Southern Utah Weekend Getaway

Zion National Park

Zion National Park is a little more than 4 hours away from Salt Lake City, making it the perfect location for a weekend getaway. There is so much to do that you could easily spend the weekend just in Zion but there are other areas and hikes that are worth checking out.  In a recent trip to Southern Utah, I visited Zion Nation Park, Kanab, and went through a ghost town. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic Zion continues to see record numbers of visitors. March 2021 had 429k visitors compared to its highest ever monthly total of 373k in 2018. If you’re a fan of data and numbers like me, go here to see park attendance totals for past months. 

There are different entrances to the park depending on where you are coming from: the south entrance near Springdale, the east entrance along Route 9, and at the Kolob Canyons entrance. Access to the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is by Shuttle Bus only beginning Presidents Day Weekend (February 13 and 14) and every weekend until everyday service begins March 13, 2021. As of publication they are requiring reservations. More information on that here.

Places to Stay

If you are looking for accommodations inside the park you will need to make those reservations in advance.  You can find more information at the National Parks website.

  • Flanigan’s Inn. On a recent visit to the park, I stayed at Flanigan’s Inn which is within walking distance to the Springdale park entrance as well as dining and grocery shopping options. 
  • Cable Mountain Lodge.  A convenient location right next to Zions. It offers first-class amenities.
  • Quality Inn & Suites. A “budget” hotel in the area with everything you need for a comfortable nights rest. 

Where to Eat

There are many dining options to choose from outside the park from cozy coffee shops, cafes & diners. 

  • One of our favorite places to eat is Oscar’s Cafe
  • Cafe Soleil. Boasting many traditional favorites plus numerous vegan & vegetarian options/ 
  • Spotted Dog Cafe. Located in Flanigan’s Inn. casual American Bistro with cozy art-filled dining rooms and a European-style sidewalk café. 

Other Things to Do 

  • Shopping on Springdale’s main road, Zion Park Boulevard. Check out one of the many rock and gem shops. Gems starting at just a couple of dollars up to hundreds! Make sure to stop inside Joy Craft & Design, which is a curated collection of handmade wares. 
  • Springdale Labyrinth. Classic seven-circuit Hilltop Labyrinth providing panoramic 360° view of the Zion Canyon cliffs. See map below.
  • You can’t have an article about Zion without mentioning hikes! Click here for a list of hikes from the National Parks Service. This time around we didn’t hike inside Zion specifically but hikes several of the popular trails. 

Grafton Ghost Town & Virgin, Utah

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About 15 minutes southwest of Springdale is the ghost town of Grafton. I recommend using your GPS to find this town. You will first come to the cemetery and then you will continue on a little further to the buildings. The town is only a quarter of a mile from the main highway to Zion National Park, but is reached by a 3.5 mile road (unpaved for the last 2 miles), which does not have great signage. Five large structures remain and all have been carefully restored following the 1997 creation of the Grafton Heritage Partnership. 

History

The site was first settled in 1859 at the direction of Brigham Young, the prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (aka Mormons). The settlement was mostly destroyed in a flood. They rebuilt about a mile upriver and named it New Grafton. The town grew quickly while they farmed cotton, dug irrigation canals, and planted orchards.  The last occupants left in 1944. 

 

Kanab, Utah

We took the scenic route from Grafton to Kanab, cutting through a dirt road  (Sheep Bridge Road) to UT-59 and heading south. We made a stop in Colorado City, Arizona to drive past the infamous home of polygamist leader Warren Jeffs.  We also did a hike here but I have been sworn to secrecy on the location, ha! 

Kanab, Utah is located on Kanab Creek just north of the Arizona state line. The area was first settled in 1864. It is named for the Paiute word “place of the willows”.  As of 2018 the population was 4,798. Kanab is situated within an hour of Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona and nearby Pipe Spring National Monument, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, the largest animal sanctuary in the United States, Best Friends Animal Society.

Locals refer to Kanab as “Little Hollywood” due to all of the movies and television series that have been filmed there. It is a great basecamp for many adventures such as road cycling, hiking and off roading. 

Places to Stay

There are many lodging options in and around Kanab, from camping, hotels & cabins. I stayed at the Best Friends Roadhouse which had updated furnishings and fixtures. I probably wouldn’t stay there again unless I was traveling with pets. The offered a complimentary breakfast and had a pet washing area, play area for pets and a mercantile with super cute merchandise. 

Where to Eat

Kanab has many dining options to choose from. We had dinner at the Sego Restaurant located in the Canyons Hotel. The next morning we went to the Kanab Creek Bakery for breakfast. Its best to get here early because its very popular and many items sell out quickly. 

Things to Do 

  • Stop at the Belly of the Dragon. The tunnel goes under Highway 89 and is used as a drainage for the upper canyons that feed into the North Fork River.  Check the weather before going and do not into the tunnel under any wet conditions. Walking through the tunnel doesn’t long. You can continue on for about 4 miles ending in a small slot canyon. We elected not to do that this time. To get here- take the left dirt road just at the bottom of the hill right before you hit Mt. Carmel. About 16 miles north on HWY 89 from Kanab after milepost 80.  Follow the dirt road around on the left side & you will see the tunnel.
  • Sand Caves! The Sand Caves, also known as Moqui Caverns, are located 5 miles north of Kanab on the right side of the highway.  These sand caves can be seen below from HWY 89.  The hike itself is a short half mile round trip hike, which is a bit of a scramble, They are man-made caves that were used to harvest sand for glass production in the 1970s. Kids can play in the sand and enjoy the view but take care because there are sheer drop offs inside of the cave. 
  • Visit the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. Prior to this visit I didn’t know this place existed. The sanctuary is home to about 1,600 rescued animals. The pet cemetery was wild. I have never seen anything like it. Those who have lost a pet can have it placed in the Angels Rest or Angels Overlooks. More information here on the Best Friends website. After you take in the enormous cemetary there are many other things to do. The Gratitude Garden has walking paths and a Labyrinth. There is an animal clinic and animal areas where they take care of dogs, cats, pigs, bunnies, goats, sheep, donkeys, parrots etc.