Seventy-five miles due north of the Grand Canyon lies the tiny town of Kanab, Utah. Known alternatively as the filming location for some of Hollywood’s most iconic western movies and the current home of thousands of formerly homeless animals, this is a little town with an oversized impact.

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

As you may have figured out, we really love animals. So, when we heard about a huge animal sanctuary, the largest in the nation, that on any given day is home to 1600 rescue animals, we knew we had to visit.

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary was started about 35 years ago by a group of friends who wanted to rescue as many shelter animals as possible. They bought a huge tract of undeveloped land in a red rock canyon in Kanab and built the sanctuary from the ground up. The guiding premise of the organization was simply to treat all living things as they would want to be treated, and that meant ending the mass euthanization of millions of animals in shelters across the country.

At the time, some 17 million animals were being put to death in American shelters each year. Today, as a result of the efforts of Best Friends and other animal welfare organizations, that number is down to 1.5 million. Best Friends’ current priority is to reduce that number to zero by 2025. They have already successfully worked with the state of Utah and the city of Los Angeles to make those jurisdictions “no-kill,” and they are on track to succeed with their nationwide mission just seven short years from now.

Through campaigns to spay and neuter pets, outreach to combat breed discrimination, drives to shut down puppy mills, mobilization efforts during natural disasters, and initiatives to educate the public on responsible pet ownership, Best Friends has drastically reduced the number of animals ending up in shelters in the first place. And for those that do end up in shelters, Best Friends works with partner organizations across the country to get them into homes. Animals that make their way to the Utah sanctuary are guaranteed a fantastic place to live even if they are never adopted. There are no “lost causes” at Best Friends. Each animal that comes through the door is guaranteed a safe, loving environment for their entire lives. This pledge to never give up on an animal was illustrated perfectly in the rescue’s efforts to help a rather famous group of dogs.

The view from the visitor's center at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary
The view from the visitor’s center at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

After Michael Vick’s dogfighting kennel was shut down by authorities in 2008, 51 abused and traumatized dogs were seized as evidence by the government. 2 died soon thereafter as a result of their injuries and one was euthanized. As for the remainder, the expectation was that the dogs would be held as evidence until the criminal case was concluded and then be put down. But Best Friends and a couple other rescues went to court to ask that they be permitted to take the dogs in and attempt to rehabilitate them. The court granted the organizations’ wish and permitted the dogs to go to the rescues.  Best Friends took responsibility for 22 of the dogs and, after a lot of effort, successfully adopted 13 of the 22 out to good homes. Those that could not be adopted safely have remained at the Utah sanctuary, which, as I’ll get to in a minute, is a pretty good deal for a dog.

The willingness of these rescues to step in, and their overall success, not only saved Vick’s dogs but changed the way fighting dogs are now handled across the country. Instead of courts assuming former fighting dogs are lost causes that should be euthanized, it is now standard practice to individually evaluate the dogs and make every attempt to rehabilitate them. The Vick dogs’ story was chronicled on the series “Dogtown” on National Geographic, which brought much needed publicity to the organization’s efforts and helped change public opinion about these dogs. Here’s a pretty good review of what happened and the long term outcome for each of the the dogs that was rescued. As a side note, Michael Vick is absolute garbage. As a side note to the side note, “garbage” is the 27th descriptor I’ve come up with. The first 26 were unprintable.

The view from the visitor's center at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

As for our overall experience in touring the facility, we were duly impressed. With 34 years of experience to rely on, they’ve got things pretty well figured out and they seem to operate an excellent organization.

The sanctuary is located on 3700 acres of land just outside town and hosts over 30,000 visitors each year. We actually visited twice – once for the overview tour and once for a dog specific tour. The tours are offered every day for free, but you have to register for them online because space is limited.

