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How to Do the Confusing Emerald Pools Hike in Zion National Park

Upper Emerald Pools

Zion National Park is famous for having some of the best hikes in the world, such as Angels Landing, The Narrows, and the Subway. One hike that is often overshadowed is the Emerald Pools.

The Emerald Pools in Zion consist of three different pools – Lower Pool, Middle Pool, and Upper Pool – and even a waterfall. The pools are easy to visit and one section is even handicap-accessible. The hike is actually a series of trails leading to the pools from multiple directions. These trails are called the Lower Emerald Pools, Middle Emerald Pools, Kayenta Trail, and Upper Emerald Pools.

Visiting the Emerald Pools is one of my favorite things to do in Zion!

Keep on reading because, in this article, I’ll simplify the trails for you so you can decide which route you should take.

How to hike Emerald Pools in Zion National Park
Watch this 6-minute video to experience the trail!

What are the Emerald Pools in Zion?

The Emerald Pools are three small pools – perhaps emerald in color – located in a side canyon in the main portion of Zion National Park.

All three are formed by water runoff from the canyon wall. The Middle Pool flows over a cliff to the Lower Pool, creating a small waterfall.

In 2010, a mudslide ruined the trail, closing it for 10 years. It cost $1.2 million to fix. The trail re-opened in 2020.

How to Get to the Emerald Pools

View of the Emerald Pools from the Kayenta Trail
This is the view from the Kayenta Trail

Catch the Shuttle (or drive in the off-season)

To get to the Emerald Pools, when shuttles are running, park at the south side visitor center and get on the shuttle (no tickets or reservations needed). Shuttles leave the visitor center every few minutes.

If the shuttles are not running, drive your car up Zion Canyon and park at shuttle stops 5 or 6 to get the best access to the trails.

Two Possible Shuttle Stops

There are two possible entry/exit points for the Emerald Pools Trails.

As of May 2023, the trail bridge at shuttle stop #5 that is used to access the Emerald Pools is closed due to a shifting of the bridge’s foundation. You must use shuttle stop #6, The Grotto, to access this trail until further notice. You can check the national park website for more information. Because of this you will have to take the Kayenta trail which connects to the middle Emerald Pools trail from The Grotto Stop. From the Middle Emerald Pools you can make your way either down to Lower Emerald Pools or up to the Upper Emerald Pools. The Kayenta trail to all three Emerald Pools and back is around 2.7 miles.

This map shows the Kayenta trail from shuttle stop 6 to the Emerald Pools Trails.

The Zion Lodge Stop: Lower and Middle Emerald Pools Trails

First, you can get off at the shuttle Stop 5, the Zion Lodge.

From here you can either take the the paved and handicap-accessible Lower Emerald Pools Trail or the Middle Emerald Pools Trail.

Once you have reached the lower or middle pool (depending on which trail you chose), you can connect to the other trails.

The Grotto Stop: Kayenta Trail

You can also start at shuttle stop 6, The Grotto, and take the Kayenta Trail to the Middle Pool. From there, you can connect to the other trails as desired.

Using Both Shuttle Stops (or the Grotto Connector Trail)

Thanks to Zion’s amazing shuttle system, you can start your hike at one shuttle stop and end it at the other, easily catching your shuttle to your next destination.

Alternatively, if you have enough energy, take the delightfully less-crowded walk along the Grotto Trail back to your starting point.

Overview of the Emerald Pools “Triangle of Trails”

Map of the different trails

Technically, this area has multiple trails, which can be a little confusing: 

  • Lower Emerald Pools Trail
  • Middle Emerald Pools Trail
  • Upper Emerald Pools Trail
  • Kayenta Trail
  • Grotto Trail

Just think of this as a triangle.  You can do the whole triangle or any side of the triangle you would like. And you can do it in any order or direction. 

The entire triangle is around 3 miles of paved and graded trails with mild/moderate elevation changes. Warning: it does get a little steep going from Middle Pools to Upper Pools. 

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Guide includes the Springville Shuttle, Zion Canyon Shuttle, What to Do at Each Stop, Handy Tips + Maps

Lower Emerald Pools Trail

Lower Emerald Pool
Lower Emerald Pool, Zion National Park
The accessible trail to Lower Emerald Pools
The accessible trail to Lower Emerald Pools
Small waterfall at Lower Pools
Small waterfall at Lower Pools

The Lower Emerald Pool Trail begins at shuttle stop 5, here you will follow the paved pathway to a waterfall and the pool. Make sure to fill up your water bottles and use the restroom at the shuttle stop before you begin your hike!

You even get to walk behind the waterfall which is incredibly neat. My kids did not stop talking about this trail after we hiked it! They were telling all their friends about the waterfall they hiked behind!

You can choose to only hike the Lower Emerald Pool, or use the Lower Emerald Pools as a starting point to get to the Middle and Upper Emerald Pools or the Kayenta Trail.

Lower Emerald Pools Trail Information:

  • Trail Length: 0.6 mile (1 km) one way
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Accessibility: Trail is paved and accessible for wheelchairs up to the falls. After this point, there are stairs to walk behind the falls
  • Pets: No

Middle Emerald Pools Trail

Trail marker sign

Middle Emerald Pool is accessible from the Lower Emerald Pool Trail.

Once you have crossed behind the waterfall you will see some stairs. Go up these steps and you will find a sign for Middle Emerald Pools, Upper Emerald Pools, and the Kayenta Trail.

Follow the signs. You will go up some more steps as the trail winds up above the waterfall. Here you will come to the Middle Emerald Pool with beautiful reflections of the towering red rocks surrounding you! The views are stunning and well worth the trek up.

