scenic Canyon Drive is not open to public cars and you must take the shuttle. Park or get off the Shuttle at the Zion Lodge to access the lower Emerald Pool trail. Alternatively park or get off the shuttle at the Grotto to access the pools from the Kayenta trail.
The best way to access the three pools is by making a loop between the lower Emerald Pools trail and the higher Kayenta trail. However this loop is likely blocked by ice in winter.
In winter we prefer to park at the Grotto parking lot and travel the Kayenta trail to the middle and upper pools and then loop back to the lower pool where the trail is likely blocked due to ice. From thence we return by the Kayenta trail.
From the Grotto parking lot, cross the footbridge over the Virgin river. Here the trail splits with the trail to Angel’s landing to the right and the Kayenta trail to the left. Climb the switchbacks to the fairly level Kayenta Trail which traverses around the foot of Spearhead Mountain. At about the 3/4 mile point the trail splits with the right fork leading up to the Middle and Upper Emerald Pools and the left fork leading down to the Lower Pool. Take the right fork passing through a large rock opening and on to the Middle Pool. On the return, turn right in the large rock opening and travel down through a rock slot to get to the Lower Pool. Then return via the lower section of the Kayenta trail.
In the summer we prefer to get off the shuttle at the Zion Lodge stop and first travel along the lower Emerald Pools trail to the lower pool. From there you pass under the overhanging cliff and under several waterfalls and then loop around to the marked route up through the large rock opening to the Middle and Upper pools. From there return via the Kayenta trail and catch the shuttle at the Grotto stop.
The Kayenta trail, formerly named the Grotto trail, gives a very scenic view of the Virgin river and adjacent mountains. The trail from the Grotto traverses around Spearhead Mountain about 200 feet above the Virgin river. As you round the corner and head north west you get a wonderful view of Lady Mountain across the Heaps drainage wash from the Emerald Pools. Lady Mountain peaks at 6945 feet, 2675 feet above the river. The Lady Mountain route to the summit is a strenuous technical all day hike.