Southern Utah pet lovers’ paradise

Zeke from Dogtown at Best Friends

If you’re searching for fun family vacation ideas or things to do in Utah, the possibilities are endless. Tourist attractions in Utah include breathtaking national and state parks, and outdoor activities in Utah are truly world-class. There’s something for everyone, whether it be hiking, camping, rock climbing, canyoneering, stargazing or photography. And deep in the heart of southern Utah is one of those dream-come-true vacations for animal lovers: Best Friends Animal Sanctuary.

Dreaming of a destination vacation?

For animal lovers planning a southwest vacation or looking for places to visit in Utah, Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is a must-see. It’s truly a sanctuary in every sense of the word. Nestled in Angel Canyon, a beautiful red rock canyon five miles outside the town of Kanab, Utah, it is the largest no-kill pet sanctuary in the country.

On any given day, the Sanctuary is home to about 1,600 animals. And since those animals live here 365 days a year, this is one destination vacation you can take at any time. It not only tops the list of things to do in Utah in summer, but it is also one of the coolest winter activities Utah offers. Of course, fall and spring are also prime times to visit Best Friends. Whatever the season, the Sanctuary is one of the liveliest and most fun places in Utah.

Visit Best Friends

Planning to visit Utah? Tour the Sanctuary.

If it’s free things to do in Utah you’re looking for, don’t miss the opportunity to tour the Sanctuary and visit its furry and feathered friends. All tours are free and led by knowledgeable, enthusiastic Sanctuary ambassadors. General tours, offered four times a day, give visitors a chance to meet and greet some incredible cats and dogs, see different areas of the Sanctuary, and get a general sense of the work we do here with the animals.

Animal area tours meet at each area’s headquarters. For example, you can explore Horse Haven and Marshall’s Piggy Paradise, watch a Parelli Natural Horsemanship demo, meet some cuddly bunnies or learn more about the various species of birds at Parrot Garden.

Some of the very best things to see in Utah are right here at the Sanctuary, and custom tours accommodate a variety of interests. A 45-minute custom tour will take you off the beaten path and help you explore the facility’s beautiful red rock country.

Sanctuary has some of the best Utah destinations

The Sanctuary is a whole world of its own and, depending on how much time you have on your Utah vacation, you might want to explore some or all of it.

Dogtown, a refuge for canines who need another chance at life, houses (on average) 400 dogs at a time. This “gated community” has 15 areas that house various groups of dogs — from puppies to seniors — many having special medical or behavioral needs caused by difficult pasts. In Dogtown, they get all of the medical care, TLC and training they need to recover and be adopted into loving homes. While they are here, dogs get to enjoy being dogs. There are two dog parks (one with a swimming pool), walking trails and an agility arena.

Volunteer hugging Toothless the puppy

Cat World houses 500-550 cats, many with a wide variety of special needs, in attractive houses along a quiet dirt road. Each house provides a free-roaming environment with indoor areas and screened-in porches. There’s a house just for cats with the feline leukemia virus (FeLV), as well as a suite for incontinent cats. Here they receive the medical care, food, attention and love they need to heal from hard times and prepare for permanent homes. Cats also enjoy an enrichment program that includes walks (on a harness or leash) and stroller rides through the area’s trail system.

Several felines at Cat World at Best Friends

At Horse Haven, you’ll find more than just horses. There are burros, mules, goats and sheep, too. Many of them have come to the scenic pastures at Best Friends after suffering from abuse, neglect or abandonment, and just need a second chance. Others have special medical or behavioral challenges that require expert help. At Horse Haven, the animals receive outstanding medical and farrier care. They get good food (many of them are on special diets), room to roam in a beautiful canyon and all the love and attention they need to move forward physically and emotionally. Horse Haven’s hooved friends also benefit from Parelli Natural Horsemanship, a training program that focuses on building a partnership between horses and humans. Horse Haven also holds weekly horsemanship demos that are free to the public.

Lady, Thumper, and Katie at Horse Haven at Best Friends

Remodeled in 2013, Marshall’s Piggy Paradise is an adorable village designed just for our piggy friends. Potbellied pigs are highly intelligent and make wonderful pets. But they frequently lose their homes because of zoning laws that classify them as farm animals instead of pets, or because people don’t expect them to grow so large. The staff at Marshall's Piggy Paradise works hard to educate the public about the issues potbellied pigs face, such as the truth about teacup pigs. Before they came to the Sanctuary, many of these pigs were abandoned, ignored, hoarded or even outlawed. But here they enjoy mud baths, healthy food and exercise and the love and attention they need for as long as it takes them to find new loving homes again.

Malcolm, Maxwell, and Rupert at Marshall's Piggy Paradise at Best Friends

The Bunny House is home to around 130 rabbits and a few guinea pigs. Some have been abandoned while others were victims of hoarding or excessive breeding. Some have injuries or special needs. And all of them just want to be loved. The Bunny House features a new headquarters building, where bunnies enjoy companionship with other rabbits, expert vet care, delicious fresh veggies (year-round), places to dig and the chance to heal and feel safe until they go on to their very own forever homes.

