Park Shuttle Bus Systems are Growing in Popularity Around the Country.

Shuttle bus at Zion National Park. Photo by airstream life via Flickr.

Our personal vehicles may have made it possible for most Americans to travel widely, but there are definite tradeoffs. We're all familiar with the negative impacts of too many cars, SUVs, and RVs on the environment—and being caught in a traffic jam or spending a big chunk of your vacation looking for a parking place doesn't add to the enjoyment of a park visit.

Shuttle bus systems are growing in popularity as one solution to those problems, so for your convenience, the Traveler is providing the following overview of those systems at some popular NPS sites around the country.

Check the following links for each park for details, including the season of operation, and be aware that even though most of these systems are free, payment of the usual park entrance fee is still required to enter the respective parks. That's not unreasonable—those entrance fees help fund many of these systems.

If you've visited Rocky Mountain National Park and the gateway community of Estes Park, Colorado during the summer, you know that traffic can be a challenge at time. A nicely integrated shuttle bus system which joins Estes Park with some key stops in the park went into operation last weekend, and it can make visits to the area a lot more pleasant for the rest of the summer.

Rocky Mountain's shuttle system includes two routes which provide access to Bear Lake, other trailheads, the Moraine Park Visitor Center, and Moraine Park and Glacier Basin Campgrounds. A separate express route known as the hiker shuttle runs from the Town of Estes Park Visitor Center to the park's Beaver Meadows Visitor Center and then into the park, where it connects with the two park routes. The Town of Estes Park “Visitor Shuttle” will operate on three routes daily through Labor Day, and on weekends through September.

Grand Canyon National Park operates an excellent free shuttle system with five separate routes on the South Rim. The routes interconnect, but do not overlap, and all buses are equipped with bicycle racks, making it possible for visitors to bike one way and ride the shuttle the other. The Tusayan Route provides "park & ride" shuttle bus service between the gateway community of Tusayan, seven miles south of the South Rim Village, and the park.

One of the earliest entries in the park shuttle business was Yosemite National Park The park's free system includes service in Yosemite Valley as well as to outlying areas such as Wawona and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias and Tuolumne Meadows. For a fee, separate bus service and tours are available to Glacier Point, various trailheads on the Tioga Road, and neighboring communities.

Two free shuttle routes are available at Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park (California). Stops include Wuksachi Lodge, Lodgepole Visitor Center, the Sherman Tree, Giant Forest Museum, the Moro Rock staircase, then over to sequoia-ringed Crescent Meadow. A separate for-fee service runs from the City of Visalia, through Three Rivers, and up to the Giant Forest Museum, where you can transfer to the two park routes.

At Zion National Park (Utah), the Springdale Shuttle stops at six locations in the gateway community of Springdale, and the Zion Canyon Shuttle loop stops at eight locations in the park. The transfer between loops is made at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center and the system is free.

Bryce Canyon National Park (Utah) encourages (but doesn't require) visitors who are not staying overnight in the park to park outside the park entrance and use the free shuttle, which serves key stops in the park. Bryce Canyon also offers a free daily guided tour to Rainbow Point, which takes four hours and covers 40 miles with stops along many of the park’s scenic viewpoints. Reservations are required and can be made up to 24 hours in advance. Details are available on the park website.

A combination of free and for-fee bus service is available at Denali National Park (Alaska). The free entrance area shuttles serve what the name implies; for a fee you can reserve a seat on the concessioner-operated shuttle system, which serves destinations along the entire 91-mile length of the road into the park. This is the only way to reach the interior during most of the year; for an additional fee, an interpretive tour bus will provide a more formal narrated experience during the trip.

Glacier National Park's free shuttle service began in 2007 as a way to reduce traffic on the Going-to-the-Sun Road during the multi-year rehabilitation project of that iconic scenic highway. The system connects the east and west sides of the park over that route, and I'd highly recommend it as an alternative to driving your own vehicle.

Here's an offer that sounds hard to beat: Mount Rainier National Park (Washington) is offering a free weekend shuttle to Paradise. Visitors have the option to begin outside the park in Ashford, Washington or inside the park at Longmire and Cougar Rock. Due to construction in the Paradise area, parking is limited and traffic moves slowly, so those who choose to drive their own vehicle instead of the taking the shuttle may feel their intended trip to Paradise ended up in that opposite destination.

Shuttle bus options aren't limited to western parks.

One of the most comprehensive systems is found at Acadia National Park (Maine), where Island Explorer buses provide service between park destinations, local communities, and the Bar Harbor-Hancock County Regional Airport. Regularly scheduled buses stop at specific destinations in the park—including campgrounds, carriage road entrances, and many trailheads. You can also flag down buses along their route; drivers will pick up passengers anywhere it is safe to stop.

