How to use the Zion Shuttle System (2021 Updates)


Updated May 17, 2021 by Matt

The Zion Shuttle

UPDATE (May 17, 2021) : Zion NP is now issuing wristbands when boarding at the visitor center to reduce scalping and people boarding in the canyon without a ticket. See more below.

If you’re planning a trip to Zion National Park, you MUST know how to use the shuttle system before you go! It’s not rocket science, but if you don’t know what you’re doing, your trip could be ruined.

In this post, we’re going to tell you what you need to know before you go so you can make the most of your trip. By the way, if you’re planning a trip to Zion, make sure to also check out our Zion Trip Planner. We also have a Zion Itinerary to give you a solid game plan.

Things are always changing (especially with COVID)

Before we get started, you need to know that things have been changing a lot with the shuttle system and general entry rules for all National Parks during COVID. Some of these changes were probably inevitable due to increasing crowds, and COVID may have just sped up the process.

Besides pandemics, all national parks also deal with construction, crowds, government shutdowns, and natural disasters (especially Zion with rock slides and flash floods). You never know what might affect the norm.

So ALWAYS check the park’s official website, which is https://www.nps.gov/zion/index.htm. We will link back to official Zion webpages throughout this article.

Can you drive anywhere in Zion National Park?

Yes! You can drive on all roads in Zion year-round, except Zion Canyon (the most popular canyon). During the busy season — February (ish) to November (ish) — Zion Canyon (also called the Zion Scenic Drive) can only be accessed by shuttle.

It’s important to understand there are 4 main roads in Zion National Park:

  • Zion Scenic Drive (This is the main Zion Canyon)
  • Zion-Mt Carmel Road
  • Kolob Terrace Road
  • Kolob Canyons Road

Zion Scenic Drive is the most popular, but do not underestimate the other roads. They are full of amazing sites as well, and they are MUCH less crowded (see below).

What shuttles are there at Zion?

There are three kinds of shuttles you might encounter when visiting Zion: 1) the Springdale Shuttle, which transports people to the park, 2) the Zion National Park Shuttle, which transports people into Zion Canyon, and 3) Commercial Shuttles — companies you can pay to take you into Zion Canyon if you can’t get a ticket for the Zion National Park Shuttle.

Don’t fear, we are here to simplify it for you. Here’s what you need to know:

1. The Springdale Shuttle

The city of Springdale, UT

Springdale, UT is a gorgeous little town that sits right outside the main entrance to Zion National Park. Zion National Park has some parking, but it fills up very early in the morning.

If you arrive before 8:00am, you might get a parking spot in Zion. Otherwise, you’ll need to park in Springdale and walk or take the Springdale Shuttle to the park.

Map of Springdale Shuttle

Zion doesn’t have enough parking to accommodate most of its visitors, so Springdale works with the National Park Service (NPS) to facilitate the over 4 million visitors coming to the valley every year. Here’s what you need to know:

  • The shuttle is FREE.
  • It picks you up from one of 9 stops in the city and drops you off at the park entrance.
  • It is 2.8 miles from the 1st stop (Majestic View Lodge, the furthest south) to the last stop (the park entrance).
  • Shuttles come every 15-30 minutes, depending on the season and time of day.
  • It starts at 8:00am and ends at 6:00pm. SO PLAN ACCORDINGLY.
  • If you are able to park near the park, it may be faster to walk, especially considering that by the time the Springdale shuttle gets to your stop, it may be full from all the prior stops.
  • You may consider parking farther away from the park so you are one of the earlier stops and more likely to get a seat.
  • Parking usually costs about $25. There are many parking lots in town, and also roadside parking (still $25ish).
  • You still have to pay for your Zion park entry pass. Pay for your park entry when you walk into the park (if you haven’t already purchased a pass online before your visit).
  • Once you enter the park, you’ll be at the visitor center, where you’ll catch the Zion National Park Shuttle.

2. The Zion National Park Shuttle

Entering Zion after hopping off the Springdale Shuttle

This is the official Zion Shuttle, and it takes you from the visitor center to the end of Zion Scenic Drive (Zion Canyon). There are 9 stops on this shuttle as well. Most are closed during COVID, but they aren’t major stops anyway (except for Zion Museum).

