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Abra Kanabra

Scenic Side Trips From Kanab

Gail Newbold Mar 12, 2018

“Notice that we’re the only ones here,” our guide into the Peekaboo Slot Canyon points out proudly. Granted, we were there mid-April. And yet many of the scenic spots surrounding tiny Kanab, Utah, offer boundless privacy any time of the year.

The reasons are many: Some impose restrictions on the number of visitors. Others aren’t easily accessible. And many simply haven’t been discovered by mainstream tourists. Yet.

Read on as we reveal a handful of magical sites reachable from “Abra Kanabra” — the catchy tagline given to Kanab by a local advertising agency charged with rebranding this tiny town as a base camp for visitors.

White Pocket
Photo courtesy of Kane County Travel Council
Orange sand dunes
Coral Pink Sand Dunes
Photo by Kevin Kiernan

When You Want Sand and Speed — Coral Pink Dunes

Tiffany and Coby Curtis love sharing “their” beloved Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park with people from all across the world. Now in their fourth season at the dunes, the owners of Coral Pink ATV Tours (coralpinkatvtours.com) say their largely foreign clientele has never experienced anything like the wide-open spaces of the undulating pink sand and the thrill of riding the ATVs.

“I love seeing them make memories and watching the happy smiles on their faces,” says Tiffany Curtis.

Those smiles are often tinged with nervousness for first-time riders clambering onto a heavy ATV wearing a massive helmet. They listen intently as Curtis cautions: “The sand is really soft so we don’t do burnouts, fishtails, brodies, donuts or drifting. Safety comes first. Fun is second because injuries aren’t fun.”

Within minutes of heading out, nerves relax and smiles broaden. Driving an ATV through shifting sand feels like a long Disney ride minus artificial scenery. The wildflowers in June are the real deal. As are the setting sun, slot canyon, mule deer and even snakes.

Light coming into a slot canyon in southern Utah
Peekaboo Canyon
Photo courtesy of Kane County Travel Council
Narrow trail leading through a red walled slot canyon
Peekaboo Canyon
Photo courtesy of Kane County Travel Council
Shadows and light peeking through a slot canyon
Peekaboo Canyon
Photo courtesy of Kane County Travel Council

When You Don’t Want to Fight Crowds — Peekaboo Canyon

About 4.5 sandy miles off U.S. Highway 89, Peekaboo Slot Canyon is touted by locals as a cheaper alternative to the pricey Antelope Canyon outside Page, Arizona.

You’ll need a four-wheel drive vehicle to navigate the 2.8 miles of soft sand before reaching this mostly easy but beautiful slot canyon 9 miles from the center of Kanab. Or you can hire a guide who will drive you to the entrance and guide you through while dispensing information about the area. We used Brent Johnson of Forever Adventure Tours (foreveradventures.com) who did an excellent job sharing his love of the place. “This is my office,” he said proudly.

We enjoyed the drive through the sand dunes and trees almost as much as the actual 1-mile roundtrip hike. But if you have the stamina, you can simply walk the sandy road to the trailhead. 

When You Like Remote — Vermilion Cliffs

The Wave

You know it’s got to be special when 150 people line up daily for one of 10 coveted permits dispensed by the Bureau of Land Management lottery to hike “The Wave” inside the 112,000-acre Paria Canyon Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness area.

The Wave is famous for its colorful swirling striations of sculpted sandstone that are a photographer’s dream. Be aware that signage is minimal inside the remote cliff area, and the roads require four-wheel drive vehicles after a storm. Terrain can be challenging and potentially dangerous. Stories abound of hikers with permits who could never find the actual 6-mile roundtrip hike. Consider joining one of the many tour operators who know the area well, have the correct vehicles and will get you there safely.

To apply for a Wave permit, visit the Coyote Buttes North lottery page on the BLM website or enter the in-person lottery at the visitors center in Kanab. Only 20 people are issued permits each day: 10 online four months in advance and 10 each day in Kanab for the following day.

Colorful rock face in southern Utah canyon
White Pocket
Photo courtesy of Kane County Travel Council
Rock formation in southern Utah
White Pocket
Photo courtesy of Kane County Travel Council

White Pocket

Although The Wave is the most well-known spot in this vast landscape located about halfway between Page, Arizona, and Kanab, some say other sites inside the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument are equally, if not more, spectacular.

Johnson, for example, loves the White Pocket area more than The Wave because he claims there’s more to see and photograph. It’s visually stunning, with colorful wave-like striations, but with more variety and no permit required. The actual hike is about 1 to 2 miles.

Red, pink, orange and white rock formation and mountain
Paria townsite area
Photo by Kevin Kiernan

Paria Overlook

Kyle Walker, owner of Grand Circle Tours (vermilioncliffs.net), loves the Vermilion Cliffs “because of the top-quality scenery and almost no people. You don’t feel like you’re at Black Friday at Walmart wrangling a toaster from someone, like you do at some sites.”

He likes driving non-hikers through shaggy junipers, pinons, sagebrush and wildflowers to the Paria Overlook. There, he arranges his guests on rocks and orchestrates lunch with a view of the vast Vermilion Cliffs, Paria River, canyon, and even Lake Powell in the distance. “This is the tie-dyed section (of the cliffs),” he says while distributing veggie paninis on crusty bread, drinks, chips and apples.

Walker offers day trips into the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument from Kanab for all abilities and interests. “It’s funny,” he muses. “National monuments are such an afterthought for most people. But if you didn’t know the designation you might think it was a national park.”

When You’re a Night Owl — Star Party

If you’re not too tired after a day of hiking or sand duning, Rick and Gayle Lewis will come to your Kanab hotel (shuttle service is included in the price) and drive you about 1 mile to their private canyon for some serious stargazing. You’ll see stars, the Milky Way, Zodiac constellations, planets and more. Call 435-899-9092 or visit kanabstars.com to reserve a spot.

When You’re Hungry: The Rocking V Café in Kanab offers “slow food” made from scratch in eclectic combinations. One of the newer spots in town for breakfast and lunch is Kanab Creek Bakery. Start the day right with wood-fire-roasted, all-natural chicken, boulangère potatoes and a liège waffle with rum and maple syrup.

When You Want to Sleep: Kanab offers 17 places to lay your head. One of the newest is the Hampton Inn offering spacious, well-lit rooms, comfortable beds and an extensive free breakfast buffet.

Cafe with people sitting outside at a table on the sidewalk
The Rocking V Café
Photo courtesy of Kane County Travel Council

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