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Zion National Park Day 2: Riverside Walk, Weeping Rock, and Emerald Pools

Updated: Jan 5

Going to a higher elevation destination like Zion National Park early in the year brings with it some risk of trails being closed, treacherous, and/or inaccessible. Especially after a big snow year like this past winter has been for the West. We knew this going into the trip and were just hoping for the best.


One of the renowned hikes we were hoping we might be able to do on this trip was hiking through The Narrows (either 16 miles or 10 miles roundtrip, depending on which route you take). Well, that definitely wasn't a possibility this year. According to the experts monitoring the flowage of the Virgin River, the volume had exceeded 600 cubic feet per second (CFS), and only when the flow is less than 150 CFS for 24 hours will The Narrows reopen. So, we did the only "Narrows" hike we could: Riverside Walk – a 3.22-mile "hike" on a paved trail that parallels Virgin River.


Riverside Walk


After driving from our home base in La Verkin, UT, to Zion, we decided that parking and jumping on a shuttle bus would be the best (and in some ways, the only) way to get around the park today. The lot we parked in yesterday was already completely full, so we continued farther into the park and found an overflow parking lot with lots of open spaces. The morning air was still chilly, so we layered up and donned our hiking gear with water bladders for the day's adventures, which would amount to over 7.5 miles of hiking (plus some extra just for walking around).


In addition to not being able to hike in The Narrows, a really big disappointment to me was the fact that we didn't win advance permits in the lottery to hike up to Angels Landing, one of the most well-known hikes in Zion, and one that I particularly wanted to do. So, from the overflow lot this morning, after we parked the Jeep, each of us got on our phones and submitted "day-before" permit requests to hike Angels Landing the following day. It was our last chance and we had to wait all day to find out if any of us were the lucky winners. Better distract ourselves with other hikes in the meantime!


After a few minutes of walking through an empty campground adjacent to the overflow lot, we arrived at shuttle stop #1. In no time, we boarded the bus and were on our way to the Temple of Sinawava, where we would begin our consolation hike on the paved trail.


The first thing we saw on the trail was a tall waterfall cascading down into a gushing Virgin River! Seemingly, this falls is unnamed, because we couldn't find a sign or any indication of its name on a map, but it was a nice surprise to kick off our riverside walk.




This paved trail was busy with slightly fewer fat, friendly squirrels than walkers. We'd seen signs posted all over, telling people not to feed the wildlife, and some even warned of fines if caught doing so. I could not believe how equally ubiquitous and tame these squirrels along the trail were. And all hopeful for a handout. Such a shame. Children were stopping to practically pet them as they strolled past.


But all of the scenery surrounding the trail was incredible, as long as you watched where you stepped. My husband nearly squashed a squirrel. The squirrel was unfazed.





The river was flowing pretty good...








We meandered along the Riverside Walk Trail until we could make it no farther, and then we turned around and made our way back to the shuttle stop, so we could ride to our next trailhead: Weeping Rock.




Weeping Rock Trail


This wasn't so much of a hike as a steep walk up to an awesome waterfall that you could more or less stand behind.


But at this trailhead, just before we got started, we glanced at the posted map. Then a small group of young men approached, kind of scratching their heads. One of them said, "Is anyone else hiking to Observation Point?"


I looked at them, then looked at my husband. He responds and points to the closed chainlink fence to the right of the trail, "That's the route you'd take, but it's closed."


A look of disappointment crossed their faces, and I looked back at my husband, who was already retrieving his waterproof hiking map of Zion from his hiking pack to show them and explain the only alternate route available, which involves leaving the park.


As my husband unfolds the map and spreads it across the posted sign at the trailhead, one of the young men exclaimed, "Where did you get that map?!"



After my husband helped them get it sorted out, they thanked him and another of the young men admitted, "When I saw you were wearing a Garmin watch, I knew you were the right guy to ask," as he picked up his own wrist to reveal his Garmin watch. We all laughed pretty hard. Nerds unite!


The paved walk up to the falls was short but steep in spots with some drenched steps at the very top. Behind the falls was an alcove-type area carved out of the rock wall. The ceiling overhang of this alcove was "raining" water that dripped on everyone beneath it. (According to NationalParked.com, the water that drips from Weeping Rock fell as rain over 1,000 years ago!)



The spray from the falls sufficiently misted everyone and everything in its wake. The floor of the alcove was covered in mud and standing water.






We dodged the puddles as best we could to get to the far end of the alcove for a photo. It was here we reunited with our map/Garmin group, who asked my husband if he'd take their photo under the falls. My husband motions my direction and volunteered me to take their photo. One of the young men quips and points to each of us, "Oh, I see. You do the maps, and you do the photos." I laughed, affirming his assumption, and positioned myself to take their photo. They then returned the favor.



