When we were planning our trip to Zion National Park, getting around the park had us most confused. We had heard we needed to use a shuttle, but then also heard we could drive. We heard parking for the shuttles was a nightmare, but then heard we can take shuttles from the hotels. All this information seemed conflicting and confusing.
Our goal is to simplify things for you. We want you to have a good understanding of how to get around Zion National Park with public and private transportation.
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Understanding the Layout of Zion National Park
Once we were at the park, we realized most of our confusion came from not understanding the park’s layout. For the purposes of transportation and getting around, we’ll talk about four areas of Zion National Park.
- Zion Canyon Scenic Drive – Main area of the park
- Zion – Mount Carmel Highway (UT – 9) – Road with tunnel connecting Springdale and Mount Carmel
- Kolob Terrace Road – Runs from Virgin to Kolob Reservoir/Lava Point
- Kolob Canyon – Off Interstate 15, west of the main park
Zion National Park has two visitor centers.
- The main Zion Canyon Visitor Center is near the Springdale Entrance Pay Station.
- The other is in Kolob Canyon, just off Interstate 15, about 45 minutes west of the town of Springdale.
There is also an East Entrance Pay Station. Both the Springdale and East Entrance Pay Stations are on the Zion – Mount Carmel Highway. They are about 30 minutes apart.
The map below should help you get your bearings.
Getting Around Zion National Park Using the Shuttle
What we found most confusing is that there are two shuttles. One is only for Zion National Park and the other is only for the town of Springdale.
Where does the Zion Shuttle Operate?
As the canyon cannot accommodate a lot of traffic, the park has a free shuttle service along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. When the shuttle service is in operation, private vehicles are not allowed on the scenic drive. Nowhere else in the park requires using a shuttle.
The shuttle starts at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center and goes along the scenic drive. There are nine stops along the route, but not all of them are always open.
When does the Zion Canyon Shuttle Operate?
The shuttles operate most of the year, March through November. However, they also usually run on the last week in December and weekends in February.
Shuttles typically start at 6 am in summer and 7 am in fall. They finish around 9:15 in summer and 7:15 pm in fall. However, this changes year to year, check the Zion’s website for information relevant for your visit.
Though the shuttles run every few minutes, they still get packed by late morning and have long wait lines.
What if I Miss the Last Shuttle or the Last Shuttle is Full?
You really don’t want to miss the last shuttle out of the park, so we recommend heading out a little early.
If you do miss the last shuttle, you have two options.
- Walk the entire way out of the park. This could be more than 8 miles, in the dark.
- Walk to the Zion Canyon Lodge at Stop 5, still in the dark. The front desk can provide information on after-hour shuttle van rides. Prices vary and may not always be available.
Beating the Shuttle Lines
We found the best way to beat the lines was to catch one of the first shuttles of the day and take it to the very last stop in the park. This meant, while everyone was making their way into the park, we were riding the shuttles the opposite way.
Check out our guide, Perfect One Day Itinerary for Zion National Park.
Where does the Springdale Shuttle Operate?
The Springdale shuttle runs through the town of Springdale to the Zion Canyon Village, near the pedestrian entrance of Zion National Park.
The Springdale shuttle does not operate in the park. You must change shuttles at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center.
The shuttle is free and has six stops throughout Springdale. Most stops are located next to a paid parking area. If you are staying at a hotel in Springdale, there’s usually a stop nearby.
When does the Springdale Shuttle Operate?
The Springdale shuttle runs on a different schedule than the park.
It also operates from March through November, but it may not operate at all during the winter.
The Springdale shuttles usually start later than the park’s shuttles. During our October trip, the park’s shuttles started at 7 am while the Springdale shuttles didn’t start until 8 am. However, they do stay running later than the park’s shuttles.
The Springdale shuttle is not as frequent as the shuttles in the park. Usually, they run about every 10 to 15 minutes.
As their schedule changes throughout the year, it’s best to check directly on the park’s website for the exact timetable relevant for your visit.
- If you’re staying in the town of Springdale but are close to the park entrance, it may be faster to walk than wait for the Springdale Shuttle.
- Traveling solo? Using the pedestrian entrance only costs $20 per person compared to $35 for a car.
Private Vehicles at Zion National Park
Can you Drive Your Own Car in Zion National Park?
Private vehicles are allowed year-round everywhere in the park except the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. This is the main canyon of the park, and it gets very busy.
