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.