Just then, another small group was making their way to the end of the alcove. We noticed that one of the guys was wearing a hat with a Minnesota emblem on it. Naturally, we all struck up a conversation with that group. They lamented about the never-ending snowy winter they were having and Chad and Shannon agreed. Channeling our best "Minnesota nice," we offered to take their photo before we headed back down to the trailhead.


After getting a tad moist at Weeping Rock, and since we were having such success finding waterfalls with Chad and Shannon on this day, we decided why not get one more hike in today? We were off to see the Emerald Pools.



Emerald Pools


The Zion shuttle appeared at the Weeping Rock bus stop in no time. We boarded and rode to Zion Lodge, from which we walked the trail to The Grotto, crossed the road, and headed up the trail to the first of the waterfalls and "emerald" pools.


First, I need to say that every time we heard someone say "The Grotto," saw a sign for "The Grotto," or talked about "The Grotto," Chad would inevitably start singing Elvis' "In the Ghetto" song, swapping "grotto" for "ghetto." So, that was a running joke (and earworm) the entire time we were in Zion.


Second, when I think of "emerald pools," my mind goes to places like Burney Falls, or the Emerald Pools of the South Fork Yuba River along Bowman Lake Road in Northern California. The Emerald Pools in Zion were slightly less emerald than what we were expecting, but the hike was fun and included some climbing that got your heart going. Plus, the surrounding scenery was awesome.



Lower Emerald Pool. The pool wasn't too emerald when we were there, but the waterfall was fun.



Lower Emerald Pool from above.



Undoubtedly, the most notable part of the Emerald Pools hike was the Upper Emerald Pool with its impressive falls. As we approached this cove, the temperature dropped about 10 degrees, and the air was damp and chilly. The spray from the falls was extremely effective at cooling the air. Once we were in the cove, we were surrounded by towering rock walls.


We had to climb over a bunch of slippery, wet boulders to get closer to the pool.





The views of the canyon once we emerged from the Upper Emerald Pool cove were spectacular.


I swear. We did not intentionally dress alike.


Since this trail could be done as an out-and-back or a loop, we decided to take the loop option so we could enjoy new scenery on the way back. In order to get over to the loop section, however, we had to cross water via a stone path. All of us successfully made it across, but Shannon was accidentally wearing hiking sandals (with socks) and I think her feet might have gotten a touch wet, but she survived and we kept moving along.


This alternate stretch of trail did not disappoint. It was a pretty steady descent the entire way with, again, amazing views of Zion Canyon.







We finished out the loop and walked across the road to Zion Lodge to check out the gift shop/visitor center and, true to form, take a pic of the largest tree we saw in Zion, a cottonwood, before we jumped back on the shuttle bus to head back to the overflow lot.



The shuttle bus dropped us off at the Visitor Center stop, we exited and walked to the Jeep parked in the nearby overflow lot. We passed through the vacant campground once again, and I realized how hungry I had gotten after hiking 7.5 miles, plus quite a bit of additional walking.


Then it also occurred to us we each needed to check on our phones to see if any of us had won the permits for Angels Landing tomorrow.


Of the four of us, Shannon was our lucky charm! She won the necessary permits for us to hike Angels Landing! To say I was elated would be an understatement. What an unexpected surprise and a great way to end our day. Oh, but first, we retrieved our sandwiches and snacks from the cooler, along with the homemade jerky and monster cookies Chad and Shannon brought, grabbed spots at an empty picnic table, and fueled up before heading back to our home base to get ready for dinner out at Stage Coach Grille in La Verkin, where a rousing game of horseshoes preceded our dinner while we waited for our table.


Gah! I couldn't believe we were going to get to hike Angels Landing tomorrow! Somebody pinch me! It was quite possibly the perfect end to a very lovely day in Zion. Especially since we have a history of hiking with Chad and Shannon, aiming to get to a waterfall, and falling short. It was nice to actually get to see several waterfalls on today's hikes in Zion.


And surprisingly, the shuttle bus schedule and route throughout Zion Canyon was easy to navigate and we didn't find it too cumbersome or inconvenient. Buses came and went quickly, so we never had to wait very long to get a ride. Overall, a fantastic day with fantastic weather!



Riverside Walk Trail

Total Distance

3.22 mi

Total Time

59.02

Total Ascent

125 ft

Max Elevation

4,611 ft


Emerald Pools Hike

Total Distance

4.37 mi

Total Time

1:27:28

Total Ascent

515 ft

Max Elevation

4,658 ft


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-Brianna

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