Twenty minutes from Southern Utah University’s campus is an oasis in the desert — a river walk hike through a slot canyon that leads to a waterfall and natural rock slide. Although Kanarra Falls remains open year-round, the trail’s peak season concludes by the end of October. Scheduled permits for the hike can be purchased online.
Adventurers will hike for close to two hours and just around four miles round-trip, most of which will be spent wading through Kanarra Creek. The hike begins with a scenic uphill trek along the stream, surrounded by an array of beautiful and diverse foliage. As one continues down the trail, they will step into the flowing water to continue the walk through tall slot canyon walls.
Eventually, hikers will come to the first waterfall. Next to it will be a 20-foot ladder for explorers to climb in order to continue the hike. This structure’s predecessor was much more treacherous. For years, an old log with rungs bolted to it served as the makeshift ladder that deterred less adventurous hikers. It was replaced in 2021 with the help of SUU Aviation, who airlifted the old ladder out to replace it with its much more sophisticated successor.
Some may choose to stop here and turn back. For those who continue on, they will have to scale a boulder to make it to a “swimming hole” where the flow of water has created a natural rock slide. Just a little further at the second waterfall, the water becomes deeper and the trail ends, bordering on private property where hikers must turn around to head back down the trail.
This hike has become popular over the years, and the town of Kanarraville maintains this trail with money collected from the $12 permit all hikers must purchase in advance. When rangers are stationed at the trailhead, tickets can be purchased only if the trail has not sold out for the day. The permits exist to reduce foot traffic on the path and ensure it is kept in excellent condition for all who come to visit.
For those who choose to embark on this adventure and pay the fee, safety is essential. On hikes where rocks are slippery and water is cold, proper gear will make the journey easier. Neoprene socks and dry bags can be rented from SUU Outdoors, but sturdy hiking boots or waterproof shoes with ankle support must be purchased or rented elsewhere.
Hikers should always be conscious of weather conditions that may affect their ability to complete this hike safely, especially flash flood warnings. Heavy rain or snowmelt can contribute to rushing water that can become life-threatening.
This hike is not one to be ventured without careful preparation. In 2019, two hikers were stranded in the canyon for 18 hours. They had repelled down from the top of the canyon without the proper gear to get out but were eventually rescued by Iron County authorities assisted by SUU’s own aviation program.
With unique and wonderful natural features so close to SUU, the $12 spent on admission to this hike will be money well spent.
Author: Lily Brunson
Photographer: Lily Brunson
Editor: Lily Brunson