View of Zion Canyon from the Watchman Trail
Despite starting at the main visitors center at the entrance to Zion National Park, the Watchman Trail is a lot less crowded than some of the park’s other notable trails and gives off great views of the park’s features and nearby town of Springdale.
The trail begins by winding next to the picturesque Virgin River until crossing a service road and heading into an incline. The trail heads into the north side of a canyon and continues to the very back, where it turns around 180 degrees to take you along the south of the same canyon, with a moderate upgrade the entire way.
Once you get to the mouth of the canyon on the south side, the trail loops around to give you spectacular views of Zion Canyon to the north and Springdale to the south. After completing the loop, you’ll head back down the way you came, with the Virgin River waiting at the end for a cool dip.
Waterfall dropping to the Lower Emerald Pool
The Emerald Pools Trail – along with the adjacent Kayenta Trail – is one of the classic and most popular hikes in Zion National Park. At about 4 miles long with an elevation gain of around 400 feet at the uppermost pool, the route I took is moderate and also included the Grotto Trail connecting that picnic area with Zion Lodge.
After leaving the lodge parking area and crossing over the bridge over the Virgin River, the trail nudges upward, giving great views of the river, before turning west into the canyon. The trail continues to climb steadily about 150 feet until you reach the Lower Emerald Pool at the bottom of two waterfalls, which the trail skirts under, although the rails help you through the wet and slippery area.
After circling the lower pool, the trail turns into a quick climb to the source of those waterfalls – the Middle Emerald Pool. The final leg of the trail shoots up about 200 feet in half a mile and leads to the Upper Emerald Pool, with a majestic waterfall dropping hundreds of feet into the pool that is hemmed in on 3 sides by cliffs.
From the middle pool, you can return to the trailhead via the Middle Emerald Pool Trail. I chose to return via the approximately one-mile long Kayenta Trail, which crosses the Virgin River at the Grotto picnic area. The quick and easy Grotto Trail – just over half a mile with negligible elevation gain – connects that picnic area with Zion Lodge.