Here are some basic things to know about the shuttle:

  • The shuttle takes about an hour to get from the visitor center to the last stop, the Temple of Sinawava.
  • Shuttles run every 5-10 minutes during the busy times.
  • They currently have a second shuttle (just to make it even more confusing!) called THE CIRCULATOR. It stays in the canyon, rather than returning to the visitor center. (See the map below). I highly suggest printing the PDF document on the Zion website so you know which shuttle to board.
  • Make sure you know when the last shuttle leaves the Temple of Sinawava, and make sure you catch a shuttle BEFORE that time, in case the last one fills up before you can board it. If you miss the last shuttle, you will have to walk 7 or 8 miles out of the canyon.

There are Nine Stops on the Zion Shuttle:

  1. Visitor Center.
  2. Zion Museum (closed during COVID). Great stop for the museum and viewing the Altar of Sacrifice when open.
  3. Canyon Junction (closed during COVID).
  4. Court of the Patriarchs (closed during COVID).
  5. Zion Lodge. This is the only place to eat inside the park. It’s also the trailhead for Emerald Pools Hike.
  6. The Grotto. Trailhead for Angels Landing and Kayenta Trail.
  7. Weeping Rock (closed because of a rockslide; long-term closure)
  8. Big Bend. Mostly a scenic viewpoint.
  9. Temple of Sinawava. Trailhead for the Riverside Walk and the Narrows.
The Zion Canyon Shuttle Stops

What you need to know about getting tickets for the park shuttle:

  • You must reserve tickets in one of three ticketing windows (see below).
  • Tickets cost $1 each.
  • You must buy them on Recreation.gov (direct link).
  • Your ticket will provide a one-hour entry window. You must board the shuttle during this time. If you miss your time, you could be out of luck. GET THERE EARLY.
  • You can buy a maximum of 8 tickets at a time. If you need to buy more, you’ll need another person doing it, or you’ll have to buy them, then re-enter and buy more.
  • You may be asked to show your ID when boarding at the visitor center OR anywhere in the park. I’m not exactly sure what they might say if you purchased them all under one ID and you split up during the day. UPDATE (May 17, 2021): My understanding is they will check your ID at the visitor center. If the last name matches the ticket, then you’re fine. They will issue a wristband to everyone and that’s how they confirm you’re a ticket holder when you board in the canyon. This prevents people from walking into the canyon, then hopping on and off the shuttle.
  • Tickets are good for one entry per day. Once in the canyon, you can hop on and off as much as you like (and we recommend this for maximizing your day). But you cannot exit the park and re-enter.
  • You MUST have your digital or printed ticket when boarding.
  • You still have to purchase a Zion National Park pass (Usually $35 for a week, but you may qualify for other passes).

There are three Ticketing Windows

There are three main ticketing windows for the Zion shuttle tickets.

  1. Advance Tickets. Tickets are released from two weeks to one month advance. These big ticket drops happen twice a month, on the 16th and the last day of the month. For example, on May 16th, tickets open for June 1-15th. On the last day of May, tickets open for June 16th – June 30th. Tickets go on sale at 9:00am MOUNTAIN TIME.
  2. Day-Before Tickets. Every day, tickets are release for the following day at 5:00pm MOUNTAIN TIME. So on May 5th at 5:00pm MT, tickets are released for May 6th.
  3. Walk-Up Tickets. Also called “day of” tickets, if you show up at the Zion Visitor Center between 2:00 and 4:00pm, you may be able to get free tickets and board the shuttle THAT DAY. Of course, you’ve missed half the day, but you can still see the canyon and do an amazing hike or two.

Tips and suggestions:

It can be VERY competitive to get tickets, so here are some suggestions.

  • Set up an an account on Recreation.gov well in advance.
  • Sign into your account about 10 minutes before the window opens.
  • Be ready to book right when the window opens.
  • Have multiple people in your group trying to book.
  • Consider booking for a mid-morning time. The earliest times book first. So if you see 15 tickets available for 8:00, they might be booked by the time you click on it. Consider booking for a slightly later slot if it has more tickets available than the earlier slot. You could even plan on booking for noon or later and then do some other activities in the morning. See below for ideas. 
  • You’ll get an email with a PDF file with your QR code. I recommend taking a screen shot of your barcode(s) and sharing them with someone else in your group. My phone almost died while in the canyon and I airdropped them to my wife just in the nick of time. LOL. Oh, and there is little to no cell connection in the canyon, so save them to your device. You can also print the tickets to have a hard-copy backup.

If you can’t get tickets, don’t fret. You can still try….

