Over the holiday season, the Zion Canyon and Springdale Shuttle loops were brought back into action to accommodate crowds of tourists flocking to the park for Christmas and New Years.
But now that it’s 2020, the shuttle buses are once again parked near the Visitor Center, and the entire canyon is open to vehicles once more. It will remain that way until March, with the exception of President’s Day Weekend, when the shuttles will briefly restart to help manage traffic and crowds.
Driving on your own in the park can be a fun and exciting way to experience your favorite park. But it can also be a bit confusing, and tough to navigate if you aren’t sure what you’re doing. Keep reading to learn what you need to know to take advantage of the Zion Canyon Shuttle’s off-season.
You’re Welcome to Drive, But It Isn’t a Free-for-all
While you are welcome to drive your personal vehicle into the park while the shuttle is not in operation, that doesn’t mean that the park is a free-for-all. The same rules and laws that apply when the shuttle is in operation continue. And you’ll also need to be aware of a few extra that you didn’t need when you were taking advantage of the shuttles.
The most important rule that you need to follow is to always park in designated stalls. Parking along the side of the roadway, in grass or on dirt, or in any other area that isn’t a marked stall is never allowed. If parking spaces are full at the trailhead that you’re planning to hike, you can’t just make your own spot.
Just as you can’t wait around in one of the designated Springdale parking lots waiting for a spot to open when the shuttles are running, you can’t wait near a trailhead for a parking space. Instead, move on to a different trail or area of the park. You can always try to return later in the day when spots may have become available. With limited roadways in the park and so many visitors entering each day, even in the winter, waiting for a space causes traffic jams that affect the experience of other visitors and can be dangerous.
Make Sure You’re Up for the Challenge
Many visitors to Zion National Park never get a chance to drive the narrow, winding canyon road on their own. Instead, they experience the park from the shuttle and on foot. While both are unique and fun in their own right, driving through the park does come with a bit of a challenge.
If it’s your first time driving into the park in your own vehicle, make sure that you’re up for the challenge.
Zion’s roadways are narrow and winding, particularly Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway, which climbs into the higher elevations of the park and passes through the famous tunnel. During the winter, snow and ice in the park can make roads slick and dangerous.
Despite the cold, wildlife is still very active in the park during the winter. In the lower elevations of the canyon, it’s common to see herds of dozens of mule deer grazing near the roadway where it’s warmer than other parts of the park all winter long.
To combat the road conditions and avoid run-ins with wildlife, take it slow and be aware of your surroundings. Avoid distractions like using your cell phone or eating so that you can put your full attention on the road in front of you.
Be Prepared for Limited Parking
While the winter season definitely means fewer people visiting the park than in the summer or shoulder seasons, Zion is still a popular destination. Parking lots, especially those near popular trailheads and overlooks, may fill quickly. On weekends when the weather is fair? You’ll want to get to the park early if you have your heart set on hiking popular trails.
If you can’t find a parking space near the trail you want to hike, consider checking out one of Zion’s lesser-known options instead. Then, try to find a parking space again in the afternoon when some hikers may have returned.
Enjoying the Park in New Ways
Taking a drive through Zion National Park is a great way to enjoy this beautiful place in a whole new way this winter season.
Looking for other stunning drives in the area? Check out this list of the best scenic drives in Southern Utah.