Instead, the park offers a free shuttle service which runs from the Zion Canyon Visitor Center up the scenic drive. These shuttles run every few minutes.
The shuttle service runs most of the year. However, for a few weeks over winter (Dec – Feb) the shuttle shuts down and private vehicles are allowed on the scenic drive. Parking can still be an issue in winter, and the park will shut the gate to the scenic drive once the park is at capacity.
The only other way to use a private vehicle on the canyon scenic drive is to stay at the Zion National Park Lodge. You will get a pass to get in the gate and park at the lodge onsite. However, you cannot drive beyond the lodge.
Where Can I Park for Zion National Park?
Parking at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center & Museum
Parking at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center is by far the easiest way to catch the shuttle service into the park. Parking is free but typically fills up between 8 – 9 am.
Once the lot is full, there’s no point in waiting for a spot. Though, we did notice a lot of folks leaving the park after lunch. After 1 pm, those trolling the parking lots seemed to get lucky with a bit of patience. Keep in mind, the park does not let you sit and wait for a space.
You can also try the Zion Human History Museum. Located a half mile north of the park’s Springdale entrance, the museum has a small parking area, and the shuttle does stop at the museum. The museum and parking area were closed for our Oct 2021 trip, so check with the park if it’s reopened before you go.
Parking in Springdale
If the Visitor Center is full, you can park in the town of Springdale.
Springdale runs a park and ride system. There are several small parking lots along the main road in town. The Springdale shuttle picks up from these lots and drops passengers off at the pedestrian entrance for Zion National Park.
The shuttle is free; however, parking is not. Parking lots closer to the park charge more. If you are staying in Springdale, leave your car at the hotel and use the free shuttle or walk to the park.
2021 Daily Parking Rates:
- Zone A – $20/day,
- Zone B – $15/day,
- Zone C – $12/day
- Oversized vehicles: $24/day in Zone C only
There’s also a parking lot just outside the Zion entrance gate, where you can walk to the pedestrian entrance. It was $40 to park for the day when we checked (2021).
Parking Elsewhere in Zion
The rest of the parking lots in Zion National Park tend to be smaller pull-offs along the roadways. Most have less than ten spaces and provide access to hikes.
It can be an issue finding parking for some of the most popular hikes. For example, the parking areas for the Canyon Overlook Trail fill up early in the morning as it’s a popular sunrise spot.
Other than that, most parking areas have a regular flux of people coming and going.
Can I drive a Large Vehicle Through the Zion - Mt. Carmel Tunnel?
Vehicles 11’4” tall or taller, and/or 7’10” wide or wider, including mirrors, awnings, and jacks, are too large to pass through the Zion – Mt. Carmel Tunnel without assistance. Vehicles over 13’1″ tall and/or 40′ long are not able to pass through the tunnel.
At each side of the tunnel a ranger controls traffic. For large vehicles, they stop oncoming traffic as the large vehicle must drive in the center of the road to safely pass through the tunnel.
Large vehicles are charged $15 for this service (2021), and it includes two pass-throughs within 7 days. Get your vehicle measured at the Entrance Station of the park and pay for your permits with your park entry.
Though the tunnel is open for smaller traffic 24 hours a day, large vehicles must only go through the tunnel when the rangers are present. The tunnel opens at 8 am everyday but the closing hours vary throughout the year.
Can I Cycle Through Zion National Park?
Cycling is a good choice in Zion. Bikes are allowed on all roadways and are a great alternative to the shuttles.
Having a bike also means you don’t have to wait for the shuttles to start in the morning, and you don’t have to catch the last one in the evenings. Though, you can still use the shuttles if you want as there are bike racks in the front.
Plus, you get in the park for $20 per person, the same as a pedestrian fee.
However, there are a few things to know.
- For your safety, the shuttle buses on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive will not pass you. You must pull to the side and come to a complete stop to allow the buses to pass.
- Bikes are only allowed on the Pa’rus Hiking Trail. However, there are bike racks at the major shuttle stops and many of the trails.
- Bikes are not allowed in the Zion – Mt. Carmel Tunnel. It is a dark narrow tunnel, so this is definitely for your safety. You can hitch-hike through, but the park cannot help you arrange a ride.
Continue with our Visitor’s Guide to Zion National Park or check out our other posts from Utah.