3. Commercial Shuttles (2021)

There are six commercial companies authorized to shuttle visitors into Zion Canyon during COVID. This has never happened before! But due to COVID and a restricted capacity on the Zion Shuttles, the NPS authorized companies to bring visitors into the park in 2020 and 2021.

We don’t know whether this will continue beyond 2021.

Most are fairly comparable, and we’ve put information for you into a chart below. But here are some basic things to know:

  • Costs range from $30-$50 round trip per person, per day.
  • All companies offer free parking if you pay for their shuttle. Some have partnered with hotels for the parking and the pick up spots.
  • Some companies also offer gear for the Narrows hike.
  • One company is located on the East side of the park: East Zion Adventures.
  • Drop off times and pick up times vary from company to company.

Should you use a commercial shuttle?

Pretty much everyone will wait until two weeks before to try to get tickets during one of the big window openings. If they can’t get them, they will start scrambling for other options, including the companies below.

But consider this: at two weeks out, you’ve probably already made all your accommodations. It would be a huge stress if you can’t get your $1 tickets, and the companies may be booked by then.

What if you saved yourself the ticketing headache and booked with one of these companies, which will take reservations far in advance? Perhaps this would be cost prohibitive if you have a large family, but if it’s only two of you, it might be worth it to pay $60 for the peace of mind, knowing you have a ticket.

I called all of them and the most helpful person I spoke with was Cheri at Zion Jeep Tours. She was incredibly gracious and kind, and just wanted me to help get accurate information out there for visitors. I would recommend her — tell her I sent you!

CompanyCostRent Narrows GearCancellationPick Up Location
Zion Jeep Tours$30No48 hoursMajestic View Lodge in Springdale (free parking)
St. George Shuttle
(Partners with Zion Guru)
$45Yes7 days?Zion Guru (free parking)
Zion Adventure$40Yes?Springdale
Zion Guide Hub$50No15 daysSpringdale
East Zion Adventures$50No24 hours (80% refund)East Entrance
Zion Rock Mountain Guides$35Yes14 daysVisitor Center
Chart of commercial shuttle options. Things change quickly, so please check their websites!

Park entry fee if you use a commercial shuttle

If you use a commercial shuttle, you still need to pay the park entry fee. However, as of April 2021, the park service changed the fee for visitors using the commercial shuttles.

A typical park entry fee for Zion is $35 per week. But that covers the entire vehicle. So whether you’re a family of 2 or a family of 6, you’ll pay $35 if you walk or drive into the park.

On the commercial shuttles, the park is now charging $20 per person. Children 15 and under are free, however.

Pass options visitors may use or purchase entering the park while in a commercial shuttle are:  

  • Annual – Interagency, Senior, and Zion Park Annual pass (valid ID required and entry up to three guests in your group).
     
  • Lifetime Senior, Access, and Military (valid ID required and entry up to three guests in your group).
     
  • Each individual participant in the commercial shuttle that does not have, or purchase one of the above passes, will be charged the individual rate of $20.00 per person (children 15 and under are free).
       

Not-allowed – $35.00 Zion weekly vehicle pass cannot be purchased at the park entrance station while in any commercial shuttle vehicle. 

Can you get into Zion Canyon without a shuttle ticket?

Yes! You can get into Zion Canyon without a shuttle ticket. But….it’s not ideal. In addition to the commercial options listed above, you can also walk, bike (including eBike), or drive (during the off-season) into the canyon.

Walk

Yes, you can walk into the park from the visitor center! I wouldn’t recommend it, but I have seen plenty of people do it. It’s about 8 miles from the visitor center to the Temple of Sinawava.

For the first 1.5 miles, from the Visitor Center to Canyon Junction, you can walk on the Pa’rus Trail rather than the road. But as you walk in Zion Canyon, you’ll walk along the shoulder of the road. There is not a sidewalk.

I’m always amazed when I see people walking on the Zion Scenic Drive.

Cars can drive from the visitor center to Canyon Junction. If you can get someone to drop you off at Canyon Junction, you’ll cut off the 1.5 mile Pa’rus Trail.

Bike

You can also ride a bike into the canyon — either a regular road bike or an eBike. It probably takes about 1 to 1.5 hours to bike from the visitor center to the end of Zion Canyon.

As with walking, you can ride a bike on the Pa’rus Trail to Canyon Junction. After that, you’ll be biking on the road in Zion Canyon.