The sanctuary is home to not just dogs and cats, but also horses, bunnies, pigs, birds, and other homeless animals. On the overview tour, we were taken around to the various animal care areas and given lots of information about the history, goals, and procedures of the organization. We got to meet one of the dogs, toured a special building where cats with feline leukemia reside, and saw many of the other major areas of the sanctuary.

cats with feline leukemia at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

For the dog specific tour, we started with a visit to their puppy preschool. The main focus with puppies is ensuring they are properly socialized and exposed to all kinds of stimuli – as you can see in the photo below – vacuum cleaners, skateboards, motorcycle helmets, etc…. The goal is to make sure the dogs are well adjusted so once they get into a home, they don’t drive their family crazy. As an aside, this woman here is one of the puppy trainers:

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah

She gets paid to hang out with puppies all day. Let that sink in for a minute.

The buildings are new, clean, and bright, and they were built with the dogs’ needs in mind – from natural light above, to heated floors below.

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah
One of the residential buildings. Spacious kennels are built around an open central common area.
Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah
This is the building new dogs are brought to for evaluation when they first come to the rescue.

The pups have large, easily cleanable individual kennels and their own outdoor play areas accessible by doggy doors. Additionally, the kennels are built with sound proofing to keep the dogs from stressing each other out.

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah

Volunteers walk and play with them multiple times each day, they get individualized health and behavior plans, and are monitored and treated for any medical conditions they may have.

For the dogs who come in with behavioral issues that will make them difficult to adopt, the staff comes up with individual training plans to address their issues. We met one dog who needed some extra guidance on how to not react like a lunatic every time he saw another dog. The folks at Best Friends correctly surmised that a 150 pound dog who wasn’t well behaved on leash was never going to be adopted, so they’ve been working on getting this horse sized dog to chill the hell out on leash. Another pupper was fearful as a result of being deaf, so they were working to desensitize him to the things he feared and build up his confidence.

We got to meet a couple of the dogs and as luck would have it, one of them decided Kevin was the greatest thing ever and another decided I was the greatest thing ever.

When they brought Milagro out, things went as would be expected….

“Oh, hi… yeah. I’m cute. What you got? Ear scratches? That’s cool.”
“Ok, whatever. I’m bored. Who else we got here?”
“Yeah, you think I’m awesome? Me too. I am awesome. Scratch my head. Good stuff…. Buuuuut, I’m bored…. Who else we got?”
“Oh! Oh wait… I’ve heard about YOU! You’re that dog whisperer guy. Aw yeah. This is good stuff….”
“I’m gonna sit my butt right down and lean ALL the way in, because this right here… this is My Man!!!!!”
Every. Time. (“Hey! What’s with this left hand? It’s not doing anything. Scratch my head!”)

On the dog specific tour day, we got to meet Joy.  Joy has extremely discerning tastes and quickly realized that everyone else was stupid. After making the rounds with a couple other people…

she came over to me, sat down on my foot and made herself at home.

She wouldn’t get off my foot until her handler dragged her back into the building….

Anyway, the rescue is not only a place to tour, but it’s also a place to volunteer. Volunteers are a crucial part of making the sanctuary run smoothly, and they are welcome to work anywhere from a couple hours to several weeks. Volunteers must register beforehand and spots fill up quickly so it’s not something we could take advantage of this visit, but you can believe we will definitely do so next time we’re in the neighborhood.

Speaking of the neighborhood, Best Friends has a huge influence on Kanab. From the noticeable availability of vegan and vegetarian food at restaurants, to the rescue’s multiple satellite buildings downtown, to the organization’s logo stickers appearing on numerous shop windows, Best Friends’ influence is apparent everywhere. When Kevin got his hair cut, the barber told him that the sanctuary basically rescued a dying town. In the mid-eighties, the nearby mills and mines had shut down and there wasn’t much drawing people in. Over the years, the rescue has brought a ton of attention, visitors, and money into the area.


Besides Best Friends, Kanab is famous for two things. First, the town calls itself “Little Hollywood” because, for decades, the town hosted movie productions. Many many old time western movies were filmed in or around Kanab, and even today, the town hosts film and television production crews on occasion. Here’s a current list of movies and TV shows filmed in the locale. Plaques commemorating the actors who came to Kanab to film movies are all over the downtown area and several hotels, restaurants, and shops feature movie memorabilia.

