If you’re driving in southern Utah and you’re anywhere near Kanab, it’s worth taking 45 minutes to an hour to visit the Moqui Caverns – also known as the Kanab Sand Caves. They are man-made caves built in the 1970’s for mining sand that was used in glass making. They probably wouldn’t be a stop on a Utah itinerary, if it weren’t for Instagram and the compelling views from the sand caves around sunset.
You can see the Moqui Caverns from Highway 89 if you know where to look, so I bet many people visited in the past, but without geotagging and social media sharing, they didn’t become a destination until recently.
Where are the Moqui Caverns/Kanab Sand Caves?
The Moqui Caverns are located 6.4 miles north of the Kanab Visitor Centre via Highway 89. Allow 10 minutes of driving time. From the Mount Carmel Junction, they are a 12-minute drive to the south. There is a NEW large, signed parking lot for the Kanab sand caves, on the east side of Highway 89. You no longer need to park on the west side of the highway – and then dash across it avoiding high speed vehicles, to reach the trailhead.
If you’re driving north from Kanab and you pass the developed Moqui Cave Museum, then you’ve gone too far, though many people will want to make a quick stop and visit the museum or get something to eat.
Do you have to visit the Moqui Cave to visit the Moqui Caverns?
I was confused before we did the hike to the Moqui Caverns/Kanab sand caves as to whether we had to access them through the Moqui Cave Natural History Museum. You do not, so there is no fee if you only want to hike.
The hike starts from the NEW signed parking lot about a mile to the south of the entrance to the Moqui Cave ON THE SAME SIDE OF THE ROAD. You cannot park at Moqui Cave unless you are a paying customer.
The museum is housed in the Moqui Cave – which at one point was southern Utah’s first dance hall and bar. With an admission rate of just $5 per person, it’s a worthwhile stop. The museum pieces are from the personal collection of Garth Chamberlain, an owner of Moqui Cave from 1951 – 1988. Admire exhibits of Native American artifacts, fluorescent minerals along with rocks and fossils, and over 180 dinosaur tracks, all found within a 15-mile radius of the cave.
For more information check out the Moqui Cave website.
What is the best time of year to visit the Moqui Caverns?
The area around Kanab gets blazing hot in the summer, but because this is a short hike, you in theory could do it any day of the year. However, if the slickrock section was covered in snow, it would be dangerous without the right footwear.
It’s always more pleasant to hike when the temperature is moderate so aim for the shoulder seasons – spring and fall. But if you’re just passing through the area and you want to stretch your legs, go for it. Just don’t forget the water and sunscreen. If you have a dog with you on a hot day, be wary of burning their paws on hot sand – and they too will need lots of water.
The hike to Moqui Caverns
From the parking area head for the sandy path with the small sign pictured two photos above. Follow the Kanab sand cave trail as it weaves through scrubby vegetation parallel to the highway for about a quarter of a mile. The trail is braided so take whatever trail looks the most used. Look up after rounding the corner and you should be able to see the Kanab sand caves.
Keep walking on flat ground until the slope of the hill looks like it is safe to climb. The slope becomes less steep the further north you get from the sand caves. At a point that feel comfortable for you, hike up the hill, planting your full foot firmly on the rock. Friction will do the rest! The grip is fantastic so there is no need to bend over like you see the people doing in the photo below.
Once at the top of the hill, turn right and follow the sandstone ledge as it heads towards the Kanab sand caves. Anyone fearful of heights would do well to focus on what’s ahead. Take your time, being careful with foot placement and you’ll reach the cave within 5 – 10 minutes – tops.
TIP: Footwear should have good traction. This is no place for thong-like sandals.
Enter the spacious cave and start exploring. You’ll notice how cool it is immediately – a treat on a hot summer’s day. The floor of the cave is sandy – another reason to wear shoes rather than sandals. John and I continued to the end of the cave – which is about 100 metres or 300 feet long. It’s quite dark at the very end of the cave so this is a good place to use your phone’s flashlight to investigate the ceiling and the walls. The amount of graffiti is astounding – but please don’t add any more.
There are numerous windows carved into the rock when it was used as a sand mine. The Kanab sand caves are spacious with several “rooms” and enough head room that you shouldn’t feel claustrophobic. s this is a popular hike, be prepared to step aside so people can get their “shot”.
Try to visit the sand caves later in the day, about an hour before sunset for the best lighting. The walls of the Kanab sand caves almost seemed to glow at times.
The map shows the location of the newest parking lot (we used it in fall 2022 and did not have to cross the highway!!), the museum and the Kanab sand caves themselves. I also included Cave Lakes Canyon Ranch where we stayed for two nights, and the towns of Mount Carmel Junction and Kanab as a reference.
John and I spent one night at Canyon’s Boutique Hotel. It has a fantastic onsite restaurant called Sego.
The closest place to stay to the Moqui Caverns – Kanab sand caves is Cave Lakes Canyon Ranch. It offers glamping tents in a tranquil setting but there is no onsite restaurant.
If you’re planning to visit some of Utah’s famous national parks or the Moab area then I think you’ll find many of the following blogs helpful.
A big thank you to Visit Utah for hosting me. All thoughts and opinions are mine alone.
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