Located just north of the Utah-Arizona border, Kanab and its central location among southern Utah’s most popular outdoor destinations attract adventurers of all ages and backgrounds. In addition to its prime location, the town of Kanab is a destination worth visiting on its own! With endless options, here are several of my favorite things to do and see in and around Kanab, Utah.
About Kanab, Utah
People have inhabited southern Utah for thousands of years, with different Native communities that have come, gone, and remained, such as the Kaibab Paiutes, Hopi Tribe, and the Puebloans. Spanish explorers went through the area in 1776, and in the 1850s, Mormon Pioneers attempted to lay claim to the land but faced attacks from the area’s Native tribes that were already occupying the land.
Eventually, the town and area were re-established in the 1870s by the Mormon pioneers and remained isolated for decades.
During the Golden Age of American cinema, the city and area became the destination for filming Old Western movies and television shows. To this day, western fans and film buffs flock here to experience the wild, wild west for themselves.
Today, the little town near Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument has become a beloved destination for travelers and adventurists looking for that grand Utah experience.
Visit the Sand Caves | What to do in Kanab, Utah
Just five miles north of the city on Highway 89 are Kanab’s Sand Caves. Also known as the Moqui Sand Caves or Moqui Caverns, miners carved them while harvesting sand for glass and cast-iron moldings.
Kanab Sand Caves Location
You’ll see them high up on your right after passing the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary if you’re driving north from Kanab. Across from them, on the left, you’ll see an area to pull out and park. There will most likely be some cars already parked there as it’s become a popular destination. It’s a quick hike to the large caves. Chances are, even if there are several parties already there, you’ll each have plenty of space to wander and explore.
Getting to the Caves
Without trail markers, you’ll have to make your way through the foothill pines and shrubs before ascending the sandstone incline. Since it’s a pretty steep incline, I’ll encourage you to go as far left as you can. Then, zig-zag a bit until you reach the point to which you can walk over to the caves. When it comes to footwear, I recommend a hiking boot or shoe with good traction.
Best Time to Visit the Sand Caves
The best time to visit the caves is a couple of hours before sunset, right when the sun is shining into its openings. Most of these openings, especially those directly looking out to Highway 89, have cliff-like drops. Be careful around the edges and keep a close watch on your kids or pets.
As you see from the images, the cave is completely covered with graffiti. Please refrain from making your mark on the sandstone. So much lecturing, I know! But, because it’s such a wild west type of spot, it calls for some self-regulation and respect of the land.
Moqui Cave | What to do in Kanab, Utah
Once a dance hall and bar, Moqui Cave is now a museum showcasing life in remote southern Utah, then and now.
Just around the corner from Kanab’s Sand Caves, Moqui Cave displays everything relevant to the area. The museum emphasizes just how much history Kanab has, from the dinosaur tracks (below) to Native American artifacts.
Additionally, Moqui Cave has a shop with various items such as rocks and art from local Native artists.
Go Off-Roading to Peek A Boo Slot Canyon |What to do Near Kanab, Utah
One of my favorite activities we did in Kanab was off-roading. Dark Sky RV Campground offers its guests exclusive access to its two ROXOR rentals.
A ROXOR is a 4×4 off-road utility vehicle that bears a strong resemblance to the original Willy’s Jeep of the 1940s. Dark Sky upgraded their units to be street-legal. This gives you the freedom to bop around the town and visit the remote slot canyons and areas you can only access with a high-clearance, off-road vehicle.
ROXOR Rental Specifics
The ROXOR rental comes with a Bluetooth speaker, binoculars, cooler, satellite communicator for emergencies, first aid kit, and car rescue equipment. Additionally, Dark Sky walks you through the entire vehicle, answering any questions you might have. Finally, after deflating your tires a bit to ride on soft sand, they provide a small air compressor that will get you pumped up and ready to hit the road.
Off-roading to Peek-A-Boo Slot Canyon
Our first stop on the ROXOR was Peek-A-Boo slot canyon (also known as Red Canyon), whose trailhead and staging area is off Highway 89. To get to the slot canyon, you have to drive 3.5 miles each way. Be mindful some use the trail as a hiking path, although it’s not recommended, so keep an eye out for hikers. Also, the sand gets THICK in some areas. So build that momentum, and if it’s going to rain or has rained, this trail might not be the best idea.