Kanab, Utah

Kanab, Utah

Though, apparently, the “wild west” depicted in those old time movies has officially been tamed…

“Office hours”???

Another item that has Kanab on the travel map these days is a hike known as The Wave. The trail, located on BLM land about an hour east of Kanab, can be accessed only with a permit, and only 20 permits issue per day. Ten permits are distributed in an online lottery and ten are distributed through an in-person lottery held at the BLM office located in Kanab each morning.

It is extremely difficult to win a permit and most people who try end up disappointed. Specifically, in 2017, over 160,000 people applied for 7300 permits. We figured the chances of us winning a spot were super small, but we also figured we’d regret it if we didn’t at least try. So, we showed up with everyone else, put our names in, and guess what?

The entire room was packed and it was standing room only all the way out into the hallway….

Yeah, we didn’t win. Not even close.

But you know who did win? Our friend Monaliza…. she wrote about the hike here….

Wire Pass Canyon

Wire Pass Canyon is a pretty popular slot canyon hike located about 50 miles from Kanab.

Wire Pass Canyon, Utah
The entrance to the canyon is accessed by this colorful trail.

I had read on blogs and various trail reviews that there was one big obstacle getting through the canyon – an 8 foot drop that required hikers to sort of blindly reach down for footing and then continue down. I didn’t think much of it when I read about it, but as soon as I was standing there trying to figure out how to make it down safely, I froze. (Ingrid wrote about the obstacle and has some photos on this post.)

Since I broke my leg, I have had a huge fear of jumping onto that leg – and in fact, over the past year and a half I have managed to avoid it completely. When going down mountains or obstacles, Kevin will give me a hand at questionable points, and if I have to jump down from any height, I’ll usually sit down and then slide off whatever the obstacle is. One way or another, I avoid jumping because I am terrified if I put too much stress on my rebuilt knee, it will splinter again. Is that crazy? Perhaps… But I know how many screws are holding my leg together and, more importantly, I remember what that recovery process was like and I never want to go through it again. So… There ya go.

Anyway, for almost two years, I’ve been able to avoid doing anything that resembled jumping down from a high point, but because of the way this obstacle was shaped, I knew there was a solid possibility I might come down hard on that leg.

I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Lame, but true.

Luckily, I had read that there was a way around the obstacle for people who didn’t think they could make it and, fortunately, we were able to figure out where the path was to go up and around. End result: We got to see the canyon, but I learned the current limits of my courage.

As an aside, on the way back, I had no problem going up over the obstacle. Up is not a problem. Down is the problem.

The sandstone in the canyon featured all kinds of striations and patterns from years of erosion. It was incredibly beautiful…

We have yet to walk through one of these slot canyons and not be blown away by the views. They’re just so cool!

They’ll keep you on your diet though, that’s for sure…

As we made our way through the canyon, it kept getting brighter and brighter, until we eventually walked into this giant open area where the sun streamed in.

This was the intersection with Buckskin Gulch Canyon – known for being the longest and deepest slot canyon in the southwest. We wandered down that trail for about 30 minutes before heading back to Wire Pass and calling it a day.

Wow, these posts are not getting any shorter, are they? Well, lucky for you, next week will just be a thousand pictures of Bryce Canyon National Park with insightful commentary like “Holy shit! That’s amazing!”


Where we stayed: Hitch-N-Post RV Park, Kanab, Utah


  1. Loving your blog! The recent posts are bringing back great memories of a 9 week trip we did in 2016-17 in a rented Cruise America motorhome ???? We’ll definitely be returning to the US for more motorhome travels at some point; not sure yet whether we’ll rent again or ship our our motorhome across. Your blog will definitely be a fabulous resource for planning more motorhome adventures. Thank you!
    Jo (in the UK)

    • Hi Jo, Thanks for your comment! I’m so glad you are enjoying my blog. We have seen SO MANY motorhome rentals out here. We had no idea what a huge thing it was until we started traveling around the west. In fact, on our tour of Monument Valley a couple days back, there was a couple from Holland who were traveling around the west for about six weeks in a rented RV. They said they were having a fantastic time, just going wherever they felt like and staying as long as they wanted. It really is such a great way to do an extended vacation in this area of the U.S. Anyway, thanks for reading and feel free to reach out if you need any information!

