Since northern California is an area where neither of us have spent time, and we ultimately wanted to start making our way north for the summer, we decided to spend a few weeks exploring northern California on our way to Oregon/Washington/Idaho. As always with our lifestyle, our timeline also gets dictated by work, so although we explored Mammoth, Tahoe, Sierra Buttes, Lassen National park and Sha...
Even after all the times we’ve been to southern Utah and even driven through Kanab, I didn’t know Kanab had so much to offer in terms of hiking and canyoneering. I started seeing a lot of people post about Kanab and it piqued my interest in planning a trip there. There’s some real hidden gems near Kanab that are definitely making their way onto social media and pretty soon aren’t going to be very secret anymore. People are still pretty good about not geo-tagging these places on Instagram, but if you do your own research for twenty minutes you can pretty much figure out where all of these places are. Then the problem is getting to some of these hidden gems, because a lot of them are several miles down deep sandy dirt roads that definitely require sand driving experience, or else you have to pay a guide to take you there. A lot of these places are 30-50 miles from any town too, so if you don’t know what you’re doing or come unprepared, you could get yourself into some trouble.
When I started planning a trip to Kanab, I really wanted to try for the Wave lottery for a few days in a row. Of course we’d love to visit the Wave, but increased popularity means there are 200 people showing up each day for 16 spots, which is not very good chances of winning, especially during peak spring time. I was thinking we would try for the lottery each day and then if we didn’t get it, we could go do a different activity, like hiking Buckskin Gulch. Then I was reading that the trailheads for those places will fill up by 10 am too, which would make it difficult to show up after the Wave lottery. After all this research, I just said screw it to the Wave, and planned out a different 5 day itinerary that didn’t include any permits or waiting in line for a lottery. I still fully intend to try for the Wave another time. I’ve heard that the best time to try is Thanksgiving week because they do 5 days worth of lottery on the last day before the holiday. I’d like to visit Coyote Buttes South too, which also requires a permit, but is much less visited. I’ll save both those locations for next time, and for the current week I planned 5 full days of awesome hiking and exploring. The only reason we were able to go to a lot of these places is because we have the dirt bikes with us, because we wouldn’t normally take our camper down such sandy roads.
We started this Kanab trip by driving from Green River Utah, so we took a few scenic highways that we’d never driven before, through Marysvale, Panguitch and Orderville. This backway was super pretty, full of green hillsides next to winding creeks, and I would highly recommend this scenic drive that parallels I-70.
Directly south of Mt. Carmel Junction is a very random man-made “cave” called the Belly of the Dragon. It’s actually just a drainage tunnel under the highway, but it goes for several hundred feet, but the walls of the cave are all jagged making it look like a real cave. It’s pretty dark in the middle, so a flashlight is helpful. It’s more of a cool stop for kids, but it’s right off the highway so we figured we’d stop to see it anyway. If you are in the area it is worth the quick stop. The hike continues after the tunnel, but we didn’t take the time to hike it.
Between Mt. Carmel Junction and Kanab are the Moqui Sand Caves. There’s a Moqui Cave Museum with ancient Native American artifacts and dinosaur tracks and it costs a small fee. At first we were confused that this was the trail we were looking for, but the trail to get to the caves high up on the cliffs is another quarter mile south down the highway and doesn’t cost anything. Use AllTrails to know where to park and start the hike. There’s a small pulloff for several cars on the side of the highway. You cross the highway and the trail starts to climb right up the sandstone wall to get to the cliffs probably about 50 feet up. We stayed as far left as possible before scrambling up the rock wall and found this route the easiest to scramble. We watched a few people try to hike farther right before scrambling up and the wall was much steeper there and looked impossible to get up. Then you can just walk horizontally on the top layer of the sandstone to get to the caves. These caves are actually man-made for sand mining for glass making, and I didn’t realize this until after we visited, but probably would’ve known this if we went to the museum. The cave goes back a hundred feet with several openings to look through back to the highway. The wind whips through these caves and we were getting pelted with sand! Luckily we had a moment in the caves without anyone else there and got a chance to check out each little opening, but people showed up shortly after us. This is a short hike totally worth the stop, and you shouldn’t be scared of the scramble if you pick the best line up the rocks!
