With a long weekend stretching ahead of us, my family escaped an early snowstorm and headed south from Salt Lake City to play amongst Utah’s endless red rocks and canyons. Needing dog- and kid-friendly options, we skipped the crowds in Zion and Bryce and instead explored national forests and state parks. With chilly nighttime temperatures, we ruled out camping and found a last-minute deal at the dog-friendly Parry Lodge. This historic motel in Kanab was the perfect basecamp for the weekend.
Red Canyon, Dixie National Forest
We broke up the drive from Salt Lake City to Kanab with a stop in Beaver, Utah. Don’t miss the delicious ice cream at The Creamery; generous scoops and reasonable prices make this worth the slight detour. On a weekday afternoon, the line moved quickly, but expect a wait on Saturdays and Sundays.
Red Canyon Visitor Center in Dixie National Forest was our next stop. Often overlooked on the way to Bryce, Red Canyon’s dog-friendly trails feature spectacular red sandstone spires and hoodoos without the crowds.
Losee Canyon and Arches Trail
Lined by stunning rock formations and conifers, the Losee Canyon Trail (#33090) follows a dry wash. Connect trails to make a longer loop, or opt for an out-and-back hike, like we did. Dogs are allowed off-leash, but be prepared to meet bigger four-legged friends on this equestrian-friendly trail. On a late Thursday afternoon, we had the trail to ourselves, and it was perfect to burn off energy after a long car ride.
Before leaving, check out the short but sweet Arches Trail. Starting from the same trailhead as Losee Canyon, the Arches Trail (#33075) boasts 15 small arches along a 0.7 mile loop. Catch a stunning sunset from the top of the trail.
We enjoyed Red Canyon so much that we decided to stop on our way home too. Hiking the Cassidy Trail (#33093) to Ledge Point was the perfect Sunday morning hike before driving back to Salt Lake City.
Highway 89 between Kanab and Page, Arizona
On our first full day, we headed out of Kanab with our sights set on a bumpy and scenic drive along Cottonwood Canyon Road. Unfortunately, the road was closed for grading after rainstorms, so we quickly changed plans to explore other areas along Highway 89.
We backtracked a few miles to the unassuming Toadstools trailhead. At only 1.5 miles round-trip with minimal elevation gain, this hike is dog-friendly and kid-approved. We spent far longer than anticipated exploring the toadstools and posing for pictures against the amazing backdrop.
Choose your own adventure, and spend as much time as you’d like exploring the hidden the nooks and crannies. Follow social trails to higher vantage points for stunning views of the Paria River Valley.
Continuing along Highway 89 toward Page, Arizona, we ventured off the pavement to Wiregrass Canyon. This small, secluded canyon is part of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and features a small arch. Portions of the canyon are narrow and require scrambling, but there are dog-friendly detours for the trickiest sections.
This out-and-back adventure is 6 miles round-trip if you follow to the canyon’s end. We hiked past the arch and explored until we were ready to turn around. Helpful Hint: Don’t forget to pack plenty of water for you and your pup. Desert conditions lead to dehydration quickly!
Since we were so close to the Arizona border, we headed to Page for the obligatory selfie at Horseshoe Bend, but first we stopped for a late lunch at the Birdhouse. Converted from a Sonic drive-in, this restaurant serves up delicious fried chicken and sides. It’s definitely worth a stop on your way to or from Horseshoe Bend.
While Horseshoe Bend is no doubt a stunning geographic feature, we agreed with the volunteer at the BLM center who lamented the buses and crowds at this popular spot. It’s still worth the short walk, but try to time your visit during off-peak hours. There is a $10 entrance fee.
After back-to-back days covering hundreds of miles in the car, we spent our last full day adventuring close to Kanab.
Letting our girls sleep in, my husband and I took turns trail running on BLM land just northeast of Main Street. From the Parry Lodge, it was less than a mile to the Tom’s Canyon Trail. Part of a multi-use trail system, Tom’s Canyon leads to a weeping rock at the base of the canyon. It was the perfect option to get in a few dirt miles before exploring as a family.
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
After fueling for the day at the motel’s hearty buffet, we made the short drive to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. With large portions open to Off-Highway Vehicles (OHV) and pristine sections reserved for hiking and playing, this state park is a literal sandbox for everyone. There’s a day use fee to enter the park, but you can stop at a small parking lot before reaching the main entrance and access the dunes for free.
There are no maintained trails, so pick a direction and explore to your heart’s content. Helpful hint: The dunes can be extremely windy, so pack a wind-resistant layer like the KÜHL Parajax to block the breeze. Don’t forget a hat!
Elkheart Cliffs Slot Canyon
After wearing our dog out in the dunes, we dropped him off at the motel for a well-deserved nap in his crate. After fueling up with ice cream and dirty soda at the Kanab Drug Soda Fountain (don’t miss the Instagram-ready mural on the building exterior), we drove north on US 89.
Parking at a gravel pull-out between miles 78 & 78, we followed a social path down to the lower end of the Elkheart Cliffs Slot Canyon. We followed this slot through narrow, striped chambers and wider, sandy stretches. Some obstacles were too difficult to climb, but bypass trails continue to the top of the canyon. For canyoneers with appropriate gear, this canyon can be explored from the top. This was our girls first experience with a narrow slot canyon, and they were immediately hooked.
Bonus: Kanab Sand Caves
Take a quick detour to explore the man-made sand caves just north of Kanab. Visit in late afternoon for the best lighting.
With unbelievably blue skies, mild daytime temperatures, and miles of red rock, a last-minute trip to Kanab was the perfect way to spend a long, fall weekend.
What to Pack
Temperatures vary greatly from dawn to dusk in the desert, so pack layers for comfort and protection against the elements. You can’t go wrong with these tried & true favorites:
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