The Ultimate Kanab Adventure Guide
Aug 21, 2020
By: Utah.com Staff
Make time to explore the cliffs, caves, and canyons in this 150-year-old western town dubbed Little Hollywood.
You only have a few hours to spend in Kanab. What do you do? Sit your kanass on an iconic red rock and cry your eyes out. Because that’s not nearly enough time. There is so much to see and do in Kanab, you’re going to want anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. After your visit, you may even decide to join the other 4,800(ish) residents of this recreational community just north of the Utah/Arizona border and make it your permanent basecamp (aka home). But that’s in the future. Dry your tears for now … even if you really do only have a few hours, you can find something to do in this guide.
Stop your station wagon 15 miles north of Kanab and walk/scramble your way through Belly of the Dragon, where walls of fire tunnel under Highway 89. Bring a headlamp because it gets pretty dark in the middle. It’s a mere ½-mile round trip, but you can extend the length of the hike once you emerge into the light at the end of the tunnel. The trail keeps going to a small slot canyon about 4 miles away. Or hop back in your car and explore the Sand Caves, which are located 10 miles down the road from Belly of the Dragon. As with any slot canyon, cave or tunnel, it’s important to check the weather before entering these geological attractions and avoid them during rainy conditions.
Located between Kanab and Lake Powell, The Toadstools is another short-but-scenic hike. This mellow 1-½ miler (out and back) is full of rock formations that look like they belong in a Mario Bros. video game. Ginormous caps perched on slender stone stems are awe-inspiring, as are the views of the Paria River Valley near the turnaround point. There is no shade on this hike and summer temps often surpass triple digits, so plan accordingly.
If you want to stay in the air-conditioned comfort of your car, take the Johnson Canyon driving tour. It’s easy to see why this part of the country has been used as the backdrop for several films and television series. In fact, the road goes past the western movie set for Gunsmoke. In 15 miles you drive Eagle Gate Arch, pioneer farms, fields of sunflowers, Native American writings, and cowboy glyphs. There are also a few ATV trailheads along the way should you feel like trading pavement for bumpy bravement. It’s been said that there are no shortcuts to the top, but there is a shortcut to Buckskin Gulch. When you don’t have time to hike the 20-plus miles of this bucket-list beauty in its entirety, consider Wire Pass Trail instead.
This tributary trail offers direct access to Buckskin Gulch, one of the most stunning slot canyon hikes in Kanab, and quickly transforms from a wide trail littered with lizards and wildflowers to a tight squeeze between steep sandstone walls. Again, check the forecast and stay out of the slot in conditions that could cause flash flooding.
Wire Pass requires a permit and is 3.4 miles round trip, but you can continue exploring Buckskin Gulch to extend this day hike into an all-day adventure.
Escapades for Days
There are more state parks, national parks, and national monuments surrounding Kanab than you can count on one hand, making it a great starting point for day trips in all directions. Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is less than 30 minutes away. Ever heard of a little slice of heaven on earth called Zion National Park? Its east entrance is a mere 34 minutes from Kanab. The Grand Canyon’s north rim? Less than two hours. And then there’s Cedar Breaks, Vermilion Cliffs, Grand Staircase-Escalante, and Glen Canyon.
Hmmm … where to start?
If you’re feeling lucky, start with The Wave in the Coyote Buttes North section of Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. You’ve probably seen pictures of its stunning sandstone striations, but it’s even better in person. In fact, so many people want to see it for themselves a lottery system was instituted to issue permits and preserve the land. Upwards of 160,000 enter each year. Twenty lucky winners (10 in advance online, 10 in-person one day in advance) are allowed to make the physically demanding hike each day. The odds aren’t great, but still better than your roughly 1 in 300 million chance of winning the Powerball jackpot. And the experience is far better than anything money can buy.
