Colorful Kanab: Toadstool Hoodoos – Old Paria – Coral Pink Sand Dunes

Last Updated on: 5th June 2023, 10:57 pm

The small town of Kanab, Utah serves as a base for countless geological wonders, and it would probably take weeks to see them all. Below, however, we’ll be focusing on three remarkable sites on the town’s outskirts: Toadstool Hoodoos, Old Paria and the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park.

I visited each on the same day during my journey from Page, Arizona to Kanab. While I didn’t start until after my afternoon tour of Lower Antelope Canyon, you could also squeeze in a hike like the Buckskin Gulch slot canyon if you start earlier in the morning.

To learn more about why Kanab makes such a good base and where to stay in town, be sure to check the end of the guide.

The Toadstool Hoodoos

While the American Southwest is full of otherworldly landscapes, a lot of the strangest scenery requires a lot of effort to reach. But that’s not the case with the Toadstool Hoodoos, which lie just off Highway 89 – about 30 minutes west of Page and 40 minutes east of Kanab.

Toadstool Hoodoos Grand Staircase-Escalante

Given the easy access, don’t expect to find yourself alone. From my experience, however, it was still easy enough to photograph the area without other visitors in the shot.

From the parking area, the hike to the hoodoos and back is about 1.8 miles, or 2.8 km. While the hike over, which largely consists of walking through a wash, is pretty straightforward, it’s helpful to have an app like AllTrails just in case.

Toadstool Hoodoos Grand Staircase-Escalante
Toadstool Hoodoos Grand Staircase-Escalante

But what exactly are hoodoos? A hoodoo is basically any tall and thin spire of rock that was formed by years of erosion. The formations of nearby Bryce Canyon, for example, are hoodoos, and so are the ‘fairy chimneys’ of Cappadocia, Turkey.

Toadstool Hoodoos Grand Staircase-Escalante
Toadstool Hoodoos Grand Staircase-Escalante

If you’re familiar with the Bisti Badlands of New Mexico, the Toadstool Hoodoos and their surroundings appear quite similar. This place, however, is a lot smaller. Exploring the whole area, including the hike there and back, should only take you around an hour.

You’ll find the hoodoos atop a large plateau, with some of the most prominent formations located by the edge as you arrive. Frustratingly, I saw multiple people climb atop them for selfies, and I fear that it’s only a matter of time before some of them collapse.

Toadstool Hoodoos Grand Staircase-Escalante
Toadstool Hoodoos Grand Staircase-Escalante

Further along the plateau, you’ll find even more hoodoos that do indeed resemble mushrooms, hence the Toadstool Hoodoos moniker.

While most visitors simply check out the formations in the center before heading back, be sure to walk over to the west, where you can check out the area’s most stunning viewpoint.

If this were in another region of the US, the Toadstool Hoodoos would probably be a household name. But given the number of stunning landscapes in southern Utah alone, this spot sort of gets lost in the shuffle and doesn’t get mentioned all too often.

The Toadstool Hoodoos is just one landmark among many in the massive Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Designated by the federal government as a way to protect all the lands within them, National Monuments can sometimes be massive. And planning a trip through them can often be confusing, as Google Maps might only show you a random pin in the middle of nowhere. 

Toadstool Hoodoos Grand Staircase-Escalante
Toadstool Hoodoos Grand Staircase-Escalante
Toadstool Hoodoos Grand Staircase-Escalante

The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, in fact, currently takes up as much as 1,880,461 acres, or 7,610 km2. For reference, if it were to become a National Park, it would be within the top ten largest in the country!

Toadstool Hoodoos Grand Staircase-Escalante

As such, it’s better not to overwhelm yourself by trying to see everything within Grand Staircase-Escalante during a single trip. Instead, think of each individual landmark as its own destination.

The next stop on this list, however, happens to fall within the National Monument as well.

Toadstool Hoodoos Grand Staircase-Escalante

Old Paria

Despite its stunning beauty and its convenient location between Page and Kanab, Old Paria is still relatively obscure. As mentioned, it too is part of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. But what exactly is Old Paria?

Old Paria Grand Staircase-Escalante

Think of Old Paria as both a natural and a historic destination – the latter part we’ll get into shortly. First, to get to the former town, you’ll have to drive along a 5.6-mile dirt road off of Highway 89.

While the road is in decent condition, you’ll want to take it slow and make plenty of stops to enjoy the phenomenal views.

Old Paria Grand Staircase-Escalante
Old Paria Grand Staircase-Escalante

While I have yet to visit the Painted Mountain of Peru or the Rainbow Mountains of China, the colorful mountains of Paria are similar yet much lesser known.

The striped mountains display colors like pink, yellow, red, orange and white, and are said to be comprised of minerals like cobalt, manganese and iron oxides.

It’s a sight to behold, and as you’ll likely notice on the way back, the position of the sun can greatly enhance or diminish certain colors.

Old Paria Grand Staircase-Escalante
Old Paria Grand Staircase-Escalante
Old Paria Grand Staircase-Escalante

Arriving at the parking area, I set out to explore Old Paria – or at least the little that’s left of it.

Originally spelled ‘Pahreah,’ the area was first settled by Mormon settlers in 1865. But due to the Blackhawk War, the residents had to move upstream in 1870, soon constructing a school and a church. And in 1893, they even built a post office.

Old Paria Grand Staircase-Escalante
The cemetery

At its peak, Paria was home to about 47 families. It was gradually abandoned, however, due to the constant flooding of the Paria River and the subsequent loss of agricultural land. Only eight families remained by 1892, and then the town was fully abandoned around a decade later.

Today, very little remains of the old town except for a cemetery, which is about fifteen minutes on foot from the parking area. It contains about twenty graves, mostly of Mormon settlers but also some which belong to indigenous Paiutes.

