Dog Friendly Travel

Tour of America Day 7 – Best Friends Animal Sanctuary & Grand Staircase

Road Trip Day 7 - Grand Staircase National Monument
Written by Rachael Sando
  • Have you been following our Dog Friendly Tour of America? We are running through the highlights (and lowlights) of each day to help you plan your own pet friendly vacation!

If there is one theme that seems to be reoccurring on this vacation, it’s a lot of late nights and early mornings. Day 7 was no exception. When the alarm rang at 7am, my first feelings were a mix of dread, I was SO tired, and excitement, we were headed on a tour of Best Friends Animal Society.

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

Visiting Best Friends Animal Sanctuary with our dogs

Tucked into Angel Canyon, just north of Kanab, Utah, is the headquarters for Best Friends Animal Society – an organization that works to build no-kill programs and partnerships throughout the country. Best Friends believes that through advocacy and education we can “Save Them All®” – a mission that I’m sure all of our readers can get behind.

Their Utah Sanctuary is the nation’s largest no-kill shelter. As many of you know, I have been working/ volunteering at our local humane society over the past year. Hearing first hand the respect and esteem that these folks hold for Best Friends, I was very eager to visit and learn a little more about the organization.

Best Friends offers free tours of their facility daily, as well as private tours of individual areas. Kevin signed us up for the 8:30 AM general tour and called ahead to let them know that we would have the boys with us.

Not surprisingly, Best Friends Animal Sanctuary welcomes people traveling with pets – with only a few restrictions. For the comfort of the other passengers you cannot bring your dog onto the tour van, and must instead follow behind in your own vehicle. Worried about missing out on valuable info? Don’t, because they provide a CD which narrates the entire tour as you drive along.

Best Friends Utah Sanctuary is the largest no-kill shelter in the United States

There are several stops along the way to visit the dog and cat habitats. Your pet must remain in the car (supervised) and isn’t allowed to meet animal residents or enter the shelter buildings. This is for the safety and well being of all the animals, many of whom are in the process of being trained for adoption! Since we were traveling as a couple, Kevin and I took turns entering the various buildings to see the facilities (and get a little animal lovin’ as well!)

The entire tour took about an hour and a half and we were blown away by the beauty and serenity of the campus. We would love be to return someday, to check out even more of the sanctuary and sign up for a Volunteer Vacation! Stay tuned for our full post about our Best Friends Animal Sanctuary visit!

Fueling Up

After our tour we stopped in Kanab to grab some lunch and get some gas. We had a great cheeseburger at Big Al’s Burgers and the boys enjoyed a snack courtesy of Jones Natural  Chews.

Next on the agenda was Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. We were very excited to spend the afternoon exploring this area because we had read that dogs are allowed almost everywhere in the park! Not the case for most of the other National Parks on our agenda!

Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument

Heading into Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument

After lunch, we used TripAdvisor to research a few dog friendly trails that might be worth checking out.  It sounded like most originate from scenic highway 12, which passes right through the heart of Grand Staircase, so we figured we would pick out a trail or two to hike that looked good along the way.

Boy were we wrong! This is the most poorly labeled park or forest that I have ever been to. You will not find signs for trailheads or big attractions as you drive through the park.

Even after stopping at a forest ranger station for some help we were told that there are very few marked trails in the park. Instead we were only given some vague directions like “try heading up this dirt road for x miles, to another dirt road and look for a small shed. You can hike near there leading into a canyon.”

Hiking on unmarked “trails”, in 100 weather with no cell service is not exactly something I feel comfortable with! Instead we ended up driving on a huge mountain road called “Devils Backbone” for several hours hoping to find some sort of trafficked path to hike, but no such luck. We did end up stopping at one point when we saw a creek to let the boys cool off.

Harley laying down and cooling off in a refreshing mountain stream!

Harley was so warm he decided the best way to cool off was to lie down in the creek! Why walk when you can lay and let the cool mountain water run over you?!

The view from Devil's Backbone at Grand Staircase National Monument

The views at the top were absolutely stunning, but after 4 hours in the car I was not in a particularly great mood . While driving through national parks is the only reasonable way of seeing all of them, I was stir crazy and disappointed that I couldn’t experience more of it on foot! Of course, Charlie always has a smile to share, no matter how long he has been in the car!

Finally, we reached Route 12 again and headed North into central Utah.

Dixie National ForestEntering Dixie National forest in southern Utah

As we left Grand Staircase we traveled through the gorgeous Dixie National Forest. Here we found mountain lakes and tons of marked trails to explore – unfortunately it was too late in the day and we needed to keep moving! We did however make a few stops, to take in some amazing panoramic views of Grand Staircase and beyond.

Our dog Charlie looking out over Grand Staircase

Another fun surprise on this part of the drive was the open ranges. Be cautious and keep your eyes peeled because RT. 12 heads right through ranges where large herds of cattle graze (without fencing)! On more than one occasion we had to stop due to cows in the road, but also to admire all of the sweet calves that were mooing and playing near the road.

Watch for open range cattle on the roads leading through the Dixie National Forest

Pushing Onward to Provo, Utah

When we returned to cell reception I found another great deal on Priceline Express, but we still had almost 4 hours to drive! Thankfully we ran into our first 80 mph zones on this leg of the trip!

The drive up to Provo was filled with gorgeous country including plains, mountains and dramatic rock formations. We also ended up going right by Capital Reef National Park which we would love to return and visit some day.

