You may have driven by Kanab on the way to or from Zion National Park, and perhaps you’ve even gassed up your car there. But next time, do yourself a favor and book a few nights in this charming southern Utah town, because it's the definition of a hidden gem. With an abundance of desert playgrounds, you might expect crowds and limited activity options, but I didn't find that to be the case at all during my recent visit. Here are some of the highlights from my time in Kanab, and yes, I'm already planning my return trip!
The Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park (pictured above) had been on my list for years, and it was actually my mom who first told me about the spot. "The dunes turn pink at sunset," she told me, adding that there were trees sprouting out of the sand. The dunes are located about 20 minutes away from town, and sure enough, when the sun drops, they turn a fiery shade of coral. There is an $8 entry fee, there are flush toilets at the parking lot and OHVs are allowed. For more info, be sure to visit the park’s website.
Whether you’re looking for a solid workout or something scenic, Kanab has you covered with their numerous hiking trails.
If you’re into slot canyons and don’t want to deal with the crowds at Antelope Canyon, consider Buckskin Gulch (pictured above). It’s an easy 3 mile roundtrip hike to the canyon, and if you don’t feel like scrambling down an 8 foot drop after the first 50 feet, there is a route around the drop that takes you to the other end of the canyon. It involves some careful foot placement, but it isn’t very difficult. The slot canyon gets the best light in the middle of the day, but be sure to check the weather before you hike in this spot, as flash floods can cause water to rush through the canyon and the nearby riverbed at a very rapid (and dangerous) speed.
The shortest route to Buckskin Gulch is via the Wire Pass Trail, which is located at the same trailhead as the Wave. When you see the Buckskin Gulch trailhead sign, keep driving for another mile or two. Or…if you like surprises, stop there and check it out! We accidentally spent half our day hiking 7 miles up and down the Buckskin Gulch Trail, only to find ourselves in Brown Pocket (aka Edmaiers Secret, pictured below), not a slot canyon. However, if you’re game for hiking on a trail with deep sand and you like alien rock formations, this will be right up your alley.
(Photo of me by Brandon Tormanen)
I’ve been very lazy this winter, so hitting the Mansard Trail was the perfect way to get back in shape. The 5 mile roundtrip trek takes you up 1,000 feet, and once you get to the end of the trail (you’ll know when there is plenty of sand!) you’ll see a number of petroglyphs carved into the bottom of an alcove. Sadly, I only had three days in Kanab, so I didn’t get the opportunity to do any longer hikes or backpacking trips, but I am returning in May to do just that, so stay tuned.
If you'd rather take it easy, there is no shortage of scenery just steps from your car...
If lengthy hikes aren’t your jam, or if you have young kids who won’t make it more than 1-2 miles on a flat trail, the Toadstools (pictured above) is a perfect place to explore. After walking about .8 miles in from the trailhead, which is visibly marked from Highway 89, you’ll come across the first of several otherworldly rock formations. A few hundred feet later, you’ll find a cluster of smaller toadstools, and if you’re game to spend even more time there, to the left of these areas, you’ll find a trail that takes you to a third set of stacked rocks, but these are noticeable lighter than the others. Please be sure to stay on all marked trails and don’t climb on the rocks, but do take plenty of photos and enjoy!
If you are simply looking for a scenic drive, consider cruising down the well-maintained dirt road that leads to part of Paria Canyon in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (pictured above). In addition to all kinds of stunning rainbow rock formations, the area is especially magical at sunset. There are a few pullouts, so you don't need to worry about blocking the narrow and windy road to snap photos.
If you’re interested in a slightly creepy but awesome photo op, consider the Belly of the Dragon tunnel. It’s about half a mile south of the Mt Carmel Junction, and if you’re heading up from Kanab, you’ll see a dirt road to your left. Turn there, and you’ll see the tunnel within a minute or so. If it has rained recently, or if there is rain on the forecast, please use caution, much as you would with hiking in a slot canyon, as this is an active drainage area. If the weather is great, this is perfectly safe, and not far from where you can park your car.
Let’s talk about food, because aside from scenery, isn’t that one of the best parts about traveling?!
For breakfast, you absolutely MUST visit Kanab Creek Bakery. I had their croc madame two days in a row (it was honestly the best I’ve ever had), and I also tried their macarons and diamond cookies, both of which were the perfect post-hike treat. On top of that, their lattes were strong, and we ordered sandwiches to go for our all-day adventures, so it's a great spot for all of your grub needs.
For a chill dinner out, Rocking V Cafe has a fantastic selection and a casual, kid-friendly environment, but if you’re looking for something a bit more upscale, Sego Restaurant is hands down the best spot in town. I was lucky enough to sample a good amount of their menu, and from the scallops (pictured above) to the avocado toast, everything was incredible. Sego is part of the Canyons Boutique Hotel, so it’s super convenient to pop in after a long day of adventuring and chow down on their delicious small plates. The Canyons is about $120 per night per room, and Kanab is also home to a Best Western and a Holiday Inn, so if you need a night off from camping, there are plenty of places to stay without breaking the bank.