Right smack in the middle of the Colorado Plateau, Kanab is perfectly situated to access some of the top national parks and public lands in the West. In under two hours you can reach three national parks, each offering its own spin on dramatic desert landscapes. Add in Lake Powell National Recreation Area, a smattering of national monuments, and other public lands and you’ll see why Kanab is known as the “Heart of the Parks.”
This story was created in partnership with Visit Southern Utah, and originally published here.
North Rim of the Grand Canyon
Sometimes called the “other side,” the Grand Canyon’s North Rim is much quieter with fewer visitors than other access points to the national park. Sweeping views are easily earned on a handful of trails that skirt the rim, or the half-mile trail to Bright Angel Point. For extended adventures, the North Kaibab Trail eventually leads to the Colorado River, dropping nearly 6,000 feet over 14 miles (one-way). Day hikes to the bottom of the canyon are not recommended, but overnight backcountry permits can be acquired with some advanced planning. Services wind down in mid-October before the roads close for the winter in December, so if you’re planning a late spring or fall trip, be sure to check if the park is open.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Lose yourself (proverbially, not literally) in a hoodoo maze at Bryce Canyon National Park. The largest concentration of these jagged, wind-and-water eroded rock formations on Earth is found here, giving the park its distinct identity. The three mile Queen’s Garden/Navajo Combination Loop is the best introduction to the park for first timers, while the eight mile Fairlyand Loop offers more solitude.
Zion National Park
For the well-organized adventure seekers, Zion National Park offers some of the most stunning and sweaty-palm inducing adventures in the Southwest. Obtaining permits for the most popular trails is a must, but well worth the effort. A section of the Virgin River weaves through a narrow canyon, aptly named “The Narrows,” for a perfect warm weather trek for those who don’t mind getting their feet wet.
For those who aren’t afraid of heights, the 5.4 mile hike to Angel’s Landing is an unforgettable experience. Calling this a “trail” is a bit misleading– reaching the summit is achieved by clinging for dear life to chains bolted into the rock, with a 1000-foot precipice on either side of you. It’s not for the faint of heart, or for those who don’t plan ahead and secure a permit, but at the top you’ll be rewarded with the best views in the park.
Slot canyons are exactly as the name suggests: narrow sandstone cracks where you can rub your elbows on each side of the canyon. Rain, even the slightest amount, can cause catastrophic flash flooding, so be sure to check the weather or speak to a ranger before entering any slot canyon. If you’re still unsure, hire a local guide.
The longest and deepest slot canyon in the world, Buckskin Gulch carves a 16-mile long crack in the Earth over 200 feet deep. Hiking the entire length of the canyon requires an overnight permit, plus some canyoneering experience and advance planning. But the good news is, if you don’t want the whole enchilada, you can still get a taste with a day hike from Wire Pass. This is the most bang-for-your-buck route into the canyon. The route is 3.4 miles round trip, with the opportunity to explore as long as you want when you reach the canyon floor.
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is known for its wild, untamed and remote character. If you’re up for a 4WD or ATV/UTV adventure, Peek-A-Boo Canyon is the perfect introduction to this monument just 9 miles north of Kanab. Reaching the trailhead might be the hardest part– when you’ve arrived, you’re only a short stroll away from the entrance to this colorful sandstone canyon.
The Wave (if you’re lucky)
Known as “Utah’s only legal lottery,” permits to The Wave are highly coveted. May the odds be ever in your favor if you choose to play, but fortunately even if you don’t win big, you’re not out of luck. There are an abundance of these undulating Navajo Sandstone rock formations across the region, most notably in the White Pocket.
You could be forgiven for calling this the “poor man’s wave,” but you would be wrong; the White Pocket is a destination worthy on its own. Remember though—luck favors the prepared. The roads are rough and remote, and cell service unreliable at best. If you’re unsure about your (or your vehicle’s) ability to navigate this rugged sandstone wilderness, hiring a guide is your best bet.
Whether you’re checking off bucket-list adventures in some of the country’s top national parks or looking to lose the crowds on a dusty 4WD road, Kanab, Utah, is the perfect place to start your adventure.