Each time we return to Zion National Park, we try to pick new routes. The main trails are all worth doing over, but some of the extended routes, scamble routes, and side canyons are also exciting destinations. On this last trip, I scrambled up Checkerboard Mesa and also hiked the West Rim Trail. Many people hike the West Rim from top to bottom in a backpack, but I chose to hike up and back in one day, a long and hot one.
The trail starts at the same trailhead for Angels Landing and hordes of people of all abilities climb the hill to Scouts Landing to contemplate or attempt the hike (Angels Landing story). On this day, I turned off at Scouts Landing to climb the ridge above toward the West Rim.
The route beyond climbs over slickrock onto a ridge into a back valley, traverses over a gully and then climbs up through another canyon (there was snow on the north side) before switchbacking up the the sheer sandstone cliffs to the top of the plateau. From the top, the trail splits into two. I followed the Canyon Rim Trail as it skirted the edge of the escarpment high over brightly-colored canyons, ridges, buttes, and domes. After a few miles, the plateau to the west became forested and the trail eventually left the canyons to head to Lava Point, another half day of hiking beyond, but my turn-around point for a long day's hike on this occasion.
All of the views in Zion are impressive, but to really see the area, you have to hike from the Virgin River at the bottom of the valley up to the plateau above to get the best perspectives.
This is a trail that provides outstanding views for the whole route. As I hiked higher and went through a series of canyons, new perspectives were constantly presented. From the top, I could look down into a series of slot canyons, a number of which are traversed by canyoneers, especially Benuhin Canyon (link) and Heaps Canyon. Standing above these are sheer-sided buttes and mountains – Mount Majestic, Cathedral Mountain, the Great White Thorne, and Castle Dome,
Doing this out-and-back hike from the bottom is about 12km return (depending on where you choose to rutn around) with a 2900 foot elevation difference each way (4400 ft. to 7300 ft.). The only water is a seep spring at the edge of the mesa, 4.5 km along the trail. You will need filtration before drinking the water, though. A one-way hike from the top at Lava Point to the bottom is 14.2 km, but will require a ride to the West Mesa (about an hour from the Visitors Center) or a two car system. That will be our next venture in Zion.
Like a number of other trails in Zion, the final route up to the plateau above goes up a sheer sandstone face on carved ledges with many sheer drop-offs. This provides great views, but is not for anyone with a fear of heights. Angels Landing has far more exposure, but the West Rim trail, Observation Point, Hidden Canyon, and many of the slot canyons have some exciting sections for the hiker. A little adreneline adds to the experience.