Historic Cabins In Zion National Park Get Renovated, But Retain Old Look

The Western cabins in Zion National Park recently were renovated, with historical accuracy kept in mind. Xanterra Parks & Resorts photos.

For more than a few folks, staying in a cabin during a visit to one of the West's national parks is a highlight of their visit. For those who land a reservation in one of the cabins in Zion National Park, their stay will be a bit like stepping into the past thanks to recent renovations.

Built in 1927 by the Union Pacific Railroad, the cabins are listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. The company that manages the park's lodging, Xanterra Parks & Resorts, recently contracted with Archdeacon Designs to restore the original look and feel of the cabins, but with modern materials as well as plumbing and electrical components and systems.

“The cabins and baths – inspired by Union Pacific archival photos – have been redone to try and capture that feeling of a bygone era that made our national parks one of our country’s proudest achievements,” said Trina Smith, general manager of Zion Lodge. “While we maintained modern conveniences, we also returned to a historic feel through great attention to detail.”

Changes include the removal of carpeting and refinishing the original fir flooring, addition of custom-designed replica furniture by Old Hickory Furniture Company based upon an original dresser using oak and wicker, and the placement of cabin draperies and custom-made blankets to replicate the original Indian designs.

Lighting was fabricated to either match original fixtures or complement them. For example, a scroll design was replicated and used with a candle base to create new double sconces over each bed. The sconces were finished with black powder coating similar to original lighting fixtures and drapery hardware.

While the look might be retro, the conveniences are modern. For instance, the cabins feature ceiling fans, air-conditioning, water heaters, desks with built-in power outlets, and beds with triple-sheeted, 300-count cotton.

Environmentally sustainable aspects of the project, according to Xanterra, include building furniture with renewable wood in the forms of oak and hickory saplings, using washable wool instead of fabric requiring dry cleaning, reducing air-conditioning by installing ceiling fans, and relying on energy-efficient water heaters.

Zion Lodge’s motel rooms have also been updated with new carpet, window treatments and bedding. Televisions are scheduled for installation in the motel rooms by mid-July.

Zion Lodge is open year round and offers 81 rooms, 40 cabins, a restaurant, café and gift shop. Reservations can be made at www.zionlodge.com or by calling 1-303-29-PARKS (1-303-297-2757) or toll-free at 1-888-29-PARKS (1-888-297-2757).

Comments

I have to say that in all my contacts with Xanterra -- in Yellowstone and in Zion -- I've come away very favorably impressed. Of course I don't know what goes on behind the scenes or in the parks' concessions management offices, but as far as my visitor experiences have been, Xanterra has always left me more than fully satisfied.

They seem to maintain the places they manage very well, with emphasis on environmental aspects as well as visitor comfort. All the Xanterra employees I've met have been top notch.

In my humble opinion, Xanterra is a fine compliment to the NPS in keeping our national parks the great places they always have been.

When I last visited the lodging at Zion the historic cabins were already in good shape and substantially restored when compared to many other NP lodging. Xanterra has put considerable money into facilities at this resort over the last few years. These latest improvements should make them top notch, especially if they upgraded the fixtures in the bathrooms, which were the only real problem areas in the cabins.

The biggest issue I had with Zion on our last visit was the sloppy and uncaring staff. I sure hope that Xanterra has implemented better training as part of this update of facilities. The dining room servers were awful on my last visit and room "cleanup" on our multi-day stay only of consisted of picking up the dripping wet towels from the floor and rehanging them on the towel racks. We had used the towels to mop up dirty water from floor around the leaky bathtub, and had requested that they give us clean towels. Instead the dirty wet towels were rehung on the towel racks, they were so wet that they were literally dripping water onto the floor. Nothing else in the room was done, no vacuum, beds weren't made up, nothing. It was the worst room housekeeping I have ever experienced in a National Park Lodge in my 33 years of visits and reviews.

Jess Stryker
If you would like to see more photos of the Zion Lodge (taken before the latest improvements, so carpet and furniture in these photos are older), check out my review at
http://www.historic-hotels-lodges.com/utah/zion-lodge/zion-lodge.htm

Lee Dalton:
I have to say that in all my contacts with Xanterra -- in Yellowstone and in Zion -- I've come away very favorably impressed. Of course I don't know what goes on behind the scenes or in the parks' concessions management offices, but as far as my visitor experiences have been, Xanterra has always left me more than fully satisfied.
I've stayed in and dined at Xanterra operated facilities at Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon (when still operated by Xanterra), and Zion. I believe at Death Valley (where I talked to a Xanterra employee at the convenience store they operate), they actually own the facilities as inholdings, as they're not technically part of the national park and aren't subject to NPS approvals there.

I remember a lot of the seasonal employees were foreign guest workers, with a lot from Eastern Europe and Asia. We even asked a few busboys and housekeepers how they got the jobs, and apparently several companies contract with Xanterra, recruit people en masse, and provide them with transportation to the employment site. They typically have no choice in which location they end up in. At Yellowstone's Roosevelt Lodge, our front desk clerk was from Finland, and I specifically talked to him about hockey (he claimed he was a huge hockey fan).

