Want to avoid long lines and crowds? It's possible! Here are our tips on how to skip the shuttles at Zion National Park.
Visiting Zion National Park is an experience!
With a little planning, it can be an amazing one. Sometimes, though, that experience can also include crowds and long shuttle lines.
How Does the Zion Shuttle System Work?
The Zion shuttle system is a free park service runs from March to November from 7 a.m. to 7:15 p.m. It transports visitors to various stops and trailheads along Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.
In months when the Zion shuttle is running, you cannot drive your personal vehicle past the visitor center on Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. Unless, that is, you have reservations at Zion Lodge, and if so, that's the only spot you can drive to on the road.
When Should I Use the Zion Shuttles?
The Zion shuttles can be pretty fantastic most of the time! They help prevent overcrowding at trailheads and reduce the amount of traffic on the roads.
The Grand Canyon and Yosemite both use shuttle systems, and we’ve had a relatively positive experience with them as well.
While preparing for a recent trip to Zion, I got a little nervous about how crowded their shuttles can get, including how long we might have to wait in line for one.
The good news is, I didn’t need to worry: the shuttles worked perfectly well for us, and we even had one shuttle ride alone without other passengers for a portion of the ride.
When Should I Look For Ways to Skip the Shuttles At Zion?
If you're visiting in mid-summer (July and August), expect big crowds and long lines for shuttles.
Also, if you are visiting during peak season AND trying to hop on the first shuttle of the day because you scored a permit to Angel's Landing, get there early and expect a line.
How to Skip the Shuttles at Zion
If you're concerned about long waits for the shuttles at Zion, there are other options! Also, see tips about how to avoid crowds in general at this park in a separate blog post.
1. Visit Off-Season
The shuttle service only operates from March to November. Other times of the year, the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is open to private vehicles.
Note that if you visit in winter or early spring, there is a chance that the road could be closed for snow or ice. The same goes for the hiking trails, which may become inaccessible, either because the road to the trail is closed, or because the trail is too icy to hike.
If you visit off-season, you’ll likely want to bring traction devices for your hiking boots. We use these Hillsound trail crampons.
2. Visit Other Areas of the Park
Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is only one section of the park!
The Kolob Canyon area, the Southwest Desert area and the area past the Zion Mount-Carmel Tunnel are all areas that you can drive to and visit without using the shuttle. Here are some other ideas for things to do near Zion.
When we visited, there were some road closures caused by rockfalls. Check the park website for up-to-date road closure information.
3. Hike Trails That Are Accessible From the Zion Visitor Center Parking Area
Want to see trails along the main Zion canyon area without using the shuttle?
4. Bring or Rent a Bicycle or E-Bike
The trailheads along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive include bike racks, so you can park and then hike. Unlike private vehicles, bicycles and class 1 e-bikes are allowed. That is, e-bikes that don’t go more than 20 miles per hour.
There are lots of spots to rent e-bikes and regular bikes in the area!
If you opt to ride a regular bicycle (instead of an e-bike), note that the road is fairly long, curvy and hilly. If you get tired, you could catch a shuttle bus and place your bike on the shuttle bike rack.
E-bikes cannot be placed on the shuttle bike rack.
Also, if you ride a bike on Zion Scenic Canyon Drive, make sure to pay attention! You’ll need to pull over to the side of the road each time a shuttle needs to pass.
5. Take the Shuttle, But Use It Efficiently
Ride to the last stop you want to see, and then work your way back with short shuttle rides.
Many of the trails along the shuttle route are short(ish), and you could combine several trails in a day if you’re feeling up to it.
6. Take the Shuttle, But Schedule Your Day For Fewer Crowds
The first shuttle of the day typically has long lines of hikers hoping to head to Angel’s Landing. If you’re planning to be one of them, get to the shuttle stop early.
Shuttles at the end of the day headed back towards the visitors center also can be crowded, so don’t wait until the last minute. If you miss the last shuttle, you could have a long walk back to your car.
Do you have other thoughts or concerns about how to get around at Zion? Let us know in the comments!