The Best Things To Do in Kanab, Utah: Caves, Sand Dunes, Hikes and More
July 30, 2021
Kanab is a small town in Southern Utah known for its magnificent orange canyons and rock formations. It was originally settled in 1870 by Mormon families and has a population of a little under 5,000 people today.
The town used to be one of the most isolated cities in the west, but now receives many visitors each year. Kanab was named for the Paiute word meaning “Place of the Willows” and has been nicknamed “Little Hollywood” due to the many films shot here over the years.
In Kanab and the surrounding area, you will find amazing hiking, mind blowing off-roading destinations, interesting caves and more. This blog post is a guide for the best things to do in Kanab and includes places to stay and eat along the way.
Please make it a priority to Leave No Trace when exploring the outdoors. This includes leaving nothing behind, respecting wildlife, minimizing campfire impacts, respecting those around you, planning ahead and traveling on durable surfaces. For more details, read about the seven principles at lnt.org.
I flew into the St. George Airport for my trip to Kanab, which is located an hour and a half away by car. Kanab is also just over three hours from Las Vegas. If flying, you will want to rent a car for your trip.
Kanab is amazing to visit on it’s own, but its remote location means you will likely combine it with other destinations in Utah or Arizona. Here are some places to consider visiting in addition to Kanab.
- Page, Arizona: An hour and 15 minutes away. Home to Lake Powell, Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend.
- Grand Canyon North Rim: An hour and a half away.
- Bryce Canyon National Park: An hour and a half away.
- Zion National Park: Less than an hour away from the east entrance.
The best times to visit Kanab are in the fall and spring when the weather is more mild. July and August often have highs in the upper 90’s and afternoon thunderstorms are very common.
I visited in late July and experienced the high heat in the mornings and the thunderstorms in the afternoon. From November to March, you may have freezing temperatures but will experience less crowds. If your goal is to obtain a permit for The Wave, December - February is your best bet as that is when there are the least visitors.
For being such a small town, Kanab has quite a few options for accommodations. There are over a dozen Airbnbs, several hotels and multiple RV parks.
There are many more Airbnbs and hotels, but these have great value and reviews.
- Two Bedroom Townhouse with Hot Tub: I stayed in this home and was very happy with it. I really enjoyed the hot tub. The only downside was that they only stocked decaf coffee.
- Two Bedroom Cottage: This home is three blocks from the center of town and has a loft space, an outdoor seating area and laundry.
- Centrally located one bedroom home: This home is just one block away from the main road in Kanab and quite affordable.
- Red Canyon Cabins: These cabins are small but very affordable. Each room stands on its own with outdoor seating areas as well.
- La Quinta Inn & Suites by Wyndham: This La Quinta is pet friendly and gets good reviews for clean rooms.
- Hampton Inn Kanab: Hampton Inn is centrally located in Kanab and most rooms have great views of surrounding red rocks. Multiple reviews mention the A/C shutting off too often so you may want to avoid this hotel in the summer.
Coral Pink Sand Dunes is known for its vibrant orange sand hills with a backdrop of red and white cliffs spotted in green trees. The dunes exist because of the special topography of the surrounding area. The notch between the Moquith and Moccasin mountains funnels the wind and collects eroded Navajo sandstone in the valley. The dunes are estimated to be between 10,000 and 15,000 years old!
This Utah state park is located about a half hour outside of Kanab and costs $10 per vehicle. Inside the park, you can go sandsledding or sandboarding, hike through the dunes or take an ATV tour. The park offers rentals of the sleds and boards for $25 for the day and Coral Pink ATV tours offers ATV tours of the dunes out of the park.
I went sledding and walked out to the tallest dune in close walking distance from the main parking lot. The dunes seemed perfect for sledding, but I still had a hard time picking up speed. I recommend using wax, get a running start and finding a very steep dune for the best experience. There is also a great viewpoint on a wooden platform at the parking lot, providing a great view of the area if you do not want to hike into the dunes.
There is no cell service in Coral Pink Sand Dunes but the visitor center has wifi! Right outside of the park, you may encounter loose cattle on the road.
If you need help deciding what to pack on a day hike, check out my day hike packing list!
The Toadstool Hoodoo Trail offers other-worldly scenery with unique rock formations across a barren landscape. The trailhead is located 40 minutes east of Kanab. The out-and-back hike is 1.8 miles roundtrip and has a total of 141 feet in elevation gain.
You will begin by hiking in a wash. Keep an eye on the periodic trail markers and stay in the wash when you can to avoid stepping on delicate soil crusts. The path out of the wash is clearly marked. When you reach the hoodoos, do not climb on them or touch them, they can be easily damaged.
After the first hoodoo, you will reach an expansive flat area with toadstool rock formations scattered throughout. Be sure to explore about a quarter mile to the left for an amazing view overlooking the Paria River Valley.
A toadstool is essentially a hoodoo, but has a large piece of rock on top of a narrow column. They are created by erosion and weathering.
