For Spring Break, my family decided to visit Zion National Park in Utah. We planned this at the very last minute. We didn’t know what to expect. We started reading little bits and pieces about park entrance, and learned that there is a shuttle bus system that services the park. This post is geared to help you prepare to get your tickets. These tickets were so hard to obtain especially during this COVID-19 pandemic.
All passengers including children age three and older require a ticket to board the shuttle for Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.
1. Ways to get shuttle tickets
In a perfect world, shuttle tickets could be obtained way in advance. According to the Zion Website:
How far in advance can I obtain my ticket?
There are two booking windows to obtain shuttle tickets, Advance Tickets and Day-before Tickets:
Advance tickets for daily shuttle service will be released twice a month, on the 16th and the last day of the month
NOTE: This is the schedule through June 2021. So check the website for the dates that will work for you. If your date is further out, just keep checking the website when the that info becomes available. Remember this is all SUBJECT TO CHANGE without notice.
March 13 – 31, 2021, advance tickets are released on February 28, at 9:00 a.m. MT
April 1 – 15, 2021, advance tickets are released on March 16, at 9:00 a.m. MT
April 16 – 30, 2021, advance tickets are released on March 31, at 9:00 a.m. MT
May 1 – 15, 2021, advance tickets are released on April 16, at 9:00 a.m. MT
May 16 – 31, 2021, advance tickets are released on April 30, at 9:00 a.m. MT
June 1 – 15, 2021, advance tickets are released on May 16, at 9:00 a.m. MT
June 16 – 30, 2021, advance tickets are released on May 31, at 9:00 a.m. MT
Day-before tickets: Additional tickets shown as “Not Yet Released” on the Recreation.gov website or app will become available one day in advance at 5 pm MT. (details below)
Afternoon Walk-Up (more info below)
2. Zion Shuttle Tickets during a pandemic
In our case, we didn’t have the chance to get tickets way in advance. So our next option was to get the day-before tickets. Easy enough, right? Just go to the website and get tickets? NOPE! Getting shuttle tickets to Zion National Park is like taking a chance in winning the lottery. Remember we are in the middle of a pandemic. The shuttles are in operation but were only allowed to fill it 25%. Thus making things harder to score tickets.
3. How much are Zion Shuttle Tickets
The tickets are just $1 per person. Since we did not get to plan ahead of time for this trip, we knew of alternatives. We knew that they release these day-before tickets at 5pm MT everyday. This was during our April 2021 visit, so the timing of the release could change. This means that if you plan on visiting the park on a Saturday, you could try and score tickets when they are released the day before (Friday) at 5pm MT.
4. How do you get these tickets
Go to recreation.gov or download the National Park Service digital app
In the search box, key in Zion National Park Shuttle Tickets
Since you are booking at the last minute, you have to make sure that you have created your account BEFORE booking. Set it up, add your pertinent information, especially the method of payment. Credit cards are accepted.
5. When it is time to try and book the day-before tickets
Once you’ve chosen the option for Zion National Park Shuttle Tickets
Click on Book Now
Choose the day of your visit (this is the next day on the calendar)
You have to click on the next available day (so if today is April 15, you’d have to click on April 16)
The trick is doing this right on the designated time
Use your cell phone’s clock as the queue when to go in
While you could do this using your cell phone’s signal, it would be best if you do this using Wi-Fi (just my personal suggestion)
It would also be best if you were doing this using your computer (again, just my personal experience)
Prior to the designated time, make sure you are logged in, and that you are able to maneuver around the site
Failed first attempt
We tried to score tickets on a Friday (for a Saturday visit) and failed. We set our phone alarms, created our account on recreation.gov, and right at 5 pm MT, we signed in, and no dice. All tickets were gone by 5:01pm. Ughhhh. What was our set-up? We were on the road, in LA traffic, using 2-3 cell phones with different accounts. While we were able to get in to the app, and we saw the choices, by the time the app searched for tickets for our party of six (with a specific time slot)….the choices were all gone within a minute.
We were simply dismayed. Imagine this. We were on our way from Los Angeles to Utah to visit Zion National Park for a chance to visit, and we didn’t score any tickets. We all felt like, “is it even worth it to still drive to Utah and just take our chances?” I mean, we had no shuttle tickets. We shrugged the idea of giving up. We decided that we’d try to get tickets again on Saturday and score tickets for the next day, Sunday.
