Zion national park is full of surprises. In the last two days we’ve hiked two trails with two very different landscapes, and two very different hiking experiences. First up was the Many Pools hike on the east side of the park, called the East Canyon. It’s a shame that a good number of visitors never leave Zion Canyon to to visit the East Canyon. Or maybe it’s not, because that means far less crowded hiking conditions for us. The landscape in the East Canyon is very different from what you find in Zion Canyon. While Zion Canyon is dominated by towering vertical cliffs and the winding Virgin River which snakes along the thin valley floor, the East Canyon is a whole different world. Here you will find giant hills of sandstone, interesting pothole formations, rocks stacked hoodoos and miles and miles of smooth rock buffed smooth by water and wind commonly called slickrock.
The Many Pools hike starts at a small pull-off on Rt. 9 less than a mile from the small tunnel (called the small tunnel to differentiate from the longer 1.1 mile long Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel). From the pull-off the trail slips down into a wash, takes a sharp right turn and travels under the road via a pedestrian tunnel carved in the rock.
We emerged from the tunnel onto a sandy wash that gradually climbed up a wide canyon.
No other hikers were in sight, but we followed a prominent trail of foot prints up the wash. Soon we came upon pools carved into the rock. There were too many to count. We continued up the wash oohing and awing over pools of all shapes and sizes.
Occasionally we looked up from the pools to admire the nature around us.
The slickrock that dominated the landscape awed and amazed us. It’s interesting to note that the smooths swaths of rock (usually sandstone) referred to as slickrock is actually not slick at all. In fact, areas with slickrock are popular for biking and hiking because it is quite textured and grips particularly well to rubber soled shoes and tires. We tested out this theory a few times on some steep sections. Sure enough you can easily walk up and down the slickrock.
After about a mile the wash ended, the pools disappeared and we found ourselves traveling a well trodden path back into the canyon. The trail disappeared into a tangle of brush, loose rocks and sand on an increasingly steep surface after another half mile or so. Time to turn around.
For our next hike we made the somewhat foolish decision to stay in Zion Canyon. The lure of an easy ride on the shuttle, combined with our desire for a short hike to what has been described as “an oasis in the desert” drew us in. How silly that we didn’t take into consideration the fact that it was a weekend, a holiday weekend at that, and the popularity of this family friendly trail. The Emerald Pools hike is a short trek up to a series of small pools and waterfalls. We decided to lengthen the trail by staring a ways up the canyon on the Kayenta trail. It was a beautiful short hike above the Virgin River with views of Zion Canyon to the south.
When the Kayenta trail met the Emerald Pools trails we hiked a steep 1/4 mile section up to the upper pools. Here’s where the crowds began. The entire 1/4 mile was a solid line of people. The pools, or should I say pool, was crowded with people standing, sitting, taking pictures and scrambling over rocks.
The upper pool was not very impressive. There was nothing even remotely emerald about it. Instead it was a reddish-brown pool of water with a few trickles of water flowing down the rocks above.
More impressive than the pool was the very, very tall canyon walls that surrounded us.
We made our way down the trail to the lower pools. Again, the pool itself wasn’t much to look at, but the rock formations around the pool were pretty cool. I can imagine that earlier in the spring when the water is really flowing off the rocks this is a much better hike.
We completed the loop by following the Emerald Pools trail back down to the river.
All in all it was not a bad way to spend an hour or so, but we enjoyed the Many Pools hike far more than the crowded Emerald Pools. For the rest of our time here in Zion I think we’ll limit our hikes in Zion Canyon to the longer, less crowded, trails. In the meantime we plan to hike many more of the East Canyon trails.