Southern Utah and Northern Arizona are home to a world of natural wonders. From Zion National Park and Bryce National Park, to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and so much to see in between, you will find a myriad of fascinating geological formations carved out by Mother Earth through the ages.
Look no further than Kanab, Utah, for your base of operations, within a two-hour drive of at least three top National Parks and a generous list of other attractions you’ll not want to miss. “Magically Unspoiled” is the perfect slogan assigned to Kanab, where you can escape from reality into spaces of peaceful energy you’ll want to bottle up and bring back home.
Also known as “Little Hollywood,” the town of Kanab has a long history with the movie industry, including several hundred films made here from the 1930s through the 1990s. Kanab’s rugged desert and mountainous landscapes fit ideally with the scenes sought by filmmakers for Westerns. The town has hosted many stars in movies such as The Lone Ranger and The Apple Dumpling Gang. To check out the memorabilia and see who’s rolled through town, visit the Little Hollywood Museum, or stop by the Kanab Canyon Movie Set (near the Best Friends Sanctuary).
The Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is one of the largest no-kill shelters in the country with a touching story. Founded in Kanab by a grassroots effort in 1984, this special sanctuary is dedicated to providing homeless animals love and companionship and reducing the number of dogs and cats killed in America’s shelters each year. Best Friends deploys volunteers to rescue and transport displaced animals from disaster zones, such as Hurricane Harvey which ravaged the Texas Coast in 2018. The Sanctuary is open daily for tours (except Christmas Day), with a Vegan Cafe serving lunch, and lots of opportunities for activities with their companion animals. Best Friends is highly recommended for animal-loving travelers and families. You can volunteer to host a pet sleepover or take a best friend out for the day, while in the area. Schedule activities in advance here.
Conveniently located 30 scenic miles southeast of the gates of Zion and 76 miles south of Bryce National Park, Canyons Boutique Hotel offers comfortable suites, some of which are dog-friendly. The Canyons welcomes dog sleepovers from the Best Friends Sanctuary (designated fees apply). Be sure to order your daily hearty breakfast, included with your stay, to fuel up for the day. In times of heightened safety precautions and social distancing, breakfast is available for pick-up at the front desk to enjoy in your own space or take with you on the road. Complimentary bikes at the hotel invite guests to explore the quaint town. Directly inside the Canyons is Sego Restaurant, offering more upscale American cuisine. When temperatures drop, cozy up with a blanket by the firepit, open to restaurant patrons and hotel guests. The Canyons is part of The Canyons Collection, offering a variety of lodging options in Kanab.
Kanab has developed a reputation as a foodie town. One of our favorite spots, Rocking V Cafe, serves southwest cuisine and the best slice of Key lime pie this side of the Keys. With a limited number of tables (patio seating available) among twinkling lights, a wood-burning stove, and a gallery of local artwork, Rocking V serves up a funky and intimate atmosphere in addition to locally sourced foods. Rocking V closes for the winter season, but opens their doors again in the Spring. Wild Thyme Cafe also features garden-to-table fare, with ample vegetarian selections to provide fresh dining in a casual setting. Nodding to the nearby slot canyon with the same name, Peekaboo Canyon Wood Fired Kitchen boasts a predominantly vegetarian menu, with a variety of gourmet pizzas and “impossible burgers” that are so delicious, you won’t believe they are plant-based.
One of the greatest must-do adventures out of Kanab is visiting the nearby National Monument lands. Filled with slot canyons and unique geological formations, these areas are best accessed with a professional driver in a four-wheel drive vehicle. Forever Adventure Tours will pair you with a skilled, knowledgeable guide, taking you to awe-inspiring formations, such as White Pockets, the Peekaboo Slot Canyon, or, if you’re lucky, a trip to Coyote Bluffs, for the wildly popular “Wave” formation (famously featured on a 2007 Microsoft Windows desktop wallpaper).
You’ll need a permit to visit The Wave, with only 20 allowed per day, and one person (not group) per permit.Ten permits are chosen from online applications, four months in advance, and 10 are chosen the day of entry, through a lottery system. Travel tip: If you really want to visit the Wave, apply for the online lottery in advance and plan your visit around the day you win your permit. (May the odds be in your favor!) We have yet to catch the Wave, but we were blown away by our day at the Vermilion National Monument and White Pockets, thanks to our wonderful guide, Brent. Leading us into the White Pockets on foot, he educated us about the geology of these intricate white, pink, and coral 3D sandstone rock formations appearing as a moment of creation, frozen in time.
We stopped to view the Vermilion Cliffs, home to the once-endangered California condors, now thriving in their new environment. Don’t even think of taking your regular tires down a 20-mile road of desolate ranch land, several inches deep in sand and sizable rocks, with scant or absent cell phone service. Forever Adventure Tours loads you into a roomy Hummer with a boxed lunch, so all you need to do is hop in and enjoy a safe ride.
Also reachable from Kanab is the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM), created in 1996. The GSENM visitor centers are excellent stops to make, to learn about the geology, archaeology and history of early humans inhabiting the area with rock formations paying homage to its descriptive name. Filled with unpaved roads and limited service, a guided trip is highly recommended for a safe and fulfilling experience. Also known for slot canyons, this territory is popular among horseback riders, fishers, and photography enthusiasts.
For an unforgettable evening of sand, setting sun and stars, head just a few miles outside of Kanab to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. Resembling Egyptian sand, these Utah dunes are created from the nearby Navajo sandstone which continually erodes to create this richly colored playground for ATVs (miles of fun trails), photographers and dune sledders. Camels were once imported here for the 1965 epic film, “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” Open daily, 3,700 acres offer overnight camping, sandboarding (rentals available in the park), stunning photography, ATV trail riding, picnicking, or just running down the sand dunes with glee. Continue to embrace the dark skies and starry nights of Kanab, just south of town at the Jackson Flat Reservoir. On a clear evening at the right time of year you may even have a view of the Milky Way.
One other highly recommended day trip from Kanab, allowing one hour each way for travel time, is the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area . From the winding Colorado River and pristine Lake Powell, you will marvel at more landmarks such as Horseshoe Bend, the Rainbow Bridge National Monument, and Antelope Canyon just south of the area. As part of the National Parks System, the Glen Canyon area offers all the National Parks amenities including sites for primitive camping or to park your RV.
No matter where you wander from Kanab, you can rest assured this small town will capture your heart and leave you itching to return for more of the magic. Kanab is celebrating her 150th birthday in 2020, and she’s feeling pretty young compared to her surroundings. So will you, once you discover these wide open roads and expansive skies, as far as your eyes can see.
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Cover photo courtesy Kane County Office of Tourism
Brian and Dana Maass are married and live with their dog “Chester” in Round Rock, Texas. When not working their day jobs, they can be found traveling, writing, capturing scenic photos, exploring the Hill Country, and serving the community. Follow them on Instagram at @Dana_Maass_Adventures and @Brian_Maass_Adventures.