Driving into Kanab, Utah you pass a sign that says “Greatest Earth on Show”. The first time I saw that sign, I remember thinking how bold of a statement it was even for Southern Utah, which has some of the most incredible landscapes in the world.
Turns out, that sign was right, or at least I thought so!
Kanab sits on the Arizona border in Southwestern Utah and is the gateway to numerous outdoor adventures. From slot canyon hikes to National Park visits to scenic drives and more, Kanab is a must-visit for anyone looking to experience some of the most beautiful landscapes in the southwest.
With so much to see and do, though, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the options. In this guide, I go over the best things to do in Kanab, Utah so you can make the most of your visit.
Important Reminder: As it goes in all of the destinations we share, please practice good trail etiquette and remember to Leave No Trace. This means packing out all of your garbage (including toilet paper) and following the established rules. In the desert, this also means learning how to protect cryptobiotic soil and how it has a huge impact on our ecosystems.
1. Visit a National Park
Utah is home to five National Parks, three of which are less than two hours from Kanab, making it a great base camp for a Utah National Park road trip.
Each park offers a unique experience. You can hike through Bryce’s hoodoos, contemplate your mortality on the way up to Angel’s Landing, or howl into the Grand Canyon, all on the same trip.
2. Explore the National Monuments
Don’t get me wrong, I love our National Parks but the Monuments are really my favorite.
America’s National Monuments span millions of acres and feature incredible mesas, buttes, and canyons with seemingly endless dirt roads and very few people.
For me, that’s what Southern Utah is all about.
Kanab has five National Monuments nearby:
In my opinion, these Monuments are the best places to explore the wild landscapes around Kanab.
If you really want to get off the grid, I highly recommend a one-way backpacking trip through Paria Canyon. Kristen (BFT’s Founder) spent four days in this canyon and says it is one of the best backpacking trips she’s ever done. If you’re intrigued by this, check out these desert backpacking tips to see what hiking in an area like this takes.
3. Drop Into a Slot Canyon
If you only have a day or two to explore Kanab, I highly recommend checking out some of the slot canyons.
The slot canyons around Kanab are the most special part of this area and offer a truly unique experience.
If you don’t have much time, Peek-a-Boo Canyon (not to be mistaken with Peek-a-Boo Canyon near the town of Escalante) is a great option and can easily be reached from town. Despite being very close, though, it is one of the least accessible canyons around and I don’t suggest trying to drive out there unless you have a very capable vehicle and have experience driving in deep sand. If that doesn’t describe you, there are plenty of guide outfits in town that will bring you out there.
If you have some more time (and don’t mind spending a bit of time in the car to get there), you can check out the Cottonwood Narrows, Lick Wash, or Hackberry Canyon – all of which are easy hikes with great scenery and can be accessed by most cars as long as it hasn’t rained recently.
There are hundreds, if not thousands of canyons outside of Kanab which makes picking a favorite nearly impossible but, if I had to choose, it would probably be Buckskin Gulch.
Buckskin is one of the longest and deepest canyons in the world and is most often accessed from the Wirepass Trailhead. What I love about Buckskin is how diverse it is geologically. Every quarter mile or so, you feel like you’re in a new canyon as the walls around change color and shape. Due to the popularity of this canyon, don’t expect to have this trail to yourself.
A note on safety: always check the weather when heading into a canyon. Flash floods are quick, terrifying, and deadly. As a general rule of thumb, if there’s a chance of rain just stay out of the canyons.
4. Hike The Wave
The Wave is one of the most well-known (and hardest to visit) places near Kanab, Utah. It’s a geological formation with wavy sandstone striations that actually make it look like a wave.
A permit is required to hike here, and it can take years to finally win a coveted ticket.
If you manage to land a permit, however, The Wave is a truly magical sight to see. You can learn more about what to expect and permit tips in our Hiking The Wave Trail Guide.
5. Visit White Pocket
Less well-known and and a good alternative to the Wave, White Pocket is a collection of sandstone features in The Vermillion Cliffs National Monument about two hours outside of Kanab.
Walking around White Pocket, it’s easy to forget that you’re still on Earth.
Though it doesn’t require a permit, it does require 4-wheel drive to access so you may need some help getting there.
Book a White Pocket Hiking Tour
6. Spend a day at Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is located about thirty minutes west of Kanab and it’s an intriguing place to spend a day or two.
The sand dunes are constantly shifting and can move over 50ft a year.
This park is very popular with OHV enthusiasts, but if that’s not your thing, you can also find hiking, great outdoor photography opportunities, sand boarding, and more.
