The combination of natural beauty, small-town charm, and cultural amenities make make this town in Kane County, Utah the perfect place to live.
Just north of the Arizona border in Southern Utah, Kanab is known as a base camp for outdoor adventure. It sits at the heart of what’s known as Utah’s “Grand Circle,” a grouping of national parks and natural attractions that draw a considerable number of people to this otherwise isolated area of the state. While the town may be a major destination for tourists, it hasn’t traditionally been thought of as a place where people settle down for good—at least not since Mormon pioneers first arrived on the scene in the 1860s. That’s changing, as more and more people are deciding that the combination of natural beauty, small-town charm, and cultural amenities make Kanab the perfect place to live.
The town has attracted people like Katherine Van Hagan, who three years ago was living in San Francisco when she decided to take a volunteer trip to the Best Friends Animal Society, the country’s largest no-kill sanctuary located in Kanab. “It was a life-changing trip,” she says. “I eventually decided that this is where I wanted to live.”
She’s not alone—and it isn’t hard to see why many people are leaving crowded, high-tax states for Kanab’s thriving downtown, active artistic community, and outdoor adventure in every direction. Kanab may not be big, but it has what lots of people want when it comes to a high quality of life.
What’s made Kanab such a popular destination is its proximity to so many natural attractions. While it’s known as the gateway to the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, that’s just the beginning of what visitors can find in the region. From Kanab, it’s just a 40-mile trip to Zion National Park to the west, and a 70-mile ride to Bryce Canyon National Park to the north. Head south 80 miles and you’ll find yourself at the north rim of the Grand Canyon. To the east, the Lake Powell/Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is just 60 miles away.
Those are just the big-name destinations that are familiar to most people. Spend a little bit of time in Kanab and you’ll find that they’re just the tip of the iceberg. There are many other parks, trails, overlooks, and canyons just minutes from downtown. You can easily access Cedar Breaks National Monument, Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, Kodachrome Basin State Park, Grosvenor Arch, Cottonwood Canyon, and the Buckskin Gulch, just to name a few.
Celeste Meyeres came to Kanab 14 years ago and soon discovered what made the place special.
“I initially came for work,” she says. “I stayed for the warm, authentic people, the freedom-loving community, and the wild landscapes. I plan to stay here for life.”
Meyeres, now a member of the Kanab City Council, thinks that people who haven’t visited the area before don’t know quite what they’re missing.
“Our wild flora and fauna is nothing short of astounding,” she says. “Often guests equate desert with “nothing lives here.” In actuality, our area is absolutely teeming with amazing life. Whether you step outside for a few minutes or embark on an ambitious hike, beauty and wonder surround you here in Kanab.”
While that natural beauty has always been an attraction, the desert landscape made the initial settlement in Kanab difficult. Mormon pioneers, under the supervision of Bringham Young, established the town in 1870. It remained a relatively tiny outpost until Hollywood discovered it as a location for western movies in the mid-20th century. In fact, so many western movies were filmed in the region, Kanab earned the nickname of “Little Hollywood.” (You can find out more about the legacy of the hundreds of movies and TV shows made here in the Little Hollywood Movie Museum.)
But as the popularity of the western faded, Kanab developed a new industry—tourism. With its central location and an average of 256 sunny days a year, the town became a popular spot for those exploring the region. The red-rock surroundings brought in many sightseers. Anyone who loves to camp, hike, mountain bike, hunt, or explore slot canyons will find endless options in the area. As tourism grew, so did the town, and the infrastructure expanded to accommodate more residents. But while the town is large enough to accommodate the tourist rush during busy seasons, it remains very manageable, with a population of about 4,500.
Kanab’s location has been instrumental in drawing artists to southern Utah. Several painters, photographers, and other visual artists have made the area home, opening studios and attracting other creative people to town.
“I was shocked how much talent there was here for a town of less than 5,000 people,” Van Hagan says. She’s gotten involved herself as a member of the Kanab Arts Board, which organizes concerts, art shows, festivals, and other local cultural offerings. “I’m constantly amazed by what people in this town can do.”
That heritage stretches back to the early 20th Century, when Mayard Dixon, who is known as the “Father of Western Art,” settled in the area. Other groundbreaking artists like Ansel Adams, Georgia O’Keefe, and Max Ernst spend time creating in the region. The writer Zane Grey lived in Kanab when he wrote Riders of the Purple Sage, and several musicians have called the region home, including contemporary jazz musician Kelly Sweet.
Kanab has its own orchestra, the Symphony of the Canyons, and many historical sights and museums, including the Red Pueblo Museum that highlights the area’s Native American Heritage.
A 21st Century Town
While Kanab has a rich history, it’s also developed into a robust 21st-century city with the necessary amenities and infrastructure necessary for today’s workforce. Despite its location, Kanab is known for its high-speed internet, which makes working remotely an easy option. The low cost of living also attracts people to work remotely, while a small airport south of town makes travel more accessible. Other airports in St. George and Cedar City are about 50 miles away, while a trip to Las Vegas is about a three-hour drive.
When it comes to restaurants, Kanab delivers a wide variety of experiences. Award-winning chefs live in Kanab, and you can try their creative cuisine at restaurants ranging from traditional French to vegan. You probably won’t be surprised to find many Mexican and Southwest options, but you can also dine on Italian, new American, and farm-to-table options, including Sego, which won a Diner’s Choice Award in 2018.
The Warm Embrace of Newcomers
There’s no doubt you can check off all manner of statistics and activities in Kanab, but that still doesn’t fully capture what makes the place special—the people.
“We embrace others and their unique differences, and we also stand firm in our own values and traditions,” Meyeres says. “Because we are so open and embracing, folks possessing a wide variety of professions and interests are attracted to the area. And we tend to teach and share our passions. So whether you’re into blacksmithing, paleontology, genealogy, or culinary pursuits… you’ll fit right in!”
It doesn’t take long to find people with a common interest.
“At the arts board, we’re always finding people who are interested in new and creative things,” Van Hagan says. “We love people who come to us and say ‘I’m interested in ‘fill in the blank,’ and the next thing you know, we have something new.”
So come to Kanab to see the beautiful surroundings and explore all there is to see. Just don’t be surprised if you may start thinking about spending a bit more time in this unique part of the world or possibly even moving here.
Written by Jeff Banowetz for Matcha in partnership with Kane County.