With its distinctive cross-hatching patterns on a cone-shaped White Cliffs formation, Checkerboard Mesa is one of the most recognizable and photogenic landmarks in Zion National Park. Tourists who drive Route 9 through the Upper East Canyon can stop and view the formation at the Checkerboard Mesa parking lot and viewing area located just down the road from the East Entrance ranger station. The drainage just to the west is unofficially known as Checkerboard Mesa Canyon and makes for a pleasant little hike. This drainage is also the gateway for longer hikes on the Parunuweap side of the White Cliffs.
A hike up Checkerboard Mesa Canyon to the saddle (highpoint) could take 2-4 hours at a moderate pace. Starting at the large parking area or one of the smaller pull-offs down the road, carefully walk along the road to find the mouth of the drainage west of Checkerboard Mesa alongside the neighboring formation traditionally known as "Crazy Quilt Mesa" and begin hiking up the canyon. The hike is moderately strenuous with pleasant canyon scenery comparable to the more well-known Hidden Canyon.
While there are no difficult obstacle challenges in this hike, you will have to scramble up a few boulders. The one major boulder obstacle has an easy walk-around path above it. The crux of the hike is the final push to the top of the saddle, a steep sandy hill with a trail of use that takes you up several hundred feet to the top. Once on top of the saddle, you can enjoy views in both directions--to the north, you can see the White Cliffs north of Route 9 and to the south, you catch your first glimpse of the vast scenery above Parunuweap Canyon far in the distance. If the saddle was your destination, this high point is a great place to have lunch and then return the way you came.
Checkerboard Mesa Canyon is also used as the gateway to longer adventures, including hiking all the way down to remote Parunuweap Canyon via the "Checkerboard Mesa Escape Route" and the Misery Canyon technical canyoneering route. Random exploration of the hills and formations on the south side of the White Cliffs is also pleasant and you could turn this into a loop hike by using Separation Canyon to the west as an alternate start or exit. WARNING: All of these longer routes require preparation and excellent navigation skills. Be sure to bring any navigation aids (maps, GPS, compass, etc.) and know how to use them.
While not in any top-ten list of things to do in Zion, this little drainage makes for a fun little hike in lesser-travelled territory. If you are a fan of Hidden Canyon, the scenery and feel of this canyon should be right up your alley.