Life in America has changed since Horatio Nelson Jackson embarked on the first cross-country road trip in 1903, back when there were only 150 miles of paved roads in the entire U.S., 8,000 registered vehicles and absolutely no gas stations. He set out on a 3,000-mile journey from San Francisco to New York City on a $50 bet that an automobile could not complete the trip in three months. When Horatio and his mechanic rolled into Manhattan at 4:30 a.m. on July 26, they made history as the first to drive an automobile across the U.S. Horatio sacrificed 63 days, $8,000 and 20 pounds of body weight, but he didn’t lose his bet.

The Great American road trip has evolved from a risky and treacherous endeavor to a carefree experience that celebrates leisure, exploration and the freedom of the open road. Movies such as “Cannonball Run,” “Dumb and Dumber,” and “Easy Rider” exalt cross-country travel. We celebrate life on the road with songs like “On the Road Again,” “Life is a Highway,” “Radar Love,” and “Born to be Wild.”

Now more than ever, we’re craving that freedom of America’s vast highways after having spent weeks isolated to slow the spread of Covid-19. Done carefully, road trippers might limit social contact while creating lasting family memories during a time of historically cheap gas, cancelled summer camps, and less demanding work schedules.

Include Kanab on Your Great American Road Trip

Kanab lies in Kane County, Utah, just north of the Arizona border, where there is only 1 person for every 1.8 square miles of land. Compare this to a metropolitan area like Orange County, California, where there are 5,404 people per square mile. The best part about the abundant space in Kane County is that the vast majority of it is open to public access. Kane County, Utah contains 4,373 square miles of land, of which only 218 square miles are privately owned. Most – 3,718 square miles – are overseen by the Bureau of Land Management, where there is endless hiking and camping potential. If social distancing is possible anywhere, it’s possible here.

Grand Staircase View from White Pocket

What’s to see near Kanab?

The Internet is full of suggested travel routes, whether you want to conquer a full-cross country trip, or you simply want to explore one region or state. Many pre-planned cross-country road trip routes come right through Kanab, Utah, and we’re not surprised. Kanab is a true western classic… A small, welcoming town with awesome restaurants and great accommodations, including a handful of brand name hotels and more than 260 AirBNB listings. It’s a great place to hang your hat, loosen your boots and shake off the dust from the road. You can easily spend a few days here. Kanab is surrounded by the majestic vermilion cliffs and features several hiking trails right in town. Nearby you’ll find:

  • 20 miles    Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
  • 30 miles    Zion National Park
  • 34 miles    Old Paria Townsite in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
  • 47 miles    Wire Pass Trailhead (Hike Wire Pass slot canyon and Buckskin Gulch or the Wave which requires a permit)
  • 66 miles    Lake Powell
  • 68 miles    Grand Canyon National Park, north rim (Typically open May 15 through Oct. 15)
  • 77 miles    Bryce Canyon National Park
  • 77 miles    Horseshoe Bend

If you want to explore even more out-of-the-way places, look into one of our four-wheel-drive tours that explores remote and spectacular Utah and Arizona landscapes.

How far away is Kanab?

Kanab is within striking distance of several metropolitan areas.

A few hours of driving

  • 74 miles        Page, Arizona
  • 80 miles        St. George, Utah
  • 199 miles      Las Vegas, Nevada
  • 206 miles      Flagstaff, Arizona
  • 312 miles      Salt Lake City, Utah
  • 350 miles      Phoenix, Arizona

A day’s drive (more or less): 

  • 466 miles      Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • 467 mikes     Los Angeles, California
  • 609 miles      Denver, Colorado
  • 765 miles      San Francisco, California

Two days of driving: 

  • 1,139 miles   Seattle, Washington
  • 1,310 miles   Houston, Texas

Southern Utah scenic highways

Here are some routes near Kanab that will have you careening your neck.

Highway 89 from Arizona. If you’re heading into Utah from Arizona, Highway 89 takes you through Page, across Glen Canyon Dam (the dam that creates Lake Powell) and through a surreal sandstone landscape on the way to Kanab. Popular stops in Page include Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, Lake Powell and Glen Canyon Dam.

Highway 89A from Arizona. The is an alternate route if you’re heading from Arizona toward Kanab. You’ll cross the Colorado River on the Navajo Bridge. The view is unbelievable and it’s one of the best places to spot endangered California condors. This route skirts the southern side of Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. You’ll have incredible views of the red cliffs that create the Paria Plateau. Switchbacks lead into a Ponderosa pine forest and take you to a rest stop called Jacob Lake. From here you can drive an hour south to the north rim of the Grand Canyon, or drive 30 minutes north to Kanab. Don’t miss La Favre overlook on the way to Kanab, where you get an expansive view of the Grand Staircase.

