Travel tales

Where the West was filmed: Utah’s Little Hollywood

Little Hollywood Movie Set Museum in Kanab, Utah

Even if you’ve never been to Utah, you’ll recognise its landscapes. They’ve appeared on screen hundreds of times in films and TV series, from Westerns to thrillers and comedies. They’ve featured as themselves and been passed off as places across the world, and even beyond in a couple of sci fi films. And at the heart of the Utah movie world is Kanab in the south of the state, christened ‘Utah’s Little Hollywood’ after its role in bringing movie-makers to Utah almost a hundred years ago. Over 100 movies and TV series were filmed around here, with more Westerns than anywhere else other than California. And although its cinematic heyday might have passed, you can still get a taste of movie history in Kanab.

Little Hollywood Movie Set Museum in Kanab, Utah

The homestead from the 1973 Disney film One Little Indian

Hollywood first came to Utah back in the 1920s, and it’s thanks to the three Parry brothers. They worked in transport and tourism in the recently set up Utah National Parks. But they’d also spotted the potential of the Utah landscapes as movie locations. So they headed off to Hollywood armed with photos and set about persuading the film producers to come to Utah. And it didn’t take them too long to convince one. In 1924 silent movie star Tom Mix and his trusty steed Tony the Wonder Horse came to make a Western called The Deadwood Coach in Cedar City, Utah. And from then its reputation grew.

Little Hollywood Movie Set Museum in Kanab, Utah

A Western town in the Little Hollywood Museum

The movie producers loved having so many different landscapes in a relatively small area – from canyons and deserts to forests and mountains. And the Parrys did their bit to keep on promoting the area. They built a lodge to house the film crews (which you can still stay in and where Frank Sinatra paid for them to build a swimming pool), did the catering on location, and helped find filming spots and locals to appear as extras. The film business became the biggest employer in town and movie money helped get this remote ranching town through the tough days of the depression. MGM built a makeshift studio just outside town in the 1940s, and a constant stream of films were made here until the 1970s, including The Lone Ranger, Billy the Kid, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Outlaw Josie Wales, and Planet of the Apes.

Little Hollywood Movie Set Museum in Kanab, Utah

Details from Western sets at the Little Hollywood Museum

Most of the old movie locations, like a fort on the MGM lot which was burned down and rebuilt for at least three different movies, are gone or on private land. But you can still get a window into its days as the home of the Western at Kanab’s Little Hollywood Museum. Behind a door at the back of a gift shop, we weren’t expecting much from this free museum. But out the back you’ve got a whole Western town, from the saloon to the jailhouse. The buildings have been rescued from various different films over the years and preserved here. There’s the ranch from The Outlaw Josie Wales, a homestead from the Disney film One Little Indian, as well as movie props and hundreds of photos of movies being made here.

Little Hollywood Movie Set Museum in Kanab, Utah

Home to a few fictional outlaws

You can wander around the sets on a self-guided tour, sit in a rocking chair out on the front porch of a wooden cabin, go behind bars in the jail, and generally pretend you’re Clint Eastwood on location. It’s a great spot for photo opportunities and a window into the glory days of Western movies. Though if you want to see cowboys in the flesh, then you need to head to Kanab in August. Each year the town hold the Western Legends Round Up – a three-day celebration of all things cowboy-related. There’s poetry, music, film, food and appearances from classic Western movie stars, bringing Hollywood back to Kanab for the weekend.

Little Hollywood Movie Set Museum in Kanab, Utah

The Little Hollywood Movie Set Museum in Kanab

The details

Kanab’s Little Hollywood Movie Set Museum is open 9am–5pm from Monday to Saturday and entry is free. It’s located at 297 West Center Street, behind the Frontier Move Town Gift shop on Highway 89 (look out for the big statue of a cowboy on a horse out the front).

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Where the West was filmed: Utah’s Little Hollywood – On the Luce travel blog

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21 Comments

  • Reply
    Andrew Petcher
    June 3, 2013 at 4:46 pm

    I stayed in Kanab for a couple of nights in 1995. I was with my parents on a bus tour and my dad, who was a western film and TV series fan, was never happier than being here surrounded by all the western memorabilia. Thanks for the memory nudge.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      June 4, 2013 at 11:19 am

      My dad is a huge Western fan and I’m sure he’d have recognised so many of the landscapes out there and the sets. They had a lot of the films to borrow in our hotel so you could see it on screen too.

  • Reply
    Michelle
    June 3, 2013 at 5:41 pm

    I enjoyed this today – was thinking of the arizona utah colorado route for maybe later this year and this was great. Thank you.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      June 4, 2013 at 11:19 am

      Such a great route and so much to see, the hardest bit is narrowing down the stops to do!

      • Reply
        Michelle
        June 4, 2013 at 4:54 pm

        I wanna go one day too. Do you think doing this route in December is okay?

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      June 5, 2013 at 2:04 pm

      It does get very cold but I think the biggest risk is the snow as a lot of this region is at high elevation and some of the roads get closed off, but you should be ok on main routes.

      • Reply
        Michelle
        June 5, 2013 at 4:36 pm

        ok will research some more on it. Thank you! I love your blog.

  • Reply
    Ship's Cook
    June 3, 2013 at 7:06 pm

    That’s the sort of place that sounds right up my street, I’ll get my coat

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      June 4, 2013 at 11:20 am

      I do love these little quirky museums, you could tell it was a real labour of love for the people who set it up.

  • Reply
    Anita Mac
    June 3, 2013 at 9:57 pm

    Love it! I saw a similar place in Arizona – fun to walk through the movie saloons and down the dirt streets.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      June 4, 2013 at 11:20 am

      We heard of a few ghost towns which are used as movie sets but didn’t get a chance to go and have a look round this time, one for the next visit!

  • Reply
    Browsing the Atlas
    June 4, 2013 at 12:58 am

    Looks like a neat place! I’ll have to check it out if I’m out that way. Meanwhile, I’m having fun looking at movie locations in Ohio. 😉

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      June 4, 2013 at 11:21 am

      It’s amazing when you start looking at what movies were filmed where – so many are not where you’d expect!

  • Reply
    LensTHERAPY
    June 4, 2013 at 12:06 pm

    Love the colours!

  • Reply
    Janet Thaeler
    June 8, 2013 at 7:20 am

    Putting this on my list of things to do in Utah (I’ve never heard of it). Now I’ve just got to remember where Kanab is!
    I thought you might also like this graphic showing different movies that were filmed in Utah and some trivia: http://www.xango.com/buzz/infographics/all/top-10-movies-filmed-in-utah
    Blog On
    Janet

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      June 10, 2013 at 10:48 pm

      Thanks, it’s surprising how many films turn out to be filmed in Utah! Don’t think I’d even heard of Kanab before I started planning this trip but it was a good central place to be based and had a great laid-back feel to it.

  • Reply
    Rick
    June 27, 2013 at 9:46 pm

    I stopped by the statue of Kanab’s founder. It said his home caught fire. He lost a couple of children and a wife. I thought the “a wife” part was interesting.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      June 28, 2013 at 4:39 pm

      Kept a few spares maybe! Sounds like an interesting guy.

  • Reply
    nelson
    January 31, 2017 at 6:07 pm

    I will love too go…I love this beutiful places..they look so kool..I watched Bonanza all the time..en the long renger..too stay thear for 2 weeks how much money I need..thank you for shearing this I’m from new york city..en love the country..I want out of the city is too crazy..see you in kanab’s verry soon!!god willing!!!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      February 2, 2017 at 10:51 am

      Thanks, hope you get to make it soon, such a fascinating area!

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