  2. So glad you found Best Friends! That is right up your alley. I spoke to my acupuncturist about it and she was well versed in their mission and organization. It really is the best. The canyons are so beautiful! Sorry about your leg, but better to exercise sound judgement – just in case!!

    • Yeah, I am always leery of giant charitable organizations because sometimes their size gets in the way of their mission… salaries go too high, too much money goes to fundraising and not enough to the cause, they lose sight of their goals and start wasting money (e.g: The Komen Foundation suing people for using the phrase “for the cure.”). I was a little concerned about that with Best Friends, but from what we saw, they really do keep their eyes on the prize. We met several employees and they knew what they were talking about, the animals looked well cared for, and they have obviously learned a lot of lessons in how to make this thing work. I have no doubt that if they continue to focus on their 2025 mission, they will succeed. I really hope they do.

    • He’s so despicable….. How anyone could do what he did to those poor dogs, I will never understand. Just plain evil.

  3. I thought for sure this post was going to end with…”and so we adopted Joy and Milagro and we all lived happily aver after!” Maybe you can redo the ending?? 😉

    • Haha! You know some day we will be the crazy hoarder people with a clown car RV full of dogs running around, right? Like, that is my life goal…. We’re just not quite ready to go “full crazy” yet. Give us some time though…. We’ll get there…. 🙂

  4. I had heard about Best Friends but didn’t know the history or connection with “ICK” Vick’s dogs rescue. I too have several unprintable names! Anyway, it looks like a beautiful place for these lost animals. What a great experience. It would be an awesome place to volunteer. Were you tempted to adopt?
    The slot canyons are gorgeous & thanks to Ingrid’s blog, I learned about the other alternatives to the overcrowded, expensive Antelope Canyon guided tours. You are rushed through in crowds with not much time for photos…we encountered annoying Alice on our tour! Thanks for sharing

    • We are always tempted to adopt because we miss having a dog, but we are not ready for another one just yet. We really miss Dixie and given how things happened with her, we are just not at the point where we are ready to move on. Plus, taking in a new dog given our lifestyle is difficult and we want to be responsible and fair to the dog. So, we will take our time and wait until we really feel ready again. For right now, it was fun to go hang out with some puppies and know they are being well taken care of.

      Heads up on Waterholes Canyon (the hike that Ingrid wrote about)… it’s now by permit with a tour guide only. We were going to do it when we were in Page, but they had just changed the procedure and we couldn’t get reliable information – plus we didn’t feel like paying for it, so we skipped it. Hopefully there is better info available now….

  5. Its wonderful what this rescue group does for the animals. I know it was hard for you’ll not to take a couple of them. Can’t believe in your next blog you will use the “A” word!

    • We kept an eye on one another to make sure neither of us was secretly grabbing puppies to bring back to the RV. 🙂 I honestly don’t think we would be able to exercise such self control if it was a regular animal shelter, but knowing the dogs were well cared for, it was much easier to make good decisions. And yes – for Bryce, I think the Big A word is so appropriate!!

  6. We loved hiking Wire Pass Canyon. Somehow I managed to use the lodged tree limb and rocks to climb down. I’m not one to jump and I didn’t that day either. Thanks for the mention and reminding me how much I love hiking slot canyons.

    • Yeah, Kevin did the same thing. I was just afraid if I misjudged the footing, I would have no choice but to jump down the rest of the way. And the more I worried about misjudging the footing, the more sure I was that I would do exactly that. If I wasn’t so worried about it, I’m sure it wouldn’t have been an issue… but that’s how these fears take over. Anyway, I’m just glad we were able to get around it and still enjoy the canyon. It truly is a remarkable place.

  7. So glad you went to Best Friends! We went there years ago, before the Vick dogs and before it was crazy busy. We actually were able to stay at the cabins there and volunteer and it was INCREDIBLE! I absolutely love that place! Now that we are traveling in our RV, we WILL get back there one day! Where did you guys stay? I haven’t really looked at campgrounds in the area yet as I am not sure when we will get there.

