Utah’s Kanarraville starts charging visitors $8 to hike popular slot canyon

Steve Griffin / The Salt Lake Tribune Hikers climb a ladder made from a tree at the first falls of the Kanarraville Falls hike in Kanarraville Wednesday July 6, 2016.

Visiting Kanarraville Falls, one of Utah’s most popular hikes thanks to the powerful reach of social media, just became more expensive for a family than Zion National Park.

Starting this month, the town of Kanarraville is requiring a $8 permit in an effort to reduce the number of hikers, estimated at 40,000 a year. Another goal is to raise money to manage the scenic slot canyon that the town of 350 people taps for its culinary water.

”Every thing is a trial basis,” Mayor Randy Carter said of the fees. “We may end up putting a cap on the numbers. On weekends that’s where we have a problem.”

Permits are available online at kanarrafalls.com. They cost $8 per person, with no discounts for kids or seniors. Each day, a single 30-person group permit will be available for $25.

Local officials want to see visitation reduced to ensure the canyon’s resources aren’t degraded and to keep the hike enjoyable.

“We haven’t set a target. We are waiting to see what this fee will do,” said Iron County’s natural resources director Mike Worthen.

Situations similar to the one in Kanarraville Canyon are playing out all over Utah, where outdoor recreation is exploding in ways that can take a heavy toll on delicate places and turn once-peaceful getaways into crowded playgrounds.

Vicki Varela, Utah’s director of tourism, film and global branding, said Kanarraville appeared to be “doing exactly the right thing. “

“We all have to recognize that these wonderful places are impacted by many, many people visiting them,” Varela said. “We have to provide access in an orderly way, including parking, transportation, and the right number of people there.” …

The National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management have long required permits to keep numbers down at some of Utah’s bucket-list trails such as the Wave, Arches’ Fiery Furnace and Canyonlands’ White Rim and float trips on coveted stretches of the San Juan and Green rivers.

The 2.4-mile trail up Kanarraville Canyon passes through pink a sandstone slot canyon and ascends a series of water falls. Families with children often visit, but the hike can be treacherous, especially along the creek’s steep banks and where hikers must negotiate ladders.

Last Sunday, a woman broke her leg falling from a ladder, requiring the second rescue this month, according to Worthen.

“This isn’t something you want to take a toddler up,” he said. “It’s hiking at your own risk.”

Permits can be obtained from a web site that emails or texts buyers’ permits to their mobile devices. The permit-handling concessionaire charges a service fee of $1.54 for the first ticket, which is incrementally smaller with each additional permit in the order. So four permits cost $37.23.

Those without smart phones or who don’t know about the new rules can buy permits at the trailhead, but the town cannot yet accept cash, only credit or debit cards.

Local officials are trying to get the word out about the new permit requirement, but the state’s official tourism website, which devotes a page to Kanarraville Canyon, was updated only this week. Kanarraville does appears on the Cedar City Tourism Bureau’s list of “Instagram-worthy” spots. Its web site also does not provide current information, but does provide a link to the web site where visitor can buy permits.

The town eliminated the $10 parking fee at the lots it built at the trailhead on the east edge of town, where the canyon emerges from the Hurricane Cliffs.

Fees are an increasing part of Utah’s recreational picture, much to the dismay of many outdoor enthusiasts who don’t like paying to access public land. The U.S. Forest Service recently imposed recreation fees at American Fork Canyon and Mirror Lake Highway and will soon be bringing them to Little and Big Cottonwood Canyon.

Alta Ski Area this summer will manage access to Albion Basin, and expects to charge motorists $6 to drive to the Catherine Pass trailhead, although parking at Alta will remain free.

Iron County is helping Kanarraville with the new fee program, which was made possible by local governments leasing a piece of state trust land that the trail passes through. And while some of the revenue from the fee will wind up with Utah’s school fund, most of it will help cover the costs of rescues and improvements, which will likely include widening the road to the trailhead and installing a permanent bathroom and other amenities there.