The thing I wanted to do the most in Kanab was visit this great big white wind cave, and it took me a minute to figure out where to go, but figured out an 8 mile route each way on sandy OHV roads that took us directly there on the dirt bikes. We always wear all our dirt bike gear regardless of whether we’re just on a dirt road or a short ride. We strapped our Wolfman saddle bags onto my dirt bike so that we could carry our hiking shoes. We also bring our bike locks and lock our bikes together so that we can hike without worrying about our bikes getting stolen. There’s no reason to worry anyway since nobody was out there. We only saw one other jeep as we were leaving. We could actually see the wind cave from several miles away while riding towards the cave, and you could tell it was huge! When the road ends, you hike up the sand along the rock wall for a quarter mile to get to the cave. It’s absolutely amazing inside the cave and you can see all the different layers shaped by the wind. A big sand dune is piled up under the cave and everyone climbs up on top of the dune for the photo looking from the inside of the cave. The cave is so big you need a wide angle lens to photograph it fully. We visited on a weekday, so we had the cave all to ourselves. On a weekend I’d expect to see some tour groups. If you want a super peaceful and unique place to visit and to revel in the geology, this is it! We camped right at the trailhead for the OHV roads, with two other RVs that also had OHVs.
We left our camp spot and continued driving HWY 89 between Kanab and Page making the following stops:
Paria River Valley Trail: This is a 6 mile graded dirt road leading to the old Paria townsite. There aren’t any ruins left of the townsite, but there are a few informational signs and the landscape here is insanely beautiful and unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. The road is narrow and windy, but we were fine to drive it in our camper. Some people walk it if their car doesn’t have high clearance or 4WD, but that would be a very long walk on a dusty road. The cliffs on either side of the road are multi layered rainbow like mountains and the picture just doesn’t do it justice. You can’t see these cliffs from the highway so it becomes a total surprise once you get a few miles down this road.
The Nautilus: A.9 mile flat hike through a wash that leads to a unique wind-carved rock formation. It is almost like an open top tunnel or a slide from the top of a rock through to the bottom, and pretty unique. The trailhead starts just north of the more popular White House Trailhead, which is an access point for Buckskin gulch. It’s a graded dirt road that you have to take for a mile, and super bumpy! There’s not much of a trailhead, just a couple pull offs. The hike is super short, good for families, and I think totally worth it if you’re looking for something to do in between Kanab and Page.
Toadstools: A 2 mile hike within the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument that is mostly flat and wanders through a canyon wash to view several rock formations called Toadstools that look like tall skinny mushrooms. They are shaped from the sandstone on the bottom layer eroding away faster than the top layer. They are so funny looking and definitely worth the short hike. The parking lot is right off the highway with really easy and free access. The rock cliffs in this canyon are also full of colorful layers so the hike is quite beautiful the entire way.
Glen Canyon Dam Overlook: Right before the town of Page is the Glen Canyon Dam, and you can stop and park on either side of the bridge and walk back across to get a view down into the canyon. You can walk all the way across the bridge and back. There are fences on all sides but it is still super trippy to look all the way down.
Page, AZ: We stopped for dinner at Birdhouse in Page, Arizona for some of the best fried chicken strips we’ve ever had, especially the honey butter flavor. Whenever we eat out its generally fast casual places on travel days, but sometimes its fun to support local businesses and try something new in small towns. This was a perfect example of that. Then we found an easy camp spot near the Page Shores Amphitheater in some open desert land surrounded by red rock walls that form this natural amphitheater. Enduro races also used to be held here so there was a weird bridge coming out of the amphitheater and Blake could see where the race used to start.
Horseshoe Bend: We had to stop at the famous Horseshoe Bend, which neither of us had been to before. I was surprised to learn that the $10 entrance fee wasn’t included on the America the Beautiful National Park Pass because even though the trail is located within the Glen Canyon NRA, the parking lot is private and owned by the city of Page. We almost considered backing out of the line when the lady turned away my pass, but of course the $10 is worth it when we aren’t spending money on any other activities lately. At least the parking lot is huge and has plenty of space for big rigs. The overlook is .7 miles from the parking lot, with no shade, and a slight descent, so it’s more difficult on the way back up. You can walk either direction along the canyon rim once you get to the overlook for different angles. The best angle is truly right at the overlook because it is centered right in front of the U-bend. You need a wide angle lens to shoot the whole bend. It’s definitely worth it to walk a little bit past the overlook for some variety and to get away from the majority of the crowds. You can see kayakers and motor boats in the river below the overlook that put in at Lees Ferry, so we are definitely exploring this section of river another time in either or packrafts or jetboat.
