Of all of the questions I am asked about traveling on US Route 89, one of the most frequent is about the two possible drives between Bitter Springs, Arizona and Kanab, Utah. Since both US 89 and 89A are about the same length and take the same time to drive, neither one has a clear advantage over the other. However, each road has unique features and possibilities for exploring this corner of the Colorado Plateau. I’ll describe what you can expect along each road so you can answer the question for yourself. For a map and more information, check out the road trip guides here Flagstaff to Page, here Page to Kanab and here Bitter Springs to Kanab.

Map of US Route 89 & 89A in Arizona and Utah

Two possible roads from Bitter Springs to Kanab-US 89 and US 89A. Map created with TOPO ©2003 National Geographic

 

 

Bitter Springs to Kanab on US 89A

Navajo Bridge over the Colorado River on US Route 89A

Old Navajo Bridge on the right and the new brigde on the left over the Colorado River on US Route 89A

US Route 89A is the original alignment of the highway when it came into existence along with the rest of the federal highway system in 1926. It became an alternative when 89 was rerouted to Page to facilitate the construction of Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River. From Bitter Springs it is 14 miles to the low point on this route at the crossing of the Colorado River in Marble Canyon. Navajo Bridge was completed in 1929 as the final connecting link in the border to border highway. A new vehicle bridge was built in 1992. Stop at the visitors’ center and take a walk out on the old bridge to view Marble Canyon and the Colorado River 470 feet below.

Lonely Dell Ranch

Lonely Dell Ranch at Lee’s Ferry

The road to Lee’s Ferry is on the west side of the river. River trips downstream through the Grand Canyon start here and some of the best trout fishing in Arizona is upstream toward Glen Canyon Dam. You can also visit Lonely Dell Ranch, the home of John D. Lee, now lovingly maintained by the Park Service.

For 28 miles through the House Rock Valley, 89A parallels the Vermillion Cliffs. California condors have been reintroduced to make their home here and can be seen along the cliffs and near Navajo Bridge. Stop at the Donimgues-Escalante Interpretive Site to learn about the history of Spanish exploration across the Colorado Plateau. At the west end of the valley, a dirt road goes north along Coyote Wash and eventually connects to US 89 in Utah.

Straight ahead is the Kaibab Plateau. For the next twelve miles the road climbs 2,500 feet to the top at Jacob Lake. From here, Arizona Route 67 runs south to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. This road is only open from the middle of May until the end of October depending on snow conditions. If you are traveling 89A in the off season, be sure to check ahead for current driving conditions.

House Rock Valley in northern Arizona

The Vermilion Cliffs and House Rock Valley from US 89A ascending the Kaibab Plateau

From Jacob Lake, highway 89A descends the west side of the Kaibab Plateau to Fredonia. Pipe Springs National Monument is 13.5 miles west of Fredonia on highway 389. Continue on 89A for 7 miles to Kanab.

Bitter Springs to Kanab via Page on 89

Navajos display their jewelry on US Route 89

Navajos display their jewelry at a parking area along US Route 89

From Bitter Springs, US 89 climbs 1,000 feet in 3 miles hugging the face of the Echo Cliffs through Antelope Pass onto the Kaibito Plateau. Near the top, there is a small parking area where Navajos set up tables to display and sell jewelry and other craft items.

The road slowly descends for 20 miles to Page. Three miles south of Page is short road on the west that leads to an overlook of the Colorado River at Horseshoe Bend. US 89 reaches its low point as it crosses the Colorado at Glen Canyon Dam. The visitors’ centers offers tours of the dam including descending inside the dam almost to river level to view the giant turbines that produce electricity for distant cities.

Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell

Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River and Lake Powell

Views of Lake Powell and access to the lake at Wahweap are available along the highway to the west of Page. The road crosses the Paria River 29 miles from Page. A hike into the Narrows of the Paria is one of the highlights of this section of US 89. Check in at the BLM Ranger Station for a permit and for information on current weather conditions. Flash floods are common on the Paria in the summer rainy season, so proceed with caution.

Hiker in the Narrows of the Paria River

Hiker in the Narrows of the Paria River

Five miles west of the Paria is the intersection with House Rock Road. Take the road south to access the Coyote Buttes and eventually connect to US 89A. Permits are required to hike to the Wave and other spectacular rock features along this road and are available at the BLM Ranger Station.

US 89 continues west for 40 miles to Kanab.