Old Paria Grand Staircase-Escalante
Old Paria Grand Staircase-Escalante

After the town’s abandonment, Paria was used as a movie set (as was central Kanab) from the 1930s, and numerous films were shot here, including The Outlaw Josey Wales starring Clint Eastwood.

Sadly, the movie set was burnt down, supposedly by vandals, in 2006. But I’d heard that parts of it remained, and I set off to find them with help from the Maps.me app.

Luckily, I happened to run into a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) ranger on an ATV who pointed out a shortcut to the river, on the other side of which the movie set was built. The vegetation, however, was quite thick, and I had to fight my way through the bushes to get there.

Old Paria Grand Staircase-Escalante

Eventually, I made it to the river, where I could just make out some of the ruins of the movie set in the distance. But the riverbed, which is sometimes dry, was too wet and muddy to cross.

Fortunately, I happened to have my telephoto zoom lens with me and managed to capture the main structure from a distance.

Old Paria Grand Staircase-Escalante

After that, I made my way back to the starting point. All in all, I’d spent about 70 minutes exploring the area. And with the sun now lower in the sky, the colors of the canyon were even more pronounced.

Old Paria Grand Staircase-Escalante
Old Paria Grand Staircase-Escalante
Old Paria Grand Staircase-Escalante
Old Paria Grand Staircase-Escalante

The Coral Pink Sand Dunes

Eventually reaching central Kanab, I decided to pass right through it, hoping to catch one more landmark on the town’s outskirts before the end of the day. The Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is located about 22 miles west of Kanab and contains over 1,200 acres of dunes.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes Utah
Coral Pink Sand Dunes Utah

As this is a state park and not managed by the Bureau of Land Management, it requires a fee to enter, which is $10 per vehicle (or $5 for seniors).

To really see the colors at their finest, try arriving shortly after sunrise or just before sunset. While I arrived a little later than planned, I still had about 45 minutes to enjoy the dunes before it got dark.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes Utah
Coral Pink Sand Dunes Utah

This is yet another site that’s often overshadowed by the myriad of other gems throughout the region. But I remembered coming here over a decade prior during my first tour of this region, and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to see it again.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes Utah
Coral Pink Sand Dunes Utah
Coral Pink Sand Dunes Utah

While not Utah’s most famous natural wonder, you are indeed likely to encounter other visitors here. A lot of people come to ride ATVs along the dunes, while others try sandboarding and sand sledding down the park’s tallest dune.

As such, photographers should also be prepared to encounter track marks all along the sand. If you want to see these dunes in more pristine condition, try showing up shortly after sunrise.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes Utah
Coral Pink Sand Dunes Utah

These dunes were formed by high winds blowing through a notch between the Moquith and Moccasin Mountains. Incredibly, the sand that the wind brought here was eroded from Navajo sandstone – the same stone that makes up landmarks like Antelope Canyon.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes Utah

I continued walking until the sun made its final descent, after which I made the return journey to Kanab. But for those doing longer stays, there’s still plenty more to see just outside of town.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes Utah

The Moqui Cave

While not quite comparable to the sites mentioned above, if you happen to have some time left over after one of your Kanab day trips, the Moqui Cave, located six miles north of town, is a fun local attraction.

Moqui Cave Kanab Guide

The cave now functions as a local museum which houses a sizable collection of archaeological artifacts amassed by its founder Lex Chamberlain. In addition to Anasazi pottery from the local area, there are even authentic figurines from Mexico, including sites like Teotihuacan and Monte Albán.

In its heyday, the cave even functioned as a bar, which was established in response to complaints from actors at Kanab’s nearby movie set that there were no bars in town. Patrons even included the likes of Ronald Reagan in his acting days.

Another section of the cave, meanwhile, functions as a natural history museum, where you’ll find original dinosaur tracks, ancient fossils and a colorful collection of minerals.

If you’re looking for souvenirs, the gift shop is quite extensive as well. At the time of writing, Moqui Cave costs $5 to enter and is open from 9:00-19:00, Mon.-Sat.

Moqui Cave Kanab Guide
Moqui Cave Kanab Guide

Additional Info

In addition to being a charming little town, Kanab serves as a great base for A LOT of amazing natural sites.

In addition to the sites mentioned above, staying in Kanab gives you access to the Vermillion Cliffs (The Wave & White Pocket), Bryce Canyon National Park, Grand Canyon National Park (North Rim), Buckskin Gulch, Dixie National Forest, Zion National Park, Marble Canyon, Kodachrome Basin State Park, and even some Dinosaur Tracks.

While it may be a small town of about 5,000 people, Kanab has plenty of hotels to choose from.

I stayed at Travelodge by Wyndham Kanab, a basic hotel that was perfect for resting after long days out in nature. They also provide free breakfast. Other popular options close to the center include Comfort Suites and the Hampton Inn.

Camping is another great option. The Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, for example, has campsites ranging from $25-40.

And as the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), you’re allowed to camp in most of the area for free.

This also includes spending the night in your RV. If you don’t have your own, consider renting one on a site like Outdoorsy.

If you’re looking for somewhere with amenities, however, you may prefer to camp at an established campsite. This is a helpful resource for camping sites in the region, while you can look for primitive camping sites on FreeRoam.

As Kanab is a small town, the best way to get there is to drive. While you don’t need a 4×4 for the locations mentioned above, consider renting one anyway, as the Southwest in general is full of rough dirt roads.

For those doing broader travels throughout the region, Kanab makes for a good stop in between Page, Arizona and St. George, Utah.

The nearest major airports to Kanab are Las Vegas (about four hours) and Salt Lake City (about five hours).

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