Type VI CRISPR enzymes cleave target RNAs and are widely used for gene regulation, RNA tracking, and diagnostics. However, a systematic understanding of their RNA binding specificity and cleavage activation is lacking. Here, we describe RNA chip-hybridized association-mapping platform (RNA-CHAMP), a massively parallel platform that repurposes next-generation DNA sequencing chips to measure the binding affinity for over 10,000 RNA targets containing structural perturbations, mismatches, insertions, and deletions relative to the CRISPR RNA (crRNA). Deep profiling of Cas13d, a compact and widely used RNA nuclease, reveals that it does not require a protospacer flanking sequence (PFS) but is exquisitely sensitive to secondary structure within the target RNA. Cas13d binding is strongly penalized by mismatches, insertions, and deletions in the distal crRNA-target RNA regions, while alterations in the proximal region inhibit nuclease activity without affecting binding. A biophysical model built from these data reveals that target recognition begins at the distal end of unstructured target RNAs and proceeds to the proximal end. Using this model, we designed a series of partially mismatched guide RNAs that modulate nuclease activity to detect single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants. This work describes the key determinants of RNA targeting by a type VI CRISPR enzyme to improve CRISPR diagnostics and in vivo RNA editing. More broadly, RNA-CHAMP provides a quantitative platform for systematically measuring protein-RNA interactions.