The lure of the great national parks is like a siren call that won’t leave your mind. Everywhere you turn you’re coming across some superlative describing the Grand Canyon, Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks. The problem is, a trip simply isn’t a good trip if it means leaving your four-legged road warrior behind. The thought of packing your RV while Fido bounces around in boundless excitement only to leave him sitting alone at the doorstep simply isn’t bearable. Unfortunately, the unwelcome truth is that dogs are generally persona non grata within national parks.
But don’t give up; there actually is a way you can fulfill your bucket list and give your dog an exceptional adventure, too. Fire up your ambitions, pack your hiking shoes, water bottles as well as dog bowls, and get ready for an unforgettable adventure in Southern Utah, cradle of the national parks.
Southern Utah is home to 10 national treasures: Zion, Bryce Canyon, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Lake Powell, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Cedar Breaks, Coral Pink Sand Dunes, Kodachrome Basin, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Pipe Springs. Toss in Vermilion Cliffs National Monument and great state parks and you have a lifetime of exploring to do, or at least an amazing vacation. While Utah’s national parks aren’t exempt from restrictions on dogs, there are great ways to enjoy them with just a little extra planning.
Within these national parks are a few precious leash-only dog trails, but the real secret here is in the wilderness areas bordering the parks. The state parks, national monuments and national forests in southern Utah rarely have any pet restrictions—some, like Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, even allow for off-leash romping. These dog-friendly havens give you the chance to spend valuable time moving within these national parks before retreating to doggone beautiful trails, quiet and often secluded campgrounds, and much greater pet-style freedom nearby. The following will give dog-travelers ideas for how best to enjoy time in the big parks, and how to find the best dog-friendly locations nearby.
Zion National ParkZion has a stunning 1.7-mile hike that does allow for dogs on leash (leashes must be no longer than six feet.) The Pa’rus Trail begins at the visitors center and continues along the Virgin River with enticing views along the way and shallow spots where dogs can splash. The helpful website bringfido.com gives this trail a 5 Bones rating! Zion also allows quiet, well-behaved dogs to stay in the Watchman campground unattended. They do not allow dogs on the shuttle that transports visitors throughout the canyon all summer.
Suggestion: Take a drive along the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway and enjoy spectacular scenery—eagles are often seen in the sky along this route. After your beautiful drive, get out at the Zion Visitors Center and stretch your legs, with Fido, along the Pa’rus Trail. Returning to your RV, continue northwest approximately one hour to Kolob Canyon, Zion’s “sister canyon.” Kolob is higher in elevation, equally stunning as Zion itself, without heavy tourist traffic. Fido still needs to stay in the vehicle but there is a five-mile scenic drive with frequent pullouts that will give you a chance to gasp and stretch. Kolob Arch is possibly the largest freestanding arch in the world!
The North Rim of the Grand Canyon
The tremendous North Rim of the Grand Canyon receives only 12 percent of the millions of visitors intent on viewing one of the world’s natural wonders. The North Rim is the place where the best views are to be had, including incredible three-mile high views down to the magnificent Colorado River below. It is simply superb, and definitely more solitary then the overactive South Rim.
Dogs are allowed on leash only along the 1.5-mile bridle trail connecting the main lodge with the North Kaibab Trail. The views along the trail are excellent; be aware that at this high elevation you and your dog may need to go slowly and adjust.
Suggestion: The North Kaibab National Forest borders the North Rim, and is an amazing resource for happy dog hiking and independent RV sites (as in no hookups). The DeMotte Campground, with 30 RV spaces, is just five miles north of the North Rim park entrance. At 8,800 feet, this lovely campground is set in ponderosa pines and aspen.RV owners are advised to fill water tanks prior to arrival.
This is a good base camp for venturing out on the exceptional 6.5-mile Rainbow Rim to North Timp Point Trail, an easy dog-friendly trail offering a number of remarkable views into the Grand Canyon.
Kanab and the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary
Kanab is an authentic western legends town set in the very heart of all this natural wealth. As a very dog-friendly base camp for your travels, it has a good deal to offer. The excellent Kanab Veterinary Hospital does day boarding if you want to spend an unrestricted day in any of the surrounding national parks. “Auntie Pat,” the beloved pet sitter here, welcomes dogs into her home for the day so they can enjoy “dog camp” with other pooches while you take a guilt-free trip to the parks. (Auntie Pat’s Pet Sitting: 435- firstname.lastname@example.org)
Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, just seven miles outside Kanab, is a must-see for any serious animal lover and it offers free daily tours. Over 1,800 animals receive the best TLC imaginable in an idyllic setting known as “a Camelot for animals.” Best Friends also has dreamy RV sites (with hookups) available at the sanctuary. Reservations are needed in advance since the popular sites are usually booked well in advance. These sites are wilderness style with peaceful star-studded nights and beautiful canyon views. (bestfriends.org/The-Sanctuary/Visiting/lodging/RV-Site-Information)
Suggestions: Dreamland Safari Tours offers 30 different day tours to many of the best scenic sites in canyon country. Their tours are dog friendly so your pooch can jump into the SUV with you and enjoy a wild and wonderful day in some of the best remote places the Wild West has to offer. (dreamlandtours.net)
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, just outside Kanab, is a mesmerizing state park. A phenomenon known as the Venturi Effect helped create this 10,000- to 15,000-year-old golden dune. The beautiful contrasting colors and contours of this park are unique. Dogs are allowed for no additional fee throughout the park and on all the trails.
Surrounding Kanab: The Kanab Trail System includes a number of beautiful unrestricted scenic hikes ideal for man and beast. Tom’s Canyon, the Squaw Trail, Cottonwood Canyon and others give you a great sampling of local color and terrain. Maps are available at the Southern Utah Travel Office in Kanab or at trailskanab.com.
RV camping sites in Kanab include Best Friends, Kanab RV Corral, Hitch-N-Post and Crazy Horse Campground. Many restaurants, stores and attractions in Kanab are dog friendly.
So now you have no excuses for not planning that extra special trip to America’s most memorable national parks. If you come with your dog, and we hope you will, we will simply say: May the desert canyons beckon, may the wind blow through the ponderosa pines while the canyon wren sings, and may your four paws and waggin’ tails be happy as they travel the red rock trails of Southern Utah!
(In next month’s issue, we’ll explore ways to enjoy Bryce Canyon, Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument and Cedar Breaks in company with your dog.)
Additional Helpful Resources
National Forests: Campsites in the national forest generally cost $10 to $18 per night and usually include a grill, fire pit, toilets and sometimes even showers. There are no electrical hookups, and water and dump areas may or may not be available. (forestcamping.com; recreation.gov)
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument: Visitor centers in Kanab, Big Water, Cannonville and Escalante provide reliable and detailed information on trails and potential campsites. (ut.blm.gov/monument)
State Parks and Surrounding Attractions: Detailed information can be found at the tourism site, visitsouthernutah.com.
Traveling with Dogs: A variety of books and websites provide useful information. Online advice can be found at bringfido.com, dogfriendly.com and gopetfriendly.com. Useful books include Best Hikes with Dogs: Utah by Dayna Stern and Ruff Guide to the United States, both available at amazon.com.