If you're visiting the South Rim at Grand Canyon National Park this summer and you aren't spending the night in the park, the NPS has a way to help you avoid waiting in a string of cars at the park entrance—and wasting time looking for a parking space once you arrive. Here's what you need to know about the free NPS shuttle to and from the neighboring town of Tusayan.
There's no doubt the Grand Canyon is a unique and magnificent destination, but like many other parks, the area faces an ongoing challenge for visitors and staff alike: traffic. The park has made excellent progress in recent years in rerouting key roads and providing additional parking, but perhaps the greatest improvements have come from the free shuttle bus service on the South Rim.
Here's a tip for any visit to the South Rim: park your vehicle when you arrive at your campsite or hotel and ride the free park shuttles. If you're not staying overnight in the park, the NPS has another great option if you arrive by vehicle between May 15 and September 12: free shuttle service between the gateway community of Tusayan and the Grand Canyon Visitor Center.
If you're driving to the Canyon from the south, as most visitors do, you'll pass through Tusayan shortly before reaching the entrance to the park. The idea of encouraging visitors to leave their vehicles just outside the park and take a shuttle to destinations inside the park has been around for a number of years, and a test of the concept finally got underway two years ago. According to the park staff, the results were promising.
During the last two summer seasons the National Park Service provided this voluntary shuttle service under a pilot program designed to test the feasibility and evaluate the effectiveness of providing the service between the community of Tusayan and the Grand Canyon Visitor Center on the park’s South Rim.
Each pilot season consisted of approximately 16 weeks and during each season; over 100,000 riders boarded the system, representing a reduction of approximately 17,500 cars entering the park. In addition, in surveys of shuttle riders conducted during both pilot seasons by the National Park Service, over 90 percent of riders indicated that they were satisfied with the service and would likely use it again.
Based on ridership and positive feedback from both visitors and the community of Tusayan during the pilot period, the National Park Service intends to offer this shuttle service in the future on a seasonal basis.
Steve Martin, Superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park, said, “We are pleased to be able to offer this service to our park visitors. The pilot program proved to be very successful with many visitors taking advantage of the service to travel from Tusayan into the park, and from the park into Tusayan thereby reducing crowding and further helping protect park resources. We appreciate the cooperation of our partners in the Tusayan community and hope visitors will continue to use and enjoy this service.”
So, why should you give it a try—and how does the system work?
The Tusayan Shuttle offers at least two pluses for anyone making a day trip into the park: they allow you to avoid potential delays at the entrance into the park—and skip the search for a parking space once you're inside. Buses will run at 15 minute intervals between 8:00 a.m. and 9:30 p.m. between May 15 and September 12. Once you're in the park, the Tusayan shuttle connects with other routes that take you throughout the Village, to key trailheads and along the scenic Hermit's Rest Road.
The shuttle buses will make four stops in Tusayan including the IMAX Theater, R.P.’s Stage Stop, Squire Inn, Airport (Grand Canyon Airlines terminal) and Western Discovery Museum (in the same location as the former Canyon Flight Trading Company stop). Public parking is available at IMAX, RP’s and the Airport.
There may be some temporary adjustments to these stops during the summer, due to work by the Arizona Department of Transportation on a street improvement project in Tusayan throughout the summer. Any changes to the shuttle bus stops during construction will be signed accordingly.
The park staff also offers the following information about entrance fees for shuttle riders:
Those taking advantage of this voluntary service by parking in Tusayan and riding the shuttle bus into Grand Canyon National Park’s south entrance will have expedited entry into the park and will be able to connect with the park’s free shuttle bus system at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center. This service is provided free of charge; however, visitors entering the park via shuttle bus will need to purchase their entrance pass in advance.
Entrance passes can be purchased at most of the hotels in Tusayan, including the Best Western Grand Canyon Squire Inn, the Grand, Grand Canyon Red Feather Lodge and the Quality Inn. Entrance passes can also be purchased at the IMAX Theater, R.P.’s Stage Stop and Grand Canyon National Park Airport at the Grand Canyon Airlines terminal. Entrance passes purchased at these locations are valid for shuttle bus or private vehicle entry for seven days and are accepted at any of the Grand Canyon National Park’s entrance stations.
Those holding a valid America the Beautiful National Park and Federal Recreation Lands Pass or other valid pass will not need to purchase an additional entrance pass. Visitors leaving from the park to visit Tusayan are asked to bring their valid entrance passes with them if they are planning on re-entering the park
Informational signs with information about the shuttle route and designated parking locations are posted along Highway 64 south of Tusayan, as well as at various locations in Tusayan.
National Park Service buses are easily identifiable by their color scheme and labeling, and they offer a plus for the environment as well—they're fueled with clean burning compressed natural gas. The buses are all wheelchair accessible and are equipped with bike racks.
Information regarding this route and the park’s other shuttle bus routes which run throughout the South Rim area, including shuttle bus stops, parking locations, routes and schedules, is available on the park website and in The Guide, a free park publication offered by the National Park Service. You can download a copy prior to your visit, or pick up a paper version at park entrance stations, visitor centers, and entrance pass purchase locations.