Volunteers feeding lettuce to rabbits at Bunny House at Best Friends

Parrot Garden houses around 100 parrots, ranging from parakeets, cockatiels, and conures, to larger parrots, including several species of macaws and cockatoos, African grey parrots, and Amazon parrots. These birds lose their homes just like other pets, and, because parrots live such a long time (some up to 100 years), they can become homeless many times over the course of their lives. Many of our parrots have been through many homes and many have special needs, but at Parrot Garden, they can rest and heal. In a light-filled tropical environment, they enjoy nutritious meals, top-notch vet care, lots of mental and social stimulation and the attention they need to recover.

Sierra with Scarlet at Parrot Garden at Best Friends

Wild Friends is Best Friends’ state and federally licensed wildlife rehabilitation center for helping orphaned and injured wild animals get back on their feet, and back to the wild. Wild Friends is home to roughly 150-200 animals at a time (depending on the season). From owls to wild bunnies, everyone needs a helping hand from time to time. And there’s nothing more rewarding than seeing them fly or run free again after medical care and a short reprieve at Wild Friends. A small number of animals too injured to be released stay on as part of our wildlife education program.

Echo the red-tailed hawk at Wild Friends at Best Friends

Whether you take one or more tours, or visit one or all of the Sanctuary’s animal areas, you’ll get a sneak peek into the lifesaving work that happens here and a firsthand view of one of the most exciting places to see in Utah.

Kids’ summer activities in Utah

Looking for summer activities in Utah for the kids? The Best Friends kids camp is a free program that gives children the opportunity to learn about and safely interact with the animals at the Sanctuary. The summer day camp is open to children ages six to nine years old and offers a unique opportunity for kids (especially those too young to volunteer) to get to know some special dogs, cats, horses, pigs, birds and bunnies.

The kids camp was created in honor of Nathania Gartman, a co-founder of Best Friends and a dedicated humane educator. Nathania started educational programs at the Sanctuary and worked in communities around the country to teach respect, compassion, and empathy for all living things.

While the Best Friends kids camp teaches children how to successfully and compassionately interact with animals, it also gives parents and older children the opportunity to volunteer in animal areas where younger kids are not able to help out. The 2016 Kids Camp will run from June 1 through August 12, Monday through Friday, from 8 to 11:30 a.m. Each day of the week features a different fun, educational activity. Adults should just be sure to save trips to other Utah tourist attractions for a different morning, because all kids camp attendees will need a parent or guardian on the Sanctuary premises during camp hours.

Children have a blast at Best Friends kids camp

Volunteer vacations at the Sanctuary

Animal volunteer vacations often turn out to be some of the very best vacations for animal lovers. That’s because volunteer vacations are both fun and fulfilling. The Best Friends volunteer department can accommodate almost any kind of volunteer vacation you can think of, whether it be volunteer vacations for singles or couples (some couples honeymoon here), or volunteer vacations for families or large groups. There are also plenty of people who drop in to do a volunteer shift or two during weekend getaways in Utah.

Each year, about 8,000 people come from all over the world to volunteer with our Sanctuary animals. And those people make a real difference in the lives of homeless pets. When you become a Best Friends Sanctuary volunteer, you're giving the animals what they want and need most: personal attention, hands-on care and love. Whether you volunteer for a day, a week or longer, the animals at the Sanctuary truly appreciate the time you spend with them.

Although we are a working sanctuary, your volunteer experience — just like your southwest travel experience or Utah travel itinerary — can be as laid-back or as active as you choose. There are volunteer opportunities in every one of our animal areas: Dogtown, Cat World, Horse Haven, Marshall’s Piggy Paradise, The Bunny House, Rabbit Rescue Village, Parrot Garden and Wild Friends. Volunteer activities include spending quiet time socializing with or reading to our animals, walking the animals (including taking some for stroller rides), feeding, grooming and assisting with the daily cleaning of the animal areas.

Taking animals on outings to town or other nearby locations is another way volunteers help to give them new and valuable experiences. Volunteers can also take dogs, cats and even bunnies on sleepovers that help prepare them for their forever homes. All of these volunteer activities are very important for our animals. And if you happen to fall in love with one of the Sanctuary’s adoptable pets while you are volunteering, be sure to speak with one of our adoption specialists. They know a thing or two about love connections, and they can help make sure that yours is a match made in heaven.

Volunteer at Best Friends

Volunteer walking a cat at Best Friends

How vacations for animal lovers can help Save Them All

Volunteer trips to help animals at the Sanctuary have a greater impact than you might imagine. They are one of the ways you can help Best Friends Save Them All.

Every day, more than 9,000 dogs and cats are killed in America's shelters, simply because they don't have safe places to call home. But we’re working to change that. Ending the killing and saving those animals is a tremendous undertaking, but it’s the reason why Best Friends exists.

