The Best Basecamp for Utah’s National Parks Is This City You’ve Never Heard Of
Kanab offers a central location within hours of myriad national parks, forests, and monuments, including Zion and Bryce Canyon.
What if I told you there’s a city in Utah that’s within a few hours’ drive of a dozen of the state’s most beautiful natural wonders, and smack dab in the middle of not one, not two, but four national parks?
Meet: Kanab, population of about 5,000.
Located just a half-hour from the east entrance of Zion National Park and just under 90 minutes from Bryce Canyon National Park, this small southeastern city is the ideal basecamp to explore Utah’s Canyon Country. An Old West feel is alive and well in “Little Hollywood,” a nickname claimed by the city thanks to its long history as a backdrop for movies and television shows for the likes of cowboys from Clint Eastwood to John Wayne. (There’s even a museum where you can check out the old sets.)
But I found myself at a local Airbnb that appeared to be in prime position to explore the area’s epic outdoor adventures. Here’s what I discovered: Prime is an understatement.
We drove just 15 minutes east and entered Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, taking a day to explore Buckskin Gulch, considered the longest (and deepest) slot canyon in the Southwest. It’s more than 20 miles long, meaning you can make it a day hike at your leisure or do the entire thing while camping along the way. Grab a $6 day pass at recreation.gov; then head down a dirt road, pass the turnoff for Buckskin Gulch Trailhead, and park at Wire Pass Trail. This is a more direct path through a wash to the canyon, where you’ll shimmy down ladders, pass horse tours, and just generally be in awe of the orange and pink sandstone rising above your head.
That’s just one of the destinations you’ll want to hit on a weekend in Kanab. Coral Pink Sand Dunes is just a minutes-drive away, not to mention Red Canyon, or Peek-a-boo Slot, and Gooseberry Mesa. So, what are you waiting for? Time to get out there! Here’s the low-down on the town where canyon bathing is a must:
Where to Stay
There are plenty of Airbnbs throughout town, as well as motels and inns. The Best Friends Roadhouse and Mercantile is a pet-friendly lodge that supports a local animal sanctuary. You can also try to snag a campsite inside one of the national parks (or avoid the crowds and find one just outside their borders). If you’re going into Zion, be sure to research the shuttle system ahead of time; it’s back in effect on weekdays in mid-March.
Where to Eat
A loaf of French boule from Kanab Creek Bakery lasted us the entire weekend for toast and sandwiches. Prime rib and foraged mushrooms from Sego Restaurant, located in the Canyons Boutique Hotel, made for more gourmet takeout. (Chef Shon Foster grew up in Kanab and previously helmed the kitchen at Amangiri, according to his website.) And the ice cream at Big Al’s Burgers is an indulgent treat.
Where to Drink
Sego’s got an extensive cocktail selection. But honestly? If you’re staying in town for more than a couple days, bring your own cans of beer and bottles of wine.
Where to Play
Kanab is about 30 minutes from the east entrance of Zion National Park and just under 90 minutes from Bryce Canyon National Park. Head just 15 minutes east and you’re in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The Grand Canyon is about 3½ hours south, and Capitol Reef National Park is just over three hours north. Visit Utah’s got an entire list of 15 must-do adventures when you’re staying in town.