Sunday, May 20, 2007

Zion National Park by shuttle

I last visited Zion National Park in 1993. Since then, they have closed the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive to private vehicles (except up as far as the lodge and campground if you are staying there). We were thinking having to ride a shuttle would diminsh the experience. We wouldn't be able to see everything we wanted easily or we'd be stuck waiting for a shuttle along the route.

It turned out that the free shuttle improved our experience. The only vehicles on the road were shuttles, which, during mid-day, ran every 7-10 minutes apart, plus a few bicycles. There was always room and we only waited for 7 or 8 minutes once, when we just missed a shuttle pulling out. If you ride up and back without getting off, the round trip takes about 90 minutes. The drivers tell you what's along the route, though you can sign up for one shuttle with a ranger aboard, which takes 2 hours. The ranger-narrated shuttle tour left at 9 a.m., so check for times and availability as soon as you arrive at the visitor center.

At Zion you are at the bottom of a canyon with steep walls- a different perspective than a park like the Grand Canyon where you are at the top looking down. We got off at nearly every stop. You can access several hikes from shuttle stops. We did the half-mile round trip up to Weeping Rock and back, plus the two-mile Riverside walk along the Virgin River canyon. Both were handicapped accessible. You can do challenging hikes like the one to Angels Landing as well. The lodge, one of the stops, has a coffee shop, cafe, restaurant and gift shop.

Parking is available at the visitor center, but that often fills up by 10 a.m. Another free shuttle runs through the town of Springdale with several stops and more parking to take to you the park entrance. From May 20 to September 8, shuttles run from 5:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. More information on shuttle schedules can be found here.

We came in from the east on Highway 9. It is a gorgeous drive, however, it is best if you leave your RV at a campground and drive your tow or toad vehicle in. You need to drive through two tunnels with height and width restrictions. Vehicles with a combined length of move than 50' are prohibited. RVs less than 40' long (single vehicle) can enter but will have to pay a $15 escort fee. In fact, with our dually truck, we had to pay the $15 because it exceeds the width limits. If you have an oversized vehicle, the tunnel is closed to traffic coming the other way while you go through. Large RVs can come in from the south on Highway 9 through Springdale to reach the park.

If you'd like to spend more time there, you could work for one of the concessionaires. Click here to read more about jobs at Zion at the Working on the RV Road blog. Or here for information on volunteering at a national park.

This is one of the top natural national parks and a visit is often combined to other national parks in the area like Bryce Canyon, the north rim of the Grand Canyon, plus other Utah parks. If you haven't been yet, put it on your list! Jaimie