Marble Canyon Loop
Scenic Highway From Kanab Dotted With Surprises
Beginning with cookies and ending with toadstools, the scenic 190-mile Marble Canyon Loop traverses lonely Highway 89A in Utah and Arizona through a vast landscape of sandstone cliffs, sagebrush desert and ridges of pines and junipers.
Though most travelers on this isolated stretch of highway are on their way from Kanab, Utah, to a destination like dazzling Antelope Canyon, others view it as an alternate sightseeing opportunity during the seven months each year that the North Rim of the Grand Canyon shuts its gates.
Whatever your mission, make a day of it and soak in the many sights along the way before returning to Kanab for dinner and a good night’s rest. The route below begins in Kanab and heads south on Highway 89A.
Jacob Lake Inn
No road trip is worth its salt without some culinary indulgences along the way. Jacob Lake Inn is famous for its unique home-baked cookies, such as lemon-zucchini, lemon-raspberry and cookie-in-a-cloud (a soft, cakey chocolate cookie topped with gooey marshmallow and a rich chocolate glaze), to name just a few.
Vermillion Cliffs Overlook
Forty-eight miles into your journey is the dramatic and spectacular Vermillion Cliffs Overlook. The red cliffs change colors depending on the light and are the second step up in the five-step Grand Staircase of the Colorado Plateau in Southern Utah and northern Arizona.
Red cliffs and huge red boulders in whimsical shapes lay waiting under a brilliant blue sky just off the highway. Gaze at the remnants of homes built under rocks and the old Cliff Dwellers Lodge, take photos of yourself standing by the ice-cream-cone-shaped boulder, and chat with Native American jewelry sellers.
Just west of the Navajo Bridge Interpretive Center you’ll find the entrance to Lee’s Ferry — the only place within Glen Canyon where you can drive to the Colorado River in over 700 miles of canyon country. Upstream from the Lee’s Ferry launch ramp is the old ferry crossing site, which was used from 1872 until 1928, and several historic buildings, including a steam boiler and the remains of a sunken paddlewheel steamboat.
Don’t expect to see marble glistening in Marble Canyon. Explorer John Wesley Powell knew there wasn’t any when he named the canyon, but thought the polished limestone looked like marble. In any case, the multicolored hues in the rock and the views of the Colorado River at its bottom are beautiful.
One of the best places to view Marble Canyon and the emerald water of the Colorado River 467 feet below is from the famous Navajo Bridge, where U.S. Highway 89A crosses the river. It’s also a popular spot to watch for California Condor. There are actually two Navajo bridges — one built in 1929, now used only for pedestrians, and a newer one for vehicles that was dedicated in 1995. An attractive interpretive center there offers clean bathrooms, a bookstore and outdoor exhibits.
Expect to work a little for this awe-inspiring view of the horseshoe-shaped bend in the Colorado River as seen from the dizzying edge of Glen Canyon. The 1.5-mile roundtrip trail can feel long on a hot day. There are no guardrails at the cliff’s edge, so keep an eye on your kids. If heights scare you, lie down to gaze at the view. Horseshoe Bend is located about 10 minutes before the turnoff to Page, Arizona — the departure point for tours to Antelope Canyon.
Carl Hayden Visitor Center at Glen Canyon Dam
Time your day so you don’t miss the Carl Hayden Visitor Center before it closes (at 4 p.m., 5 p.m. or 6 p.m., depending on the season). Tour the spectacular and controversial dam that formed Lake Powell and is a whopping 710 feet from bedrock at its highest. Back on Highway 89, enjoy the views of Lake Powell and dream of a day on the water.
With 70 miles of highway left to cover from Glen Canyon back to Kanab, you’ll be grateful for the strategically placed Toadstools Hike, perfect for stretching your legs. Its Alice-in-Wonderland rocks shaped like giant mushrooms are especially enchanting at dusk. The hike is an easy to moderate 1.5 miles roundtrip, and you’re likely to have it to yourself.
Rocking V Café
Before turning in for the night, stop at Kanab’s Rocking V Café, 97 W. Center St. (rockingvcafe.com), for some serious slow cooking. The silver creek crusted trout is hand coated with a tasty blend of cornmeal, pumpkin seeds and spices. Or go for the house specialty of bison tenderloin chargrilled with garlic, wild mushrooms and black truffles and glazed with a red wine balsamic reduction. Owner Victor Cooper, former cameraman for CBS news, is happy to dispense advice on all things food and travel. Enjoy the art collection while you munch.
Hampton Inn Kanab
This top-rated hotel, also Kanab’s newest, has everything you want at the end of a day of traveling — a pool for the kids, a whirlpool for you, super comfortable beds, a spacious bathroom, and a minifridge and microwave for your leftovers. Then start your morning off right with a free hot breakfast in the hotel’s bright and spacious dining area. Think fresh-baked waffles with fancy toppings, scrambled eggs, oatmeal, bacon, juice and fruit.
The Old West town of Kanab has become a popular base camp from which to discover the region’s natural wonders. Its landscape once attracted major film studios shooting classic westerns, but now it draws adventurers, tourists, hikers and scenic drivers. Take some time to wander its charming streets, eat at a few of its 29 restaurants, rest in one of its 21 motel/hotels and visit the Little Hollywood Movie Museum.
Photos by Ethan Kiernan