What about recreational vehicles?
Several people who have asked this question have been driving larger RV’s and are concerned about steep grades. Be assured that both roads can be driven in larger vehicles. They are federal highways and conform to the national standards of construction. Since both roads connect Bryce Canyon, Zion and Grand Canyon National Parks, they are heavily traveled by tourists in all kinds of vehicles, especially in the summer months.

When we travel through this area on a round trip from our home near Tucson, we drive 89 in one direction and 89A the other. That way we can enjoy both roads and avoid having to choose one over the other. If you can only choose one, both are beautiful drives so you can’t go wrong either way.

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17 comments

  1. Comment by John Crasob

    John Crasob Reply July 31, 2015 at 7:57 am

    Are there any restrictions for big trucks (18 wheelers) on these routes? Any help would be great thank you!

    • Comment by James Cowlin

      James Cowlin Reply July 31, 2015 at 8:40 am

      There are no truck restrictions on US 89A or US 89 in southern Utah and northern Arizona. However, 89A is not a good road for trucks because of steep grades and tight turns as the road climbs over the Kaibab Plateau. Given the choice, take US 89 between Kanab and Page.

  2. Comment by Jay

    Jay Reply July 6, 2015 at 1:31 pm

    What is service availability like taking 89 versus 89A. Facilities such as gas stations, rest areas, restaurants, etc. Thank you, Jay

    • Comment by raj

      raj Reply July 6, 2015 at 3:50 pm

      89A is scenic, with only some lodges, visitor’s centers and a couple sovenir stores and restaurants. If you get stuck behind a slow driver you might as well turn back. 89 is north of 89A and Flagstaff. Go figure.

    • Comment by James Cowlin

      James Cowlin Reply July 6, 2015 at 6:00 pm

      Between Flagstaff and Page on US 89 there are two places for gas—Cameron Trading Post and a convenience store at The Gap. The restaurant at Cameron is pretty good and serves some Navajo specialties. Of course there are plenty of services in Page. Between Page and Kanab on 89 there is gas at Big Water and a couple of restaurants scattered along the route. There is a BLM Ranger Station about half way that has restrooms. There is a small campground near the ranger station and the entrance to Paria Canyon.
      On US 89A from Bitter Springs to Kanab, there is gas and food at Marble Canyon just over the Navajo Bridge and at Cliff Dwellers a few miles down the road. The food at Cliff Dwellers Cafe is surprisingly good for a place so far from anywhere. Hatch River Expeditions is headquartered there so there is a nice motel as well as the cafe. The other place to stop on 89A is at Jacob Lake. There is a restaurant and gas station as well as a Forest Service campground there. From Jacob Lake you can take a side trip to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon (about 100 mile round trip) where you will find spectacular views of the Grand Canyon and a great restaurant in the Lodge. There is an overlook point and restrooms a few miles further on toward Kanab.
      Continuing on 89A the next place with services is Freedonia and then a short distance into Utah. Kanab has several pretty good restaurants. For fine dining try the Rocking V. Historic Perry’s Lodge is great for breakfast and lunch or Houtson’s Trails End offer good fare at reasonable prices.
      Take a look at the Road Trip Guides on the US Route 89 Appreciation Society website for more information about these routes.

      • Comment by Jay

        Jay Reply July 13, 2015 at 7:36 am

        Thanks James and Raj for your reply. This info helps out greatly as we plan our trip to Zion National Park, coming from Phoenix, AZ. This website is a wonderful resource for travel details in this part of Arizona/Utah.

        Jay

  3. Comment by raj

    raj Reply December 18, 2014 at 4:40 pm

    Hi, we are planning on doing the 89A from Sedona to Flagstaff this month, are they open yet ? The az511.gov sites states they are still closed

    Thanks !
    -Raj

    • Comment by James Cowlin

      James Cowlin Reply December 19, 2014 at 6:15 am

      To the best of my knowledge, Arizona Route 89A between Sedona and Flagstaff is open. The 89A referred to in this article is US Route 89A in northern Arizona between Bitter Springs and Kanab, Utah. US 89 from Bitter Springs to Page is still closed for construction but there is a temporary bypass road. I hope that clears up the confusion.

      • Comment by raj

        raj Reply December 19, 2014 at 6:25 am

        Yes, it does. Too bad the .gov site doesn’t list the section that is closed. Appreciate your response, Cheers !