I did encounter one wait staff member (at the Bryce Canyon Lodge Dining Room) who encountered an unexpected late lunch rush at about 2 PM and went into a full meltdown when people started complaining. She was the only wait staff scheduled, orders/complaints were coming at her from all directions, and she just started screaming in the kitchen and was relieved by the manager.

I know the employees tried their best and these were very busy locations, but sometimes service could be very, very slow.

These cabins seem very similar to the duplex cabin designs at Bryce Canyon.

While I've largely been satisfied, and impressed at times, with Xanterra's stewardship at Yellowstone, I do remember an exchange in which a server at the Old Faithful Inn dining room, when we noted the fingerprints and smudges on our wine glasses, responded that that was about as good as it gets. The fact that this remark sticks with me almost a decade later is evidence of how bad experiences can stick with the traveler.

The above diverging viewpoints of Jess and Lee also clearly show that on-the-ground management at a specific location can vary widely. And as has been pointed out elsewhere on the Traveler, Xanterra does not receive such glowing reports from Crater Lake, where it manages the lodge.

In the weeks ahead we'll be developing a lodging survey form with hopes of compiling a better overall portrait of how national park lodgings are being maintained and operated. Any suggestions for what we should be looking for are welcome.

I can't believe they are putting TVs in the rooms at the Zion Lodge, especially when there is so much else to do there.

Ranger KT:
I can't believe they are putting TVs in the rooms at the Zion Lodge, especially when there is so much else to do there.
Most of the lodging that Xanterra operates at the Grand Canyon South Rim are rooms with TV and telephones. That even includes the bargain cabins as well as the historic Bright Angel cabins. About all they have at the GC SR without TV are Phantom Ranch with hostel style beds and the Bright Angel lodge rooms. They even have in-room refrigerators in some rooms.

Hmmm. Maybe I need to qualify my remarks. My stay at Mammoth Hotel was in winter. All the employees I encountered were mature Americans. Maybe that makes a difference. My two snowcoach trips in Yellowstone in 2008 and 2010 were provided by some young men who would make excellent interpretive rangers.

I have to admit that when in Zion, I was camping so my only Xanterra contact was in the dining room. Again, it was off season and all the employees I met were Americans of greater maturity.

Likewise, Death Valley last March.

So maybe much of one's perceptions depends on some seriously variable variables. Maybe it also depends partly on one's expectations. I'm not wealthy and wouldn't know what five-star service is because I've never experienced it anyplace.

My summer trips to Yellowstone were filled with young people from Eastern Europe. But I found them to be very pleasant and hard-working -- including those at the McDonald's in West Yellowstain. In fact, one time when things were slow one early morning in the dining room at Lake Hotel (just stopped for breakfast, didn't stay there) I enjoyed a very pleasant conversation with two young ladies from Ukraine. Unlike the old days when YPC ran the place, these two apparently worked only five day weeks instead of six. They seemed to be having the time of their lives.

What impressed me the most was how both of them told me their experiences in America had changed their perceptions of us for the better. I came away thinking that having these young people over here as our guests might be one of the most effective international friend-making tools we have. Goodness knows we Americans have enough enemies. Perhaps these kids will return to their homes as ambassadors of good will for us.

Time of season is a huge variable and I can say with certainty that when a facility is pushed beyond capacity I have seen tempers flair both with customers and staff. But I understand this, and am typically very forgiving toward it. I'm certainly not a "hotel snob" and confess when I review the really nice ones I feel a bit like a fish out of water. In the case of my April 16-18, 2007 Zion visit the park was not very crowded and there seemed to be plenty of staff. (So this problem was a while back, and I sure hope it has been fixed! Yes, I complained about it at the time, also.) Our waiter in the dining room would disappear for long periods of time, 15 minute or more. Breakfast took over 45 minutes simply because we waited so long for our food and then again for the bill. The family at the next table were not as patient, they walked out without paying for their meal! Things like the towels are inexcusable regardless. Interestingly after I wrote a bad review for another publication on that same visit, I received an anonymous email from someone who provided substantial evidence of being related to one of the mid-level managers there at Zion, and that person claimed it was a common problem due to local mis-management. For what it's worth...

I'm pretty sure I've mentioned the full-on meltdown I saw at the Bryce Canyon Dining Room before on this and other forums. I was actually feeling a bit sympathetic. We got our lunch order in before the meltdown started, and we waited patiently for our order without saying anything to the one waitress on duty. There were maybe 15 occupied tables and one server. She was most likely American and seemed to be in her 20s. After a while she started stamping her feet as she walked and even slammed a couple of orders down on patrons' tables before we heard her screaming in the kitchen and the manager came out to relieve her.

We asked one of the busboys what was going on, and he said they were way understaffed for that late a lunch rush.

Hey Kurt!

The photo at the top is an exterior shot of a cabin at Bryce, not Zion.

Ya know, anonymous, I think you're right. Even fooled the PR folks! But now folks know what the cabins at Bryce Canyon look like.