Kanab, Utah, is one of those magical places where locals practice random acts of kindness on a daily basis. A stranger pumped up local Camille Johnson's low car tire while she was in the Kanab Visitor Center. A Canadian tourist only had a credit card to buy her ticket at the cash-only movie theater, so a local standing behind her paid for her. Two travelers got their car stuck on the road to Peek-a-Boo slot canyon and a passing local lent a hand to get them driving again.
“These types of things happen all of the time,” Johnson says. “We’re just authentic and down-to-earth here.”
Which just adds to Kanab’s allure as a little-known world-class destination for some of the most gorgeous scenic drives, best outdoor adventures and incredible food in the Southwest.
Less Traveled Route to Bryce
Start off at Kanab Creek Bakery that offers European-style dishes by chef Cheryl McAllister that are so gorgeous you hate to dig in. “It’s so good you hear the people around you stop talking,” says Camille Johnson Taylor, executive director of Kane County Office of Tourism. Then take the 47-mile Cottonwood Canyon Road. It’s unpaved, so avoid it if rain is in the forecast. Along the way, stop at Grosvenor Arch and Kodachrome Basin State Park dotted by 67 rock spires. From there, it’s a 35-minute drive to Bryce Canyon National Park.
See The Wave and Best Friends
Try your luck and join the enthusiastic crowd standing in line for a permit for The Wave, the iconic sandstone formation in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness. Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument Visitor Center in Kanab issues 10 walk-up permits for the following day, beginning at 8:30 a.m.
Related story: The Wave vs. White Pockets
Afterwards, stop at Kanab’s Best Friends Animal Sanctuary Visitor Center to book a sanctuary tour, take classes (like bunny yoga) and meet adoptable pets. For 30 years, it has been the nation’s largest no-kill sanctuary.
If you have your pet with you, you need to stay at Best Friends Roadhouse and Mercantile Hotel in Kanab. It’s the most pet-centric hotel you may ever experience with built-in cubbies for pet sleeping, dog-washing stations and more.
The Quieter Side of Grand Canyon
Wake up early and head to the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. This best-kept secret receives only 10 percent of the visitation as the South Rim. Kanab is a great base for the North Rim as its the closest town with a large number of hotel choices. For dinner back in Kanab, head to Sego Restaurant to taste Chef Shon Foster’s creations. He's a former executive chef at upscale Amangiri. “When people eat my food I want them to find themselves in that moment, closing their eyes and letting their senses take them back to memories of their life,” he says.
If the North Rim is closed, drive the 190-mile Marble Canyon Loop that hits everything from Vermillion Cliffs Overlook to Lees Ferry and Marble Canyon. This scenic loop takes 3 hours if you don't stop, so you can be back in Kanab in time to have an amazing dinner.
A Secret Near Zion
On the way to Zion National Park, stop at Moqui Cave just five miles out of town that has ancient Native American artifacts, cool bright-colored mineral displays and more than 180 dinosaur tracks.
Then head to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park between Mount Carmel and Kanab.
“It’s like a giant sandbox,” says Johnson Taylor of Kane County Office of Tourism. “It brings out the kid in all of us.” The sand dunes are great for sledding, so rent a sand board at the state park office.
In Mount Carmel, you can visit Maynard Dixon's home and studio. A 20th century painter who focused on the American West, Dixon and his wife muralist Edith Hamilton built their home in 1939. You can tour it in spring through fall or participate in artist workshops. It's on 2200 South State St.
When you return to Kanab, kick back in Parry Lodge in a hotel room named after a Hollywood actor who stayed there, starting in the 1930s. Frank Sinatra starred in a 1962 western comedy film called Sargeants 3. Alongside Sinatra starred Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, Dean Martin and Joey Bishop. John Wayne also filmed several movies while in Kanab. He not only requested that Parry Lodge build a pool, he paid for its construction.
To learn more about Hollywood's connection to the area, head to Little Hollywood Land in Kanab. More than 200 western movies and TV shows have been filmed in Kanab. The town first appeared on the silver screen in 1924, launching a decades long relationship with Hollywood, including Disney's 2012 film John Carter. Discover the tales behind the films at 297 W. Center St.
Kanab Celebrates 150 Years
In 2020, Kanab had some celebrating to do. The charming town turned 150 years old. Its actual birthday was June 14, 2020, so if you happened to be in town that day, you'd find some small-town celebrations. On New Year's Eve, visitors and locals dressed up in 1920s or 2020 attire.
With 2020 also marking the 100th year of women's suffrage, Kanab has a long history of supporting women's rights. Here's a little-known fact: in 1912, it had the first all-women town council. That same year, Kanab's mayor was a female. That was eight years before women could vote nationally.
For more information:
Kane County Office of Tourism
(435) 644-5033; (800) 733-5263