Base out of Kanab, Utah, to avoid the crowds, enjoy fantastic food and discover the hidden gems along the way to three of the Southwest’s most popular national parks.
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, 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. En route, 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. 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.
Related story: The Wave vs. White Pockets
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. 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
En route to Zion National Park, stop at Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park between Mount Carmel and Kanab. “It’s like a giant sandbox,” says Johnson 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 visited so often he paid for the construction of the lodge’s swimming pool. To learn more about Hollywood's connection to the area, head to Little Hollywood Land 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.
For more information:
Kane County Office of Tourism
(435) 644-5033; (800) 733-5263