You’re thinking about going to Zion National Park, but you’re wondering about the most affordable way to get there. Maybe you’ve heard about the shuttle system at Zion and you’re wondering if you need a rental car. In this article, I’ll give you some things I’ve learned through experience and through research to help you plan your trip.
Unless you live within driving distance, the cheapest way to get to Zion National Park is to fly into Las Vegas, rent a car, and stay in a hotel in St. George, Utah.
But is this the BEST way for you? Keep reading, because in this article I will cover a variety of scenarios, and give you the pros and cons for each. I’ve also compiled a chart with my research below.
Just a note: prices on flights, rental cars, and hotels obviously change often, but I believe the price differences between choices will remain consistent (for example, it will almost always be cheaper to fly into a big airport like Las Vegas over a small one like St. George). I also tried to search for different times of year to get a good feel for on and off-season prices.
Entrances to Zion
Technically there are 4 entrances to Zion National Park:
1. The main entrance to Zion Canyon, the most popular place in the park, is through Springdale, Utah.
2. The second most popular entrance is on the east side, on the Zion-Mt Carmel Road.
3. Kolob Canyon is probably the third most popular entrance. This is a stand alone section of the park, and the entrance is located on I-15, on the west side of the park.
4. The last entrance is the Kolob Terrace Road, which heads north from the city of Virgin, on the way to Springdale. Again, this is it’s own section of the park. This is where many long backcountry hikes are located, including the famous Subway hike.
Basically, there are three entrances on the west side, and one on the east side.
If you’re visiting for the first time, you’ll most likely enter through #1 or #2.
The first way to get to Zion is the good old fashioned American Road Trip. Some common options here are:
1. Driving from Southern California/Las Vegas on I-15. You’ll enter through the main entrance in Springdale.
2. Driving from the Grand Canyon. From the Grand Canyon, it’s a 5-hour drive to the east entrance of Zion.
3. Driving from Bryce Canyon. Again, you’ll enter the east entrance. A popular road trip is to see Utah’s Mighty 5 National Parks, or some combination of them: Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce, and Zion. Bryce Canyon is two hours away from Zion, and many people visit it before or after Zion.
4. Driving from Salt Lake or points north. Some people will fly into Salt Lake City and see Utah’s capital city before driving south on I-15 to Zion. The drive is about 4 hours. I’ve heard of people doing Yellowstone, then driving south (past Salt Lake City) to Zion, a 9-hour drive.
If you’re not an RVer or road tripper, you’ll fly to Zion. Here are your options for airports:
1. Las Vegas, McCarran International Airport.
Although it’s not the closest airport, this is easily the cheapest and best option, unless you want to see northern Utah or some of the other national parks in Utah (in which case you want to fly to SLC). It’s a 2.5 hour drive from Las Vegas to Springdale (the main entrance).
I looked at flights from major cities like Chicago, Houston, and Atlanta, and flights were incredibly affordable. They ranged from $75-$150 round trip. Obviously a lot of people like to go there to party, and no wonder! They make it so cheap to fly there so you can spend the rest of your money on slots. LOL.
2. St. George Regional Airport.
St. George is the nearest mid-sized city (although growing rapidly) to Zion. The St. George airport is really nice, but it’s obviously not a major airport. You will pay more to get there, and you’ll most likely need a connecting flight.
3. Salt Lake City International Airport.
You’ll drive about 4 hours from Salt Lake City to Zion National Park. So, it’s farther away from Las Vegas, and not any cheaper.
Again, the only reason (and maybe a popular reason) to fly into Salt Lake City is to see other sites in addition to Zion, such as Salt Lake City itself and the other national parks Utah has to offer.
I didn’t include SLC in my comparison chart below, because you wouldn’t fly into SLC to save money or time, you would do it as part of a larger trip.
Transportation to the Park
Zion National Park is 2.5 hours away from Las Vegas and about 1 hour away from St. George. So you’ll need transportation to get there. There are two options:
1. Rental Car
This is easily the best option. It provides the most flexibility for you and is also the cheapest option. In my search, rental cars in Las Vegas averaged about $35 per day. In St George, they averaged about $50 per day.
If you’re not old enough to rent a car, or if you’re willing to spend a little extra to pay for a ride to your hotel and you want a hassle-free vacation (or some other reason you don’t want to drive), look at option #2.
2. Shuttle (or Uber)
If you’re not renting a car, the St. George Shuttle is your best bet. Uber is much more expensive, but you’re not locked into a shuttle schedule. It’s so much more expensive, however, that I didn’t include it in my chart comparison below. For example, the shuttle cost $140 from St George to Zion and back. Uber was over $200.
The St. George Shuttle provides transportation from Las Vegas to St George, and from St George to Zion. So if you don’t rent a car, you’ll need to take a shuttle to St George and stay there. Then you’ll need to take the shuttle to the park each day.