    • Oooh! Here’s a fun fact for you: Best Friends actually has a couple of RV sites at the sanctuary! I believe they have water/electric hook-ups. So if you do want to go visit again, you could actually just take the motorhome there and set up! Like everything else though, the spots book up quickly, so whenever you decide to go, call them early. It is a popular spot! If you can’t get one of those spots, we stayed at a tiny commercial campground downtown. If you scroll all the way to the bottom of my posts, you’ll see a link to the campground we stayed at for each destination. I write separate campground reviews on my site and always link to them at the bottom of my substantive articles.

  8. Slot canyons are the absolute best!
    We spent a week volunteering at Best Friends a few years ago and it was the most wonderful experience. One of our “jobs” was to simply play with a boatload of puppies…..just sit down on the ground and play all afternoon! We cleaned horse pastures, walked a hugely overweight kitty around outside to keep her moving, and checked out an interesting cave and tiny slot on property (one of the volunteer wranglers decided we need a break from our hard work so she loaded us in her UTV and took us to the cave). We had a fantastic lunch at their restaurant and generally had one of our best weeks ever! I thought I’d feel terrible seeing all those dear and homeless animals but when we left I realized that if they never were adopted they’d still have a really wonderful home for life, they’d be safe and happy. Did you see the cemetery? Very touching…..I cried.
    I, too, expected you to tell us you had adopted blase’ Milagro or little Joy. bummer.

    • “Playing with a boatload of puppies”? Seriously? You know that is all I’ve ever dreamed of, right? Like… that’s it. I could die a happy woman if I just got to spend several hours playing with a boatload of puppies. Swoon….. 🙂

      We will definitely head back there to volunteer. It sounds like that’s another thing that the organization gets right – giving people meaningful work and allowing them to truly feel like they are making a difference. It sounds wonderful. And I agree: Knowing the animals will be cared for and loved made it easier for us to make responsible decisions and wait to adopt until we are really ready. Which we’re not yet. It’s only been a couple months and we miss Dixie terribly. It’ll be a bit before we’re ready to adopt again. But we will….

      And yes, we saw the cemetery on our overview tour. We just passed it while in the tour van. We could have gone back and looked around a bit, but that would have just been too hard. Again, with time, we’ll get there….

  9. Such amazing work done by Best Friends! I’ve visited several rescues over the years, but never one as big as that! Love your pics of the slot canyon. Glad you were able to find a path around the jump and get to hike it all the way. Great links as well!

    • If you’re ever in the neighborhood, definitely make time to stop by there. It truly is a special place and really gives you some faith in humanity. They are doing great work and it is a sight to see! And yeah, the slot canyons are really unique and fun to explore. I’m glad we were able to find a way to make it work too!

  10. Nothing better than a room full of puppies. We will need to stop by Kanab the next pass thru Utah, sounds like a great town to visit, but I didn’t see any Restaraunt reviews? Also, you can kidnap our two girls anytime we are close if you need a Westie fix. That’s exactly what I thought when we saw Brice, the place was fricken awesome….

    • So there are a couple pretty popular restaurants there. The only one we checked out was Peekaboo Canyon Woodfired Grill. They are a vegetarian restaurant that specializes in pizza. We had a great dinner there and would recommend it. Otherwise, we really didn’t eat out much, not because there weren’t appealing options, but because we are trying to get our budget back in line. Thanks for the offer on the Westie fix. We’ll definitely take you up on that next time we cross paths!!

  11. I had no idea of the extent of the good work that Best Friends does. So inspiring what a group of people can do when they’re passionate about something! (Now if we could only get a whole bunch of other stuff straightened out in this country….) Anyway, I would love to visit and volunteer there. It’s heartwarming to know that all of those animals have a loving “forever” home, even if they don’t get adopted.
    And…SO COOL that you hiked Buckskin Gulch/Wire Pass Canyon! We did that hike a couple of years ago and it is still one of our favorites. I looked over the edge and didn’t have the courage to jump either, but we figured out the work-around and enjoyed a spectacular hike. I had to have someone pull me up over the boulder at the end, though, because I got stuck coming back up. Haha! Just slightly embarrassing.

