Zion Canyon
Zion National Park, Utah

April 16, 2007

by Jess Stryker

Click on any photo for a larger image.

Spectacular cliffs and the lush Virgin River are the main features of Zion National Park.


While visiting The Oregon Caves Chateau I picked up a coffee table book "Great Lodges of the National Parks" in the gift shop. One of the lodges featured in the book was the Zion Lodge in Zion National Park. The lodge was designed by architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood, and I am a huge fan of his work. Julie suggested we take a quick trip there in spring of 2007. We had previously visited Zion, but had not stayed at the lodge. So that is why there is a lot here about the lodge.

For our visit to Zion Canyon we flew from Los Angeles into Saint George, Utah on United Express/Skywest airlines. We rented a car at the airport and drove approximately an hour to the Lodge. The Zion Lodge is the only overnight guest lodging facility inside of Zion National Park. The lodge is on Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, which is closed to private vehicles. Over-night lodge guests are given a pass that allows them to drive as far as the lodge parking lot on the Scenic Drive.

If you're not a registered guest at the lodge you need to catch one of the shuttle buses that run from bus stops throughout town to the park Visitor Center. Another option is to drive to the visitor center just north of town, and park in the parking lot there (warning: this parking lot often fills up on busy summer days.) After looking at the Visitor Center's outdoor exhibits and getting oriented to the park, catch a free park shuttle bus and begin the tour up Zion Canyon. The Shuttle Bus drivers do double-duty as both driver/tour guide and point out scenic features along the way.

Click here to jump down to the review of our stay at Zion Lodge.

Free shuttle buses run up and down the canyon. The buses each consist of a bus and a trailer. In the trailer you get a bit of whip-lash accelerating out of the corners. For young kids these buses may be the most fun experience in the park!


First stop, the Zion Human History Museum (the old visitor center building).

Bridge Mountain & Oak Creek Canyon

From the Zion Human History Museum you can see a natural arch on Bridge Mountain, which is on the far side of the canyon. (See enlargement below.)


Telephoto shot of Crawford Arch.


Behind the Zion Human History Museum is Oak Creek Canyon. This is where most of the ranger residences are located.


This small group of historic ranger residences are located in Oak Creek Canyon. Almost all of the residences in the canyon are historic, even the newer looking ones. To get to the historic residences, start at the front of the Human History Center. Hidden on the south side of the Center is an employee parking lot. From the parking lot you can hike up the road into the canyon where you will find a numerous old park service buildings. (If you can't make the hike in, ask for permission to drive in from the ranger at the Human History Museum. While the area is officially off-limits to visitors vehicles they will usually make exceptions for well-behaved guests who are interested in the historical buildings.)


One of the buildings in the group above.


One of the best ways to identify the historic buildings is to look for the stone foundations on them. Most of the newer buildings have concrete foundations.


Court of the Patriarchs

This group of peaks are called the Court of the Patriarchs.


The Zion Lodge

About half way up the Zion Canyon you come to the Zion Lodge. Zion Lodge is the only full-service guest facilities (food, store, lodging) inside the park.

Zion Lodge, Zion National Park
The Zion Lodge building, built in 1966. This building contains a snack shop & gift shop on the left side, as viewed in the photo above. An outdoor patio for the snack shop is just out of the photo to the left side. The hotel lobby is in the middle of the building; an auditorium is on the right side. Upstairs above the lobby is The Red Rock Grill Dining Room & Lounge, featuring a large 2nd floor outdoor dining balcony (look for the balcony railing directly behind the flagpole). The original lodge was built in 1924 and burned to the ground in 1966. This is a replacement building; all that remains of the original lodge is the fireplace in the auditorium.


Wild turkeys at Zion Lodge
Wild turkeys courting on the lawn in front of the Zion Lodge.


There's a lot more on our experience staying at Zion Lodge further down on this page.

Lady Mountain

Lady Mountain.


Another view of Lady Mountain from further up the canyon.


Emerald Pool

From the Zion Lodge parking lot a trail leads across this bridge, from there a short walk takes you to the Emerald Pools.


Emerald Pools.


Green moss and small plants create what are called hanging gardens in areas where water seeps from the rock walls of the canyon. This isn't the best one, there are others that are more lush.


This small waterfall drops into the pools.


The trail leads behind the waterfall where you can feel the mist fall on you.


Ground water that is full of dissolved minerals seeps from cracks in the rocks on the sides of the canyon walls above the pools. Note that the white mineral stains are only located below major fissures in the rock.


Heaps Canyon & Mt Majestic
This is Mount Majestic. Emerald Pools is located in Heaps Canyon on the left side of Mount Majestic.


The Grotto

This building was the original Zion Museum building. The Grotto area was originally the park campground, it is now a day-use picnic area.


The Zion Museum building is now a Ranger residence.


The Zion Museum building is the oldest building in the Park.


Notice the tool marks on the rocks on the Zion Museum building. You can date, the rock work in the park by looking for tool marks. The older rock work is more rustic and often has tool marks on the surface.


