Zion National Park: Emerald Pools and Riverside Walk



On our second day in Zion, the rain and clouds blew away and we were left with prime hiking conditions. We got a slow start in the morning and set out for a leisurely day of easy hikes. Private vehicles are not allowed on the canyon road at Zion-unless you are staying at the lodge- so we walked to the visitor’s center to catch the shuttle up the canyon. With the sun growing warmer and warmer by the minute, we debated leaving leisure behind and trekking up to the much-talked about Angel’s Landing. But with a couple days left in Zion, we decided to start off slow after all.

The trail at Lower Emerald Pool in Zion passes behind the the thin waterfalls.

From behind the waterfalls at Lower Emerald Pool in Zion.

We got off the shuttle at the Zion Lodge and crossed the street to the Emerald Pools trailhead. The first mile was an easy and paved ascent to the lower Emerald Pool. This first stop is the most popular destination on the trail. The trail passes behind three thin, wispy waterfalls cascading over the jutting rock above. The pools from the waterfalls are said to be an oasis in the desert canyon, and are bordered by green-moss-covered boulders. We lingered for a moment and kept on moving to the middle pool, which is on top of the rock that the lower waterfalls pour over. It’s slightly embarrassing to admit-and we’d laugh at ourselves later- but at the middle pool, we missed a very obvious turnoff on the trail to go to the upper pool. Following the stream up the hillside, we were completely misguided for about an hour as we scrambled over rocky side trails searching for the upper pool in all the wrong nooks. A few times, we came across stagnant green pools backed by small hanging gardens and wondered if we had reached the destination. Finally, we became convinced that we missed something somewhere. From our vantage point high on the hillside, we saw people below and started in their direction. After following a couple more side trails- let’s say it just purposeful exploration now- we stumbled on to the more worn main trail and were on our way to the upper pool. Once we spotted the small crowd and the tall waterfall raining gently down into the pool, we knew we were on the right track this time. This final waterfall is so slender and slow that the slightest breeze can blow the lower half of the falls every which way. The thin stream trickles over the tall, red canyon wall and blows and dances its way down to the large pool. Delicate as it is, it’s a beautiful waterfall in the corner of the canyon.

After eating lunch on a rock with views we headed back down the trail. Instead

A thin stream of water slices between the red rock canyon walls at the Upper Emerald Pool in Zion

The thin waterfall at Upper Emerald Pool.

of going back to the Lodge, we connected with the Grotto trail, which follows a ridge with views of the Virgin River and Lower Canyon. We then took the shuttle to the end of the canyon and strolled down the Riverside walk trail. This trail had good views of the canyon walls, but was jam-packed with both ground squirrel enthusiasts and wiley children trying to kick ground squirrels. In fact, at one point we got stuck in a squirrel jam: a mass of people taking pictures of a ‘posing squirrel.’ It was horrible. At the end of the Riverside Walk hikers can start into the famed Narrows of Zion Canyon by hiking up the river. This was one we thought about doing, but had not done enough advanced planning to get dry suits and start early. Maybe next time! We didn’t linger long, but instead turned promptly around in order to avoid the mass crowds that would soon be heading back down the Riverside Walk.

On the Riverside Walk, Alex, my future husband, just as I want to remember him when we're old and gray.

On the Riverside Walk, Alex, my future husband, just as I want to remember him when we’re old and gray.

Still holding on to my hope that this would be a hot, shorts-weather vacation, we stopped at the Zion Lodge to get an ice cream cone, and sat outside determinedly eating it in the wind.



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