We kept taking HWY 89 south of Page and along the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument back to Kanab. The drive after Horseshoe Bend drops 500 feet elevation down into Glen Canyon and we stopped at Marble Canyon for a view of the Historic Navajo Bridge. This used to be the only route between Utah and Arizona across the Colorado River, replacing the ferry that used to take cars across the river. The bridge was the highest steel arch bridge in the world when it opened in 1929 and was used for 66 years before they had to construct a newer bridge to keep up with increased traffic and bigger vehicles. The new bridge parallels the historic one, which is now just used for pedestrian traffic. The water below is emerald green and so beautiful.
From here we drove into Glen Canyon NRA towards Lee’s Ferry to hike the Cathedral Wash trail. This is a 3.3 mile hike that drops 400 feet into a slot canyon that takes you all the way to the Colorado River, and we loved this hike for its uniqueness and required route finding skills. Normally in a slot canyon you have to walk through the bottom of the canyon or wash, but this one actually required you to hike along the different layers of the side-wall of the canyon, and keep switching from side to side when you got cliffed out. There were several spots where water was pooled up at the bottom of the canyon, and a couple times we had to backtrack because we took the wrong way and came to a drop-off. Sometimes there were multiple options, and people have put cairns everywhere, so it got pretty misleading where to go and you had to figure out which way was best. A couple times we had to make some big steps over boulders and haul ourselves over a couple ledges. Blake’s shoulder was still injured from an earlier dirt bike crash, so he was having to do all the obstacles with one arm. We started the hike pretty late in the day so we were trying to hike fast and make all the decisions quick, and it took us about 50 minutes each way. We were surprised to see a bunch of people starting the hike even later than us and this would not be an ideal hike to be doing back in the dark.
We got back from the hike with enough time to make the drive along the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument and get to our next camp spot. HWY 89A goes along the south edge of the monument and you can see all the red rock cliffs and rainbow layers of rock. There’s a cliff dwelling along the side of the highway you can stop for. The main road into the monument from the south end is House Rock Road, which is what we took for our next activity, visiting White Pocket. White Pocket is like the new Wave, except you don’t have to get a permit, and the route to get there is a ton of deep sandy roads, and it’s not quite as spectacular, but still full of really amazing geological features. It used to be pretty unknown until a NatGeo article featured it and photographers started rushing in. House Rock Road is the same way you get to the trailhead to start the Wave, but the turnoff for White Pocket is farther south. The road was graded, but full of washboards, so we had to take it super slow because we try to prevent the camper from rattling around more than it needs to. We came in right at sunset when the sun was hitting the pink cliffs and it was rather amazing. You pass a condor viewing site with telescopes to see the condors in their nests way up on the cliffs. We drove the camper in on this road 9 miles and found a camp site. Then we unloaded the dirt bikes in the morning for the rest of the journey. The rest of the route to get to White Pocket was another 6 miles of graded dirt road, and then ten miles of sandy roads, and the sand was super deep for my CRF150. I was pinned the whole way and so squirrely, I was bouncing from one side of the road to the other the whole time, but it was so much fun. We passed one SUV tour vehicle on their way, but they actually weren’t too far behind us. If you are going to visit White Pocket, you must know how to drive in the sand, and better come prepared for if your vehicle gets stuck in the sand. There were probably 10-10-15 cars in the parking lot, but off season there’s probably not too many people out there.
White Pocket is a sandstone rock formation that is about a mile long and a few hundred yards wide with no established trails. You just walk out onto the rock and explore the different pockets. It was made from soft sediment deformation when the sandstone was saturated and before the rock was hardened, resulting in the different swirling features and what they call the cauliflower rock (picture below). There’s so much to explore you could walk around for hours. I was completely mesmerized by some of the different features and swirls of color.
We spent about 2 hours walking around and eating lunch. You can also camp right there at the trailhead if you get your vehicle out there. There were a few other UTVs at the trailhead when we got back, but in our opinion the dirt bikes were the most fun way of getting out there. White Pocket was our last stop on our Kanab/Page roadtrip because we had planned to make it back into St. George that night, so we didn’t stay too long even though I would’ve loved to walk around again.
We drove back out the way we came, and continued along the 89A back to just south of Kanab and onto St. George. This part of the drive was very scenic as well! You go up a bunch of switchbacks towards Jacob’s Lake and the landscape totally changes from desert to pine trees in the Kaibab National Forest.
In my opinion this was a great way to explore 5 days in Kanab and Page without having to get permits or hire anybody to take you anywhere. There’s tons of other activities to do in this area, like canyoneering routes and slot canyons, but you definitely need experienced knowledge and 4WD to get to a lot of these places. If you don’t have 4WD, you could still do everything on this list except for the Great Chamber and White Pocket. Some of the tours to get to these places will run you a couple hundred bucks, but if it’s your only way of getting there then it might be worth it!