Compare the rock work on the Zion Museum building in the photo above with the rock work on the nearby Grotto comfort station building shown in this photo. The comfort building was constructed several years later using a much more formal rock pattern.


Great White Throne & Angel's Landing

This rock cliff is called the Great White Throne.


This is Angel's Landing and is one of the more famous cliffs in the park. The trail in the foreground leads to the top of Angel's Landing. The trail is famous for it's shear drop offs and steep switchbacks-- you will need nerves of steel and lots of energy!


The Cable Mountain Draw Works

The trees along the river in the bottom of the canyon are beautiful, but poorly suited for construction lumber. Nearby at the top of the canyon there are plenty of pine forests filled with great wood. The problem is getting the wood from the top down into the canyon. The solution was the Cable Mountain Draw Works, an aerial cargo tram that went from the rim down into the canyon. The draw works was the brainchild of a man named David Flanigan, and after 2 years of planning and tests, it started hauling lumber down into the canyon in 1901. A sawmill was built at Stave Spring near the top of the tram to supply cut lumber. Wood for many of the historic buildings in the park came down into the canyon on the draw works. One of the last uses of the draw works was to deliver lumber for the original Zion Lodge building. By 1925 most of the good lumber had been cut from the area around the top of the draw works and it fell into disuse. The park service removed the cable in 1930.

The ruins of the draw works cable support tower can be seen on top of Cable Mountain.


draw-works   draw-works
Full views of Cable Mountain. The original location of the Cable Mountain Draw Works cable is shown by the yellow line.


End of the Road...

This table topped outcrop across the river from the end of the road is called the pulpit.


This outcrop is called the Temple of Sinawava. It towers over the shuttle bus stop at the end of the road. From here the canyon narrows into a slot canyon with no room for a road. The Riverside Walk trail goes from here 1 mile up the canyon to The Narrows. At The Narrows the canyon becomes too narrow for a trail. At that point you must hike through the water in the river to continue upstream. We didn't walk up to The Narrows on this trip.


Review of Zion Lodge.

When we arrived at the lodge, the desk clerk was friendly and helpful. We were quickly checked into our "Western Cabin". The Western Cabins are historic cabins, and were formerly called the Deluxe Cabins. There are two basic cabin layouts. The duplex cabins were built in 1927; the fourplex cabins were added in 1929. All of the historic cabins were designed by the famous architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood. We stayed in one of the fourplexes, room 500.

The cabins have been both updated and to some degree restored and are now similar to the original Underwood design. Our cabin had a rock fireplace with gas log, plus a heat pump for heating/cooling. The ceiling was rustic, open-beam, stained wood. Standard commercial carpet covered the floor, with linoleum in the bathroom. The bath was modern and equipped with a hairdryer. The original walk-in closet had been converted into a dressing room with a second sink, which was very convenient. The furniture in the cabin was rustic and fit in well with the cabin style. The cabin had a covered porch with a nice wood bench.

The cabin had 2 double beds; the mattresses were typical firm, heavy-duty hotel quality. There was no coffee maker in the cabin. (If you want coffee in the morning you need to get dressed and walk up to the lodge lobby about a block away. A coffee stand in the lodge lobby sells coffee. Don't forget your money!) There was an ice bucket and glasses in the room; ice machines were nearby and the ice was free for guests. There was a phone in the room; however, I wasn't able to get a long distance dial-tone most of the time. We had to drive down to Springdale to make a call.

The only soap in the room was liquid soap in wall-mounted dispensers. Bars of soap has been deemed "harmful to the environment" by the management. We walked down to the lobby and asked if we could please have a bar of soap, and they gave us one.

Housekeeping did a very, very minimal cleaning of our cabin on the second day of our stay. They not only didn't change the sheets on the bed, they didn't even bother to make-up the bed! They did toss the bedspread back on it. Due to the soap dispenser location the floor was flooded in the bathroom with shower water, so we used some of the towels to mop it up. A sign in the bathroom said towels left on the floor would be replaced with clean ones, so we piled the soaked towels in the corner on the floor. Housekeeping picked up the wet towels from the floor and hung them back up on the towel racks. They tossed the wet bath mat over the edge of the tub. It was still so wet that it was dripping water onto the floor!

fourplex deluxe (Western) cabins
The historic fourplex "Western Cabin" unit we stayed in. The cabin interior was nicely remodeled to be both modern and reflect the historic appearance.


Zion Lodge Western cabin interior
Interior of the historic Western Cabin. (This is a spliced-photo.)


Zion Lodge cabin fireplace
The rock fireplace in our room. The gas log worked good the first night, but we couldn't get it to turn on the second night. Fortunately, I took a photo of it the first night!


cabin bath
Typical bathroom in the Western Cabins. Notice the shared soap dispenser located between the sink and shower. Water spills out of the shower and floods onto the floor when you try to get to the soap.


