There’s a place in Southern Utah that visitors and locals alike say is nothing short of magical. It’s a place called Kanab.
Surrounded by world-famous locations like Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Lake Powell, Coral Pink Sand Dunes, the Wave, and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Kanab has become a destination for those seeking small-town charm and the unspoiled beauty of the American West.
“I don’t know if it’s our pioneer sensibilities, our LDS roots, or the fact that we’re surrounded by gorgeous landscapes in all directions, but people here are just plain nice,” says Camille Johnson of the Kane County Office of Tourism. (Kanab is the county seat of Kane County, Utah.) “And once people visit and experience how beautiful and authentic this place is, they want more.”
In fact, the small town of about 5000 residents has started to grow as a direct result of people wanting more.
For example, three years ago, Katherine Van Hagan 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 animal sanctuary located in Kanab. “It was life-changing,” she says. “I found the people beautiful. I found the places beautiful. And eventually, I decided that this is where I wanted to live.”
Others say they’ve moved to Kanab to trade crowded cities and high taxes for a small, but thriving downtown, an active artistic community, and outdoor adventure in every direction.
“One might say it’s simply a better quality of life,” says Celeste Meyeres, who came to Kanab 14 years ago and soon discovered what made the place special. “I initially came for work. I stayed for the warm, authentic people, the freedom-loving community, and the wild landscapes. I plan to stay here for the rest of my 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.”
The desert landscape that Meyeres references (combined with the area’s once-remote location) made the initial settlement in Kanab difficult. Mormon pioneers, under the supervision of Brigham 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.”
“Eventually, the popularity of the westerns faded and the movie-making business went away,” says Bob Riding, a local historian and western movie aficionado. “But that movie history is still here. It’s in the town on placards. It’s out in the desert on old ghost-town movie sets. It’s in our blood. Same as our Mormon history. Same as our pioneer history.”
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.
“It’s surprising how many great restaurants are here,” says Victor Cooper, owner of another of Kanab’s award-winning restaurants, The Rocking V Café. “It wasn’t always this way, but the word is out. This place is growing, and with growth comes better dining and more dining options. Now you have places to take a date, places to take the family, places for a relaxed lunch, and places for a more formal dinner – or at least as formal as we get here.”
As the number of dining options has grown, so too has the number of lodging options. “A few years ago, there were a handful of motels and hotels,” says Steve Heaton, owner of the historic and famous Parry Lodge. “But within the last 10 years we’ve seen the number of lodging options double. Small boutique hotels, bigger chain hotels, you name it. Whatever your budget or style demands, we can now offer it.”
“There’s no doubt Kanab is a special place,” says Susan Honey, owner of Honey’s Market. “We’ve grown as a town. We’ve grown as a community. We’ve grown as a place where people from all over the world come to visit. But maybe what impresses me the most is the fact that no matter how much we’ve grown, we’re still a place that respects and practices what I call ‘good old-fashioned family values.’ And I can’t think of a better place to bring your family.”