The Union Pacific Railroad and its subsidiary, the Utah Parks Company, completed a railway line near Cedar City in 1923, granting visitors of Zion National Park an easy and convenient method of travel from the railway station to the park by motorbus. The Union Pacific also collaborated with the Park Service to build hotels along its routes to attract customers for each company, resulting in the construction of Zion Lodge, an in-park hotel where guests could stay during their travels. Stephen Mather, director of the National Park Service, initially balked at Union Pacific’s desired size for the lodge and requested something smaller. In the end, each side compromised to build a medium-sized lodge that blended into its natural surroundings inside the heart of the canyon.
Gilbert Stanley Underwood, an American architect who studied at Yale and Harvard, worked with the Utah Parks Company to design the structure, and construction began in 1923. Underwood envisioned the lodge as a warm and inviting atmosphere for guests. The building incorporated 265,000 board feet of lumber from the Colorado Plateau brought down by the Cable Mountain Draw Works, a mechanism of wires and pulleys extending from the top of the canyon to an area 2,000 feet below. Construction teams finished the lodge in May 1925, and the park held a small dedication ceremony on the front lawn. The later addition of individual cabins to the lodging accommodations in Zion signaled a milestone in park success and development.
The original lodge featured natural wood design, locally sourced stone for the entrance columns, and a green roof that harmonized the building with its surrounding canyon and forest environment. The original structure served visitors and staff for over forty years until it was lost to a fire on January 26, 1966. But in only 108 days, crews constructed a new building to replace the original lodge. The new lodge continues to offer a variety of accommodations.
In addition to being the only place inside Zion that serves food, at the lodge visitors can also attend or embark on ranger-led activities such as patio talks, guided hikes, shuttle bus tours, and outdoor evening programs. To access the lodge, visitors who are staying overnight must present a permit that allows car access up the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. Otherwise, catching a ride on the shuttle takes visitors to the lodge and nearby trailheads. The park’s swift move to replace Zion Lodge after the fire and maintain accommodations shows the Service’s commitment to visitors and the importance of the lodge to Zion National Park.