Friday, September 29, 2017

Zion Emerald Pools & Kayenta Trail

Emerald Pools Trail
Kayenta Trail
Zion National Park
Trailhead Elevation: 3,923 ft.
Distance: 3.19 mi. (my Forerunner 230)
Elevation Gain: 400 ft. (rough estimate)
Start Time: 9:14am
End Time: 11:01am

Trip Report:
After having finished our big Western Zion Traverse on the previous day we were looking to start our "free" day with a nice easy, almost touristy, hike. None of us had ever done the Emerald Pools trails and so this became the chosen option. We hopped the shuttle from our campsite and took it to the Zion Lodge stop. Getting off the shuttle we followed the pathways to the road crossing and an obvious bridge over the Virgin River which would be our start. There was some nice signage that gives us hikers an idea of the length of the Emerald Pools trails as there are a few options to be taken along the way.
After crossing the river we took an immediate right to start following the trail. We know from the maps there is also a higher trail that follows a similar route over towards the pools. That upper trail when followed the opposite direction to the south becomes the Sand Bench Trail. We found the early parts of the trail all paved and pretty typical Zion trail. We made easy-going and encountered a handful of people. After 2/10 of a mile the trail curves to the west and heads into a side canyon. Another 4/10 of a mile and you begin to hit the lower pool area. What we would soon find out is the pools themselves are hardly the highlight of this trail. The lower pool was not much to be beholden, but the rock walls around it and the dripping waterfalls were a sight. It reminded me of some parts of Starved Rock. The waterfalls nearly dripping from right over our heads from the cliffs but would miss the trail and head for the lower pool. I tried the slow-mo feature on my camera to catch a glimpse of the falling water. The trail itself was actually undercut in some of the cliffs.

We continued onward to a junction which gives one the option of heading northeast on the Kayenta Trail or heading up to the middle and upper Emerald Pools. We went for the pools. When we started out today the temps were surprising cool. My tempe sensor was saying 52° but with a slight breeze it really felt cooler. I threw a long-sleeve layer over my shorter one and I was still fairly chilled at the start. As we moved into the side canyon and began the uphill hiking to the middle pool the temps quickly rose into the low 60's, and would eventually even hit 70's at the upper pool.

The middle pool itself was slightly more impressive than the lower pool, but it didn't have the imposing rock cliffs and water fall of the lower pool. The middle pool was actually a series of 2 or 3 pools that seemingly flowed one into the next. This also made for a large flat landing area where a number of groups had gathered to enjoy the views and rest.

We found the trail heading up to the upper pool and this was almost a half mile hike much of it uphill to get towards the upper pool. We shed extra layers in here as the temps were rising on us and the bodies working. Arriving at the upper pool provided the best views yet. The upper pool looks like a tiny pond with almost 180° of rock cliffs surrounding it. The cliffs had evidence of water seepage coming out of them as many cliffs in Zion do. We stared in awe at the cliffs wonder what routes daring rock climbers would take to explore their heights.

It was an area where you wanted to do everything you could to capture its beauty but still shots off a camera hardly do it justice. I tried to get a good 360 photo which may be the best of ways to capture it unfortunately the stitching didn't go perfectly.

Our exit from the upper pool took us quickly to a junction where we could take a connector to the Kayenta Trail or head on down to the middle pool. We headed for the Kayenta Trail. Most of the upper portion of this trail is unpaved. It is fairly gradual with some up and mostly a reasonable down. This took us out of the side canyon and "around the corner" heading north. It was mostly desert vegetation along this track. We encountered people from time to time so it was evident a fair amount of folks were out on the trails this morning, but it was never too crowded. We gradually lost our elevation getting closer and closer to the river until we returned to the junction we had left yesterday. This junction to the north is the Angel's Landing Trail and to the south the Kayenta Trail heading for the Emerald Pools. We crossed the bridge over the Virgin and were back to the Grotto trailhead and shuttle stop.


I have a track and waypoints from the hike all contained in a KML file that you are welcome to download and use (at your own risk).  The track into the side canyon of the Emerald Pools had to be edited somewhat as the GPS signal got very badly whacked out back in there by the pools.

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