What We Learned

Harley is quite satisfied after taking a dip in the creek!

Buy a Detailed Trail Map to explore Grand Staircase Escalante 

We assumed that this park would be similar to any other we have visited – clear signs to the major hikes and attractions. NOPE!!! There are practically no signs in this 2 million acre park. Although we spent 8 hours driving through, we never once saw a trail marker. Even after asking for a dog friendly hike at a visitors center, we were directed down a 62 mile gravel road looking for a path that we never found! This day was a bit of a disappointment to say the least. Grand Staircase was described as being one of the most dog friendly parks on our trip. Although they do allow dogs almost everywhere, we had a heck of a time finding anywhere that was marked as a trail, and we weren’t about to just wander into a canyon on our own accord!

Quick Stats

  • Miles traveled: 397
  • States passed through:  1 – Utah
  • Gas fill ups: 1

Stay tuned to see where we visit tomorrow!

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About the author

Rachael Sando

Rachael is a School Psychologist with degrees from the University of Rochester and RIT. Though a lifelong dog lover, this passion has taken on a new direction through the utilization of therapy animals in her day job. Charlie, our Golden Retriever, works with Rachael as a school therapy dog in a local primary school where he brings comfort and support to students and staff on a daily basis.


  • We got off a trail at Joshua Tree National Park at dusk/dark. We couldn’t find trail markers.

  • Ugh, how disappointing! I found the grazing cattle amusing, but it’s a bit perturbing as well… I can’t wait to hear more about your visit to Best Friends!

    • Yeah, we loved seeing the cattle as well. They certainly live a great life on an open mountaintop range! We will share more pics of them later!

  • Unmarked canyon trails sound downright dangerous! I am surprised we don’t hear about people needing to be rescued on a regular basis.

  • With all the National Parks you are stopping at, I am surprised you guys didn’t get an Annual Pass (since you mentioned paying the $30 Grand Canyon admission fee in a previous post). They are $80, but one pass covers everyone in the car. You can buy them at the parks too.

    • This would have been the right move – I wish it had been on the signs at the park entrances! I think we ended up at roughly $80 anyways but we will definitely get the annual pass on our next trip.

  • I’ve been looking forward to this post the most! It’s so exciting that you got to go to Best Friends Animal Society! I wuv the work that they do and hope my org can just reach a smidgen of what they’ve accomplished 🙂 Supa pawcited to learn we can tour #petfriendly – this is going on my wish list! Hafta say I’m a bit jelly bol! So happy you had this expawience! Wooferoo!!!

  • I loved our drive through Utah but we didn’t have the dog with us on that trip. I had no idea that Best Friends Animal Sanctuary was that big and I’m looking forward to the more detailed post.

  • I’m glad you were able to tour Best Friends Animal Sanctuary! It is an amazing place. What a shame about the hikes, but you did find some beautiful scenery.

  • I love your photo from the top of the National Monument. Gorgeous scenery!

    And Best Friends is on my bucket list. I would love to be able to visit there some time. Sounds like the tour was fun.

  • Wow, what an adventure!! It is so amazing you’re taking your dog with you on these travels, he really seems to be enjoying his time! 🙂

  • I wish we would have gotten a chance to chat at BlogPaws – it went by so fast and I didn’t get to talk to everyone I wanted to. I love seeing everyones’ road trip adventures surrounding the conference! You’re right that some desert attractions leave much to be desired in the way of signage and accessibility, but they still make for great photo ops!

  • My mom would want to be out of the car walking and hiking too. You did see some beautiful spots, though, and got some nice shots.

  • This has been my favorite post so far. Visiting and volunteering at Best Friends is a big item on my bucket list. And all the fun stuff you found to do in the area on top of it! If I ever take a “real” vacation and travel, this will definitely have to be a destination.

  • It is nice that Best Friends still allows you to go in a tour if you have a dog with you. So many people who are interested in Best Friends likely have animals traveling with them.

  • Thanks for this! I have not really travelled in the US as much as Europe favouring the ability to dine and enter museums etc. with my dog and shying away from the “No dogs” signs I see far to often in North America. But I think one day in the near future we will make our way across this continent we call home. From Canada all the way South through everything in between. Thank you for sharing!

  • I’ve never been in a mountain river before! Just the ocean. You look supa chill in that river Harley! You’re definitely an outdoorpup!

  • It’s good that your boys will go in the water to cool off, mine is not a water dog.

  • i get their emails. i think this is a wonderful rescue. they have all types of animals. the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument is just magnificent. what a view. i just loved the picture of your dog, Harley?, dont know which one it was, looking over the view…this is a great picture. good thing you have car seat covers b/c your boys sure love the water.

  • You have no idea how much I want to pack my three dogs up and take a road trip around the US. You pictures are inspiring me to start some trip planning 😉 I was hoping to chat with you at Blog Paws and was sorry to have missed getting a chance to meet in person and chat with you guys. Love seeing your travels!

  • I love the happy dog faces it makes me so happy to see the pictures of your boys.

  • i wonder if your boys are glad to be home. i am sure they had loads of fun seeing all of the sights. too bad they cant speak in english to tell us humans abt their travels and adventures. i hope the rental car was okay when you took it back, from all of the wet dog adventures. true to nature, goldens love to swim and love the water. i just cant imagine the memories that you will have from such a wonderful trip with your boys.

  • I love your pictures. Seem you have a nice trip there. I want to go on a trip with my beloved cat but she doesn’t like to go out.