Separation Canyon and Checkerboard Mesa Canyon hike

These two canyons are on the upper east side of Zion, near Checkerboard Mesa. Neither appear on national park maps or trail descriptions. If fact, there are no trails, save an occasional use-trail. Route finding, which is relatively easy, is mandatory. Karen and I have been in Separation Canyon a couple of times.

Mark wanted to take Chase hiking in someplace less crowded than the main canyon, so with a little research on the web and perusing the relevant topographic maps, I put together a route that I thought would be interesting. We would head up (south) Separation Canyon. After exiting the head of the canyon, we would circle around to the east to the next canyon (Checkerboard Canyon) and then head down (north) it back to the road and the car. It would be over 5 miles.

The bottom of Separation Canyon has a dryfall that would be impassable for us, so we bypassed it by walking in from the east a ways. I remember struggling with the route here the first time, but now I’ve got it figured out. This is an open canyon and we stayed to the left (east) side, even detouring into the large, juniper and pine filled bowl. I began to see signs of bighorn sheep and hoped we’d spot some. We circumnavigated the bowl and then reached the top of the canyon. This part was pretty sandy.

Hiking into the bowl in Separation Canyon

After topping out, we could see a vast drainage down to the Parunaweep Canyon. We cross-countried to the east, across a couple of low ridges, until we could access the head of Checkerboard Canyon across a slab of slanty slickrock. We came across a spot where bighorns had loitered for a while recently—lots of droppings and still damp urine spots. But we hadn’t seen any sheep.

Slickrock abounds

The head of Checkerboard Canyon was like a big sand dune that dropped steeply into the canyon running to the north. I am definitely glad we did not choose to come up that canyon. When we got down to the rocky parts, the canyon closed in and became narrow. At one point we heard a rock tumble down to the canyon floor and froze, hoping it would miss us. As we scanned the side of the canyon to see if any more rocks might be falling we spotted the bighorns. We saw 3 adults and 2 kids, grazing on the brush. One of them must have dislodged the rock. That was lucky for us because we would never have spotted them otherwise. We watched them for quite a while.

Checkerboard Canyon

After getting back to highway 9 we walked along Pine Creek (roughly) to get back to the car. We covered a little less than 6 miles.

Here’s a photo of the track we followed.

Track for Separation and Checkerboard Canyons hike

Track for Separation and Checkerboard Canyons hike

St. George 2015 photo gallery

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