At three million annual visitors, Zion National Park is Utah’s most-visited national park. That lands it right in the ranks of parks that get loved to death. Back in the 1970s, however, Zion park planners began to get wise to the traffic hell that was a-comin’, and they (slowly) started a plan to save their park from the assault of exhaust pipes gone wild.
Picture the Zion scene just over a decade ago: the valley filled with individual cars and huge tour buses. Honking. Swearing. Traffic. Folks parking in the middle of the road–the middle of the road, for cripes sake–because thousands of cars are vying for a mere 400 parking spots. Oh, and there was smog. Yeah, gross. I imagine elevated blood pressures, tears, and a decided lack of true appreciation of the surrounding natural beauty. Rather, I suspect a lot of people wanted to get out. I distinctly remember a similar problem in Yosemite National Park in the ’70s when I often visited with my grandparents. Shudder!
Fast forward to May 2000, when Zion introduced its seasonally mandatory mode of public transportation, a green shuttle that runs on clean burning propane fuel. The Park hasn’t looked back since.
The free Zion Shuttle makes a total of 17 stops: Eight inside the Park and nine in gateway town Springdale. Bring your baby stroller, your bike, your wheelchair. Leave behind your pets, smokes, and food. Park your car in Springdale and catch a ride there, or at the Zion Visitors Center (note that all parking spots there are usually filled by 9:30 am on busy summer days). You are not allowed to drive your car on the Zion Canyon Loop during shuttle season, unless staying at the Zion Lodge. That would be why they have the shuttles!
Running dates: usually April through October. This year, the shuttle stops running on Halloween. Check the Zion NPS website for exact dates each year.
Stops: Eight in the Park at all the major trailheads, including Weeping Rock, Temple of Sinawava, and Riverside Walk, as well as Zion Lodge and the Visitors Center. Nine in Springdale, including Zion Canyon Giant Screen Theater, Bit & Spur Restaurant, Zion Pizza & Noodle, and the Majestic View.
Frequency of stops: As long as 30 minutes midweek to as little as every seven minutes on weekends.
Going green: the park estimates that the Zion Shuttle prevents 24,201 lbs of CO2 emissions from being sputtered out every day. That’s a very good thing. So get on board.