National Park Road Trip 2011: Zion Lodge
Editor's note: Having left most of the cold and snow behind in Bryce Canyon National Park, lodging guidebook writers David and Kay Scott have moved on to Zion National Park and a stay at Zion Lodge.
Zion National Park greeted us with a brilliant blue sky and cool temperatures. Quite a change from the weather we experienced the last few days. The snow had slowed to intermittent flurries and the white ground cover accumulated during the evening was mostly gone by the time we departed Bryce Canyon National Park.
Flurries turned to a light rain as we descended toward Zion. Something new we discovered; the drive on Mt. Carmel Highway through Zion National Park is spectacular even in a mist. What a magnificent park! Friends who visited Zion for the first time have told us they consider this their favorite national park.
Several years ago the park commenced operation from April 1 through October a free shuttle that operates out of the visitor center near the south entrance. One shuttle loop transports visitors along Zion Canyon Scenic Road past Zion Lodge to Temple of Sinawava. A second loop connects the visitor center with various points in the neighboring town of Springdale. Only park visitors with a confirmed reservation at Zion Lodge are permitted to drive their vehicles on Zion Canyon Scenic Road during the period the shuttle is operating.
Like Grand Canyon Lodge on the North Rim and Bryce Canyon Lodge, Zion Lodge was built by the Union Pacific Railroad to promote tourism and rail service to the West. In 1972 the Union Pacific donated all its Utah park properties to the National Park Service. The Park Service then signed TWA Services, a subsidiary of Trans World Airlines, as concessionaire. TWA Services was later acquired by Amfac, predecessor of present-day concessionaire Xanterra Parks & Resorts.
Zion Lodge offers a combination of cabins and motor lodge rooms, all of which we have found to be quite nice. In fact, we consider the amount of remodeling and improvement at Zion Lodge since our last visit three years ago to be quite amazing.
A major remodeling of the 40 cabins has just been completed. Xanterra replaced carpeting with fir floors, installed custom-made furniture manufactured by an Indiana company that has a long history of making furniture for national parks, and contracted with Pendleton Woolen Mills to recreate blankets and draperies based on historical photographs.
During past trips we have not been particularly impressed with Zion’s Western Cabins, and considered them inferior to the Western Cabins at the North Rim and Bryce Canyon. The renovation is quite impressive and has certainly changed our opinion.
Zion Lodge also offers 76 rooms in two motor lodge buildings. These rooms are quite nice and have recently been upgraded with new carpet, furnishings, and 32-inch flat-screen televisions. Xanterra is donating all of the old furniture to Habitat for Humanity and several other charitable organizations.
Lodge rooms are available with two queens or one king bed. Each room has a relatively large balcony. During past trips the lodge rooms would have been our choice, but the Western Cabin renovations might have tilted us toward the cabins, especially on a cool evening when the cabin’s gas fireplace could be utilized.
A large grassy area fronting the main lodge has always served as a place for guests to lay out a blanket and doze, read, or visit with other guests. This area is now cordoned off in order to install a sprinkler system and lay sod.
This area is highlighted by a huge old cottonwood tree that offers shade to guests during hot summer days. Unfortunately, the tree is growing old and has a short life expectancy. The National Park Service has planted and is nurturing a seedling of the tree that will be used as a replacement. If the superintendent was raised in the South, the cottonwood offspring may be named “Bubba.”
From Zion we're heading southwest past Las Vegas for a night in Barstow, California. From there is it on to Wuksachi Lodge in Sequoia National Park. Barstow certainly isn’t a tourist magnet, but it is located about 350 miles from Zion, a good day’s drive for us. Barstow does boast an impressive renovated Harvey House that contains both a railroad museum and a Route 66 museum.
In addition, it is home to a major Burlington Northern Sante Fe rail yard, and we may well spend several hours with a hot cup of coffee watching freights roll through Barstow.