Submitted by the Kanab Visitors Center
Raw nature surrounds Kanab, a wild west town in the red heart of southwest Utah’s rugged canyon country. Filled with friendly locals, classy dining, lodging and campgrounds, and interesting historical sites, the compact town, lying near the Arizona border, is the gateway to three iconic national parks, five national monuments, a national recreation area, and a of couple state parks. These spectacular parklands, all a day trip from Kanab, are realms of solitude, freedom, rock, and sky. The Kanab area also offers a wealth of outdoor adventures, including hiking, photography, off-roading, canyoneering, rock climbing, mountain and road biking, sightseeing, and some of Utah’s best scenic drives.
Mormon farmers first settled Kanab, meaning “place of the willows” in Paiute, in the 1860s, but the Kanab Creek flash-flood in 1883 gouged a deep arroyo. The pioneers persevered and turned to ranching until Hollywood discovered the area’s natural beauty in the 1920s. Over 150 television series and films have been shot in the area, including The Lone Ranger, Gunsmoke, and The Greatest Story Ever Told. Since those early days, Kanab has become more than a stopover for national park visitors, and now serves as a basecamp for exploring the area’s natural wonders. Here’s a look at the best activities and places around Kanab — “The Greatest Earth on Show.”
Zion National Park
Zion National Park, about 35 miles northwest of Kanab, is one of Utah’s crown jewels and spreads across 146,597 acres of deep canyons, soaring cliffs, and sculptured sandstone mountains. The busy park, composed of eight geologic formations, is dissected by the 2,300-foot-deep Zion Canyon, a dramatic gorge carved by the Virgin River. Most visitors explore Zion by riding a park shuttle to hiking trails that lead to overlooks, seeping springs, and hidden side canyons. You can access the park from Kanab on the twisting Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway, passing Checkerboard and Crazy Quilt Mesas, as well as Canyon Overlook and East Rim trails, before passing through a long tunnel into Zion Canyon. If you want to get away from summer crowds, head for the remote Kolob Canyons on Zion’s west side.
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, lying west of Kanab, is a natural wonder of red sand dunes pressed against the edge of the Moquith Mountains. Westerly winds carry tiny grains of sand, composed of eroded Navajo sandstone, and shapes them into high rippled dunes. The 3,730-acre state park is the only dune field on the Colorado Plateau. You can study the unique plants and animals living there, including the rare Coral Pink Sand Dunes tiger beetle, or drive off-highway vehicles (OHVs) on over 2,000 sandy acres. Four-wheeler riders like the South Boundary Trail and Sand Highway for off-road fun.
Grand Staircase National Monument
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument boundaries were modified by presidential proclamation in December 2017 which reduced the size of the overall monument and separated the monument into three distinct units: Grand Staircase, Kaiparowits, and Escalante Canyon.
The three units include a vast treasure chest of geologic and other natural wonders. Over 250 million years of Earth’s geologic history reveals itself in the technicolor cliffs within the monument. The land is among the most remote in the country being the last to be mapped in the contiguous United States. Themed visitor centers are located in the towns bordering the monument: Kanab hosts the Archaeological/Geologic Center. Big Water is home to a fascinating Paleontology exhibit. The Cannonville Visitor Center explains early Paiute and Pioneer life. Escalante Visitor Center shares scientific discoveries in botany, ecology, and biology.
The Grand Staircase unit is the western part of the monument which includes the Paunsaugunt Plateau bordering the Paria River, and is adjacent to Bryce Canyon National Park. This section shows the geologic progression of the Grand Staircase. Visitors can access this unit from Johnson Canyon Road and Skutumpah Road. Features include the slot canyons of Bull Valley Gorge, Willis Creek, and Lick Wash.
The Kaiparowits Plateau unit is the large, elevated landform which makes up the largest portion of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Its extension to the southeast, Fifty-Mile Mountain runs nearly to the Colorado River and Lake Powell. An extension of the plateau’s high terrain is known as Smoky Mountain. Visitors can access this part of the monument on the Cottonwood Canyon road or Smoky Mountain road.
The Escalante Canyon unit is the northeastern unit of the monument. It is bordered by the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area on the east and south. The popular hiking, backpacking, and canyoneering areas include the slot canyons of Peekaboo, Spooky, and Brimstone Canyons, and the backpacking areas of lower Coyote Gulch and Harris Wash. The Devil’s Garden is also located in this area. Access is via the Hole-in-the-Rock Road which extends southeast from the town of Escalante, along the base of Fifty-Mile Mountain.
Kodachrome Basin State Park
Kodachrome Basin State Park is a compact 2,240-acre parkland tucked against the northwest edge of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. This small but spectacular state park, named for its garish Kodachrome film colors, protects 67 bizarre rock pillars called sand pipes that rise from six- to 170-feet high. It’s unknown how these stone sentries formed. Exploring the park is a fun day trip from Kanab, with six trails winding among the towering rock formations. The six-mile Panorama Trail explores the western side of the park, passing Cool Cave and Secret Passage, while the 1.7-mile Shakespeare Arch/Sentinel Trail accesses soaring Shakespeare Arch. Campers can stay overnight in two campgrounds.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon is a fairyland of standing hoodoos, or skinny sandstone spires, crammed into four square miles in Bryce Amphitheater just an hour’s drive north of Kanab. The strange formations, thought by the Paiute Indians to be rock-frozen people, glow yellow, orange, and red in bright sunlight. Come at sunrise for the best incandescent colors, but don’t forget a jacket. It’s chilly at 8,000 feet above the hoodoos. The best way to see the park is by foot, following trails that twist among the maze of spires. Favorite hikes are the 5.5-mile Peekaboo-Queens Garden Loop, the eight-mile Fairyland Loop Trail, and the short Moss Cave Trail. Expect solitude and privacy in the backcountry. Cyclists enjoy a 22-mile paved trail on the rim that’s closed to motor vehicles.
Buckskin Gulch, White Pocket, and The Wave
The Kanab area is a national scenic treasure with some of the planet’s most spectacular vistas and rock formations. Buckskin Gulch, The Wave, and White Pocket, all east of Kanab, are three special areas that are simply out of this world.
Buckskin Gulch, one of the longest and deepest slot canyons in the United States, runs more than 13 miles to Paria Canyon. Hiking Buckskin is an extreme adventure, with wading, scrambling, and swimming through its dark passage. The best hike starts at Wire Pass Trailhead and heads down the canyon to the Paria River, then back to White House Trailhead for a 21-mile loop.
White Pocket is an impressive and remote area of swirling sandstones reached by a long 4×4 road in northern Arizona’s Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. Photographers and hikers love exploring its slickrock sculptures reflected in pools of water.
The Wave in the Coyote Buttes area by the Arizona border is beautiful with its curved strata breaking like a sandstone wave. Visitation at the fragile area is limited to 20 people a day. Permits can be reserved ahead through an online lottery or by showing up at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Center in Kanab for next-day hikes. Nearby are more wonders like Melody Arch, Top Rock, Sand Cove, and the Second Wave.
So wherever you choose to explore, make it a great and safe adventure.