Highway 14. If you’re traveling the I-15 near Cedar City in the summer or fall (when it’s not expected to snow), take Highway 14 through Duck Creek to Highway 89. This high elevation, mountain road offers cool summer temperatures and beautiful places to stop and roam the forest along a beautiful mountain stream. In the fall, it’s highlighted by golden aspens. Don’t miss the distant, bird’s eye view of Zion Canyon, you’re driving by the headwaters of the Virgin River which carved Zion.

Highway 12. If you leave Kanab and head to Bryce Canyon, watch for American Pronghorn in the meadow on Highway 12 before you reach the turn to Bryce. Highway 12 east of Bryce is absolutely stunning. The rock layers of the Grand Staircase provide an ever changing landscape. The hog’s back ridge before you reach Escalante will blow your mind and the beauty continues all the way to Capitol Reef National Park. A more scenic road trip route is hard to come by.

Highway 163 & 261. This is the quintessential American road trip route.  Highway 163 takes you straight through Monument Valley (ensure you understand and respect restrictions and closures as you are on Navajo Nation land).  If you don’t miss the turn-off to Highway 261, you can augment Monument Valley with an epic drive past Valley of the Gods and along the spectacular Moki Dugway.

Road Trip Tips

The best road trip provides abundant time for spontaneity, but is also researched with some activities pre-planned so the best sites are not missed. We’ve talked to a lot of guests who neglect visiting the north rim of the Grand Canyon, simply because they didn’t realize it was so close. It’s also a good idea to check out the tours we offer and schedule something in advance, that way you have some days fully planned and you don’t miss availability. More advice:

1. Buy a map made out of paper

Remember those road atlases with maps of each state? They still make them, and there’s still a place for them. Mark the highlights on the map that you want to see and plan your route. So many people come to Kanab and say, “We didn’t realize the Grand Canyon was so close.” It’s easy to miss an opportunity when you’re simply trusting GPS to take you from Point A to Point B. Maps also present a great lay of the land, and help gauge distance. This is BIG country. Don’t try to pack in too many miles. You’ll never see it all and you don’t want to spend your whole trip in the car. For visiting the Southwest, we think it’s best to focus on one area at a time.

2. Check the weather and elevation…

… of where you’re headed. Flatlanders may underestimate the impact elevation has on weather. For every 1,000 feet in elevation you gain, temperatures usually cool off 3 degrees F. This is great if you want to escape the summer desert heat. This is a problem when you don’t expect a mountain pass to be snowed in during late spring. Pay attention to the elevation your route will travel through and plan accordingly. Carry warm clothes or a blanket just in case. To help with your vacation planning, we’ve already written an article about local weather and how elevation matters.

3. Bring a cooler

Pack plenty of cold drinks, snacks and lunch fixings in a cooler. This saves time when you have miles to cover and it offers flexibility. You might come across a gorgeous park and decide to relax under the cottonwoods or roll around in the grass. Set up an impromptu picnic and get rolling. It’s OK for grown ups to roll around in the grass. Road trip rules apply. Besides, our guides do it all the time.

4. Gas up

You’ll find a lot more gas stations out west than Horatio did in 1903, but still, there are a lot of deserted miles between towns. It catches folks off guard. Don’t wait until you’re running on fumes to refuel.

5. Prepare for uncertainties

Traveling cross-country is much safer than in past times, but it’s wise to carry enough water to last a day, a blanket, first aid kit and tire repair tools. Check your jack and lug wrench before you leave. Know where the key is for your lug nuts if you have locking lug nuts. You may even consider traveling with a plug kit and a small air compressor. Learn how to use these tools on YouTube. Folks out here are super friendly and most likely, several people will pull over to help before you can get your tire changed or repaired. Just remember towns are far apart and cell phone service has dead spots, even on main highways, so it’s convenient to solve problems yourself. And it’s also satisfying.

6. Check out vacation rental options

Kanab has great hotels that are convenient for small groups or short stays. For larger groups, or if you’re planning to stay a few days, you might also look into a vacation rental that gives more space for the family to spread out. Many are run by local Kanabians who take pride in their quality and cleanliness. Look for a full kitchen and laundry. You might even find one with a BBQ grill or a pool. The kitchen can save money and make breakfast quick and convenient, but we do urge you to try our local restaurants. They are REALLY good and you’ll find plenty of vegetarian options in Kanab because Best Friends Animal Society attracts a lot of animal lovers to the area.

Traveling during a pandemic

We’ve come to the conclusion that each traveler must assess risk during this time and make choices appropriate to their circumstances. Travelers should also follow CDC travel guidelines and exercise efforts to not spread Covid-19 as they move around. Kane County, Utah, is welcoming travelers and many Kanab businesses have adopted Above and Beyond guidelines to keep patrons safe. Many Kanab restaurants are offering carry out and dine-in eating with health precautions taken, hotels are doing extra cleaning, and vacation rental and camping options offer opportunity to social distance. Stay up-to-date on ever-changing regulations for areas you’ll be visiting and follow closures at national parks and other destinations. Regulations and closures seem to change by the day. But it’s clear many out-of-state travelers are including Kanab on their road trip routes of the great American Southwest.


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