A few weeks ago, I spotted an online ad for Zion Ponderosa Ranch and Resort, which borders the less-visited east side of Zion National Park in Southern Utah. We have visited Zion National Park many times, but I saw right away that our experience at the Zion Ponderosa would be different from the St. George, Cedar City and Springdale hotels we have visited previously.
My children and I arrived for a three-night stay in early May 2013. My dad, whose visits to Zion National Park number in the hundreds, joined us on the second and third nights.
I had another motive for wanting to visit the Zion Ponderosa. My husband’s family has been considering a group vacation, but has not yet found a destination that offers the right combination of comfort, entertainment, affordability, and privacy. If you’ve ever attended a family reunion, you can probably understand why that last one matters.
The Zion Ponderosa has real potential as our next family reunion destination. Here’s why.
The Zion Ponderosa Ranch and Resort offers a variety of lodging options to accommodate a range of tastes and budgets. For a family reunion, every family can choose the option that suits them best and have their own space, if desired.
Families can bring their own tents or RVs to the resort and enjoy all of its free activities for as little as $9 per person, per night. For those who are willing to pay more for comfort and convenience, wagons, cowboy cabins, and cabin suites are available. The resort also rents vacation homes of various sizes.
Our family stayed in a one-bedroom cabin suite, which included a private bathroom and kitchenette. Cabin suites also have porches, satellite TV and DVD players. For our family of four, a cabin suite goes for $177 during the summer season. Off-season discounts are available during the spring and fall. We were comfortable in our cabin suite and I do recommend it.
Tip: Spring and fall are the best times to visit Zion National Park, when the crowds are smaller and the temperatures cooler. However, Zion Ponderosa sits above the park at 6,500 feet elevation, so temperatures can be chilly during the off season.
If you just want a place to sleep, you have many hotels near Zion National Park to choose from. It is Zion Ponderosa’s activities that set it apart from all of the other lodging in the area.
My kids were excited to spend time in the bi-level pool and hot tub, but rain and chilly temperatures kept us out of the pool during our stay. I had some concerns about the cleanliness of the pool area, and was told by the front desk manager that only the lower pool and hot tub are maintained in the off season.
We enjoyed the recreation barn where well-used table tennis, pool and foosball tables are set up. Outside the barn, a tennis/basketball court, sand volleyball and playground looked like they’d be fun in drier weather. During the summer, the resort offers free events every night of the week, such as western movies and hoedowns.
Gathering places like the pool and recreation barn are fun places for families to hang out and a great way to connect with other guests. The Zion Ponderosa attracts visitors from all over the world.
If you enjoy hiking, ask at the front desk for a map of the “back door” routes to some of the most spectacular view points in Zion National Park. From the floor of Zion Canyon, the Observation Point hike is 8 miles, round trip, and it climbs 2150 feet. From the ranch, you can shave two miles off that trek and skip the climb by hiking to Observation Point from the top.
With all the on-site activities, you could spend days at Zion Ponderosa without leaving the ranch. But, don’t forget that Zion National Park is just a few miles away and admission is only $25 per car for an entire week.
If you’re in the mood to explore, Bryce Canyon National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, Cedar Breaks National Monument, Grand Staircase National Monument, Pipe Springs National Monument and more are all within a two-hour drive of Zion Ponderosa. We toured the nearby Best Friends Animal Society one afternoon, and then stopped for ice cream in Kanab.
Zion Ponderosa sells vouchers for its zip line, climbing wall, bungee trampoline, kids’ camp, sunset jeep rides, horseback and ATV tours, and canyoneering adventures. Vouchers are sold in packs of 10 for $150, but you can pay less if you purchase them in advance. Unlimited miniature golf passes are available for $11 per person.
The zip line, climbing wall, bungee trampoline and mini golf were my kids’ favorite part of the trip. I was pretty impressed when my 6-year-old son jumped off the zip line platform at the top of the barn with no hesitation. It was his first zip line and he loved it.
We were all impressed by the friendliness of the staff throughout the resort. When we were finished with the paid activities, two of the rec staff played foosball with my children. I was fascinated to learn that one of our young guides had grown up on the Zion Ponderosa Ranch.
The Blue Belly Grill is on-site. The small Narrows Cafe serves coffee and other beverages and a poolside grill is open during peak season.
The menu of the Blue Belly Grill is unpretentious, but well executed. For dinner, expect resort-priced entrees such as burgers, pasta, pizzas and steaks for prices ranging from $10 to $30. Breakfast and lunch are also served in the Blue Belly Grill, and box lunches are available for purchase.
The children’s menu lists the items my kids prefer, like grilled cheese sandwiches and buttered noodles. Paper table coverings and crayons are provided for entertainment.
If you prefer to cook your own food, hibachi grills and picnic tables have been placed at each camp site and cabin. These unique grills are waist-high and large enough to hold a small campfire.
I was excited to grill hot dogs and marshmallows during our stay, and had brought our own wood, kindling and food for that purpose. Unfortunately, after two days of rain, we had a difficult time getting a good fire going. Rain is not the norm in Southern Utah’s dry climate, so you’ll probably have better luck. If you don’t bring your own campfire supplies, you can purchase everything you need, from firewood to s’mores kits, in the lodge.
Vacation homes have full kitchens and our cabin suite had a mini-fridge and microwave.
TIP: There are no markets or other restaurants within at least 10 miles of Zion Ponderosa. Be sure to stock up on supplies before you arrive. If this is not practical, Zion Ponderosa sells a variety of snacks and supplies in the lodge and offers a grocery order service for guests renting vacation homes.
Good to Know
Where: Just off of North Fork Road, about 15 miles from Mt. Carmel Junction and 6 miles from the east entrance of Zion National Park.
When: Open year-round. Enjoy smaller crowds and lower prices in the spring and fall. The resort often fills to capacity during peak season, but more activities are offered during that time.
How Much: From $9 per person in a tent space to $1000+ per night for a vacation home that accommodates 35 people. Additional charges for some activities and dining.
How Long: At least 2-3 nights. Zion Ponderosa is far enough off the beaten path and offers so many activities that it doesn’t make much sense to stay here for just one night.
Amenities: In addition to those already listed, Zion Ponderosa has cellular service for some carriers and free Wi-Fi. My phone is on the Sprint network and I had no service during our stay. AT&T and Verizon customers should have better luck.
I had little trouble connecting to the Wi-Fi, but when you leave the ranch, expect cellular and wireless internet service to be spotty or non-existent.
But hey, you’re on vacation. Take advantage of this opportunity to disconnect and experience something real at the Zion Ponderosa Ranch and Resort.
Disclosure: Zion Ponderosa Ranch and Resort provided our family with complimentary lodging, activities and dining for the purposes of this review. However, the opinions expressed here are my own.