The first shuttle leaves at 6:30am and arrives at the park at 7:30am. The last shuttle leaves Zion at 6:20pm and arrives in St. George at 7:20pm. There are 3 other departure times from each location, but I wouldn’t recommend it — I recommend spending as much time in the park as possible.
Here’s the link to the St George Shuttle schedule.
Transportation at the Park
There are a few things to know about transportation once you get to Springdale, Utah — the city that sits right next to the main Zion Canyon entrance.
Zion Canyon is narrow, and it becomes more narrow as you get closer. As a result, there is very limited parking IN Zion National Park. In fact, during the high visitation months, you cannot drive into Zion Canyon (although you can drive into the park and out through the east side).
There are TWO shuttle systems in this area (and I’m not talking about the St. George Shuttle). Both are FREE.
- Here is a map of the parking lots and the walk-in entrance to Zion.
- Here is a map of the Springdale Shuttle system.
1) The Springdale Shuttle. Most of the parking in the area is in the town of Springdale. There are four paid parking lots. The shuttle will pick you up and take you to the entrance of the park, where you can walk to the visitor center and access the…
2) Zion Canyon Shuttle. This shuttle goes from the visitor center to the end of Zion Canyon. It takes about 90 minutes to get to the end of the canyon. It then turns around and comes back. Multiple shuttles run at once. Typically you only need to wait 5-10 minutes for the next shuttle. I’ll do another post all about the shuttle system.
** Usually, you do not need tickets to ride the shuttle, but during COVID, you must purchase tickets for $1 per person on Recreation.gov in advance. Tickets are available in 15-day windows. For example, on September 16, tickets for October 1-15 become available. On September 30, tickets for October 16-31 become available. Additionally, tickets will open up ONE DAY in advance. For example, at 9am (Mountain Time) on Monday, tickets for Tuesday will open. **
So, depending on if you rent a car or take the St. George Shuttle, here’s how it will work for you:
1. You rent a car
You’ll drive to Springdale and park at a parking lot. You can then catch the Springdale shuttle to the entrance (or, if you park close enough, you can walk in). At the visitor center, you’ll catch the Zion shuttle and you’re on your way to the most amazing scenery in the world!
If you have time after returning from Zion Canyon, or on another day, you can drive your car into the park and continue to head east through the Zion-Mt Carmel tunnel and drive on the Zion-Mt Carmel road. There are incredible hikes in this part of the park as well.
2. You take the St George Shuttle
If you take the St. George Shuttle to the park, they will drop you off near the entrance. Just walk in and catch the Zion shuttle at the visitor center. Just make sure to get back in time for the return trip!
BOTTOM LINE: Chart of Options
I created a chart with some options for you. Transportation goes hand-in-hand with lodging, because the closer to the park you stay, the more expensive the lodging. So it’s a bit of a trade-off. I will cover lodging options more in-depth in another post.
I’m not a professional chart-maker, so do your best to read it. It contains average prices for each hotel/transportation option. And then there are columns for each trip option, and I included estimated costs for one, two and three day trips.
HERE’S THE GIST:
1. Cheapest option: Fly to Las Vegas, rent a car, and stay in St. George.
You’ll drive an hour to the park each day, but it’s easily the cheapest option. This is option # 3 in the chart below.
2. Luxury option: Fly to Las Vegas, take the St. George Shuttle to Springdale, and stay in Springdale.
If you want to spend a little more to be driven and to stay close to the park, then this is for you. You could do this same option and fly to St. George instead of Las Vegas, but I think the shuttle ride would take less time than a connecting flight anyway.
This is option #1 in the chart below.
Of course, you can do a combination of these as well. I hope the chart isn’t too confusing.
I hope you found this useful in planning your trip. For additional useful content in planning your trip, please see our YouTube channel.
In this chart, #1 through #6 are different combinations of trip options. Follow it downwards to see how I combined flights, transportation, and lodging. Obviously, there is a window of cost based on what you book. But I had to choose what I felt is an average price in order to get a comparison.
|Fly to Las Vegas||$75-150 RT||$100||$100||$100|
|Fly to St George||$250-$400 RT||$300||$300||$300|
|Shuttle from LV to St G||$70 RT||$70||$70||$70||$70|
|Shuttle from St G to Zion||$140 RT||$140||$140||$140||$140|
|Rent car in LV||$35/day||$35|
|Rent car in St G||$50/day||$50|
|Hotel in St. George/Hurricane||$65-200||$70||$70||$70||$70|
|Hotel in Springdale/Zion||$160-400||$250||$250|
|One Day Cost||$560||$380||$205||$420||$510||$690|
|Two Day Cost||$800||$590||$310||$540||$720||$940|
|Three Day Cost||$950||$800||$415||$660||$930||$1190|
Happy travels! Buon viaggio!