7. Visit Coyote Buttes South
Those who aren’t lucky enough to win a Wave permit typically head to Coyote Buttes South. This area also requires a permit, but it’s much easier to acquire than The Wave.
Coyote Buttes South offers an incredibly unique collection of formations including cute little rock bubbles to oddly mangled towers.
There are lots of great hikes around the Coyote Buttes South area, but my favorite is out to Cottonwood Teepees Viewpoint. It’s a stunning 6.6-mile hike with incredible views, a remote feel, and super cool rock formations.
8. Swim or Paddle on Lake Powell
Lake Powell is a desert dream with several hundred square miles of water that snakes through what used to be Glenn Canyon, one of the most unique canyons in the world.
At the lake, you can rent kayaks and paddleboards as well as jet skis and pontoon boats, depending on how fast you like to go on the water.
The lake is particularly enjoyable during the hot summer months when hiking in the desert is not advised.
The shore of the lake also has an incredible amount of dispersed camping options. If you’re looking for an overnight adventure and don’t mind a bit of logistical planning, check out this overnight kayak trip to Labyrith Canyon on Lake Powell.
9. Make Some Four-legged Friends at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary
Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is home to 1600 rescued animals of all shapes and sizes and is the largest sanctuary for homeless animals in the country.
Though they have facilities and partners all around the U.S., the sanctuary is at the center of their operations and Kanab is their home.
If you love puppies, kittens, and other adorable furry friends, take a tour of the sanctuary or donate some of your time by volunteering. It’s a unique experience that only Kanab can offer.
10. Take a Scenic Drive
If you don’t feel like hiking but still want to see the area, then taking a scenic drive is one of the best things to do in Kanab.
Cottonwood Canyon Road Loop
The Cottonwood Road Loop is a phenomenal drive through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and has plenty of places to stop and take a look around.
Highlights along the Cottonwood Canyon Road Loop include:
- Grosvenor Arch
- Kodachrome Basin State Park, which has a great campground
- Lots of great hiking options
Lees Ferry & Page, Arizona Loop
Another loop that I like to take is out to Lees Ferry and Page, Arizona. Start by taking 89 south out of Kanab, up and over the Kaibab plateau, and down towards Lees Ferry which is one of the few places around where you can easily access the Colorado River.
There’s also a colony of California condors that can be viewed from the old Navajo bridge just outside the entrance to Lee’s Ferry.
Along your route, you’ll pass the Vermilion Cliffs and Marble Canyon, which are sure to blow your mind a bit.
After Lee’s Ferry, you can continue on toward Page, Arizona (where you can easily spend a couple of days too!), and then take 89 West back to Kanab.
11. Grab a Bite to Eat
After a long day of hiking around the desert, few things are as satisfying as a great meal that you didn’t have to cook for yourself.
While many small desert towns have a great eatery or two, Kanab has quite a few great options for any palette.
Here are a few of my favorite places to eat around Kanab:
Willow Canyon is my favorite place in town to get coffee. Equal parts cafe, bookstore, and gear shop, Willow has a great selection of books about the area, all of the gear you might need for adventuring, and a constantly evolving menu of delicious lattes.
Rocking V is where I go if I want a burger and a beer. Simple and casual, the menu has plenty of options for any preference.
Peekaboo Canyon Wood Fired Kitchen
Peekaboo is owned and operated by Best Friends Animal Society, which is why they have an entirely vegetarian menu.
Sometimes the only thing your body wants is pizza and in those moments I head to Peekaboo.
That being said, they also have a great selection of entrees for those who are not pizza people.
Kanab Creek Bakery
Kanab Creek Bakery is the place to go if you want fresh bread or have a sweet tooth. They offer an early breakfast menu when many places in town don’t. Definitely don’t miss this one.
Escobar’s Mexican Restaurant
Escobars is a Kanab classic, something that’s obvious if you pass by on Sunday and notice the line out the door.
A classic local Mexican joint, the menu is perfect for the weary hiker who needs a hefty meal. What do I get? Tacos, Obviously.
Vermillion 45 is a French bistro with plenty of options for any palette. I personally love any and all of their pasta dishes. The gnocchi gets me every time. Be sure to grab a reservation if you’re planning on eating here as tables can go quickly.
When I’m doing guide work, I consistently have clients who rave about Sego. Rated as one of the best restaurants in Utah, Sego offers a unique culinary experience that rivals that of many bigger city restaurants.
A unique combination of flavors and fresh ingredients, the menu has influences from all around the world. Grab a reservation for this one as well.
Wild Thyme is where I send folks who appreciate vegetarian options that aren’t pizza-related.
