The town of Kanab, Utah is perfectly located for a base camp if you’re exploring the American Southwest. It’s only 60 minutes from Zion National Park, the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Paria Canyon, the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Horseshoe Bend. Within 90 minutes of Kanab is St. George, Bryce Canyon National Park, Cedar Breaks National Monument, Antelope Canyon and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Pretty awesome, right? I’m ready to pack my bags and move to Kanab! There is SO much to do and see in that region that multiple trips are necessary. Some notable sights to see closer to Kanab include the Sand Caves and Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. Check out our list of 20 things to do within 90 minutes of Kanab for more ideas.
With a mild year-round climate Kanab is a nice place to visit during all seasons. It’s a small town with a population of 5,000 located just north of the Arizona state line and has basically everything you could possibly need for a vacation home-base. There appeared to be plenty of fun dining and lodging options to choose from. For anyone spoiled with good coffee like us in the Pacific Northwest, we can assure you there’s decent coffee to be found in Utah too. We scored some cold brew coffee, which can be difficult to find sometimes, at a coffee cart in town that also served HUGE, gooey irresistible cinnamon buns! Thanks to someone we met at our motel we learned that the Willow Canyon Outdoor store has even better coffee (it’s true). The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Field Office at the Kanab Visitor Center is a must-stop for travelers seeking information about the area. It’s also where you can pick up required permits, including back-country hiking, camping, and day-use permits that are required to visit some places. The knowledgeable staff at the BLM office provide helpful tips, maps and recommendations for your trip planning. We discovered a clutch little market in town — Honey’s Marketplace — that carried more essentials than you’d expect for a grocery store. Shopping at Honey’s can also earn you discounts on fuel at their nearby gas station. The prices for camping gear at the outdoor store were a little higher than we wanted to spend, but fortunately we found exactly what we needed Honey’s, along with snacks, gas and booze! Honey’s has feel-good, hometown vibe about it that we really enjoyed. It was almost Halloween so the store was festively decorated, our favorite feature was definitely the spooky frozen foods tunnel. An interesting fact about Kanab is that it’s actually known as a popular filming location for movies and television shows, including some well known works like The Lone Ranger, Gunsmoke, and Plant of the Apes.
Camping at Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
The first night in Kanab we camped at Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. The park is actually about 25 minutes from the town of Kanab and most services like food, gas, etc. That’s something we noticed about Utah — although the address might be, e.g., Kanab, that doesn’t necessarily mean the destination is in or even near the center of town. For instance, the address for Coral Pink Sands is in Kanab, so we weren’t expecting it to be 20 miles outside of the town itself. I recall experiencing the same thing traveling around Moab. The address for Canyonlands National Park (Island in the Sky) is Moab, but the town of Moab is actually 30 miles/40 minutes away. Lesson learned here: Utah is VAST and a little extra time spent researching and planning is key for safe and successful travel.
Pro tip: When planning for a road trip look at your destinations on an actual map. Before leaving Oregon I drafted a complete itinerary for nine days in Utah. I began by looking up each destination on Google Maps to see where they all were in relation to each other. This helped me figure out the most efficient route to travel. In order to estimate the most accurate travel times, I researched all the directions and distances between our destinations, in the order we planned to visit each of them. This information was especially helpful when we needed to find campsites before sunset; for each day I knew the latest time we had to leave one place to reach our next destination by dark. It was also important for planning what activities we had time for at each place we visited.
Fortunately we arrived to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park with plenty of time to set up camp before dark. The campground registration booth has ice and firewood for sale, which is convenient since the town of Kanab is a 25-minute drive away. Finally, for the first night on our whole road trip there was no fire ban here! Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park has plenty of campsites, some that even have electric and water hookups, ranging in price from $25-40. The sites were clean and quite large. It appeared that all the sites in our area had a big steel picnic table underneath a covered pavilion and a fire ring included. If you prefer your privacy and camping without neighbors, Coral Pink Sands probably isn’t the place for you. The space itself is pretty wide open and lacks trees and foliage that would usually provide coverage in the wilderness. The tent pad was farther from our picnic table than we would have liked, but the large pull-in sites seemed to be more suited for RVs and campers. Unfortunately the ground was pretty hard and rocky. There were also plants nearby the tent spot that were covered with tiny, spiky burdocks. Without even thinking I flopped our air mattress down by the tent to start inflating it and sure enough it fell right onto a few of those dang burdocks. All seemed fine at the time, but the next morning we woke up on a deflated air mattress! I even considered bringing an extra mattress but was trying to save space in the car. I figured we’d be able to easily find another, and sure enough Honey’s Marketplace saved the day — and our backs — for the rest of the trip.
