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Park Shuttles, More Than Just A Bus?

Drawing of Glacier's new shuttle; The Douglas|Group/DEA

Drawing of the new shuttle in Glacier National Park; The Douglas|Group/DEA

I've written a new article for the newsletter. This one is called 'How Do You Keep a National Park from Becoming a Parking Lot?'. When I set out to write this piece, I was coming at it from a jaded angle, with the feeling that shuttles will encapsulate the park experience, and that they will repackage the potential adventure found in parks into a safe, time-managed, ordered, auto-tour.

But, after talking with friends and reading about the positive things these shuttles are doing, my feeling changed quickly. The very real benefits of park shuttles far outweigh my original shortsighted vision. As mentioned in the article, the shuttles have the potential to actually enhance both the natural landscape and the experience of visiting the park!

It's been said before, Americans have a love affair with the car, the manifestation of our national free-will; I will go wherever I want, whenever I want, because I can. With this personal attachment to the car, I imagine there are a lot of people out there like me that shrug at the thought of climbing on board a bus at the park. My new found excitement for the shuttle exists because my love of parks outweigh my love for the freedom found in the car. How about you? What has been your shuttle experience?

By the way, Kurt's got an article in the current Frommer's park newsletter too. His is called 'Spending a Night in a National Park: Lodge, Tent or Open Sky?'.


I just did the Zion National Park shuttle. It was very nice not having to drive. Sit back and listen to your tour guide / bus driver and learn. The waiting time between shuttles was a massive 5-7 minutes. Just enough time to take a few more pictures of this natural wonder.

While I've visited Glacier National Park many times, I've never really encountered big traffic jams but the environ sure could use a break from so many cars. I'm glad parks are doing this even tho it will cut into my freedom of travel somewhat.

Get over your silly love affair with your car people. The absolute BEST way to travel in the national parks is by utilizing their shuttle system. From pre-dawn departures that allow easy access to the most popular hiking trails, to the convenience and clock-work precision of the schedules, and best of all, the relief of NOT having to circle endlessly for parking spaces, the propane fueled shuttle system is possibly the greatest improvement to the NPS since the topo map. It's just a shame that you still have to negotiate the entrance to the park to make use of the shuttles. Some day, remote access parking, such as you find at major airports, will make visiting the national parks the truly hassle-free experience that it SHOULD be for all visitors. How about it lobbying for that starting TODAY!

Although I personally think the shuttles are a much better alternative to severe overcrowding of roads and parking lots, they do have their drawbacks. At the Grand Canyon, my senior-citizen parents had troubling getting on the shuttles as they were often standing-room-only after the first stop - and they didn't feel they could stand for many stops.

I enjoy the shutter service. Leaving the car behind, and letting someone else drive is fine with me. At the Grand Canyon it just makes since; there would be too many cars on too few roads; and you certainly don't want to add another lane. And besides there's nothing worse than a hot and tired Dad trying to find the correct turn with a car load a kids and a "feed-up" wife!
Also having the shuttle take and pick you up at the trail head is a plus.

For the last ten years, I've been enjoying going even one step further. I take the train from my hometown of Portland, Oregon to Merced, California, hop onto a handy YARTS bus which lands me at Curry Village. To get around the park, I use the valley shuttle, the hikers bus to Tuolumne or Glacier Point. I enjoy a whole wonderful vacation of hiking, biking, walking and do it all without the hassles of driving. For those of us who have never experienced the beauty of the Merced River Gorge, because we've been too busy keeping our eyes on the curves ahead and our grip on the steering wheel, taking the bus is a revelation. It's cheaper, far more relaxing and I'm using less resources. What's not to love?

Yosemite has free shuttles in Yosemite Valley & seasonally in Wawona/Mariposa Grove. The hikers buses to Tuolumne and Glacier Point are for a fee (cheaper for one-way hikers). And YARTS serves both western gateways and eastern gateways in season. True, the valley shuttles are sometimes crowded. But so are the roads, and frankly... I'd rather one bus than fourteen cars.

I remember the valley before the shuttles. Have you been to Happy Isles lately? Where once was a huge parking lot is now a fen and a diverse area of wildlife and plants. Let's see... riding a bus vs. a parking lot... no brainer.

My appreciation of the shuttles goes back to the mid-80s at Grand Canyon where the Hermit's Rest route has been bus only during the peak visitation periods for a long time now. Riding my bike along the 7-mile route was much more enjoyable with only the occasional slow-moving bus to worry about. You never had the situation where full parking lots encouraged stressed out people to park illegally along the shoulder of the road because they felt "entitled" to a parking space. I also never had to worry about locking my bike because there were only bus riders coming and going. What I didn't like was that the commercial tour buses were also allowed to use the Hermit route, and with them, a complete busload would disembark at each stop and swamp the viewpoint with scores of chatty shutterbugs while the bus sat waiting with the engine running, adding a steady supply of diesel fumes and engine rumble to the park experience. At least with the shuttle, you rarely had so many people unloading at once and if they did, the bus left right away.

More recently our family did the train ride up from Williams and once we got to the park, because of the complete coverage of the South Rim bus system, we could go anywhere we wanted with no car. Nice.

-- Jon Merryman

The reason I accepted a seasonal position at Zion in 2000 was because it was the park's first year with a shuttle system. The shuttles made life in the canyon much simpler and much safer. Every high-volume park with roads should implement a mandatory shuttle system.

I was recently in Zion. I believe that the shuttle bus system has generated the most remarkable change in a park experience that I have ever seen. Remember the bad old days? Cars bumper to bumper in Zion Canyon--thousands of them--all looking for one of the very few parking places. The Canyon was choked with vehicle emissions. The roads were unsafe for pedestrians and people on bikes. Crossing the road was like running across a freeway. It was noisy. The whole thing was a nightmare.

Now, the Canyon is free of vehicle traffic except for the shuttle buses. People on bikes and on foot are everywhere. It is quiet. The air is clean and emission-free. I kept asking myself, "Can this be the Zion that I once knew?" It was reassuring to look up at the canyon walls and realize that yes, it was the same place, only radically changed for the better. Congratulations to the park managers who had the courage to push for the shuttle system. Only a few parks have such systems. As Ranger X says, more should.

Rick Smith

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