The road’s shoulder is a little narrow, so I personally wouldn’t recommend this option. However, if I couldn’t get tickets for the shuttles, I would definitely rent an eBike and ride into the park. Just be cautious.

One nice thing is that there aren’t a lot of vehicles on that road, since vehicles aren’t allowed on the road. But last time I was in the canyon, there were more cars than I would have thought. I guess this is because people can drive into the canyon to get to Zion Lodge and Canyon Trail Horse Rides.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Bikers must pull over to the shoulder of the road and give way to shuttles that are coming from behind them. Bikers do NOT have the right-of-way in Zion Canyon.

Where can you rent eBikes for Zion Canyon?

There are many bike rental stores in Springdale, UT. The nice thing about the eBikes is that it’s not that big of a deal to bike an extra mile or two, so location doesn’t matter much — they are all located in Springdale, within easy biking distance of the park.

Many of them also offer pull-behind strollers if you want to pull your kids.

BusinessCostNotes
Outta Here Bikes$95 full-day, $75 half-dayPick up at Zion Guru
Zion Guru$95 full-day, $75 half-day
Zion Cycles$50 full-day, $40 half-dayCan choose a nicer bike for more money
Zion Adventures$45 to $95 per day, depending on quality of bikeOffers pull-behind trailers for extra
Zion eBike Rentals$100 per day
eBike Rental Zion$95 per day
Zion Peddler$95 per day

Drive

You can drive into Zion Canyon on the Zion Scenic Drive during the off-season. This lasts from November(ish) to February(ish). The approximation is due to the fact that in November and February, the canyon is typically closed on weekends due to heavy traffic.

If you do visit in the off-season and drive into the Canyon, you need to know that the parking can fill up. If it does, you’re out of luck. The shuttle doesn’t run in the off-season.

Also be aware that Zion can get cold in the winter and even receives snow.

What other things can you do in the park without a shuttle?

Let’s say you can only get a shuttle ticket for one day of your trip; or, maybe you couldn’t get one at all and you don’t want to pay for a shuttle or eBike. Is it worth it to visit Zion still?

YES. There are plenty of things to do IN Zion National Park, as well as OUTSIDE of Zion National Park.

Things to do in Zion National Park besides Zion Canyon

I mentioned earlier there are 3 other roads you can visit besides Zion Scenic Drive.

The Zion-Mt Carmel Highway is the most popular, as it is closest to the visitor center. Simply drive through the main gate at the visitor center and it will lead you up the switchbacks, through a tunnel and through one of the most scenic drives you will ever experience! You can also do the Canyon Overlook Trail on this road.

Kolob Terrace Road is also a very scenic drive. It rides through the plateau above Zion Canyon, and has a nice mixture of red rock, trees, and meadows. The hikes along this road are typically backcountry hikes, such as the famous Subway Hike, Wildcat Canyon, and Hop Valley.

But the drive itself is really nice, and ends at Kolob Reservoir, where you can boat, fish, or swim.

Image of Kolob Canyons
Kolob Canyons

Kolob Canyons is a less visited section of the park, but is closest in nature to Zion Canyon. It has a series of slot canyons that are stunning. It is located about an hour away from Zion Canyon. We really like Kolob and we have included some tips for visiting Kolob in our guide.

Image of things to do in Zion that aren't in Zion Canyon
Things to do in Zion NOT in Zion Canyon

Things to do near Zion

You need to think of Zion as part of Canyon Country. There are LOADS of amazing sites and hikes nearby!

Map of things to do near Zion
Things to do near Zion

Here are some of our favorites (links are to videos or articles):

  • Bryce Canyon
  • The Grand Canyon
  • Cedar Breaks National Monument
  • Snow Canyon (Zion Jr.)
  • Red Cliffs Conservation Area
  • Candy Cliffs
  • Sand Hollow State Park (rent ATVs and ride them in the sand dunes)
  • Quail Creek State Park (boating)
  • Las Vegas (needs no explanation, lol)

Summary

LEARN about the shuttle system before you go so you can have a successful trip to Zion National Park! However, if you can’t get tickets, you can still enjoy Zion Canyon by using shuttles or eBikes.

Also, don’t feel like you have to be in Zion Canyon every day. There is so much to do in and around Zion that will amaze you! So expand your view of it a little and enjoy the ride.

Buon viaggio!

– Matt

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