Nestled on the Utah-Arizona border between Grand Staircase-Escalante and Zion National Park, Kanab is home to an array of outdoor adventure and stunning natural landscapes. But what you might not know is that the area offers a wealth of history as well.
From remnants of ancient Paiute inhabitants to the leftover TV set for the 1950s Gunsmoke, there’s a whole lot of history nestled in the canyons around Kanab. So for nature lovers and history buffs alike, below are some of the must-see destinations around Kanab.
1. Zion National Park
Originally preserved under its Paiute name Mukuntuweap National Monument, the park was renamed Zion and eventually designated a national park in 1920. The area is home to some of the most stunning hikes on the Colorado Plateau, highlighted by the Narrows and Angel’s Landing. The park holds clues of human settlement dating back nearly 8,000 years, but the first modern settlers were Mormons who came down from Salt Lake in the mid 19th century. John Wesley Powell also surveyed Zion in 1872 after his famous first descent of the Grand Canyon. While at the park, take a ranger-led tour that discusses the history of the region.
2. Little Hollywood
In large part due to its stunning natural landscapes, Kanab drew in a lot of filmmakers—including some of Hollywood’s elite—between the 1920s through the 1970s. Some actors of note who’ve filmed in the area include Robert Redford and Clint Eastwood. Kanab’s filmmaking scene eventually earned the town the moniker Little Hollywood, and it kept the local economy afloat throughout the Great Depression. While the film industry came and went from Kanab, there’s still some traces left for film buffs to explore, like the old set of Gunsmoke in Johnson Canyon. Or you can swing by the Little Hollywood Museum in town to learn more about this fun aspect of Kanab’s history.
3. Montezuma’s Legend
Want to score a boatload of ancient treasure? According to legend, the ancient Aztec king Montezuma had his treasure taken north and buried to keep it from the Spaniards. In the early 1900s, Kanab locals became convinced that the treasure was buried in nearby Johnson Canyon (yes, the same canyon where they filmed Gunsmoke), and within no time, a craze commenced. People set up tents and dug all around the canyon to find the treasure, but after two years there were no signs of it. The legend lives on to this day, with new theories emerging every few years about where the treasure might be buried. The search inspired the Kanab Treasure Quest, an event that mixes elements of a scavenger hunt and Amazing Race-style challenges where teams compete for up to $10,000 in prizes.
4. The Toadstool Hoodoos
A short hike off Highway 89, the Toadstool Hoodoos make for an almost alien landscape close to Kanab. The hoodoos are unique geological formations that are made up of large boulders sitting on small spires of entrada sandstone, giving them the look of giant petrified mushrooms. Hike around the slickrock in any direction, and you’ll encounter hundreds of these toadstools in varying shapes and sizes.
5. Hike Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon is a famous backpacking and photography destination due to its incredible varnished walls, natural amphitheaters, and Paiute petroglyphs. You’ll need a permit for overnight backpacking trips in Paria, but it also makes for a great day hiking destination. The trailhead is just east of Kanab off of Highway 89, so it pairs well with the Toadstool Hoodoos for the ambitious adventurers. The historic town of Paria was first settled in 1865, but it was abandoned for the first time during the war with the Blackhawk tribe in the late 1860s. It was resettled in 1870, but a series of floods and bad luck kept the town from prospering. The last resident left in 1929, and the ghost town remains to explore. The settling my remind you of a Hollywood movie—which is appropriate, as it was used a set (with some set designer help) in several pictures, including The Outlaw Josey Wales. Unfortunately, the sets were destroyed by vandals in 2006.
6. Visit Best Friends Animal Sanctuary
Established in 1991, Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is in a 33,000-acre canyon just north of Kanab. It’s home to almost 2,000 animals, including dogs, cats, horses, pigs, and parrots. It’s worth touring the canyon and meeting the many animals happily inhabiting the sanctuary. You can even sign up to volunteer for a day.
7. Hike The Wave
You’ve probably seen photos of The Wave, a mysterious and fascinating sandstone formation in a remote corner of the desert just over the border in Arizona. It’s competitive to get a permit (only 20 people are able to hike to The Wave per day), but it’s worth putting your name in if you’re in the area. The hike itself is a bit challenging but absolutely gorgeous. It’s just over 6 miles and features beautiful wildflowers if you catch it in the right season. And of course, The Wave itself is an incredible sight. If you manage to snag a permit, make sure you don’t forget your camera at the trailhead.
Written by Matt Halpin for Matcha in partnership with Kane County.