Do you want an extraordinary trip through Southern Utah? Something that most people haven't done?
We took this road trip for Spring Break in 2016. We had visited Southern Utah and Zion National Park many times, so this trip was dedicated to all the cool, less-visited places I had been wanting to visit for years. This was the trip we finally checked them off the list, and it was so rewarding.
You can do this trip any time of the year, but the weather will probably be most pleasant in late spring or early fall. There are big differences in elevation on this trip. Cedar Mountain is cool in the summer, while Kanab can get very hot.
We've done all the planning for you! Here's our Off the Beaten Path Southern Utah itinerary.
Day 1: Salt Lake City to Cedar City
We left Salt Lake City in the morning and headed first for the historic Topaz Internment Camp in Delta, Utah. The drive is approximately two hours.
Topaz was an internment camp for Americans of Japanese ancestry during World War II. It's an important, but little visited historic site. I recommend visiting the new Topaz Museum in downtown Delta before you drive out to the mostly-empty camp site. However, the museum opens late in the morning, so it may make sense to visit the site first if you arrive earlier. Plan for about two hours to visit both. Eat lunch before you leave Delta.
Take Highway 257 South toward Milford. At Milford, take Highway 21 West toward Old Frisco Ghost Town. It should take about 90 minutes. Frisco was a wild mining town in its day. For a short time, it was one of Utah's larger cities. Today you'll find a marker along the Highway and a dirt road that allows you to drive right into what remains of Frisco. Look for the beehive-shaped kilns and ruins of a few stone buildings.
If you want to drive right up to Frisco, I recommend a vehicle with 4 wheel drive and high clearance. We did it safely in our minivan, but I worried about getting stuck and stranded in that remote area. Proceed with caution!
If you have more time, stay the night in Delta and explore the Topaz Mountain area or Great Basin National Park. Topaz Mountain is a great place to hunt for geodes and Lehman Cave is a fun tour at Great Basin.
From Frisco, it's about 75 minutes to Cedar City. There are lots of good lodging options in Cedar City. I recommend Abbey Inn. It has both traditional motel rooms and rental homes with an indoor pool and complimentary hot breakfast for a moderate price.
Day 2: Cedar City
We spent the entire day exploring Cedar City. I have family in Cedar City and attended Southern Utah University, but there were still things I finally did for the first time on this trip. The main one was Frontier Homestead State Park Museum on Main Street. This family friendly museum exceeded our expectations. There are lots of interesting things to see, and lots of hands on activities for families both inside and outside the museum. Two of my favorites were climbing in a Wells Fargo stage coach and learning more about Hollywood films that were made in Southern Utah.
We also spent a few hours at the Cedar City Aquatic Center and the new public library. Other activities your family might enjoy in Cedar City include:
- Utah Shakespeare Festival (July-October)
- Take a campus tour at Southern Utah University
- See a sporting event, play or museum at Southern Utah University
- Utah Summer Games (June)
- Old Irontown Ghost Town
- Hike Kanarraville Falls
Alternate Day 2: Bryce Canyon National Park – Instead of driving to Cedar City, drive to Bryce Canyon National Park from Frisco and spend two nights there. Take scenic Highway 89 to Kanab on Day 3. It's about 90 minutes' drive.
Day 3: Cedar Mountain
We drove straight to Coral Pink Sand Dunes and Kanab on Day 3, but if you haven't explored Cedar Mountain before, today is the day!
Here are some options. Most are easy to find, but the caves will require Googling or asking a local. Assume that connectivity will be spotty or non-existent on the mountain.
- Visit Cedar Breaks National Monument
- Visit Brian Head Resort for skiing, tubing or mountain biking, in season
- Rent ATVs or snowmobiles at Duck Creek Village
- Fishing at Navajo Lake
- Explore Mammoth Cave and Ice Cave
Book a hotel in Kanab. There are a number of good options. We stayed at Parry Lodge in downtown Kanab. This historic hotel is where all the Hollywood stars stayed during Kanab's western movie heyday. It's a little outdated, but loaded with character.
If you're planning to visit Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, book a pet-friendly hotel. Best Friends loves it when visitors borrow adoptable animals for overnight sleepovers!
Alternate Day 3: Zion National Park – You can also get to Kanab from Cedar City through Zion National Park. Arrive at Zion Canyon early and spend at least half a day exploring the canyon via shuttle. Then take Highway 9 – stopping along the way to hike or sightsee – to Highway 89. Kanab is a short drive from there.
Day 4: Kanab
I was pleasantly surprised by how much there was to do in Kanab. And by how uncrowded and inexpensive it was during Spring Break. This won't last, so get there while it's still undiscovered.
We spent a few hours exploring Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park on foot and a full day volunteering (and adopting a cat!) at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary.
Coral Pink Sand Dunes is a place we could have spent a lot more time. It's a short drive from downtown Kanab. You can ride ATVs, picnic, hike, sled, camp and play in the brightly colored sand all day long. My kids commented that it would have been really fun with cousins or friends.
Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is an animal lover's paradise. It was the highlight of this trip for our family, and there are lots of ways to experience it. Sign up in advance for a FREE tour of the campus and a volunteer shift if you have the time. Volunteer shifts fill quickly and there are minimum age requirements for kids. You won't be pressured to adopt a pet. My husband and I discussed it before the trip and surprised our kids with the news that day.
We also spent an hour or two at the Little Hollywood Movie Museum in downtown Kanab. It's FREE! It's a collection of real movie sets from the glory days of Hollywood westerns. There are a couple of sets from The Outlaw Josey Wales starring Clint Eastwood. You may enjoy watching the movie before your trip, but be warned that this classic PG-rated film is more violent and mature than some parents may expect.
Day 5: Kanab
You can easily spend a second full day in Kanab. Spend a full day each at Coral Pink Sand Dunes and Best Friends, or consider one of these activities.
- Visit the Grand Canyon North Rim in Arizona. It's about 90 minutes drive from Kanab. It is only open from late spring through early fall.
- Explore Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Kanab has a Visitor Center for the Monument. There are MANY hikes and scenic drives in this wild and rugged area. You can also find ghost towns and movie sets in the Monument. You will probably need a 4 wheel drive vehicle. Tours and rentals are available.
- Moqui Cave – This is a kitschy tourist trap kind of place, but it's historic, interesting and inexpensive.
- Visit the Kanab Visitor's Bureau. It's easy to find in downtown Kanab. I found the staff to be very helpful, with lots of up to date literature on local sights.
Day 6: Home… Maybe?
This was the end of our trip. We spent another night in Cedar City before driving home to Northern Utah, but there are so many other things we could have done. Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks are still great options if you haven't done them. Lake Powell and the Glen Canyon Dam are only about an hour away from Kanab. Monument Valley is just beyond that.
Do you find that the more you travel, the more amazing places there are to add to your list?
That's how I feel about Southern Utah. There are so many opportunities to get away from the crowd and see something really special. I hope it excites you to see this part of Utah for yourself, or look for other less-visited gems close to your home.