Our campsite was nearest to a pit toilet (i.e. a toilet over a hole in the ground) but at least this one featured a motion sensor light, which is NOT the norm. The showers and flush toilets were only a short walking distance away but after two days of strenuous hikes — Angels Landing and The Narrows at Zion National Park — you better believe we just drove down to the showers instead! We were so broken and blistered we didn’t really feel like playing on the dunes either (sand + blisters = gross), but we definitely took note of the available sand board rentals. On our next Utah adventure we are 100% renting ATVs and sending it off those dunes and shredding on some sand boards!
Hiking the Wire Pass Trail to Buckskin Gulch
Initially we decided to stay in Kanab because that’s where the Wire Pass trail is located, well where we thought it was; the trailhead is actually 47 miles (a 60 minute drive) away from the town of Kanab. Those tricky addresses got us again! Wire Pass Trailhead is on House Rock Valley Road, which is a righthand turn off route US-89 about 40 miles east of Kanab. It’s a rough and bumpy dirt road that’s certainly better suited for high clearance vehicles, but we made it to the trail in a passenger car. I’ve read from multiple sources that this road is impassible when wet, even to 4×4 vehicles, so be sure it’s not going to rain before heading out there. Only a few sketchy areas of the road made us nervous where the surface was covered with patches of sand. (I got our car stuck on a beach in Washington once so the sight of any sand on a road gives me anxiety!) The trail and parking lot is only 8.5 miles down House Rock Valley Road but the drive felt like it took forever. We passed so few cars on the way in that we were both shocked to find the parking lot completely packed. I was also surprised to learn that this is the same trailhead where you access North Coyote Buttes, i.e., THE WAVE. I had to summon all my willpower NOT to walk down The Wave trail! In fact it’s actually quite difficult to obtain day-use permits to access Coyote Buttes (The Wave). In order to reduce environmental impacts to this popular geologic feature, advance permits are required to visit the area, and they’re limited to only 20 per day. Most of these permits are issued through a lottery system four months in advance, and a very small number is also through a daily lottery that takes place at the Kanab Visitor Center.
Day-use permits for hiking Wire Pass, Buckskin Gulch and Paria Canyon cost $6 and are payable by cash or check at a self-service pay station near the trailheads. Wire Pass is the most popular way to access Buckskin Gulch, which is said to be the world’s longest slot canyon. The hike from Wire Pass Trailhead to the intersection with Buckskin Gulch is 1.7 miles, and to reach the Buckskin Gulch Trailhead and parking lot is six miles. Though there are multiple ways to access Buckskin Gulch, we’ve heard that the best way to experience the slot canyon is to hike the full 21 miles from Wire Pass Trailhead to the White House Trailhead. This can be accomplished in one day if you’re a fast hiker or as an overnight backpacking trip, but if you go overnight you’ll need to arrange for a ride from the ending trailhead back to where you started. Permits are required in advance for the overnight adventure, which can be purchased online or at the BLM office in Kanab. Later that evening at our motel we actually met a group of hikers who had just completed Buckskin Gulch. Although their experience was a little wild, it also sounded AMAZING! I’ll never forget their photos of the starry night sky through the opening of the slot canyon, and we look forward to the day we get to see it with my own eyes.