I believe in fate
So here’s what happened. We decided to move forward and head to St. George, Utah. We had booked a night at Marriott’s SpringHill Suites (less than an hour from Zion). As it turned out, going to Zion on Saturday would not have worked for us. Long story short, my daughter had a final exam, and her instructor moved the due to date to Saturday, meaning, had we scored tickets that Saturday, we wouldn’t have left her alone in the hotel to take her 3 hour exam. And we weren’t going to that.
Upon our midnight arrival, I told the lady at the front desk about our plans that were shattered with no shuttle tickets, and my daughter needed time to take her exam. I saw that the checkout was 12 noon. I asked for a late checkout. She offered 2pm (very generous). I said, “Thank you, I will take whatever you can give us.” She then offered a 3pm late checkout. Wow! Done!
So after learning this, our stay in St. George became more of a relaxing stay. We were able to take our time, sleep in a bit, ate a hearty breakfast, we went to the pool, read books….it was relaxing. And honestly, after a late night drive from California, we were so glad that Saturday became a rest day for us instead of embarking on a trek to Zion.
This also gave my daughter a chance to take her 3-hour final exam. While told her not to rush, we made a deal with her that she would need to take the exam on Saturday morning vs. waiting later in the day. She agreed, but had one request. “Can you all leave the room so I can take my final for 3 hours?” Well that wasn’t exactly going to happen. We needed the room to relax. I had to think fast. I called the front desk. I told the front desk manager our situation, and he offered her the entire conference room all to herself with no one to bug her – at no cost. Thank you, Springhill Suites!!! Lesson-learned: ask and you shall receive.
Making our way towards Zion National Park
Maddie was done with her final exam by 2pm. Although we had a late checkout of 3pm, we decided it was time to go, and to try and visit Zion anyway. We weren’t sure what to expect. I figured, if we failed getting tickets again later that day, to check out our other options. Would we still be able to go in? As a last resort, I just wanted us to make it near Zion to at least feel that we made it to Zion. Yes, we were that desperate.
It was just about an hour drive from St. George to the gates of Zion National Park. There were lots of hotels and other accommodations in Springdale (right before you get to the gates). I noticed another Marriott Springhill Suites, La Quinta, Hampton Inn, and Best Western. We decided to go to the gate and inquire about our chances of possibly visiting the park. It was already 4pm when we got to Zion.
By that time, our only chance was to drive in and take the scenic drive. “Whoa, so we’re allowed to drive in?” I was told yes, but not to the designated shuttle stops that takes you closer to where you begin your hikes and exploration. At that time, I was just elated to learn that we could go in and visit the park.
6. Tickets to visit Zion National Park
There were dozens of ticket options, but we’ve been hearing about this yearly pass that gives us access to all US National Parks for one year. So we opted for the Interagency Annual Pass – $80.00. Admission to all Federal fee areas for one year from date of purchase. We paid with our credit card.
For more information regarding your ticket options, click here.
7. If at first you don’t succeed
We drove in, and began appreciating the majestic beauty of Zion. It was simply breathtaking. We went on a short drive up on a hill with views of Zion, but I was on business mode. It was close to 5pm MT, and we needed to situate ourselves where we could get great signal to try and score shuttle tickets again for the following day. So after taking a few family pictures, we drove down and left the park.
Although we had decent cell phone signal, I knew better to position ourselves near a coffee shop’s Wi-Fi or a hotel Wi-Fi. I remembered passing by Springhill Suites in Springdale. We parked right outside, and we were able to access the Wi-Fi. But I figured, I wanted a stronger signal. So I just went inside the lobby, and sat on one of the chairs and got connected.
The rest of the fam stayed inside the Odyssey. We had our phones and Macbooks all ready to go, connected ourselves to the Wi-Fi. 5pm came. We knew what to expect. And in less than a minute, we scored 6 shuttle tickets for Sunday at 8:00 in the morning!!! YAASSSSS!!!! It was like winning the lottery. We were so excited.
8. Back-up plan
What if our 2nd attempt failed again? What were our other options? We learned the following:
Afternoon walk-up shuttle tickets (no charge) will be available from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center. These tickets are limited and are first come, first served. By the time we arrived that Saturday afternoon, all walk-up shuttle tickets were gone.
We could either rent bikes to ride around Zion, or book us on a private van for around $40 per person. A bit steep when you factor in that there were 6 of us, but it was our last resort.
So what’s the takeaway
Don’t be dismayed if you have no advanced shuttle tickets. You can still try and get day-before shuttle tickets, or afternoon walk-up tickets. But you have to know what to do, and it’s all about having the right set-up….Wi-Fi, using the app or website, have your account already set-up. And if you still couldn’t score last minute tickets, use my back-up plan suggestions. Good luck and enjoy!!!