Peek-A-Boo Slot Canyon Trail Ettiquette
When you reach the end of the 3.5-mile trail, you’ll see the slot opening and a sign about trail etiquette:
- Do not write, scratch, or apply any substance on rock or walls.
- No campfires.
- Keep pets on a leash.
- Stay on exisiting roads and trails.
- Pack out what you pack in.
Peek-A-Boo Slot Canyon Trail Length
The trail within the slot canyon is a quick 0.7-miles long (out and back). You’ll be surprised at how long you’ll spend walking through the tight sandstone crevices. The glow of the sunlight makes you feel as if you’re in a cathedral of sorts, encouraging you to look at the heavens above.
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park | What to do near Kanab, Utah
Just a 30-minute drive from Kanab is Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. This unique geologic destination will transport you to another planet.
About Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
According to Utah’s State Parks’ website:
The sand comes from Navajo sandstone from the geologic period called Middle Jurassic. The same iron oxides and minerals that give us spectacular red rock country are responsible for this landscape of coral pink sand.
Sand dunes are created by three factors: Sand, high winds, and a unique influence upon the wind. The notch between the Moquith and Moccasin mountains causes this unique influence. The wind is funneled through the notch, increasing wind velocity to a point where it can carry sand grains from the eroding Navajo sandstone.
This phenomenon is known as the Venturi effect. Once the wind passes through the notch and into the open valley, the wind velocity decreases, causing the sand to be deposited. These dunes are estimated at 10,000 to 15,000 years old.
Coral Pink Sand Dunes support a diverse population of insects, including the Coral Pink tiger beetle found only here. Melting snow sometimes creates small ponds in the dunes that support amphibians, such as salamanders and toads.
The park is also a popular destination for ATV riders. About 90% of the dunes are open for riding, but all dunes are open for hiking and just playing in the sand.
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park Fees & Regulations
- $10 entry fee per vehicle
- $5 entry fee for Utah Seniors 65 and older
- All OHV or ATVs must have an orange whiptail flag.
- Utah law requires that all riders under the age of 18 must wear a properly sized and fastened helmut.
- It is strongly encouraged that adult ATV riders wear a helmet.
- DUI laws apply to OHV’s. Do not drink and drive.
We arrived at Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park just an hour before closing. Otherwise, we would have loved to take the ROXOR out for a ride on the dunes. Instead, we opted for a sand board and sled rental. We hiked our way up to the nearest dune and let it rip. On my very first attempt, I face-planted into the sand. I’m sparing you from the scorpion-like position that my partner Tyler so graciously captured of me. Even though my pride was injured, I loved my time at this geologic phenomenon.
Sand Boarding and Sledding the Coral Pink Sand Dunes
- Sand board and sled rentals are $25 per board/sled
- Rentals must be returned 30 minutes prior to the visitor center closing.
Best Friends Animal Sanctuary | What to do in Kanab, Utah
In 1984, a group of friends created a sanctuary for abandoned and abused animals. Fast-forward to today, it’s grown to become the largest no-kill animal sanctuary in the world and transformed into a national movement to end the killing of companion animals. Through their work and partnership with other animal activists, the number of animals being killed in shelters has dropped 91% since Best Friends’ creation in the 1980s. In addition to the sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, Best Friends has no-kill communities and locations in Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, Salt Lake City, Northwest Arkansas, Houston, Florida’s Polk County, and Pennsylvania’s Waynesboro.
As animal lovers, we wanted to experience the largest sanctuary for companion animals in the country. Roughly 1,600 animals call the refuge their home, and visitors are welcome to tour the facilities, volunteer with the animals, and, of course, adopt a new best friend!
We signed up for and toured Cat World, home to more than 600 rescued cats placed into one of eleven buildings that best meets their needs and personalities. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, we stuck to touring the outside areas of Cat World, but it was a sunny day, so many of the furry occupants said hello.
The tour was led by a volunteer who walked us around various buildings, answering questions and introducing us to some of Cat World’s residents, sharing their stories of accomplishments and growth since they’ve been in the sanctuary.