The free Historic Triangle Shuttle connects two separate sites in Virginia's Colonial National Historical Park—Jamestown and Yorktown Battlefield—with the third side of the Historic Triangle, Williamsburg. The two routes of the Historic Triangle Shuttle depart at 30 minute intervals from the Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center, one traveling along the Colonial Parkway to Jamestown, the other following the Parkway to Yorktown. After arriving at Jamestown and Yorktown, visitors use additional free shuttle services to the various attractions at those two destinations.

One of the newest entries in the park shuttle world is Valley Forge National Historical Park, which is "experimenting with a free shuttle around the park." The Revolutionary Shuttle runs at 15 to 20-minute intervals throughout the day.

Private companies also offer a variety of additional for-fee tours and shuttle services in parks, as well as transportation between parks and nearby communities. Check individual park sites on the NPS website for the latest ways to let someone else do the driving, while you enjoy the scenery.


The Denali shuttle bus system is an epic nature tour.

Ray -

I absolutely agree with you about the Denali bus system - one of the best bargains anywhere.

My wife and I used it two years ago, and had an incredible trip. I was free to enjoy the wildlife and scenery instead of having to concentrate on driving, and even though we chose the less expensive "shuttle" instead of the "interpretative tour," our driver did an outstanding job of narration and answering questions.

I can also recall the "old days" at Grand Canyon, when the sunset traffic jams on the West Rim Drive were a mess - when the parking areas along the Rim filled up, people just pulled off the road anywhere (no concern about impacts on the resource) or simply parked with their car blocking part of the road. The shuttle system is a huge improvement on all counts.

This article dovetails nicely with comments made on the "Get Your Free National Parks 'Owners Guide' from the National Park Foundation" story (although I think I failed to recognize "tongue-in-cheek" before I responded).

What goes unspoken is that each of these shuttle systems uses fossil fuels and generates evil carbon dioxide. While some shuttle systems in parks where cars are banned might reduce overall destructive CO2, their effectiveness is questionable in parks where cars are allowed to spew tons of dangerous CO2. And the parks detailed above are the exception, not the rule.

And don't forget that most of the insidious CO2 is not generated driving 30 miles through Crater Lake or 15 miles across Zion; it's the hundreds or thousands of miles zipping from park to park to park that produces most carbon poisoning. Even taking the train or flying generates as much CO2 per passenger mile as they too burn fossil fuels. So stay home and don't increase your carbon footprint for something as frivolous as traveling to a national park! Think about the unborn children!

And ignore scientists who claim that:

...even if cap-and-trade does what is intended, the reduction in CO2 emissions as a fraction of global CO2 emissions will moderate future warming by, at most, around one tenth of a degree C by late in this century. That is probably not even measurable.

We must curb freedom to save the planet! Can't you see it people!?

Happy Independence Day!

Frank, a climate change convertee?;-)

In the parks these shuttles do help reduce overall CO2 emissions by taking personal vehicles off the roads, and some reduce CO2 emissions further by relying on cleaner burning propane (ie, the Island Explorer at Acadia).

Your sarcasm aside, your point about the greater CO2 emissions being generated by traveling to a park is well made. That said, I'm sure you'd agree there's not a single over-night solution to wiping out these emissions. People are going to travel. But technology continues to evolve and I'm optimistic we'll see cleaner travel options as the months and years go by.

At the same time, the national parks are working to both reduce their own carbon footprints and help individuals learn how to reduce their own footprints. For instance, on Zion National Park's website you can find this page, which offers tips on reducing fuel use, water use, detergent use by lodges, and even addresses the emissions associated with flying and how you might offset your share of those.

A perfect, immediate, solution? No. But it's definitely helping move society in the right direction.

Frank, a climate change convertee?;-)

Still a skeptic. (Or, if you prefer the UN's and Al Gore's smears, use "denier".)

People are going to travel.

Especially if the hospitality lobby gets involved. (Aramark, a government-granted monopolistic concessionaire, gives money to the National Park Foundation, which in turn, encourages travel to parks.)

Then there's NPT, which has on several occasions sounded the alarm on anthropogenic climate change's predicted effects on national parks. And in almost the next CO2 exhaling breath, NPT encourages people to travel to national parks, and as a result, generate more CO2 for non-essential travel.

Statist, collectivist undertones permeate each post and their comments; "we" (the state) must act to protect parks; "we" (the state) must do something to halt catastrophic anthropogenic climate change.