    • It’s hard not to feel inspired by a place like Best Friends and I have been so happy to hear from other people that they volunteered at the facility and had great experiences. Clearly, it is not a slick marketing campaign, but reality. Wow. I am so jaded… But it’s hard to know sometimes what is real and what is not. From everything we saw and what we’ve learned since, they are the real deal and they do things right. Awesome. And thank you for making me feel better about that stupid obstacle. I figured I wasn’t the only one with a concern about it given the number of times I read about the “alternate way”, but I wasn’t sure. And I can totally see getting stuck on the way up… it’s a tough one to climb over, especially if you’re not super tall.

  12. Hey, thanks for the mention! At least you went to the office and gave yourself a shot. Maybe next time when you go back to Kanab and volunteer at Best friends. I was hoping at the end of the blog you have a photo with Joy and Milagro posing in front of your rig ???? oh well, perhaps next time.
    Since you hiked at Buckskin Gulch/Wire Pass Canyon you have seen the turnoff towards the Wave, you were in the vicinity of that spectacular formation. We have not hiked there, now another excuse to go back.

    • Yeah, we heard that the two hikes shared a parking lot. We were so close, and yet so far! Oh well. I’m glad you guys got to do it. Such a cool hike! And yes, you should definitely go through Wire Pass next time you’re in the area. It was a very pretty slot canyon and there were only a handful of people, at least when we went. Plus, as long as there hasn’t been much rain, you can go for miles into Buckskin Gulch which goes forever. So there are a lot of options.

  13. I don’t think you were lame at all for not wanting to jump down that ledge after your injury. I’m glad you found another way though. Best Friends sounds amazing! I’m so happy to hear about rescue organizations. Did you ever hear about the Lost Dog Ranch outside DC? My sons all volunteered at their adoption events

    • We have not been to Lost Dog Ranch, but we were regular customers of Lost Dog Cafe when we lived in the DC area. Honestly, we knew the cafe’s owners were heavily involved with rescue animals, but I never knew they had this entire ranch. I was under the impression they operated a network of volunteer foster homes. I guess you learn something new every day!

  14. Our first experience with Kanab was on motorcycle trip. We used the town as our home base for Zion and Bryce. We didn’t do any hiking since we were dressed for riding but what a great area to ride. We really enjoyed the little town of Kanab which has come a long ways since our first visit about 14 years ago. We haven’t done Wire Pass or Buckskin yet but it is on the list! We’ve spent lots of time everywhere around that area. Glad you enjoyed your tour at Best Friends. Everyone who stops so loves it.

    • Wait! Are you telling me we actually hiked somewhere you and John haven’t been before????? WHAT????? Holy Crap!!! You gotta get on your game, Pam! We’re gonna eclipse you guys before you know it! Hahahahahahaha!!!! 🙂 Anyway, we really enjoyed our visit to Kanab too. We’ve been to a lot of teeny tiny towns around here and that one was our favorite. It felt like it had enough going on to keep it interesting and convenient, but it still had its own small town character. We enjoyed it.

  15. So…I’ve put volunteering at Best Friends on my vacation list… great post. And don’t beat yourself up about your knee. Remember my shoulder? It’s been over 7 years and I still haven’t hung from a bar because I fear I will rip it out of the socket. 🙂

    • Thanks… I think going through an injury like this this makes you realize just how fragile these things can be. Plus, the older you get, the easier it is to suffer a catastrophic injury and the harder it is to come back. So yeah, it’s not really all that irrational. It just sucks to not be 20 and carefree about this stuff anymore.

  16. We saw Best Friends when we were in Kanab a few years ago. Drove through but didn’t have the chance to stop. Glad you enjoyed the Wire Pass hike, good to know our limitations and that it didn’t interfere with your enjoyment of the canyon.

    • True… there’s usually more than one way to enjoy these places. At least with so much information available on the internet, we can find these alternate routes. It would have been much more difficult several years ago. Yay internet!! 🙂


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