Zion National Park is a pretty spectacular national park in Utah, with towering sheer cliff faces, narrow slot canyons, and a beautiful river.
It’s so spectacular that a few million people visit each year, which means after May and through the summer, the park can be pretty crowded.
By midmorning, many of the pull offs at trailheads and parking areas are full.
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Zion National Park Shuttles
To better manage traffic through the park, the National Park Service closes the six miles long scenic road from May through September to private vehicles.
The National Park Service runs many shuttle buses up and down this road all day long, and park visitors must park there cars near the visitor center and hop on shuttles to reach the most popular parts of the park, such as the Virgin Narrows, the White Throne, the Emerald Springs, and the Court of the Patriarchs.
The average wait for a shuttle is fifteen minutes.
Bikes are allowed on the scenic road in Zion
I wasn’t really interested in relying on shuttles to take me up and down the road, picking me up and dropping me off here and there to explore the park with a mass of other people.
So instead, we brought the bikes, which turned out to be a great alternative to the shuttle.
We parked at the entrance to the closed scenic road to unload our bikes.
I loaded my panniers with snacks, lunch, water, diapers, and wipes, and even strapped a baby carrier to the rear rack.
By riding the bikes, we were able to explore the park at our own pace and get away from the crowds.
Since the shuttle stops are spread about every mile on the road, you find most people clustered around them and exploring the trails starting from the stop.
However, there are scenic turnouts, trails, and waterfalls in between these bus stops that have very few, if any, people around because they are a quarter to half-mile walk from the shuttle stop.
For example, there is a small oasis with a waterfall half a mile short of the Virgin Narrows, the last stop on the road. There is a wooden platform by the pool at the base of the waterfall where we spent an hour at lunch. Aside from one group of people that visited for a few minutes, we were undisturbed for an hour long lunch at the base of this fall.
Also, the White Throne viewpoint isn’t a bus stop, so we enjoyed that all to ourselves for a while and enjoy our echo yells off the towering cliff walls. Here we are:
Along the bike ride through Zion, we could stop anytime we wanted to watch the deer, sheep, or to take in the scenery.
Best of all, we weren’t crammed into the standing room only buses running up and down the road, or jockeying for position at the bus stops while waiting for the next shuttle to arrive.
While the park service recommends the shuttle to visitors to access the park trails and features, I highly recommend biking through Zion.
There is such low traffic on the roads. Shuttles are dispersed about every fifteen minutes each way, and all day I bet we only saw a dozen or so cyclists.
More Photos of Zion National Park
Here are more of our photos of our time in Zion National Park, and below are some helpful tips if you are considering visiting and biking Zion National Park.
If I only had one day in Zion
If I only had one day in Zion, I would hike the 8-mile long Virgin River Narrows at the end of the scenic road.
When we were in the park, the Narrows were closed due to flash floods, as they often are.
If the Narrows are closed, I would suggest arriving early to hike Angels Landing if you only have one day in Zion.
With time permitting, hike the Kateyana trail to the Upper Emerald Pools.
Good Things to Know when Visiting Zion National Park
Zion National Park Location:
Tips for Visiting Zion National Park
The park gets really crowded during the season. Get into the park early, and knock out the popular spots first to avoid the late morning arrivals.
If a trail is marked as easy or paved, expect a superhighway of people going in both directions.
The Visitor Center has sparse interpretive exhibits and activities. Head to the Museum if you are looking for the park exhibits and history.
There are big horn sheep in the park, and they are most often seen on the east side of the park.
To get from the west to the east side of the park, there is a one mile tunnel. Though the tunnel allows two way traffic, for most of the day it is only one direction because oversized vehicles, RVs, and trucks with trailers are only allowed through one at a time in each direction. If you are staying east of the tunnel, then the earlier you reach the tunnel, the less likely you’ll have to wait in the alternating traffic. The longest we waited was about ten minutes in the morning, but in the afternoon waits can become 30+ minutes if traffic stacks up.
For the oversized vehicles mentioned above, there is a $15 permit to pass through the tunnel two times. These permits are sold at the entrance gates and at the tunnel. The park rangers will tell you if you are an oversized vehicle.
If biking Zion National Park, know that shuttles will not pass you unless you stop or pull into a pullout. It’s best to stop when a shuttle approaches from behind you. Oncoming shuttles will pass while you are riding. No need to stop for oncoming shuttles.
The six mile scenic road is slightly uphill from the entrance to the Virgin Narrows, and downhill on the way back, of course. We biked the roads with our 7-speed city cruisers and did just fine.
If you are packing a lunch, don’t plan on eating it near the shuttle stop near the Virgin Narrows. The squirrels are super aggressive and will amp up your anxiety during lunch or bite you. For real, the squirrels at Zion bite. Instead, head about a half-mile downhill. On your left, you will find the waterfall oasis pictured above. It’s a great lunch spot in the shade.
Lillian Schaeffer says
This is some great information, and I appreciate your suggestion to use bikes to get around Zion’s National Park. My husband and I are planning a trip there this fall, and we’re trying to iron out details like lodging and transportation. It would be a lot of fun to bike around, and it sounds like it’s an effective way to get around, so we’ll definitely look into that. Thanks for the great post!
Mark Kelley says
Glad it helps, Lillian!