In the 1980s — just a few decades ago — around 17 million animals perished every year in shelters across America. Killing cats and dogs was the primary method of handling unwanted pets. Older, sick and behaviorally challenged animals were the first to go. Then in the 1980s, a group of compassionate friends began taking some of those "unadoptable" pets to a safe haven to heal. That pioneering group became Best Friends Animal Society, and the safe haven became the Sanctuary in Angel Canyon.

At the core of Best Friends' work is the dream that one day, animals will no longer be killed in America's shelters. To achieve that dream, Best Friends works collaboratively with other groups, government agencies and regular folks throughout the nation through our national outreach programs.

No-kill shelters and communities

Besides advocating for no-kill organizations across the nation, Best Friends also works together with entire communities to end the unnecessary killing of pets. Best Friends is working in Los Angeles, New York, and the entire state of Utah to take those communities to no-kill status, which means the community has reached the accepted benchmark of saving at least 90 percent of the animals taken in.

In no-kill shelters, pets are only humanely euthanized in cases of terminal and painful illness — when compassion demands euthanasia because there is no reasonable alternative. Proven programs are in place to reduce the number of pets coming in and to increase the number of pets leaving shelters alive. These no-kill initiatives have reduced the number of dogs and cats dying each year in shelters to an estimated four million.

We’ve come a long way, but there’s still work to do. From humble beginnings, Best Friends Animal Society has grown into a national leader of the no-kill movement. The future lies in the same place it all began — with caring individuals who want to make this a kinder nation for our pets. So, if you’re looking for volunteer vacations animals can really benefit from, you’ve come to the right place at Best Friends.

Enjoy an outing with a dog

Places to stay on the Sanctuary

Many people taking animal volunteer trips to Best Friends enjoy staying in the Sanctuary’s cottages. Nestled in a quiet area behind Horse Haven and Piggy Paradise, the cottages are just a stone’s throw away from the Best Friends Welcome Center and a short drive to the other animal areas. Studio-style cabins are smaller, cozier versions of the cottages, with easy access to walking trails and the highway. You can also kick back in one of our two fully equipped RV sites. Both of them have spectacular views.

All of these accommodations are pet friendly and perfect for animal vacations. Or, if your pets are staying at home while you travel, why not take a Sanctuary animal on a sleepover?  If you’re thinking of adopting a new pet and would like to get to know him or her a little better, or if you simply want to give a Sanctuary animal some extra love and affection for an evening, the cottages and cabins are great places to do that. Since these accommodations book well in advance, it’s a good idea to plan ahead and make reservations early.

Places to stay and things to do in Kanab, Utah

There are also plenty of places to stay minutes from the Sanctuary, in the town of Kanab. Kanab has a rich, interesting and famous history. Sometimes called  “Little Hollywood,” the town and surrounding area has served as a backdrop for more than 100 movies and the area is prominent in many classic American western films. For example, Clint Eastwood’s 1976 movie The Outlaw Josey Wales was filmed in the area, along with several popular TV shows, including Gunsmoke and The Lone Ranger. Many of these films and TV shows have become such a part of our culture that, when people think of the Wild West or the American cowboy, Kanab’s scenery comes to mind.

Besides its famous history, Kanab is best known today as the main hub for people seeking a southern Utah vacation. Kanab is located in the Golden Circle, an area that gets its name from being close to a number of southern Utah national parks, including Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park and the north rim of the Grand Canyon National Park. The nearby Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument stretches out for miles and offers dramatic scenery and otherworldly views. Lake Powell, which reminds many people of a Mediterranean locale, is also just a short drive away.

Kanab is near to the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, as well as vast expanses of untouched federal land, just waiting to be explored. To the northeast, there’s Kodachrome Basin State Park and the breathtaking Capitol Reef National Park. A little further to the east is Canyonlands National Park and Moab.

Make a trip to Best Friends: One of your top things to do in Utah

With its genuine small town feel, Kanab truly seems miles off the beaten path. But other cities, towns and points of interest in the region are within easy driving distance. The two closest cities (St. George and Cedar City) are 80 and 100 miles away. If it’s big city excitement you crave, the entertainment capital of Las Vegas is a scenic 200 miles away. Salt Lake City, 300 miles to the north, is another option. You could have lunch in Kanab and be in Salt Lake City in time for dinner.

With all of its amazing outdoor adventures, tourist attractions and awe-inspiring scenery, you’ll never have to wonder what to do in Utah. But while you’re busy mapping out your top places to go in Utah and top things to do in Utah, don’t forget to include a trip to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. The animals will be waiting for you in their red rock paradise, deep in the heart of southern Utah.

Plan your visit to Best Friends

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is southern Utah pet lovers’ paradise

Photos by Best Friends staff

Visit Utah: enjoy volunteer vacations for animal lovers at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary