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Let’s be honest: waiting in an insanely long line to ride the Zion shuttle is probably not how you want to spend your time in Zion National Park.
As one of the most popular U.S. national parks to visit (with an insane 3.6 million visitors in 2020), Zion continues to attract record-breaking crowds from all around the world. This means that you can find yourself waiting at least an hour or more just to ride the Zion Canyon shuttle if you show up at the park after 8 am.
Luckily, you can still experience the best of Zion National Park, like hiking Angels Landing and The Narrows, without the shuttle! Below are the top hikes, sites to see, and things to do in Zion that you don't need the shuttle to get to.
From March through November, Zion National Park offers a shuttle service that picks visitors up from the Visitor Center and takes them to upper Zion Canyon along the famous Scenic Drive. Upper Zion Canyon is where the trailheads for Angels Landing and The Narrows are located, as well as access to the Emerald Pools and Zion Lodge.
If you're planning to visit Zion National Park soon, it's important to learn how the Zion Canyon shuttle system works so you can make the most of your trip!
However, as the popularity of Zion National Park grows, lines to ride the shuttle continue to get longer and longer. Back in 2015, I camped inside Zion at Watchman campground. We started our day after 8 am and waited to board the shuttle for about 45 minutes...I can't even imagine how long shuttle lines are now, especially during high season!
You don’t need the shuttle to experience all of those “top things to do” on your Zion bucket list, even hiking Angels Landing or The Narrows!
So if you don’t want to waste time waiting in long lines to ride the Zion shuttle, here are the best things to do in Zion National Park that don’t need the shuttle.
Can you ride bikes in Zion National Park? Of course you can!
Riding a bike into Zion Canyon is one of the most unique ways to see the park and access Zion's top attractions and hiking trails, including Angels Landing and The Narrows.
The ride up Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is relatively flat most of the way. The only elevation change you’ll experience is in the beginning, between Canyon Junction and Court of the Patriarchs, which is a gradual 300 feet.
Below are the biking distances (one-way) from the Zion Visitor Center to popular spots along the Scenic Drive:
Several outfitters outside Zion rent bikes and e-bikes. Depending on how long and what kind of bike you rent, rental prices range anywhere from $29 - $90 per day for bikes and $95 - $100 per day for e-bikes.
Below are some of the places near Zion where you can rent bikes.
Safety Tip for Cyclists: Because you will be sharing the road with the Zion shuttles, cyclists are required to pull over and stop anytime a shuttle is behind them. Cyclists cannot pass a moving shuttle for any reason.
*Update: As of June 15, 2021, the National Park Service no longer allows private shuttle companies to transport visitors up the Scenic Drive in Zion National Park to get to popular hikes like Angels Landing and The Narrows. Visitors must ride the Zion Canyon shuttle or bike to get to the upper Zion Canyon.
However, private shuttle services offer transportation for visitors to explore the backcountry wonders and trailheads on the east and west side of Zion National Park. There are even shuttles that you can hire to get to the trailhead to hike The Narrows Top-Down (17-miles) for a unique (and much quieter) experience without having to waste time waiting in long lines for the Zion Canyon shuttle!
Several companies provide private shuttle services in Zion National Park’s backcountry, with prices ranging from $5 - $300 per person per day depending on the service route and group size. During high season, make sure to book your private shuttle in advance!
My least favorite thing about hiking Angels Landing and The Narrows is having to wait in extremely long shuttle lines, especially during peak summer months when crowds are high.
In order to avoid the insane Zion crowds and long wait times for the shuttle, I prefer exploring one of the 6 Zion hikes that don't need the shuttle to get to.
Park your car at the Zion Visitor Center and head to the Pa’rus Trail or Watchman Trail, both of which are great hikes for families. The Pa’rus Trail is paved and has you hiking along the Virgin River. While the Watchman Trail has you winding through the canyons to the final panoramic viewpoint of lower Zion Canyon and the town of Springdale.
Since these trails are not along the Scenic Drive, you don’t need to take the Zion shuttle to hike the Pa’rus Trail or Watchman Trail.
Drive along the scenic Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway to get to the east side of Zion National Park. Here you’ll find the Canyon Overlook Trail, a moderate, family-friendly hike that leads you to breathtaking views of lower Zion Canyon. I found this panoramic view to be just as marvelous as that from Angels Landing!
Make sure to hike the Canyon Overlook Trail there during off-peak hours since parking is extremely limited. The trailhead parking lot has about 12-15 parking spots.
Along the northwest area of Zion, you’ll find the Kolob Canyons. Drive your car along this beautiful route to indulge in vibrant red canyons and enjoy the scenic Kolob Canyons Viewpoint. Hiking trails in the Kolob Canyons include the Timber Creek Overlook Trail, Taylor Creek Trail, and La Verkin Creek Trail.
Since these trails are away from the Zion Visitor Center and the Zion Lodge, make sure you bring all of the supplies and things you may need for your hike to be fully prepared.
If you’re in the early stages of planning your trip to Zion, consider visiting when the Zion Canyon shuttle services are not operating. Not only will there be fewer crowds, but you don’t have to deal with riding the Zion shuttle!
Since the Zion shuttle only runs during the high season (March through November), private vehicles are allowed up the Scenic Drive the rest of the year when the shuttles are not operating...which means visitors can drive themselves to upper Zion Canyon.
You don’t need to ride the shuttle to make the most out of your trip to Zion National Park.
Even without the shuttle, you can still get to those Zion must-see spots (like Angels Landing, The Narrows, and Emerald Pools) by biking the Scenic Drive into Zion Canyon.
Don't want to bike into Zion Canyon? Hire a private shuttle.
There are also a handful of Zion hikes that do not require the shuttle to get to. The best part about these trails is that it’s typically less crowded, meaning a quieter, more intimate Zion experience.
So make the most out of your time in Zion by skipping those long shuttle lines!
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