The restaurant has a casual vibe and grows its own produce in several organic gardens that it runs. I’m a big fan of their bowls.
Every town needs a burger joint and in Kanab, it’s Big Al’s. A classic drive-thru spot, Al’s offers simple and delicious burgers at fast food prices but with much better food.
I’m a sucker for a good French fry and have been known to eat a few too many thanks to Al’s fry sauce. Sorry, not sorry.
Where to stay in Kanab
- Best Friends Roadhouse and Mercantile – pet friendly!
- Canyon’s Boutique Hotel – home to Sego’s restaurant
- Grand Circle Lodge – a quaint B&B set in a cozy 1921 home
- Kanab Suites – good prices and cute rooms
Kanab Travel Tips
Have Too Much Water, Always.
I don’t know if you know this but the desert is a harsh place. It’s really easy to underestimate the desert which is why my biggest tip is to always carry extra water.
You never know what’s gonna happen, you can get turned around in the canyon or get your car stuck on some nameless dirt road. You can survive for quite a while without food but if you find yourself stranded in the summer heat without water your health will diminish very quickly.
Be Extra Vigilant When Going Off-Pavement
As I mentioned before, the desert around Kanab is very sandy and occasionally muddy after rain. When I say muddy, I mean it’s a little sloppy, I mean the clay roads turn to soup and you’ll bury your car almost a foot deep.
Take your time when not driving on pavement and always get out to check on the road you are uncertain about, especially if you don’t have off-road experience.
Ask a Local
Kanab residents are a very kind and friendly bunch and are usually more than happy to chat about the home that they love so much.
If you’re looking for recommendations, whether it be for a meal or a day hike, don’t be afraid to ask a local what they would do. Chances are they can give you some information about something that you wouldn’t find otherwise, and those are always the best experiences to have.
Do Your Research
The area around Kanab is a tapestry of public lands managed by several different land management organizations.
The rules and regulations for the places that you visit can change very quickly in a short distance so it’s good to know what they are.
The National Park Service, Forest Service, and Bureau of Land Management are all very friendly folks whose job is to make sure the public can enjoy themselves while respecting the desert.
They are all more than happy to give you the rundown about the area and give you feedback on your itinerary.
Also, as I mentioned earlier, many of the attractions around Kanab require permits. Having an idea of what those are, how hard it is to get a permit, and when you would need to get one, will save you a lot of headaches when you arrive.
Wear the Appropriate Clothes
Otherwise, what’s the point?
Getting to Kanab, Utah
Kanab is also about:
- 1 hour from Page, Arizona
- 5 hours south of Salt Lake City
- 3.5 hours north of Flagstaff
- 3.25 hours northwest of Las Vegas
As a seasoned road trip addict, I can tell you in good faith that each of these drives is exceptionally beautiful.
Public transportation in Kanab is practically non-existent so, if you don’t live within driving distance, you’ll need to rent a car.
If you are going to rent a car, I’d recommend something with either 4-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.
Trust me on this one, Southwest Utah is a very sandy place and occasionally muddy place. It’s easy to get stuck before you realize what’s happening, even just pulling over off the highway.
Best Time to Visit Kanab, Utah
As with most desert locations, the weather in southern Utah can be a lesson in extremes, with summer days regularly in the low hundreds and winter nights dipping into the low teens.
Spring and fall
Visiting Kanab is most popular during the spring and fall when it’s not quite as hot as summer but also not completely frozen at night.
If you’re a fair-weather traveler, spring and fall are the best times to visit Kanab and the surrounding area, especially if you want to enjoy all of the dispersed camping in the area.
If you’re a weirdo like me, however, maybe you’ll agree with my unpopular opinion that winter in Southern Utah is amazing.
It’s no secret that National Parks like Zion and Bryce Canyon are getting busier year after year which can make visiting them a challenge if you’re trying to avoid crowds.
If you’re trying to get outside without dealing with the crowds, winter is your best bet. Sure, it’s a bit cold sometimes but, for the most part, it’s bearable if you learn how to layer.
Additionally, permits for attractions like The Wave or The Narrows in Zion are much easier to get when there aren’t a million people in town applying for them. The downside of visiting in the winter is that many of the local businesses are seasonal and closed for the winter, which can be a bummer.
Lastly, I’ve met plenty of people who have traveled quite the distance to Kanab only to find out they couldn’t get permits or shuttle tickets, effectively ruining their trip. So be sure to do your research about the permits and regulations at the places you intend to visit.
Looking for more great things to do in the Southwest? Check out these blog posts to start planning your road trip:
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Have you been to Kanab, Utah or are you planning a trip? Let us know in the comments!