It's extremely hypocritical to ask the government to do something (through coercive means) to stop a supposed future environmental catastrophe while simultaneously and actively encouraging such actions that will supposedly bring about the aforementioned catastrophe. Equally complicit in the hypocrisy are the National Park Service, the National Park Foundation, National Parks Traveler, and many other governmental and leftist organizations that use fear to wrest increasing amounts of power and money from the People.

If you really believe a slight increase in CO2, a TRACE gas--comprising a scant 0.038% of the atmosphere--will bring about environmental Armageddon, then walk the walk. Live a simple life without electricity, cars, plastic, computers, or any of the modern world's conveniences, and eliminate your "carbon footprint".

But please stop lobbying the Federal government. Government intervention--in the form of cap and trade--essentially taxes production, and that tax will be passed on to you and me, the consumers. I don't know about you, but I'm currently paying 50% of my income to the State, was recently laid off (thankfully found another job), and am suffering from government-induced inflation, which has driven up the cost of energy and food. Creating a massive bureaucracy reduce anthropogenic CO2 emissions .1 degree C by the 2090s is sheer lunacy in this economic crisis.

:) AMEN!

Damn, Frank, ya got me.

I'm no earth scientist, I'm a leftist hypocrite, and I drank the climate-change Kool-Aid.

I've placed misguided belief in scientists who are not fly-by-nighters beholden to environmental terrorists but rather who have made careers out of studying the Earth and its systems and how humans impact those systems.

I've pledged blind faith to the Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change, a scientific body comprised of some of the best scientific minds in the world, one that is said to reflect the consensus of the international scientific community, one that publishes reports -- based on peer-reviewed studies, mind you -- only after they are gone through line by line and word by word and approved by all member countries.

I read E.O. Wilson.

Too, I've been misled to learn that CO2 isn't the only greenhouse gas driving the climate, but that others impacting the atmosphere include methane, nitrous oxide, the entire family of hydrofluorocarbons, the entire family of perfluorocarbons, sulphur hexafluoride, nitrogen trifluoride, trifluoromethyl sulphur pentafluoride, halogenated ethers, and other halocarbons, and so obviously have wrongly come to accept that there's not just one culprit.

I've also taken the IPCC's word that "carbon dioxide radiative forcing increased by 20% from 1995 to 2005, the largest change for any decade in at least the last 200 years."

(*Radiative forcing is a measure of the influence that a factor has in altering the balance of incoming and outgoing energy in the Earth-atmosphere system and is an index of the importance of the factor as a potential climate change mechanism -- IPCC, 2007: Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Solomon, S., D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K.B. Averyt, M.Tignor and H.L. Miller (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.)

I could continue, but you get the point, and you refute the point.

Global temperature change and "environmental Armageddon"? This from a September 2008 Washington Post article:

Moreover, new scientific research suggests Earth is already destined for a greater worldwide temperature rise than previously predicted. Last month, two scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the University of California at San Diego published research showing that even if humans stopped generating greenhouse gases immediately, the world's average temperature would "most likely" increase by 4.3 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of this century. Writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they based their calculations on the fact that new air-quality measures worldwide are reducing the amount of fine particles, or aerosols, in the atmosphere and diminishing their cooling effect.

The IPCC has warned that an increase of between 3.2 and 9.7 degrees Fahrenheit could trigger massive environmental changes, including major melting of the Greenland ice sheet, the Himalayan-Tibetan glaciers and summer sea ice in the Arctic. The prediction that current emissions put the planet on track for a temperature rise of more than 11 degrees Fahrenheit, Le Quéré said, means the world could face a dangerous rise in sea level as well as other drastic changes.

Richard Moss, vice president and managing director for climate change at the World Wildlife Fund, said the new carbon figures and research show that "we're already locked into more warming than we thought."

"We should be worried, really worried," Moss said. "This is happening in the context of trying to reduce emissions."

The new data also show that forests and oceans, which naturally take up much of the carbon dioxide humans emit, are having less impact. These "natural sinks" have absorbed 54 percent of carbon dioxide emissions since 2000, a drop of 3 percent compared with the period between 1959 and 2000.

But then, you no doubt view media as leftist pawns.

You're right, Frank. To avoid hypocrisy the Traveler should be a fear-mongering portal that urges the NPS to lock the gates to the parks and tells travelers to stay at home, sell their cars, and cancel their electrical service unless it's derived from solar or wind power. Of course, I suppose we should also pull the plug on the Traveler itself to save the planet so folks don't waste electricity by firing up their own computers to read our drivel.

You're right. Let's let somebody else try to build more advocates for the national parks, let someone else point out the current science, the growing impacts of climate change on the parks and their resources, the possible solutions that we all can participate in.

Geez Frank, with all the hypocrisy on this site, it really does amaze me that you read it.

