Distance and elevation gain: Varies
Trail type: Combination sandy soil and slickrock
Multi-use: Hiking and biking
Seasonality: All year (very cold in winter, very hot in summer)
Bathroom: Pit toilets at trailhead
While Gooseberry Mesa is more known for its mountain biking, being on foot allows hikers to soak up all the views. Photo: Jay Dash Photography
While millions of people come to Southern Utah for Zion National Park, unique hiking experiences outside the park boundary often go overlooked. The deep slot canyons of Zion are no doubt the most impressive, but the mouths of these unfold into vast expanses of more canyon country in the surrounding desert. Getting out into the distance is the only way to fully see the contrast of Zion’s white and yellow cliffs towering over red rock creations all around.
Gooseberry Mesa is positioned to have vantage of it all, and the wind-sculpted rock surface atop this large plateau creates a world all its own. This gem of BLM land is most well known as a mountain biking destination and attracts riders from all over the world. Undulating slickrock and tight cliffside tracks make for a thrilling time on wheels, but the big-picture scenery is best admired on foot, allowing time to take it all in. Looking up reveals the tall, white sentinels of Zion, the red spires of Eagle Crags, the verdant Virgin River Valley, sandy hills surrounding St. George, and seasonally snow-capped summits of distant mountains. Looking down can find wildlife like lizards, hares, snakes, deer, and coyotes as well as finer scenery like blooming cacti, wildflowers, and tiny fossils.
The area offers a variety of trails. Most of them traverse the slickrock, winding in and out of grooves and bowls that time has carved into a solidified sea of ancient sand dunes. Total elevation gain is never great, but numerous little ups and downs make for sore legs by the end of the day. Navigating a bare rock landscape is normally a challenge, with no beaten path and few landmarks to follow, but at Gooseberry the trails are marked with white blazes on the ground that are easy to follow. Straying from these, however, an unwary hiker can quickly become disoriented in the maze of terrain.
Hikers should also be attentive to the presence of mountain bikers, who may come around blind corners and over hilltops at high speed. Listen for them coming and be prepared to quickly yield the right of way. There are enough trails here to spread out the traffic, however, so there is generally plenty of space to share.
While bikers may want to link many trails in a day, hikers will prefer to link a diversity of scenery in a fairly direct route, and there are a handful of good options. A 9.7-mile loop connects the relatively casual White Trail with a spectacular overlook called The Point, then back along the panoramic South Rim Trail. A longer variation (about 12 miles roundtrip) provides even better views northward to Zion by taking North Rim Trail instead of White Trail. A shorter alternative is to hike Windmill Trail, which follows the north rim on a sandy path instead of slickrock, but still gives awesome views to the north.
Gooseberry Mesa is only a short trip from Hurricane, Utah along S.R. 59 and then a bumpy dirt road. Hiking here is an easy day trip, but then dispersed camping is free on BLM land along the dirt road. Be sure to leave no trace by camping only in spots that have clearly been used before, and avoid trampling or driving on dark-colored soil crust. A more comfortable option is one of the privately owned yurts near the trailhead, available for advance reservation.
Though Gooseberry Mesa is off the radar for many hikers, it does not deserve to be overlooked. Shoulder seasons and weekdays can find this place nearly deserted, and even busy weekends are not crowded compared to nearby destinations like Zion or Snow Canyon. Though more subtle than the cliffs of its charismatic neighbors, Gooseberry’s unique slickrock landscape is nonetheless fascinating and the mesa rim provides views of it all for miles around.
Water is not available anywhere on the mesa, so bring plenty, as well as sun protection during any time of year.
Nearest destination: Hurricane, Utah, 45 minutes
Where to park: Trailhead along dirt Gooseberry Mesa Road
Trailhead GPS coordinates:
Main Trailhead and parking area 37.141776, -113.153455
White Trailhead 37.141637, -113.171782
Windmill Trailhead 37.156976, -113.166654
Originally written by RootsRated for Utah Office of Tourism.