If you're a rookie sightseer and haven't quite progressed to the epic views of the Grand Canyon yet, Zion National Park is the perfect nature spot to give your eyes an aesthetic feast. Located amongst the sea of rusty orange that is the state of Utah, Zion National Park is rich with history and wildlife, and an example of natural beauty like no other.
I passed through Zion National Park last August, which is debatably a good time to go based on how long you like to sit in the sun versus how sweaty you fancy getting after hiking round a few cliffs. If you're driving, I would advise parking near one of the free shuttle bus stops on the way to the park. The buses stop at a multitude of locations depending on how far in you wish to go, but in this instance, I chose to take the Emerald Pools trail.
After I was dropped off by the gift shop there laid before me three signs: lower pool – 0.6 miles away, middle pools, 1 mile away, upper pools, 1.5 miles away. When you're faced with this kind of decision in August, the gift shop seems most appealing. However, armed with my $4 flask of water, (the park disallows personal plastic bottles and instead encourages visitors to buy a flask and refill it at the fountain free of charge)I headed for the first pool.
The waterfall of the first pool
Adjacent to a beautiful body of water lies the first of many of the Emerald Trails, which mostly involve slightly ominous low cliffs which the visitor can scale at their leisure, with the help of handy signs. It's comforting to see here that Zion is very popular, and with the volume of people there was no danger of me losing my way or my progressively depleting bottle of water. (I'd advise at this point to carry more than 1l for two people; in fact the guide book suggests at least a litre each.)
After ascending for a while I hit the first, and in my opinion, most beautiful of all the emerald pools – this one with a waterfall cascading over muddy orange rocks. I have to say the waterfall, which fell right into my path, was rather welcome, as it bore more of a resemblance to a light mist than to Niagara.
After freshening up in the lower pool, 0.4 miles seemed miniscule, and thus began the second hike, this time with a barrage of natural obstacles such as sandy steps and ants. (Might I advise at this point to wear sensible walking shoes and not flimsy sandals.) The second pool was not quite as impressive; it was more of a placid stream than a 'pool,' but its slightly underwhelming nature paved the way for the visually stunning spectacle that would lay before me on my way to the third pool.
The stunning view on the way to the third pool
After scaling even more tricky sand, angry ants and even a lumberjack, there stood the most gorgeous view of the valley below me, putting into perspective just how high I had climbed. The view was just a few more slippery rocks before the final pool, but this was a photo opportunity not to be missed. Eventually, after getting in enough hikers' way, I made my way up to the final pool, which seemed to be some kind of reward for the treacherous uphill journey I had just taken.
I should reiterate the importance of good shoes at this point too – before you can enter the third pool, you must battle the large and uncertain path of rocks and trees, but ultimately, it is worth it. The largest of the three pools, the upper pools lay below a towering trio of cliffs, with large rocks to sit and reflect on in the middle of the water. Were it not for the few families with young children around me, I would have described the atmosphere as utopian, or at the very least, like something picturesque out of The Lion King.
The upper pool
Of course, what goes up, must come down. The walk down seemed more treacherous in parts and less treacherous in others than the ascent, but ultimately, it took a lot less time to get back to the gift shop. After a good two hours of hiking, I rewarded myself with a 'twister' ice cream (chocolate and vanilla swirl – delicious!) and headed for the shuttle bus home.
While I appreciate I only saw a fraction of what Zion National Park has to offer, I would highly recommend the Emerald Trail to anybody. At a flat entrance fee of $25 to enter the park, you can take as much or as little advantage of the price as you want, and it's nice to even learn a thing or two about its history while riding the shuttle bus. So next time you're in Utah and fancy some sun, give Zion a try – just make sure you bring the right shoes.