  4. Comment by cam barr

    cam barr Reply October 4, 2014 at 5:48 pm

    Hi…we are planning to do one of these routes heading west to east next February in a 30′ Motohome. I am concerned about snow and highway conditions at that time of year and wonder if one route is generally a better bet in the dead of winter. Obviously, weather at the time will govern our actions…including staying put! Your opinion would be helpful! Thanks in advance and for the info above!

    • Comment by James Cowlin

      James Cowlin Reply October 6, 2014 at 12:37 pm

      Travel on US 89 between Kanab, Utah, and Page, Arizona, in February is less likely to be a problem than US 89A. There is relatively little elevation change between Kanab and Page. US 89A goes over the Kaibab Plateau climbing from 5,000 feet to 8,000 feet at Jacob Lake and then back down through the House Rock Valley to Bitter Springs where it rejoins US 89. Be sure to check the weather conditions along your route. This blog post has links for highway departments and more: . Have an enjoyable and safe trip.

  5. Comment by Josh

    Josh Reply March 29, 2013 at 10:24 am

    I am planning to drive highway 89A from Kanab to Bitter springs on Sunday, March 31. Everything I can find on line tells me that the weather should be good. Has anyone driven the stretch past Jacob Lake and can confirm that the snow is melted and the roadways clear?

  6. Comment by Paul Hage

    Paul Hage Reply September 29, 2012 at 5:30 pm

    Sir,

    My wife and I are at an RV park in Kanab. We arrived here via Zion. Our next waypoint is the Grand Canyon on our way to Albequerque. If possible, we would choose the north rim over the south.

    We are advised that hwy 89a is an arduous drive between Kanab and Jacob Lake, and less so between Page and Jacob Lake. My drive through Zion was stupendous – other than the stress on my 1995 30 ft Airstream Landyacht motorhome. I would gladly drive around through Page if the stress on my temperature gauge were less than it was through Zion.

    Can you advise me on this question? Is the drive from Page to Jacob Lake on 89a of less grade than the drive from Kanab to Jacob Lake?

    I would like to know as soon as possible.

    thanx

    Paul

    • Comment by James Cowlin

      James Cowlin Reply September 30, 2012 at 6:43 am

      Paul,

      To get to Jacob Lake on US 89A from either direction you will be ascending to the top of the Kaibab Plateau. From where you start the climb on either side the elevation change is about 2,000 feet. The distance to the top is also about the same from either direction. We see RV’s and trailers on this road all the time and since it is a federal highway the grades are limited to 6%. If you drive to Page then back to the North Rim you will add at least a half day to the trip. However, the drive across US 89 from Kanab to Page is beautiful. I hope this answers your question and I’d love to hear what you decide and how it works out.

      Jim

  7. Comment by James Schlup

    James Schlup Reply May 22, 2012 at 5:32 pm

    Did not mean to “subscribe” to anything other than subscribing to the great scenic attractions throughout Northern Arizona and especially along Hiways 89 and 89A. Thanks again, Jim

  8. Comment by James Schlup

    James Schlup Reply May 22, 2012 at 5:29 pm

    Hi, I was surprised that no mention was made of Hiway 89 from Sedona to Flagstaff, which is also a prime recreation area with Forest Service camps with parking for recreation vehicles in some of the campgrounds such as at Pine Flat and at Red Rocks Crossing. This is based on my memory from back in the 70’s when I worked as a Federal Officer in the campgrounds there along Oak Creek for three years while attending and earning my BS Degree in Forestry at Northern Arizona University, class of ’71 in Flagstaff. Lived in Flagstaff altogether for 18 years. Still miss it a lot. So many great toursist attractions close by, not to mention The Grand Canyon, 7 National Forests, Several National Monuments, and just great people to make your stay comfortable and enjoyable as well as educational. Well I better close now, or you won’t read the book. James Schlup

    • Comment by James Cowlin

      James Cowlin Reply May 22, 2012 at 6:43 pm

      This blog is about the federal highways in northern Arizona. You are refering to what are now Arizona state highways 89 and 89A. The section of US Route 89 and 89A from Flagstaff to Nogales was decommissioned in 1992. Take a look at this blog Where is 89 in Arizona? for details.
      We have spent a lot of time in the Verde Valley and Oak Creek Canyon. It is one of our favorite areas of Arizona which I always recommend to travelers on historic highway 89. You’ll find a Road Trip Guide for 89A on our website with lots of pictures.

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