Distance: 127 miles • Elevation Change: Kanab 4970 ft-Sevier 5595 ft.
This section of US Route 89 is the part of the Mormon Pioneer National Heritage Area called The Headwaters. North of Kanab, the highway runs along Kanab Creek, a tributary of the Colorado. At Mt. Carmel Junction, 89 enters the Long Valley and parallels the East Fork of the Virgin River flowing west to join the Virgin River near Zion National Park. To reach Zion, turn west on Utah Route 9 at Mt. Carmel Junction.
At Long Valley Junction, US Route 89 reaches a divide and crosses into the valley of the Sevier River which the road follows all the way north to Gunnison. Utah’s scenic highway 12 intersects with 89 south of Panguitch. Turn east to reach Bryce Canyon National Park and Kodachrome Basin State Park.
Because of the abundance of water, this stretch of US 89 is dotted with small towns settled by Mormon pioneers who established farms and ranches to supply the needs of the growing population of Salt Lake City. The broad valleys are hemmed in by mountains on the east and west at the very western edge of the Colorado Plateau.
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park: The only major sand dune field on the Colorado Plateau, the park is a short dive west of US 89 north of Kanab. The area is a popular place to ride off-road vehicles. However, part of the park is reserved for foot traffic only. To avoid the often crowded state park campground, check out the BLM operated Ponderosa Grove camping area located across from the park fourteen miles from highway 89 on Hancock Road. From there it is short hike into the dune field.
Zion National Park: The highlight of a road trip to southern Utah is spending time in Zion Canyon. The twenty-five mile drive from Mt. Carmel Junction along Utah Route 9 is a spectacular descent to the park entrance. In the summer, shuttle buses take visitors into the canyon. Because Zion lies at the junction of the Colorado Plateau, the Great Basin and the Mojave Desert, it offers the visitor a diverse collection of plants and animals along with its unique topography. Carved by the North Fork of the Virgin River, Zion Canyon is fifteen miles long and up to a half mile deep. The bottom of the canyon is filled with stream side vegetation and many hiking trails lead into side canyons with hanging gardens and waterfalls.
Bryce Canyon National Park: The entrance to Bryce Canyon is about fifteen miles east of US 89 on Utah Route 12. Despite the name, Bryce Canyon is not a canyon but an amphitheater created by erosion on the eastern edge of a high plateau. The erosion of the soft rock has left a spectacular array of red, orange and white hoodoos below the rim of the plateau. Explore Bryce at viewpoints along the rim drive and hike one of the many trails to experience it up close.