Alternative Transportation Systems in Your Favorite National Parks

Devel­oped by the Nation­al Park Ser­vice in part­ner­ship with local busi­ness­es, Alter­na­tive Trans­porta­tion Sys­tems help ease the impact of auto­mo­bile traf­fic on Amer­i­ca’s nation­al parks. 2017 NPS Vis­i­ta­tion Sta­tis­tics topped out at just over 331 mil­lion vis­i­tors in 400 parks. How­ev­er, more pop­u­lar parks like Great Smoky Moun­tains, Grand Canyon and Yosemite account­ed for over 20 mil­lion of those vis­its, often con­cen­trat­ed in the peak sea­sons. Exces­sive fumes and traf­fic jams are a new chal­lenge in this era of Nation­al Park pop­u­lar­i­ty, and you can do your part by learn­ing about and using some of these Alter­na­tive Trans­port Systems.

Glac­i­er Nation­al Park (#10 pop­u­lar park, 2017—3,305,512 visits)
If you are going to Glac­i­er, a free shut­tle sys­tem spans both ways of the Going-to-the-Sun Road through­out the day. The shut­tle makes promi­nent stops along the scenic route, giv­ing access to all sorts of trail­heads, camp­grounds and oth­er points of inter­est. For those look­ing to spend more than one day explor­ing, overnight vis­i­tors can leave their vehi­cles at either shut­tle hub park­ing locat­ed at the Apgar or St. Mary Vis­i­tor Centers.

Zion Nation­al Park (#3 pop­u­lar park, 2017—4,504,812 visits)
As a response to crowd­ed road­ways, Zion imple­ment­ed a shut­tle-only option in 2000 for trav­el­ing through the park. For a major­i­ty of the year, per­son­al vehi­cles are not allowed on the park’s roads when the shut­tle bus­es are oper­at­ing, mean­ing every vis­i­tor is required to take a ride. New shut­tles depart as often as sev­en min­utes between one and anoth­er, mak­ing missed con­nec­tions not a big deal. Zion also encour­ages patrons to park in the neigh­bor­ing com­mu­ni­ty of Spring­dale, and catch the Spring­dale Shut­tle instead of dri­ving to the Vis­i­tor Cen­ter park­ing lot, which can fill up by 10 a.m. through­out the peak seasons.

Aca­dia Nation­al Park (#7 pop­u­lar park, 2017—3,509,271 visits)
Aca­dia Nation­al Park offers a lot of sug­ges­tions to help curb the con­ges­tion at this crown jew­el of the north­east coast. The nation­al park advis­es buy­ing an entrance pass online, walk­ing the vil­lage con­nec­tor trails into the park, or rid­ing a bike along the park’s Car­riage Roads. One of the best ways to trav­el in the park is the Island Explor­er Shut­tle Bus sys­tem, which pro­vides nine free routes through the park.

Great Smoky Moun­tains Nation­al Park (#1 pop­u­lar park, 2017—11,338,893 visits)
Great Smoky Moun­tains Nation­al Park is the most pop­u­lar nation­al park in the nation, and while dri­ving is how vis­i­tors usu­al­ly choose to explore, there are oth­er trans­porta­tion options to con­sid­er. The Gatlin­burg Trol­ley can get you to the park with a $2 fare, and a wide num­ber of pri­vate shut­tle options, includ­ing the rep­utable A Walk in the Woods hik­er shut­tle ser­vice will deliv­er you to trailheads.

Grand Canyon Nation­al Park (#2 pop­u­lar park, 2017—6,254,238 visits)
Grand Canyon has run a shut­tle ser­vice for over 40 years and it has grown into quite the sys­tem. The South Rim now sup­ports numer­ous routes for patrons to take advan­tage of for free. For vis­it­ing dur­ing the busy sea­son, park­ing in the gate­way com­mu­ni­ty of Tusayan is rec­om­mend­ed and tak­ing the Tusayan Park & Ride allows vis­i­tors to skip the long lines at the entrance sta­tion. For train enthu­si­asts, the Grand Canyon Rail­way can also deliv­er you into the park in style.

Yosemite Nation­al Park (#5 pop­u­lar park, 2017—4,437,215 visits)
With a quin­tes­sen­tial Sier­ra Neva­da beau­ty, Yosemite Nation­al Park is well-loved for good rea­son. It is now quite easy to arrive at and explore Yosemite using only pub­lic trans­porta­tion. Both Grey­hound and Amtrak pro­vide rides into the park, and the exten­sive Yosemite Shut­tle Sys­tem enables adven­ture beyond the Vis­i­tor Cen­ter. Pop­u­lar shut­tles to hop on include the Glac­i­er Point Tour and the Tuolumne Mead­ows Tour.

Rocky Moun­tain Nation­al Park (#4 pop­u­lar park, 2017—4,437,215 visits)
Reach­ing Rocky Moun­tain Nation­al Park or either of its two gate­way com­mu­ni­ties by pub­lic trans­porta­tion isn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly easy, but thanks to the Rocky Moun­tain Shut­tle with­in the park, you don’t have to wor­ry about park­ing at a busy trail­head. Fea­tur­ing a Bear Lake and Moraine Lake Routes, as well as an Express Hik­er Route, the shut­tle doesn’t deliv­er patrons every­where in the park, but it deliv­ers on Rocky Moun­tain scenery. For extra con­ve­nience and ease, vis­i­tors are encour­aged to park at the Estes Park Vis­i­tor Cen­ter and take the Estes Park Free Shut­tle into the park dur­ing the sum­mer months.