Date of visit: Friday November 13th, 2015
Attractions/Places of Interest:
There are many trails to explore throughout Zion National Park. One of the better known and unique ones is the Emerald Pools Trail – it takes you to the Lower, Middle, and Upper Pools. The full trail to the Upper Pool and back is 3 miles round trip. The Emerald Pools are one of the top three most visited locations in Zion National Park.
Lower Pool: 0.6 miles one-way. 30 minutes. 69′ ascent.
Middle Pools: 1 mile one-way. 1 hour. 150′ ascent.
Upper Pool: 1.5 miles one-way. 1.5 hour. 350′ ascent.
The trail starts at the footbridge by Zion Lodge. It is accessible by shuttle bus between April 1st until October 30th, but you can drive to it yourself the rest of the year as we did.
While the Emerald Pools are a classic and popular hike in Zion, I need to give my honest opinion from the perspective of a photographer. After seeing all three pools, I do not see this as being worthy of spending time and energy to explore. There aren’t many “epic” photo opportunities here as the lower and middle pools are not that impressive, and the large pool is impressive only due to the enormous walls that surround it which are extremely hard to capture even with a super wide angle lens. Even then, there would need to be some truly amazing lighting for this shot to work which is hard with walls that high. I am not sure if it was just due to the water levels being low in November (they are highest in the Spring when ice starts to melt after the Winter) but these pools just looked like large puddles…they were hardly impressive. If you are looking for an easy hike and you are spending multiple days here – by all means check it out. If you are on a stricter time constraint I would honestly pass on this hike as I did not leave with any shots worthy of a spot in my landscape portfolio.
Perhaps an adventure like rappelling from Heaps Canyon down the backside of the boulder-rimmed pool would be more interesting and yield more unique photos from a higher angle – but that is a plan for another time. Also worth mentioning is that while I wasn’t crazy about the views offered throughout the hike or the pools themselves, the area by the trailhead where the footbridge crosses the Virgin River is beautiful and I highly recommend stopping by at least that spot.
Photo and Travel Gear:
The paths are paved and well maintained, and it is only the final stretch between the Middle and Upper pools that becomes steeper and more rugged where you may find it more difficult. In general you still want a good pair of hiking shoes.
As for photo gear…as I said I did not walk away with many good shots worth showing. I would recommend traveling light here with a super wide angle lens like the Tokina 11-16 f/2.8 or Nikon 14-24 f/2.8. You can most likely get away with bringing just the widest angle lens you own. If you have time to spare and are trying to get creative, bring a tripod and neutral density filter for some shots of the waterfalls flowing from the pools above you as you hike up, although as I mentioned before, there wasn’t much water flowing in November. Your mileage may vary other times of the year. The tripod and ND filters will most definitely come in handy when photographing the area by the trailhead around the footbridge crossing over the Virgin River. Walk down a few feet to the water and get creative with your perspectives for some beautiful long exposure shots of the flowing river.
We stayed about 40 miles West of Coral Pink Sand Dunes at Holiday Inn Express in Springdale, Utah. The hotel was beautiful and didn’t break the bank. A breakfast was included in our stay which is always great as it speeds things up in the morning. While there was a pool, we unfortunately had no time to take advantage of it the next day since we spent the entire day hiking in Zion National Park. I highly recommend this accommodation!