I hiked the Kayenta Trail to the Emerald Pools in Zion National Park and had a delightful surprise.
The trail is listed on the park map as a 1.5-hour hike on an unpaved path with moderate drop-offs and a 150-foot elevation gain. It says it’s connected to the Emerald Pools. Of the Emerald Pools themselves, little is said and that’s where the surprise comes in.
Of the Emerald Pools, all that is said is that there are lower, middle and upper pool trails. That is all the National Park Service deemed fit to tell. But this is their way – insanely understated.
Since the weather had been 100+ degrees for weeks and dry as a bone, any mention of “pool” sounded good to me, so off I went.
Running along the Virgin River, the trail was lightly trafficked on the day I went in the late afternoon and had scenic views. Alongside the river are massive canyon walls.
About one mile along the trail, it becomes more cliff-life and the mossy signs of the nearby pool start to appear. Along with the moss, there was an unexpected noise. At first, I thought it must have been another hiker playing a sound on a device. At first, I thought it sounded like an animal in distress, braying from somewhere within the canyon.
As I hiked, the noise would stop for a minute and I was sure it was another hiker playing a sound, but then after a few minutes, it would start up again. It must be an animal, I thought, but why was it so persistent. Was it hurt?
Finally, I reached the pool.
Three pools in the canyon create a unique oasis in this desert environment and provide year-round habitat for aquatic green algae, which is what the “Emerald Pools” are named. There is a distinct green cast to them.
The rock ledge above the pools seems to hang above the head. From it, mosses and grasses add bright green color to the rock face.
The softer rock layers have eroded, leaving a 100-foot drop and a waterfall that cascades into the lower pool. When I was there during a drought in mid-June, the waterfall is minor but still spectacular in this otherwise dry landscape. Though they say in spring, snowmelt causes a much more spectacular waterfall.
I looked around for a wounded animal but saw nothing. Likewise, nobody was playing a sound on their phone, yet the bleating noise continued.
I stopped a few hikers coming from another direction.
“What’s that noise?” I asked.
They all laughed.
“We wondered the same thing,” a woman answered. “It’s frogs.”
What I learned was that Canyon Tree Frogs are common in the Emerald Pools. It sounds, in hindsight, exactly like a bleating sheep and it is loud.
The shape of the canyon overhangs from the cliff face, making the sound of the frog’s echo and the noise much louder than it would be in another space.
I stood for a while with my binoculars at the lower pool, trying to spot a frog, but they blend very well and I couldn’t spot one.
What I didn’t know when I started on the Kayenta trail was that you could also get to the same spot from the much more accessible, paved “Grotto Trail.” The Grotto Trail would be a perfect trail and excellent hike to the Lower Emerald Pool for children, who will delight in the surprise.
Also, if you enter the pool area from the Grotto Trail, there is a sign that tells you about the frogs, so you aren’t left wondering for a long time, but you’ll also miss out on the suspense of the mysterious canyon noise.
Find Zion National Park in Springdale, Utah