They don’t make many snowglobes with desert settings, but if they did, Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort would be a pretty darn good one. With tall ponderosa pines, rolling hills, cozy log cabins and a sprinkling of high-altitude snow, it’s not the kind of scene you’d expect next door to the sweeping canyon views of Zion National Park. But that’s part of what makes it such a special place to visit in the colder months.
Because winter at Zion Ponderosa Ranch means perfect hiking temperatures in the neighboring park, amazing adventures in the surrounding areas and a solid chance at a sprinkling of southern snow. So if you’re curious what a Zion winter looks like or just looking for some unique things to do in Utah in the winter, Zion Ponderosa will be happy to host you all season long. (Or ho-ho-host you, depending on the month.)
Winter travelers have plenty of options when looking for places to stay near Zion National Park, but few of those places have the whole package like Zion Ponderosa does. Not only is it a scenic destination all its own, but its lodging options are as unique as they are cozy. Because after a long day of trekking through a canyon in the desert winter, where would you rather stay: a hotel or your very own log cabin?
If you want to book that cabin, you have two options — a cabin suite or a cowboy cabin. And no, the difference isn’t just the hitching post outside. Cowboy cabins are smaller and more rustic, but still plenty cozy. They just don’t have don’t have TVs or a bathroom (although there are bath and shower facilities nearby). The cabin suites, meanwhile, offer a bit more room along with satellite TV, a fridge, a spacious living room and a private bathroom. Both types of cabins come with an outdoor grill for cooking.
Meanwhile, those traveling with a group can book one of Zion Ponderosa’s vacation homes. It’s a great way to relax and give everyone space to settle in. And with fully equipped kitchens and hot tubs galore, you’ll feel right at vacation home. Think your group’s too big? Think again. Zion Ponderosa’s vacation homes range from eight guests to 35 (!), with 24 different homes that sleep 10 or more and nine that sleep more than 20. Talk about a parks party.
With smaller crowds and temperatures in the 40s and 50s, Zion in winter is a hiker’s dream. While the resort tends to get some snow up at 6,500 feet, the weather down in Zion Canyon stays mild as can be, with bluebird days much more common than wintry ones. So it’s winter when you wake, fall when you hike. Talk about a win-win.
And you won’t have to worry much about trail closures, either. Most of Zion’s trails remain open in the winter, even the trickling waters of the Narrows and the technical terrain of Angels Landing. Angels Landing, however, does spend a lot of time in the shade, so traction devices are recommended for any icy conditions you may encounter. Other popular hikes you may want traction are the Emerald Pools and Riverside Walk trails.
It’s a good idea to bring traction devices anyways, along with extra layers in case the mild conditions do change. Another good thing to bring? A picture of the trail you’re hiking in the summer. The hordes of sweat-drenched people will make you even more grateful for your winter wanderlust.
One of the first things you’ll notice when you stay at Zion Ponderosa in the winter is that you weren’t the only one with that idea. And no, we’re not talking about the other guests you’ll see around the resort. In the winter, it’s also pretty common to see residents of the four-legged and two-winged variety hanging out in the area.
Zion Ponderosa serves as a wildlife corridor in the winter months, with wild turkeys, bighorn sheep, Bald and Golden eagles, mule deer and elk all known to pass through. And those elk must know the owners or something, because a herd of them is known to spend the whole season there. Don’t worry — it shouldn’t affect nightly rates (until they find out how comfy it is in those cabins).
The trails aren’t the only thing that clear out in the winter — the roads get a lot less crowded too. During January and February (and non-holiday weeks in December), the shuttle busses that normally run down Zion Canyon Scenic Drive are out of operation and the road is open to passenger cars. That means that you can enjoy the views from the comfort of your own car, basking in the majesty of the canyon while you blast John Denver, instead of just humming John Denver quietly with headphones in.
The drive cuts through the soaring canyon walls as it follows the Virgin River for about 7 miles. Eventually you’ll reach the Temple of Sinawava area, where the Narrows and River Walk hikes begin. In any other season you’d be at the mercy of the shuttle’s schedule on this drive, but in the winter you can stop wherever you’d like. Any viewpoint that strikes your fancy for some ooh-in’ and aah-in’ is on the table, so long as it’s safe to park.
Does anything say “winter in the desert” more than the clopping and crunching of horse hooves on freshly fallen snow, with deep red-rock canyons to one side and rolling hills of ponderosa pine to the other? Maybe John Wayne sitting on Santa’s lap. Or Clint Eastwood shredding a mogul run, but that’s about it.
Adventure might slow down a bit at Zion Ponderosa in winter, but thanks to the resort’s sister company, East Zion Adventures, it never stops. With horseback rides, Jeep tours, canyoneering outings and more, there’s always something to do. And since many of these guided outings take place on the resort’s property or in the surrounding region, you’ll experience all kinds of cool terrain that most Zion visitors never get to see.
Take the horseback rides and Jeep tours for example. Many of them tour unique areas on Zion Ponderosa’s property itself, which sits on the plateau above Zion National Park. Because of this, you’ll get to look down into the park rather than up at its canyon walls. From this perspective, you’ll get a better sense of the mighty geological forces that carved out the canyon and maybe approach the park with a new sense of wonder on your next visit.
Like most things in the winter, these activities are weather dependent. Call ahead to make sure your trip is going forward as planned, even if the weather seems fine. You may not be aware of recent storms in the area.
Observation Point is one of the most stunning views in all of Zion Canyon and Zion National Park, and ever since a rockfall closed its main trail in 2019, Zion Ponderosa’s had the inside track to this iconic vista. The viewpoint is no longer accessible from inside the park, but can still be accessed from Zion Ponderosa’s property.
Lace up your hiking shoes, or, if there’s enough snow, strap on a pair of snowshoes or cross-country skis to make the trek. The folks at Zion Ponderosa have a shuttle that (winter conditions permitting) can take you right to the East Mesa Trailhead. It’’ll be a 7-mile out-and-back journey from there, which might sound long, but this trail has far less elevation gain than the quad-busting trail that starts in the park. (You’ll be not-so-secretly glad that one’s closed.) And it’s well worth every step, with plenty of winter solitude and one of the West’s best views waiting for you.
Of course, even the most inspired outdoor vacation isn’t complete without an inside day to relax and recharge. And when you add a cozy log cabin into the mix? Fuggetaboutit. (That’s an old cowboy expression.)
Pack along cards and board games and cozy up for a game day in your cabin, or check out Zion Ponderosa’s Virtual Reality experience! This immersive activity gives you the chance to fly high over Zion National Park without leaving the ground (or getting out of your PJs). The Soaring Southern Utah option lets you experience a flight over Zion and the surrounding regions, while those looking for a little more fun can choose Montezuma’s Treasure Ride, a wild mine adventure in which the real treasure is the virtual fun you have along the way.
But maybe you don’t need to overthink it. Maybe a long hot tub session or a nap under your cabin’s oh-so-cozy blankets is just what the doctor ordered. Your tired hiking and socializing muscles with thank you. And if your cooking muscles are sore too, bring back some food from Ponderosa Eats and relax with the best kind meal — the kind someone else cooked.
There’s no wrong way to winter at Zion Ponderosa, and with comfy lodging, unique ways to explore the region and ideal conditions in the park, there’s no reason not to make the trip. Start planning your trip to this surprisingly wintry wonderland today.