October 14, 2023

What to Know About the Zion Canyon Shuttle Off-Season

This time of year brings some big changes to Zion National Park. The fall brings changing leaves and a bright pop of color to the park. Then, winter will arrive, and the park will turn into a sparkling wonderland. Cooler temperatures make hiking challenging trails like Angels Landing a little easier, but make hiking The Narrows even more difficult.

Another big change that occurs this time of year is that the crowds begin to thin. Winter is the least busy season in the park, with fewer than two percent of the park’s annual tourists visiting in January, compared to 13 percent in June and July.

With fewer crowds comes another big change; the end of the Zion Canyon Shuttle season. At the end of November, the shuttles cease operation for the year. The shuttles won’t begin regularly offering daily service again until March, with the exception of a short period around the holidays.

No shuttle in operation means you can drive your personal vehicle into the Lower Canyon. But there are a few things you should know if you’re planning a visit to Cliffrose Lodge this time of year.

No Shuttles Doesn’t Mean That You Can Drive and Park Anywhere

When the Zion Canyon Shuttles cease their daily operations at the end of November, the only way to get around the park is in your personal vehicle. But while you’ll need to drive from trailhead to trailhead, this doesn’t mean that you can drive and park anywhere that you’d like.

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 things 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 create 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.

Driving to the Upper Canyon Can Be Nerve Wracking

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.

Keep Sightseeing and Driving Separate

From the winding roads and sometimes treacherous winter road conditions to the wildlife, driving through Zion can be challenging. The last thing you should do is take your eyes off the road to take in the views.

If you are the designated driver, avoid sightseeing while navigating the park. If you want to take in the sights, park in a parking lot or pull off. Or, consider taking turns with other capable adults in your group. That way, everyone has a chance to enjoy the views.

Planning Your Visit to Zion During the Zion Canyon Shuttle Off-Season

If you’re planning a visit to Cliffrose Lodge when the Zion Canyon Shuttle isn’t in operation, knowing these tips can help you better navigate the park. This time of year can be an incredible chance to experience the park with fewer crowds and cooler temperatures, not to mention the chance to experience a whole new side of the park.

Ready to start planning a fall or winter visit to Zion National Park? Book your stay at Cliffrose Lodge today!

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