by Matt, updated Jan 2021
If you’re planning a trip to Zion National Park, you MUST know how to use the shuttle system before you go! 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.
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 before visiting.
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 two kinds of shuttles you will encounter when visiting Zion:
- Springdale Shuttle, which transports people to the park.
- Zion National Park Shuttle, which transports people into Zion Canyon.
Don’t fear, we are here to simplify it for you. Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Springdale Shuttle
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 7:30 am, 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.
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
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. Recently certain stops have been closed due to natural disasters or COVID.
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.
- Sometimes they 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. Check the park website to see if this is running while you’re there.
- 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:
- Visitor Center.
- Zion Museum. Great stop for the museum and viewing the Altar of Sacrifice when open.
- Canyon Junction. It’s rare to get off here. It’s more common to walk Pa’rus trail to this point, then catch the shuttle to go into Zion Canyon.
- Court of the Patriarchs. This is mostly a scenic viewpoint. Get out and look at the formations, then wait for the next shuttle.
- Zion Lodge. This is the only place to eat inside the park. It’s also the trailhead for Emerald Pools Hike.
- The Grotto. Trailhead for Angels Landing and Kayenta Trail.
- Weeping Rock. This is closed because of a rockslide; long-term closure.
- Big Bend. This is mostly a scenic viewpoint.
- Temple of Sinawava. This is the trailhead for the Riverside Walk and the Narrows (same hike).
Virtually everyone gets off at the Grotto for Angels Landing or the Temple of Sinawava for the Riverside/Narrows hike.
During COVID in 2020, Zion used an advanced ticketing system for the shuttle. During this time, they also allowed private companies to shuttle people in and out of the canyon.
The park has done away with using the ticketing system and the shuttle companies.
BUT, the crowds remain a MAJOR issue at Zion, and you should know that it’s possible they could return to a similar system.
Can you get into Zion Canyon without using the shuttle?
Yes! It was common to walk or ride a bike into Zion Canyon during the time of the ticketed shuttle system, and the legacy effect is that people realized it can be a fun way to see the canyon.
Can you walk into Zion Canyon?
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.
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.
Can you ride a bike into Zion Canyon?
Yes, 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. Just be cautious if you do it.
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 doesn’t require much energy 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.
|Outta Here Bikes||$95 full-day, $75 half-day||Pick up at Zion Guru|
|Zion Guru||$95 full-day, $75 half-day|
|Zion Cycles||$50 full-day, $40 half-day||Can choose a nicer bike for more money|
|Zion Adventures||$45 to $95 per day, depending on the quality of the bike||Offers pull-behind trailers for extra|
|Zion eBike Rentals||$100 per day|
|eBike Rental Zion||$95 per day|
|Zion Peddler||$95 per day|
Can you drive into Zion Canyon?
Yes, but only in 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.
Also, the canyon is closed to vehicles during Christmas and Presidents’ Day. It’s shuttle-only during that time.
If you do visit in the off-season and drive into the Canyon, you need to know that the parking in the canyon 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?
The shuttle is a wonderful system and honestly, I would prefer to use the shuttle rather than drive into the canyon.
But let’s say crowds stress you out and you would rather do some activities that don’t require the shuttle.
There are MANY 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.
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.
Things to do near Zion
You need to think of Zion as part of Canyon Country. There are LOTS of amazing sites and hikes nearby!
Here are some of our favorites (links are to videos or articles):
- St. George (video of things to do in St. George)
- Bryce Canyon
- The Grand Canyon
- Cedar Breaks National Monument
- Snow Canyon (video; Snow Canyon is like 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)