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5 National Parks You Can Visit by Bus

Consider leaving your car and taking a shuttle for a more environmentally friendly experience

spinner image buses parked for tourists in denali national park alaksa
​Denali National Park
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Did you know that a trip to the great outdoors can be more than just a good time? Walking in nature does great things for our physical, emotional and social well-being, research shows. It’s easy to see why many of us are interested in planning a trip to a national park. In fact, 312 million people traveled to a national park in 2022 — an increase of 15 million visitors from 2021. More visitors means more crowding and congestion in the parks; scenic roads can be jammed and parking spots scarce. The large volume of cars can cause air and noise pollution. But there’s a transportation revolution happening: Sophisticated and convenient shuttle bus systems reduce congestion, stress and environmental degradation. Plus, many of the shuttle services within national parks are free. Here are five parks that make it easy to ditch your car and let someone else take the wheel.  

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Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

spinner image a bus letting off visitors at the grand canyon national park in arizona
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Grand Canyon National Park has provided shuttle bus service for more than 40 years, expanding into the impressive prototype of today’s national park. The park’s large and contemporary visitor center on the popular South Rim serves as the hub for a fleet of buses on five interconnecting routes that serve all major attractions, including numerous trailheads and the Yavapai Museum of Geology on the canyon rim at Yavapai Point. Environment bonus: The buses run on compressed natural gas, reducing harmful emissions and noise. Buses run every 15-30 minutes, and all are wheelchair-accessible.     

When: Shuttles operate year-round; however, certain routes are seasonal. Tip: Download the National Park Service’s NPS App to check before you go. 

Cost: Free 

Zion National Park, Utah

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The two-lane, dead-end road to lovely Zion Canyon, the scenic heart of this national park, was congested and noisy. Rather than expanding the road and parking lots, the National Park Service established a state-of-the-art shuttle bus system of quiet, propane-powered vehicles that carry visitors in and out of the canyon from the visitor center just inside the park (Zion Canyon Line) and also from the adjacent town of Springdale where most visitors stay (Springdale Line). The road into the canyon is now closed to private cars during much of the year. Another bus bonus: A narration describes the history and geology of the area and serves as a reminder to keep an eye out for bighorn sheep, eagles and other wildlife as you explore the park. Shuttle buses are accessible and operate about every 15 minutes.

When: Early March through mid-November  

Cost: Free

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Acadia National Park, Maine

spinner image the island explorer bus in acadia national park in maine
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Acadia shares Maine’s Mount Desert Island with several communities, and the Island Explorer bus system offers transportation throughout much of the region. The fleet of clean-fuel, propane-powered buses connects major attractions — including the park’s campgrounds, scenic vistas and lighthouses — with communities, the airport and ferry terminal. Buses travel 11 routes; Route 3 stops at Sand Beach where the Ocean Path Trail offers stunning views of the water (the path is accessible from the upper parking lot). Buses are accessible, and bike racks are available. Tip: Download the myStop app for Island Explorer locations and to see where the buses are in real time.

When: Late June to the end of August, with some routes continuing to early October  

Cost: Free

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

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Some of America’s most dramatic mountains make up the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park. To help address growing visitor demand, the park’s shuttle bus system services trailheads and other attractions in the Bear Lake and Moraine Park areas. From a large Park & Ride facility, visitors can take the Bear Lake Route or the Moraine Park Route; both offer outstanding hiking opportunities (Bear Lake Loop and Coyote Valley Trail are accessible and easy options for all skill levels). Parking is limited in these regions, so the shuttle bus system assures visitor access. There’s also a Hiker Shuttle Route that takes visitors from the adjacent town of Estes Park to the Park & Ride facility. All Hiker Shuttle buses are accessible. Most buses in the park are wheelchair-accessible; however, contact the shuttle service before you go to ensure you have options. All visitors must purchase a timed entry permit to enter the park from May 26 to Oct. 22; reservations are available starting May 1. 

When: Late May to mid-October

Cost: Routes to Bear Lake and Moraine Park are free; Hiker Shuttle routes from Estes Park are $2 for a group of four people.

Denali National Park, Alaska

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Alaska’s vast Denali National Park and Preserve is more than 6 million acres, larger than some states. To help keep this wilderness wild, a large and diverse shuttle bus system takes visitors deep into the park on its only road, the 92-mile Denali Park Road, which generally parallels the magnificent Alaska Range. Denali has the longest continuously running shuttle system in the NPS, and private cars are not allowed beyond the first 15 miles of the road. Visitors can choose among two types of buses and several routes. The green “transit bus” routes are not narrated and travel different distances into the park; these buses are ideal for hikers, and cost is based on the destination. Tour buses feature narration, travel shorter distances and are more expensive. All bus riders can enjoy the park’s varied landscapes, views of 20,310-foot Denali (when not shrouded in the clouds) and world-class wildlife. Select shuttles accommodate wheelchairs, so contact the park if you need assistance. Through 2024, buses will only travel to Mile 43 due to a landslide in the park.

When: Late May through mid-September

Cost: Transit bus: $32.75, which doesn’t include park entrance fee; tour buses: $114-$141.25, including entrance fee  

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