From the Middle Emerald Pool Trail, you can continue on the Emerald Pool Trail to the Upper Pools or follow the Middle Emerald Pool Trail back to the Zion Lodge.

Middle Emerald Pools Trail Information:

  • Trail Length: 1.1 miles (1.8 km) one way
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Accessibility: Trail is not paved and has many stairs and steep sections
  • Pets: No

Upper Emerald Pools Trail

Upper Emerald Pools Trail
Upper Emerald Pool

The Upper Emerald Pools Trail starts from the Middle Pool. You’ll ascend further up to another beautiful waterfall and pool.

This is definitely the most difficult of the three trails, however, it is the best part of the trail due to the towering canyon walls.

Although the trail is a little more difficult, it brings you to the final pool with beautiful spots to picnic and relax. There’s even an occasional waterfall.

Upper Emerald Pools Trail
Towering Wall at the Upper Pool
The Towering Wall is the best reason to go all the way to the Upper Pools!

On your way back down you’ll encounter the Middle Emerald Pools again.

From here, you can take the Middle Emerald Pools Trail back to the Zion Lodge – Stop 5, or you can take the Kayenta Trail to the Grotto – Stop 6.

If you want to extend your hike and take in some truly incredible views, I would suggest using the Kayenta Trail to shuttle stop 6.

Upper Emerald Pools Trail Information:

  • Trail Length: 0.3 mile (0.5 km) one way
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Accessibility: Trail is sandy and can be difficult
  • Pets: No

Kayenta Trail

Kayenta Trail
Kayenta Trail, Zion National Park
View from the Kayenta Trail
View from the Kayenta Trail

The Kayenta Trail is a connector trail. It connects shuttle stop 6 to the Emerald Pools and then down to shuttle stop 5. However, it is worth the effort to take this trail!

The views from this trail are some of my favorites in the entire area. You will be hiking above the canyon with views of the Virgin River running through it. It left me speechless the entire way.

Kayenta Trail Information:

  • Trail Length: 0.8 miles (1.3 km) one way
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Accessibility: Trail is sandy with steep drop-offs
  • Pets: No

Grotto Trail: Complete the Triangle

Dirt trail

Finally, if you started on one end and finished on the other (by taking my advice to hike the Kayenta Trail), you should consider hiking the flat and surprisingly secluded Grotto Trail to complete the Triangle of Trails.

The Grotto Trail is a short trail that connects The Grotto Stop – Shuttle Stop 6 with the Zion Lodge Stop – Shuttle Stop 5. Walking this trail might even be quicker than waiting for the shuttle, considering the shuttle lines.

Grotto Trail Information:

  • Trail Length: 0.6 miles (1 km) one way
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Accessibility: Trail is sandy and not paved. It is mostly wide and flat but one section is rocky and narrow
  • Pets: No

What to Bring

Middle Emerald Pool Trail
Middle Emerald Pool Trail, Zion National Park

For any hiking adventure, especially in Zion National Park, we recommend bringing:

  • Water (bring a refillable bottle and fill up at each shuttle stop)
  • Food/snacks (It always helps to bring some good snacks to keep you going on the trail – salty snacks are great to help avoid dehydration)
  • Sunscreen (reapply as needed, most of the trails are full sun)
  • Chapstick (dry sunny weather can make your lips chapped)
  • Park map
  • A charged cell phone
  • Small first aid kit
  • For a complete list, see our Zion Recommended Gear article

Don’t miss The Best Dining Spots In Zion & Springdale.

Are the Emerald Pool Trails Worth it?

100 percent! The Emerald Pools are worth a visit and the hike to get to them! These are some of our favorite trails in the park!

The Emerald Pools themselves are nice, but they are typically quite small. Although you get to see some pretty pools and walk under a misting waterfall, the highlight here is being surrounded by sheer red rock walls and the elevated views of Zion Canyon.

From the waterfalls to the reflective pools, it is a unique and beautiful place to visit in Zion National Park.

Can You Swim or Wade in the Water at the Emerald Pools?

No. In order to preserve these pools, you cannot swim or wade in them.

What is the Best Time to Visit the Emerald Pools?

This area of Zion National Park can get busy, as it is very popular. The best seasons to visit are early spring, late fall, and winter to avoid crowds.

However, the time of day can make all the difference. If you are going during the busy season get there early in the morning or later in the evening. You may just have the trails all to yourself!

What Else Do I Need to Know?

As mentioned earlier, Zion National Park can be crowded with visitors, especially during peak season! Planning and navigating a trip to Zion National Park can be frustrating because of its popularity. The crowds and shuttle system can be confusing to navigate.

Lucky for you, we have you covered. Most travelers want to visit the most popular sites, yet still, avoid crowds (as much as possible). We have a detailed itinerary that gives you a step-by-step game plan so you can get to the best places at the right times!

MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO
ZION

ZION TRIP PLANNER: To read or watch all of our content about Zion National Park, check out our  Zion Homepage

THINGS TO DO: Don’t miss all that Zion has to offer including Emerald Pools, Angel’s Landing, The Narrows, and Kolob Canyons

WHERE TO EAT: Check out the best places to eat in and near Zion National Park

GREAT CITIES TO STAY OR CHECK OUT: Learn where to stay or camp when visiting Zion and explore some amazing cities nearby including St. George, Kanab, and Cedar City

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO: Find out if you need a reservation and how to use the shuttle system as well as if you can drive in Zion, which entrance to use, and how to avoid crowds

WATCH: Enjoy videos of gorgeous Zion National Park while learning our best tips for visiting by watching our Zion YouTube Playlist

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