Kanab was established in 1870, but it wasn’t until 1914 and the arrival of prospector Freddy Crystal that the tiny southern Utah town really made the map. Fresh from a trip to Mexico and armed with would-be directions, which centered primarily around the sandstone caves of nearby Johnson Canyon, to King Montezuma’s legendary Aztec gold. Crystal rallied the locals in his quest for the lost treasure, and while the treasure has never been found, the mystery remains — it’s still one of the many draws that bring visitors to Kanab each year.
In addition to the treasure hunt, there are quite a lot of other sites of interest near Kanab as well, not to mention gems like Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Zion National Park, and half a dozen other landmarks. Needless to say, Kanab offers tons of scenic road cycling routes for day trippers and multi-day adventure cyclists alike.
It’s just thirty miles from downtown Kanab to the edge of Zion National Park — head north from Kanab on US-89 for 17 miles to Mount Carmel Junction. You’ll gain a 1,000 feet of elevation in the first 12 miles, but there’s a reasonable shoulder along 89 that gives you plenty of room to climb. From there, head west on UT-9 into the park. The views of Checkerboard Mesa and the East Temple from Highway 9 can’t be overstated.
Bicycles get into the park at a discounted rate of $12 per person, and can ride as far as the historic Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel — no cyclists or pedestrians are allowed in the tunnel. It’s best to head into Zion early in the day, when fewer shuttles are running on the narrow road, and before the heat of the day sets in. This ride is 35 miles each way, so while ambitious cyclists will get plenty of bang for their buck, families and those looking for a warmup ride can cut mileage in half by leaving a car at the White Mountain Trading Post at the junction of Highways 9 and 89.
Cyclists on the hunt for treasure can head just under 10 miles east of Kanab on US-89 to the junction with Johnson Canyon Road to check out the scene that held Crystal captive a century ago. Flanked on either side by gorgeous multicolored sandstone cliffs, the road winds alongside Johnson Wash until it eventually splits into two unpaved BLM-maintained roads at Mile 25.
Western buffs will want to make a stop about five miles up the canyon for the Johnson Western Movie Set, where Gunsmoke, Wagon Train, and dozens of other films and television shows were set. The route gains about a 1,000 feet of vert in 25 miles—meaning the cruise back to Kanab is tons of fun. There’s virtually no shoulder on Johnson Canyon Road, so this is a ride best suited to confident cyclists.
Extend the Adventure
There’s plenty of lodging in Kanab, including a good selection of budget motels, and, in addition to typical tourist fare, a couple of higher-end restaurants — the Rocking V Cafe is popular for its locally sourced cuisine, including meat and vegan options.
When you’re ready for a break from the bike, Kanab has plenty of rest day options as well. A scenic drive through Zion or Bryce Canyon national parks guarantees great photo opportunities, not to mention hiking options for the whole family. Adventurous spirits can spend their days off in one of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument’s slot canyons (it’s 120 miles to the entrance in Escalante); some experience — or an experienced guide — is a necessity to enjoy the slot canyons safely.