Unless it's derived from wind or solar??? Since when is wiping out thousands of acres of wild land, only to string thousands of miles of inefficient powerlines the answer?!

Kurt I think that Frank C is just taking all of this climate change nonsense, which it most certainly is, to its logical conclusion. Here we have a government that is going to tax free enterprise out of existence with "cap & trade" legislation, that no one on Capitol Hill apparently bothered to read, while at the same time encouraging people to visit national parks in their carbon spewing autos. Shovel ready stimulus projects are all about carbon spewing road construction which just creates more sprawl and more roads for cars. What gives with these guys? Should their stand on anything be taken seriously?

Remember this is the same government that spends trillions of borrowed and printed out of thin air dollars blowing up territory and innocent civilians on a daily basis in southwestern Asia while running the largest carbon spewing war machine in the history of the world. Does anyone ever stop to think about how much fuel is consumed and exhaust created by this brimstone belching death machine?

The truth of the matter is that there are many contradictions in this debate and mass transit is often just as messy and carbon spewing as private cars. Since I don't believe in human caused global warming, remember I bet everyone last year that the earth was going to be cooling (and so far it looks like I'm right), I don't have a dog in this fight. Global warming is truly one of the greatest hoaxes in all of human history.

So when Frank C takes the opportunity to point out the contradictions in the logic that is inherent in this ridiculous debate I generally cheer him on from the sidelines, mostly because his stuff is often funny (and tongue in cheek), well thought out and backed up by some facts. The mendacity of those who would try to spook us into fearing that planetary evil known as carbon dioxide, which I happen to exhale on a regular basis, is something that should be lampooned and laughed at by those of us who can see this issue for what it really is: a power grab by false saviors.

I know the plants in my neighborhood really appreciate the carbon being exhaled and spewed in their direction and I reciprocate much thanks for the oxygen given back in return. Now that is what I call being a good neighbor on this here Mothership.

And in midst of the above discussion--I welcome the park shuttle systems described in the story as one positive - if even small - change from the status quo.

Geez Frank, with all the hypocrisy on this site, it really does amaze me that you read it.

Kurt, I read your site for the same reason I did as RangerX: it's the best place for national park news not found anywhere else, and it's also the best national park discussion forum on the web. My intention is not to sh*t on your work, but just to point out a few inconsistencies in tone among global warming alarmists. I think Beamis summed up my intentions well. I've tried to take a humorous approach to a charged topic. At any rate, I am off topic and will sign off on this thread.

Thanks for allowing my comments. I'd be more than happy to make a donation--as I do for several blogs I read--to NPT for the services it provides.

Thanks again.

Shuttle systems can often make a big difference in parks where heavy road congestion is a problem and parking is scarce. To say that they also help solve environmental problems is probably a bit of a stretch because these various conveyances all come with their own set of strengths and weaknesses as it relates to impacts, real or imagined, upon our planet's health.

I grew up using mass transit so it seems like a good idea to me to implement these systems in parks that closely resemble urban cores during busy peak times of usage. The thing to remember is that the true history of the NPS is one of intensive road building with which to facilitate access for the public via personal transport. It was all a part of a 20th-century auto culture which pervaded the land and was actively promoted through an interlocking relationship with government and industry that bestowed upon us the interstates, cheap government subsidized FHA loans which helped to sprout tract houses by the square mile on former farm land (we now call it sprawl) and the degradation and eventual demise of most interurban rail systems, as well as the death of many urban cores. Federal government policy with the direct connivance of Big Oil, Big Rubber and the Big Three auto makers in the last century produced the present face of America as we know it today. The development of national parks followed along many of these same trajectories and in most ways still does.

It may take a while for the public to change their habits and accept a ride on mass transit as a viable means of enjoying a national park visit. It has not been part of the equation for most visitors until recently so it may take some more getting used to. Where they fit, I'm all for 'em.

Beamis, contradictions abound in life. As do disagreements and disparaging. Some folks like some "facts," but not others.

Neither time nor space allow for a thorough dissection of these points, but suffice to say that there is no possible way to get 535 people to agree unanimously on anything. Probably not even on the sun coming up in the morning in the east.

Likewise, you can't change an entire nation's habits overnight. I see no hypocrisy in exploring the wonders of the National Park System while at the same time offering climate change education and trying to work on solutions.

As for your position on climate change, I've seen no evidence of cooling, only of ice sheets breaking up, hotter-than-usual weather, and stormier weather in many parts of the world. Here are some sites that do a much better job than I ever possibly could in addressing your denial:

I particularly like this passage from that last site: If you believe that tens of thousands of scientists are colluding in a massive conspiracy, nothing anyone can say is likely to dissuade you.

Happy reading!