How to Have an Unforgettable Long Weekend in Kanab

Boating on Lake Powell.
Boating on Lake Powell. Peter Malinowski
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The redrock hamlet of Kanab has a lot more going for it than a standard-fare small town. It lures visitors from afar thanks to its fascinating past as a frequent setting of old Western films, its modern outdoor opportunities, and its ever-present beauty.

Taking a long weekend here is a great way to explore a few of the area’s offerings—although you should be forewarned that the more you see of this incredible landscape, the more you’ll want to come back for a longer trip.

The town is perfectly placed between multiple state parks, national parks, classic trails, and the legendary waters of Lake Powell. And for a small town, Kanab has an impressive array of places to stop in for a bite, whether you’re grabbing a morning espresso, seeking a quaint family-owned café for lunch, or you’re sitting down for a multi-course evening meal.

Day One: A little history, a little hike—and bigtime views

The Moqui Cave natural history museum is inside a red-rock cave.
The Moqui Cave natural history museum is inside a red-rock cave. Gavin Sandison

On your first day in the area, it’s best to get a sense of your surroundings. A famously long slot canyon, Buckskin Gulch, is a short drive away. And while you won’t have time to hike its entire length (which many people do as an overnight backpacking trip), you can peek into it from Wire Pass and get a feel for its splendor. Park at the Wire Pass Trailhead several miles off US-89, head down a well-marked trail, and shimmy your way through Wire Pass to meet its confluence with Buckskin Gulch. You can now explore as long as you have time to—Buckskin’s twisting and turning narrows go on for many jaw-dropping miles.

When you get back to town, head over to the quirky Moqui Cave natural history museum. (Yep, it’s inside a red-rock cave). It contains an impressive variety of Native American artifacts and a collection of dinosaur tracks from the days before ATV’s roamed the land.

Once you’ve gotten your fill for the day of local history and scenery, saunter over to the local Parry Lodge, built in 1931. It hosted some of Hollywood’s biggest names back in the heyday of Wild West filming. Today the lodge’s restaurant serves traditional small-town home-cooked fare, which generally sounds like a great idea after an afternoon exploring slot canyons.

Day Two: Saddle up for a long scenic drive featuring a canyon hike, a giant arch, and a colorful state park

You’ll find incredible views on a drive through the Cottonwood Canyon.
You’ll find incredible views on a drive through the Cottonwood Canyon. John Fowler

Hopefully you got a good night’s sleep, either at a hotel in town or under the stars in camp, because today’s gonna be big. Start with a good espresso or coffee at Willow Canyon Outdoor, which doubles as a coffee stop and gear shop.

Today is a perfect day for driving the Cottonwood Canyon Road, which is just 47 miles each way, but it’s slow going as much of it is a twisting dirt road and there are multiple worthwhile stop-offs as you go. Top off your tank, study your map, and set out into Cottonwood Canyon’s beautifully stark landscape. (Watch out if there’s rain or mud in the forecast.)

About 25 miles up Cottonwood Road, you’ll arrive at the Cottonwood Wash Narrows trailhead. It offers access to a beautiful, beginner-friendly slot canyon. It’s a quick hike at 1.5 miles each way, but the scenery packs a memorable punch. Several miles farther up Cottonwood Road, you’ll see a turnoff for Grosvenor Arch—which is well worth the stop-off. A short paved path leads you from the parking area to this lofty 152-foot-high rock span.

Take advantage of hiking opportunities at Kodachrome Basin State Park.
Take advantage of hiking opportunities at Kodachrome Basin State Park. Tracie Hall

Continue on Cottonwood Road and you’ll finally end up at Kodachrome Basin State Park, a rainbow-hued marvel of nature. Spend as much time as you can exploring a few of Kodachrome’s walking trails and the visitor center to get a sense of the amazing geological forces that created the colorful formations there.

Once you retrace your steps back to Kanab, you’ll be very ready for a solid meal. We recommend the cozy, artful Rocking V Café on Center Street. They’re known for from-scratch, homemade food, with a bit of a southwestern slant to the menu. It also happens to be vegetarian- and vegan-friendly.

Day Three: Drive to Lake Powell

Lake Powell offers excellent boating opportunities year-round.
Lake Powell offers excellent boating opportunities year-round. Simon

After a big two days, you’ve earned a little time on the water. The nearest Lake Powell marina, Wahweap, is just an hour’s drive away. Start your day with a homestyle breakfast at the local classic, Desert Star Café, and once you’ve fueled up, set your sights eastward.

Wahweap Marina happens to be an excellent destination for renting watercraft, whether you’d like a motorboat or jet ski, or you want to commune more quietly with nature by renting a kayak or stand-up paddleboard. You could paddle all day and only see a tiny portion of this gigantic lake, but its desert coastline is a delight, no matter how much you’re able to experience.

While you’re at the marina area, you can duck into one of its restaurants for lunch or a snack. But save some room for the main culinary event: dinner back in Kanab at Sego Restaurant. Sego is an upscale establishment with a menu that fits right in with the magical desert setting. It’s the perfect treat at the end of a few active days—and it’s not so fussy that you need a dinner jacket. So pull up a chair, savor some small plates, and reminisce over the last few days of adventuring.

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