Best Friends Roadhouse & Mercantile | What to do in Kanab, Utah
An extension of the Best Friends empire, Best Friends Roadhouse and Mercantile is located in the heart of downtown Kanab. As the organization has transformed the culture of the Kanab with its sanctuary, it made sense to then have a physical presence downtown. Open to both humans and pets, the Roadhouse comprises 40 rooms with various dog-and-cat-friendly amenities and services.
Open to the public, the Mercantile provides a community area where visitors can purchase food, pet items, and Best Friends merchandise. All food and beverages served at the Mercantile follow a vegan, plant-based diet. Additionally, a complimentary shuttle to and from Best Friends Sanctuary can be arranged through the front desk.
Utah’s Little Hollywood | What to do in Kanab, Utah
Since 1924, over 100 films and shows have been filmed in or around Kanab. Due to its popularity in western movie production, the area became known as “Little Hollywood.” Walking through downtown, you’ll see plaques dedicated to actors and artists. They called the area home while filming some of America’s classic films like Planet of the Apes and Mission Impossible 2.
Kanab Balloons & Tunes Roundup | What to do in Kanab, Utah
Every year in February, Kanab hosts Balloons and Tunes Roundup, an event that brings dozens of hot air balloon pilots to float above the red horizon.
Friday Night: Balloons and Tunes Roundup
Balloons and Tunes roundup begins Friday night, with the town transforming the Main street into a vendor fair and concert venue with various bands playing throughout the evening.
Also, Friday night is the Lantern Festival on North Main Street, when hundreds of biodegradable paper lanterns release into the night sky. The Lantern Festival connects those on the ground with the starry dark skies the area is known for, allowing them to add glitter and shimmer into the night sky.
Saturday Morning: Balloons and Tunes Roundup
The morning begins with the balloon launch and vendor fair on Main street, going through the rest of the day and into the evening.
Saturday Night: Balloon and Tunes Roundup
Then, Saturday night is the Balloon Glow, when the hot air balloon pilots station themselves throughout Center Street, blasting bursts of fire into the air. It’s exciting and not to mention warming on a chilly February night.
Sunday Morning: Balloons and Tunes Roundup
On Sunday morning, the hot air balloons launch for the last time. Both Saturday and Sunday’s balloon launches occur at the former Coral Cliffs Golf Course, weather permitting.
It was pretty windy during our Sunday morning launch. However, the balloons still launched, staying in the air for a shorter time, but it was still very epic to see them against the Utah terrain.
Camp at Dark Sky RV Campground | Where to stay in Kanab, Utah
You know I’m going to encourage you to camp when visiting Kanab! It’s the best way to visit and experience an area or town. So, when looking for a place to camp, look no further than Dark Sky RV Campground.
I absolutely love the way they describe how the campground came to be on their website, so I’ll let them do the explaining:
In 2019, three generations of our RV traveling family fell in love with the beauty and heart of Kanab, UT. So we sold everything, took a leap of faith, and bought acreage in Kanab. Then we set out to develop a new kind of RV park – one that we yearned for on the road- where natural beauty meets luxury- inspired by our travels across the globe.
Just three miles from the center of Kanab, 18 premiere pull-through RV sites and 10 tent campsites sit on 40 acres of untouched sagebrush. With unobstructed views in all directions, Dark Sky guests will enjoy the ever-changing vista across the Red Cliffs, Vermillion Cliffs, and the Kaibab Plateau. Epic sunrises and sunsets disappear into the darkest skies and brightest stars in Southern Utah. Dark Sky RV Campground is a new way to RV.
I agree wholeheartedly agree. We loved staying here, waking up to views of acres of sagebrush against the backdrops of cliffs. We particularly enjoyed the privacy they provide each of their RV sites, making you feel like you’re tucked away somewhere remote, but with full hookups and the amenity of their spa-like bathrooms. With heated floors and outdoor showers, please do yourself a favor and try them out.
In Conclusion | What to do in Kanab, Utah
Chocked full of history and natural attractions, Kanab ought to be on your travel bucket list. From other-worldly slot canyons to discovering dinosaur prints and petroglyphs, Kanab and its surrounding area have something for every adventurer.