The Ultimate Southwest Vacation includes Zion National Park, Utah!
Stay in Mount Carmel Junction, the heart of the parks, and
visit the treasures of the Southwest.
Zion Park 12 miles
Grand Staircase 9 miles
Sand Dunes 11 miles
Dixie Forest 22 miles
Cedar Breaks 45 miles
Red Canyon 47 miles
Coyote Butte 57 miles
Bryce Canyon 60 miles
North Rim 85 miles
Toroweap 90 miles
Plan your Zion National Park Vacation with our Utah Maps and
In these pages you will find insiders information on Zion National
Park lodging, adventures and hikes. This detailed guide includes road maps, park
maps, pictures, trail beta, backpacking, history, fees, geology, flora, fauna,
campgrounds, things for kids to do and even information on Zion's hidden treasures.
Making summer memories in the Utah National Parks and National
Directions to Zion National Park From Salt Lake City: Travel I-15 south, past Beaver.
Exit on Hwy 20. Follow US-89 to Mount Carmel Junction. Take U-9 to Zion's east
entrance. From Arizona: Travel 89A through Fredonia, Arizona
and Kanab Utah. Follow US-89 to to Mount Carmel Junction. Take U-9 to the east
park entrance. From Las Vegas: Travel I-15 north. Take exit 16 and
travel through Hurricane. Make a right on U-9 at the second traffic light in
LaVerkin. Continue on U-9 to the south entrance of the park. U-9 through Zion
National Park is always open and is also called the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway.
GPS coordinates are only references and may or may not be accurate. Do not rely on GPS coordinates as the sole method of navigation. Always have an accurate, detailed map at hand and have the proper map reading and navigation skills before setting out on any hike. Many of the hikes listed in this guide travel into canyons where a GPS has limited capabilities. Always check your position with a detailed map before dropping into a canyon.
Suggested Equipment: Wear sturdy shoes with good quality sticky rubber to hike the slickrock in Zion . Those that like low tops will enjoy a good quality rubber shoe like the La Sportiva Exum River shoes.
Checkerboard Mesa Hike
Entering Zion National Park from the east entrance immediately reveals a colorful display of orange, brown and white slickrock that includes one of the parks landmarks, Checkerboard Mesa. The majestic criss-crossed mountain appears as a massive hill towering 900 feet above the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway and resembles a giant, extended chess or checkerboard. The vertical and horizontal fissures are more evident on the north side of the mesa, where most of the photographs of the mountain are taken. The left to right deep scratches are due to a north to south wind direction while the vertical cracks are a result of weathering, a cycle of freezing and thawing. Change still continues in the park, so much in fact that the massive monoliths will eventually break down and once again become great dunes of sand. Immediately west of Checkerboard Mesa is Crazy Quilt Mesa, another wonderful example of cross-bedding. Checkerboard Mesa was once known as Rock Candy Mountain, but in 1938 the superintendent of the park gave it the name we use today. Our trail report for this issue will take hikers on a fascinating hike that few have done. You will venture up the side of Checkerboard Mesa to the northern tip where you can look down upon the magnificent smooth stone hills , desert tanks and odd shaped outcroppings of twisted and manipulated sandstone seen in various shapes and sizes on the east side of Zion.
See our vacation planning section for classic Zion National Park trails or glance at our favorite Zion National Park trails list or choose from a complete Zion National Park hiking guide.
Checkerboard Mesa at a Glance Photo Album: Checkerboard Mesa Pictures Trail Map: Checkerboard Mesa Summit Map Day Hike: Yes Distance: 2 miles round-trip. Average Hiking Time: 4 hours Equipment: Sturdy hiking shoes with sticky rubber soles should always be worn when hiking on slickrock to ensure safer footing. Bring emergency equipment, plenty of water and energy snacks. Difficulty: This is a strenuous uphill route with a lot of bushwhacking, but the relatively short distance makes it a hike that can be done in a fairly short amount of time. Navigation skills are required. Sun Exposure: You will be in full sun most of the hike. Trail Usage: This is one of Zion's main landmarks, but few venture past the viewpoint or parking lot just off the side of the road, therefore the route get little use. Permits: Not required. Trailhead: Checkerboard Mesa viewpoint parking lot. Trailend: Same as the trailhead. Trail Access: Highway 9 (Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway) is open year-round, but the route itself can be difficult during the summer when vegetation growth restricts the trail. Best Season: Spring, summer and fall. Snow and ice on the northern exposed chute, and eastern sloping ledge can make travel extremely dangerous during winter and early spring. Elevation Gain: 900 feet Off the Beaten Path: Yes
Parking - Drive to the east entrance of the park where you will find the Checkerboard Mesa pullout and view point, just east of the toll booth. Walk west along Highway 9 until you are at the base of Checkerboard Mesa.
The Wash - Follow the drainage on the east side of the mesa that runs along the slickrock, bypassing several potholes. Before too long the path becomes a sandy wash, winding southerly and ascending to the saddle that separates the more popular area north of Highway 9 from the less visited plateaus above Parunuweap. Stay in the wash as much as possible, passing the social trails that split off to the left, heading into the shrubbery on the hillside above. You will find the travel easier if you stay against the mountain and your hike will result in less erosion to the hillsides on either side of the drainage. There will be a few dry-falls along the route that can usually be avoided by going left, up and then around. The ascent will increase as the top of the saddle becomes more obvious. Watch for a visible trail that emerges and ascends through the trees. This "trail" will take you out of the drainage where you need to then locate the path which branches to the right before it reaches the actual saddle highpoint. The path demands that you scramble up a short 8-foot cliff band. Soon you will come to the forested ledge just below, and east of the Checkerboard Mesa tabletop. Now it is necessary to switch direction and travel north, back toward Highway 9, hiking on top of the ledge. Stay to the right, and just above the developing cliff so that you avoid even denser foliage up high. The use of game trails will make travel easier. This way is simpler than trying to ascend to the base of the caprock that comprises the Checkerboard Mesa table-top. Continue north for several hundred yards to the promontory just north and below the actual tabletop. Soon the terrain will level out and spectacular views appear. There is a good flat area to sit and have lunch. After lunch walk around and marvel at the expansive views of slickrock country.
The foliage has been losing its freshness through the month of August, and here and there a yellow leaf shows itself like the first gray hair amidst the locks of a beauty who has seen one season too many.
~Oliver Wendell Holmes