We completed the out-and-back 3.5-mile roundtrip hike beginning at the Wire Pass Trailhead. The first section of the trek is actually pretty boring. It’s all exposed and you’ll be in the sun for about a mile until reaching the slot canyon. Although it’s a flat and easy walk we do recommend wearing hiking boots because the surface was mostly soft sand and stones. Once you get closer to the slot canyon you’ll also need to navigate around some boulders. For some reason I decided to wear a pair of sneakers, which I soon came to regret after I had to stop a few times to dump sand from my shoes. We quickly forgot about all our issues when we reached the slot: it was breathtaking! The canyon is so narrow in some places that you can touch both walls at the same time. We weren’t too far into the canyon before encountering a ladder — yes, a ladder! It wasn’t too tall, maybe 8-10 steps, and felt nice and sturdy; I’m glad it was there otherwise it would have been quite an adventure getting in and out. Though I’ve never been there myself, the inside of Wire Pass is reminiscent of the photos I’ve seen of Antelope Canyon. There were even sections of the trail that reminded us of The Wave, but we didn’t need to enter a lottery to see it! After hiking for 1.7 miles we exited the slot canyon into what looks like a giant natural amphitheater; this is where the trail meets up with Buckskin Gulch. Along the wall, on the righthand side near a few small markers we discovered ancient petroglyphs! It’s mind-blowing to think that those carvings have been there for thousands of years, and interesting to think about who made them, when and why. What was it like to live there during that time period, what do they mean? It really puts into perspective how short our own time is on earth and how much has transpired throughout history. One of the many reasons we love exploring Utah!
While hanging out in the amphitheater we got to chatting with a local tour guide. Once he learned that we had just been to Zion and had taken on Angels Landing and The Narrows, he really started twisting our arms to go back for The Subway — it’s a famous hike similar to the Narrows, but is a semi-technical slot canyon that requires wading, swimming, climbing and scrambling. When a guy who makes his living guiding tours tells you it’s “the best F-ing hike” he’s ever done, that’s pretty convincing! Had we not been broken we might have gone back to Zion to do it, but instead it’s officially been added to the future travel bucketlist.
Wire Pass was one of our favorite hikes in Utah. It’s relatively easy, pretty short at 3.5 miles, requires only a day permit that’s available right at the trailhead, and features a banging slot canyon that 100% delivers. It’s an excellent option if you don’t want to commit to the long distance of Buckskin Gulch but you’re looking to see some classic Utah slot canyons. The roundtrip hike took us between 2-3 hours to complete, putting us back in Kanab by the early evening. Although we didn’t come across any children, we think hiking-savvy or outdoorsy kids could handle this trip. We literally saw ten-year-olds on Angels Landing, so I’d think Wire Pass would be a piece of cake, right?
Skipping the Tent to Party in Kanab for a Night
The original plan for the evening was to find dispersed camping somewhere between Kanab and Bryce Canyon National Park. But ultimately we wanted to spend more time in Kanab, not to mention we were still sore and tired, so we decided to trade the tent for comfy beds and stay in a hotel! There were tons of options for lodging but we were instantly drawn to the funky and retro Quail Park Lodge. The contemporary and updated motel in the center of Kanab has totally groovy 1960s vibes. Because it’s part of the Canyons Collection, a group of hotels under the same management, Quail Park Lodge guests are welcome to use the amenities at the other properties as well. We actually had to check in at one of those “sister” hotels — the Canyons Lodge — a few blocks down the street. The Canyons Lodge was boujee compared to our motel and it even has a restaurant in the lobby, which we found out was where our complimentary hot breakfast would be available the following morning. WOOT WOOT! Free breakfasts is one of our favorite things when traveling! After chatting with the cool guy behind the desk for awhile we learned that his nephew is a musician in Portland (where we live) — small world, I love it!
When we returned back to the Quail Park Lodge we met another couple who was traveling. They wanted to hear all about our Zion adventures. Next thing you know they’re recording our full account of Angels Landing and the Narrows on their cell phone. The guy said I was “pretty jazzed up” so it must have been awesome; I really hope we convinced them! We love to inspire and encourage people to get out there and adventure by sharing our own experiences.