The Lodge Food Services

The food services at The Zion Lodge were mediocre. A snack bar and an upscale restaurant called The Red Rock Grill were located in the Zion Lodge building. We had lunch at the snack bar and the food was typical of a snack bar, not great, not bad. At the Red Rock Grill we found that the food, while well presented, was not as good in quality or flavor. We found it comparable in taste to what is found at a chain coffee shop. Main course prices averaged around $17.00 per plate at the time of our visit in 2007. The service ranged from good to really awful, depending on the server. One of our servers seemed to show up at about 15 minute intervals, then disappear. The guy at the table next to us gave up waiting for the check, tossed a couple of dollars on the table and left.

Apparently, our opinion of the poor food and service at the Red Rock Grill wasn't unique to us. On more than one occasion we over-heard other guests discussing how bad the Red Rock Grill was.

the Red Rock Grill
The Red Rock Grill on the second floor of the Zion Lodge.


 breakfast buffet at Red Rock Grill
The breakfast buffet had a good variety of items, and the food quality was good. The food is buffet-style; however, drinks must be ordered from your table server, and you pay your server for your meal. Really poor table service was the major downfall here and turned what should have been a quick turn-around buffet breakfast into an hour-long ordeal.


view from Red Rock Grill window
The best thing at the Grill by far was the view.


salmon dinner
This was my salmon dinner on our first night. The salmon was good, but those two asparagus spears were very close to becoming asparagus ferns. It's hard to see them in the photo, but if you look, you can see the asparagus spear heads have opened. I honestly thought it was anemic broccoli at first glance! The asparagus stems brought back memories of chewing on my wood pencil in grade school. Julie said her seafood alfredo (top right of photo) had good flavor and lots of pasta, but there was very little seafood in it, and the alfredo sauce was watery.


Zion pasta dinner
In the interest of fairness we gave the Grill a second chance, hoping the previous night was not the norm. This is the Zion Pasta dish I had our second night. It was good, but once again looked better than it tasted. Julie wasn't feeling as brave, so she looked over the salad bar before ordering and decided it was safe. She was happy with the salad bar as a light entree.



There is no debate that Zion National Park is stunningly beautiful. The scenery surrounding the Zion Lodge is gorgeous. The location of the Lodge, halfway up Zion Canyon, is convenient. However, with regular shuttle buses running up and down the canyon, the Zion Lodge location is only marginally more convenient than staying in the nearby town of Springdale. The Park Visitor Center & Museums are just outside Springdale, so you have to go back down to Springdale to see everything anyway. The scenery around Springdale is almost as beautiful as the Park.

The Zion Lodge facilities were well kept and in very good condition. The staff was friendly and helpful. Nevertheless, my stay at the Lodge was somewhat disappointing. After all, we came all the way from Southern California just to stay at the lodge! The Zion Lodge left me with an uncomfortable feeling of "cheapness", which was even more aggravating because they tried to dress it up and sell it as "environmentalism". The Zion Lodge is listed as a "3-star hotel"; however, I thought it was more typical of a 1 or, at most, 2 star facility.

I wouldn't want to leave you with the impression that we did not have an enjoyable time at Zion Lodge. The weather was beautiful; the Canyon was beautiful, and we had a great time hiking and exploring. The main purpose of our visit was to look at the historic buildings at the Zion Lodge facility. We were able to do this and saw and learned much about them. The original buildings that remain are in very good repair. In addition to the historic cabins, there are several Underwood-designed buildings of the same era in the immediate vicinity of the lodge. They include the historic women's dorm, perched on the canyon wall just above the cabins, a historic men's dorm, a historic bake shop, and a historic mattress storage building, all in the vicinity of Zion Lodge. For photos, details, and directions for finding these buildings see the Zion Lodge Tour on our Historic Hotels & Lodges website. We had plenty of historic buildings to look at, which provided us with an enjoyable trip

How should I sum up Zion Lodge? I'll simply answer two classic questions included in the hotel guest survey that was in our cabin: "would you stay here again?" and "would you recommend this facility to a friend?" My answer to the first is probably not. I've seen and stayed in the historic buildings I was interested in, and the rest of the stay wasn't outstanding at all. The second question is harder. If you would like to stay in a nicely-restored historic cabin, with nearby hiking trails and waterfalls, where wild turkeys roam the grounds, then by all means I would recommend that it is worth staying for one night (I wouldn't stay for two.) If you are just coming to see the Park, then consider staying in town where better-quality lodging costs 1/3 less money.

As a final note, all the negative experiences we had at Zion Lodge were related to the way the facility is managed and operated. The facilities themselves were great and well maintained. Every problem we encountered could be eliminated in a very short time with some simple policy and personnel changes. With a different approach to guest services, particularly food and housekeeping, Zion Lodge could easily be a wonderful 3-star destination resort that rivals any of the other National Park facilities we have stayed at!

Virtual Tour of Zion Lodge
Take a free online tour of the historic Zion Lodge complex.

Zion Lodge Information Sheet
Details of amenities, services, and facilities. Reservation information, lodge contact information, and more.

All text and images by Jess Stryker, unless noted. Copyright © Jess Stryker, 2007. All rights reserved.
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