While fall days find New England country roads clogged with leaf-peepers, southwestern Utah’s high desert is wide open and radiant. Here, the autumn sun illuminating sandstone bluffs rivals any maple grove. And in September and October, still-warm days and cool nights make this a great time and place for outdoor adventures.
An excellent home base for dog-friendly fun is Red Mountain Resort in St. George, Utah, just a two-hour drive from Las Vegas, Nev. (If you have dinosaur fans in your life, you may know the name; St. George is home to Johnson Farm, where some of the world’s oldest and best-preserved Dilophosaurus tracks were discovered in 2000.) The adobe-style resort and spa offers a full complement of dog-centric amenities — among them, organic treats and food and water dishes upon arrival — plus a 55-acre backyard that looks like something out of Stagecoach and access to Snow Canyon Park, where pups can bound under towering red-rock cliffs. (Remember to carry water and keep an eye out for not-yet-hibernating rattlesnakes).
Red Mountain goes beyond providing merely a dog-friendly backdrop. The resort’s wellness focus incorporates several volunteer- and pet-oriented programs, including a hike for guest dogs (launching later this year) that ends with a picnic lunch, entertainment and canine treats. The $35 charge for the hike goes to support Ivins Municipal Animal Shelter, the only shelter in the state designated “no-kill” by municipal ordinance.
Because most of Utah’s national parks, including nearby Zion, have few or no trails open to pets, hiking in and around the resort is a great way to experience this region’s jaw-dropping beauty without the strict prohibitions and the crowds.
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Those unable to bring their pup can take heart. Red Mountain’s Pound Puppy Hike pairs guests with a friendly canine from the Ivins shelter for a hike through St. George Valley and Padre Canyon. Dogless guests are also welcome to join Blondie, a Golden Retriever and certified Canine Good Citizen, for a four-hour trek, or spend time with real-life Mustangs, part of a program supporting care and adoption efforts for these wild horses.
Eighty miles east of St. George — next door in desert terms — is Kanab, home to the famed Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, where about 2,000 dogs, cats and other animals receive special care. Some will be adopted; others will live out their days here. Consider folding in some volunteer time at Best Friends during your vacation. (Keep in mind that the focus is on the sanctuary’s animals, so bringing your own pets is discouraged.) You’ll return home with a sense of accomplishment and moving stories instead of a camera full of leaf photos no one really wants to see.