Amenities at the Quail Park Lodge include a swimming pool, ice machine, and an outdoor seating area with couches, comfy chairs and a gas operated fire pit. Our absolute favorite perk though were the cruiser bicycles available for guests to use around town! Instead of walking two blocks to grab our breakfast the next morning we took the cruiser bikes for a spin. Fun fact, that was my first time on a bike in 20 years! Surprisingly I picked it right back up, but probably wouldn’t try riding again with hot coffee in my hand (I’ll leave it to your imagination to think about how that turned out). We also appreciated the cute little touches like the funky outdoor lights, twisted trees, and seating areas outside each motel room. The inside didn’t disappoint either with all the bright rainbow colors, making it very fun, positive and unique. They even left a sweet handwritten welcome note for us placed on the bed, how adorable is that?! Check out some photos of the room on our Instagram account @the_inspired_travelers
We made plans that evening to meet back up with some friends who were also staying in Kanab. Talk about small world, Bob’s buddy from college was in Utah and the day prior we connected at Zion National Park in the middle of a river, 3.5 miles up a canyon in The Narrows. Such a good story! We enjoyed dinner at the Wild Thyme Cafe, a restaurant that came highly recommended by many locals. The large crowd on a Wednesday night was a positive sign for sure. It felt awesome to put on street clothes for a change, to eat real food (i.e. not from a box or can, and not a hot dog) and drink a few cocktails. Take note, the cocktails are much smaller in Utah and you can only have one alcoholic beverage at a time, so don’t even think about ordering a new drink until you’re finished with the last one (Bob learned the hard way). The Wild Thyme grows most of the produce that they use in their own organic gardens, and also offer a variety of gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options. Though mostly specializing in local Southwestern flavors they sometimes incorporate Cajun influence into their dishes. Both of us ordered some pretty ‘basic’ meals — a chicken, bacon and barbecue sandwich and a bacon hamburger — but they were tasty and exactly what we craved. Surprisingly though, the most memorable part of our meal was the side dish: butter and sage roasted potatoes. OMG so yummy, and they were still delicious when we were snacking on them cold, hours later.
After several really small drinks, a filling meal and fun conversation, we headed back to our retro motel to chill on the deck by the gas fireplace. It sounds cool, but we never actually figured out how to turn the fire on! While we were hanging outside we met a group of hikers who had completed the Buckskin Gulch slot canyon hike. We wound up chatting for a few hours about their hike and all sorts of things. One of our new friends lives in Seattle, basically our neighbor, and he’d just spent a bunch of time in Oregon opening a shoe store right outside of Portland. Again, small world! His female hiking partner, who was also very lovely, was from San Francisco. Inevitably we got to discussing what we were all doing visiting Utah, and that’s when we learned firsthand about Buckskin Gulch and their crazy personal experience. They intended to complete the hike over a two day period and went fully prepared with their backpacking gear and overnight permits. Upon reaching one of the two camps within the canyon where they planned to stay, someone there said the camp was full and directed them to hike on to the next one “right up the trail.” It seemed odd, but they knew there were two camps so they continued walking, and walking, but the second camp never came. Slot canyons don’t provide too many feasible options for camping, so they just decided to keep on hiking until they either reached a camp or the end of the trail. After walking basically nonstop for 19 hours they did the whole thing— from Wire Pass to the White House Trailhead — in ONE day. Regardless of their crazy experience we still can’t wait to hike in Buckskin Gulch ourselves someday!
Making the decision to stay in Kanab longer than we originally planned turned out to be an awesome idea. Now that we’re familiar with the area and it’s close proximity to some of the coolest stuff to see and do in Southern Utah and Northern Arizona, it’s definitely on our radar for future Southwest vacations. We’ll never forgot those rosy pink sand dunes, the sculpted walls of the winding slot canyons, our groovy motel or the cruiser bike rides, but what we’ll remember most about our time in Kanab (and the whole trip really) were the human connections that we made. In a year where many of us have felt so very unconnected because of COVID, it was heart warming, energizing and inspiring to engage with others who also love travel and adventure. I can’t help but get “jazzed” and excited when I’m talking about travel experiences. It’s really pretty cool how travel brings people together. One thing that we become aware of while meeting people from all over the country and world is that we’re probably more alike than we are different. All this human interaction was refreshing, life almost felt “normal” again, and at times we nearly forgot it was still 2020! (Don’t worry, although I don’t really get into it in this post we were wearing masks and safety protocols were implemented in most of the locations we visited.)
Thank you for reading our post! If you have any recommendations for Kanab or the surrounding area please let us know below in the comments.
You may also like:
- How to Start Packing for a Road Trip
- Practices for Enjoying the Outdoors Responsibly
- Getting Wet in The Narrows at Zion National Park
- The Angels Landing Hike at Zion National Park is Awesome, But it’s Not for Everyone
- Snow Canyon State Park is a Little Gem in Utah
- Drive Fast and Chase Sunsets at the Bonneville Salt Flats