Kanha lies in the central Indian highlands, which account for nearly half of India's forests. The reserve is located in the Maikal range which forms the eastern base of the triangular Satpura range.

Kanha's landforms support good multi-tiered forests. The various soil types are rich in humus. The Deccan trap is the principal geological formation of Kanha.

The Maikal range of hills runs along the eastern boundary of the Reserve. The range has many plateaux, locally known as 'dadar', and its elevation varies from 2,000 feet (600 m) to 3,000 feet (900 m) above sea level.

The central Indian highlands are also the source of several important rivers like the Narmada and the Mahanadi. The two important rivers flowing through the tiger reserve are: the Banjar and the Halon.