The Secret of Emerald Pools

Emerald Pools is the ultimate family-friendly hike in Zion National Park. It’s a smooth trail, for the most part, that is pretty flat and only two miles long. About 98% of the time there is a small creek that comes out of the cliff face and runs down a couple different sections of waterfalls and collects into pools with lush moss and foliage. Thus the name, Emerald Pools.

That other 2% of the time became a little bit of an obsession for me. I needed to unlock its secret and capture my own image of it.

There are two things that can transform the small trickle of a waterfall on this hike into a raging river to equal something you would see in Yosemite. The first is the melting of winter’s snowpack up in the mountains. This can be tough to predict and will vary from year to year in the degree to which it amplifies the water flow. The second one is even more tough to predict. But with a flexible schedule, it’s actually pretty easy to take advantage of it, and that is heavy rains.

For over a year, I had this shot in the back of my mind. With every rain storm (there’s only a few each year in the desert), I would wonder if Emerald Pools was going Hulk-out or not. It took 14 months and three failed attempts before I finally got it! The first few times I either missed the main downpour or it just never manifested anything more than a light drizzle. On one occasion, I spent nearly 5 hours out there in position waiting for rain that wasn’t coming. So much for weather reports.

Man was it worth it when I finally got it though! This was one of my most rewarding photography experiences, and it gave me some of my favorite images. If you don’t live close to Zion, this would be an extremely tough shot to get. It would really come down to luck.

Here’s a little “pro tip” about hiking the Emerald Pools to send you off with. Don’t do the out-and-back hike. Instead, take the trail on your left as you descend from the second pool to the first. This will take you out to the Grotto shuttle stop. It’s about the same distance but you get a whole new awesome set of views.

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