Didn’t win a permit in The Wave Utah lottery? Don’t worry. There are plenty of things to do and see in the area that don’t require a permit. Book a guided ATV tourin the western portion of Grand Staircase-Escalante. Bull Valley Gorge, Everett Grave, Willis Creek, and Lick Wash are popular destinations here. Or, explore Kanab’s Peekaboo slot canyon on your own. Also known as Red Canyon, the out-and-back hike skinnies its way through gorgeous geological features similar to Antelope Canyon … but without the hordes of people. You’ll need a 4WD vehicle to make the sandy 2.8-mile drive from Best Friends Animal Sanctuary to Peekaboo. Only have a small sedan? Let Dreamland Safari Tours take you there.
If rain is in the forecast, don’t go in the slots. (No, we can’t say that enough!) Instead, head over to the Big Water Visitor Center on the southern side of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and channel your inner Ross Geller because it houses a fascinating paleontology display. It’s also conveniently located on the way to the state-straddling lake named after that John Wesley guy.
Lake Powell, part of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and the runner up for the United States’ largest man-made body of water is a giant blue spot in an otherwise red(rock) state. It has more miles of shoreline than the entire west coast. Climb aboard the vessel of your choice (Houseboat? Jet ski? Kayak?) and explore its watery canyons, crimson cliffs, and natural wonders.
Rainbow Bridge is reachable by boat or can be seen from above on a helicopter tour. But landlubbers may prefer to make the 28-mile round trip hike to this 290-foot natural bridge (one of the largest in the world) instead. Hole-in-the-Rock is another popular hike in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. It’s short but steep … gonna make you sweat just like C+C Music Factory. But who cares? You can swim in Lake Powell when you come back down. Its bathtub-like water averages temp in the 70s June–August, very refreshing when air temps are in the 90s.
Stay the Night
Whether you’re traveling with animals or just have a whale of a wallet, Kanab offers accommodations to suit every body and every budget.
● Choose from a total of 40 standard rooms, king suites, and two-level suites at Best Friends Roadhouse and Mercantile. Each has pet-friendly amenities like litter boxes, pull-out dog beds, and cozy nooks for your furry friends. If you’re already getting sneezy reading this, don’t worry: there’s a room reserved for travelers with allergies. While you’re there, book a tour at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. You can walk pigs and goats or check out the parrot garden.
● Built by Latter-day Saint pioneers in 1884, Purple Sage Inn is now a quaint bed and breakfast with four comfortable rooms. And it’s conveniently located on Main Street in Kanab.
● Glampers, rejoice! Basecamp 37 offers five safari-style tents complete with hot showers and luxurious linens. Book one or all depending on the size of your outdoorsy crew.
● Meaning “peaceful mountain,” the secluded Amangiri resort offers sweeping views of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and is built to blend in with its surroundings. Ochre-colored rock formations seem to be dipping their toes in the pool. Guests have their choice of suites, homes or tented pavilions and receive privileged access to Lake Powell and national parks. This is the quintessential treat yo’self retreat!
Of course, there are also plenty of places to pitch your own tent or park your adventure-ready rig in the wilderness surrounding Kanab. Wanna sleep on a giant waterbed? Lake Powell houseboat rentals are also popular accommodations.
No matter how long you’re going to be in the Kanab area, you need to feed your adventures. There are plenty of dine-in, delivery, and takeout options here ->
● Wild Thyme is an upscale eatery with a made-from-scratch menu that incorporates ingredients from its organic gardens. Wine, cocktails, and micro-brews are also offered.
● How can you not love a place that has a dessert named CHOCO-POCALYPSE NOW!!! and offers all-day dinner? Rocking V Cafe knows the way to hikers’ hearts.
● Houston’s Trail’s End is a family-owned restaurant serving up homemade breakfasts, lunches, and dinners with touches of western personality … and lots of country gravy. Mmmm.
● Five-star fare in Kanab? Yep. Sego’s unique menu rivals the best restaurants in the country. And tapas-style dining means you can order several dishes and share. Perfect for the indecisive.
You’re going to need as much time as possible. Clear your calendar and start planning your trip to Kanab today!