The Kanab Sand Cave, also referred to as the Moqui Cave or Cavern, is a man made cave located in a cliff face. The cave was built in the 1970’s in order to mine silica rich sand for glass production. To get to the cave, you will park across the street and ascend about a half mile up a small cliff. You will definitely want shoes with good grip for this, as the cliff can be a little bit slippery and covered in sand. Do not attempt if the rocks are wet.
While it was more difficult than I thought it would be, children and people of varying abilities were successfully climbing up. When you reach the cave, it goes on pretty deep into the cliff and there are multiple holes that have views of the surrounding red cliffs. It’s quite beautiful and a unique place to visit.
Unfortunately, the cliff and cave are covered in carvings with initials, names and more. I even saw people carving into the rock while I was there. PLEASE keep this place in good shape for future generations and do not mark on the walls during your trip.
Next to these sand caves, Moqui Cave is a museum and gift shop inside of another ground level cave. They have fluorescent minerals, dinosaur tracks, artifacts and more. I did not stop here, it receives mixed reviews but could be a good place to stop for coffee and a souvenir.
Belly of the Dragon is another man made rock formation that goes under a road and was carved for drainage. Erosion has made the cave deeper and created a walkway with sand and rock obstacles along the way. To reach the tunnel, exit Highway 89 about 16 miles north of Kanab and head to the Google Maps pin for ‘Belly of the Dragon.’ You will then need to climb down a bit of cement that is awkward but doable for most.
Then you can walk through the short cave and enjoy the dramatic shadows on the rocks. Headlamps or flashlights are helpful but not necessary. At the end of the tunnel, there was a rock garden with several rock stacks. All Trails has a trail that goes beyond the cave, but I only did the cave portion.
Just like the Sand Caves, there are many names carved on the walls here. Please leave this spot beautiful and leave no trace when visiting.
An ATV tour is a wonderful way to visit some of the areas near Kanab that require off-roading capabilities. Take a tour to the Peekaboo Slot Canyon to see scenery similar to Antelope Canyon, a tour to the White Wave or to other beautiful locations recommended by the guides.
There are several tour companies operating out of Kanab. Kanab Tour Company is the most popular but Expedition Kanab and Dreamland Safari Tours are also great options. Note that if you have a vehicle that is capable of off-roading, you can also visit these locations on your own, but be sure to do additional research before attempting.
The Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is a wonderful organization located near the Sand Caves. The sanctuary is home to 1,600 animals, including cats, dogs, bunnies and farm animals. You can take a tour of the entire sanctuary or choose to tour a certain area such as Cat World. You can even take tours that focus on the surrounding rock formations on the property. Check their website for all of their offerings and reserve a spot online.
The Wave was the reason I traveled to Kanab. This iconic rock formation is known for a giant wave-like rock formation in vibrant shades of orange. Only 64 people are granted permits to hike to this rock formation daily and permits are granted via a lottery. There is an online and an in person lottery, and we were lucky enough to win the online lottery five months in advance! Exciting, right? Unfortunately, the road to reach The Wave is unpaved and very difficult to traverse when wet.
During my trip, several days of recent rain made the road impassable (the ranger got stuck on the road the day before our permit). If you are traveling to Kanab with the intention to hike The Wave, you may want to avoid mid-July to mid-September, as this is monsoon season in Southern Utah.
Buckskin Gulch is an impressive slot canyon hike that begins from the same trailhead as The Wave. I had planned on doing this hike, but wasn’t able to due to weather. If you go, be sure to obtain a permit from the BLM website or an office (there is no limit on the amount of permits available per day) and do not hike if there is a chance of flash floods.
You can begin the trail from either the Buckskin Gulch trailhead or the Wire Pass Trailhead, the latter of which shares a parking lot with The Wave. The hike between the two parking areas is 5.6 miles or 11.2 miles round trip. If you have two cars, leave one at each trailhead so that you can do the hike one way. Beginning the trail at Buckskin Gulch will make for a longer hike to the slot canyon but has less crowds than the Wire Pass trailhead.
Wild Thyme Cafe was my favorite meal in Kanab. They serve garden to table dishes made using fresh and local ingredients. They have an on-site organic garden and an off-site greenhouse! The menu is lengthy with salads, burgers, bowls, desserts, cocktails and more. I really enjoyed the vegetarian lasagna and Utah mule cocktail on their outdoor patio.
Houston’s Trail’s End Restaurant is a casual restaurant with a western theme. Decor includes wood paneled walls and shotguns displayed on the walls. They have huge menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner and prices are very reasonable. I enjoyed a veggie quesadilla. We were too full, but their cream pies looked like amazing endings to any meal.
I was really looking forward to eating at Rocking V Cafe during my trip, but unfortunately they were temporarily closed due to lack of staff. The restaurant doubles as an art gallery; the building used to be Kanab’s original Mercantile built in 1892. The menu includes enchiladas, burgers, pasta and desserts that sound delectable.
Willow Canyon Outdoor is an outdoor shop with books and hiking gear, but they also have a coffee shop with many options. Take a look at their books and enjoy a unique latte such as the Hoodoo Voodoo or the Esca-Latte.
Kanab Creek Bakery has a large variety of croissants, pastries, sandwiches and bread. We had some pastries and thought they were good but not spectacular. However, I’d like to return and try something off of their lunch menu.
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