By Shuttle, Grand Canyon National Park
There are 4 reasons for a car at the canyon:
1. To get there
2. To cover the overlooks from Mather Point east to Desert View (no shuttles)
3. To travel between Desert View Campground and the central sections of the park (no shuttles)
4. To cover the overlooks on Hermit’s Rest Road during the 3 winter months that shuttles don’t service this route
Otherwise there are two big reasons to ditch the wheels once you get there:
1. Parking can be a big giant pain in the keister during the busy season
2. It’s better for the park
There are three primary shuttle routes - red, blue and orange - to the most-visited areas; one (green) which transports early-morning hikers to South Kaibab Trailhead; and one (purple) seasonal route between Tusayan hotels and the main Visitor Center.
This page on the park website covers darn near everything you want to know about the shuttles:
This page is a full-size map you can reference or print out before you go:
This page is a letter-sized, 4-page version of the same:
A few points to emphasize:
• Shuttles DO NOT RUN east beyond Yaki Point to Desert View Overlook, to overlooks between those points, or to Desert View Campground so you need your own wheels for those. An alternative for car-less visitors is to book a Hermit’s Rest coach tour through the Xanterra website or the transportation desks at Bright Angel, Maswik or Yavapai lodges:
• The shuttle routes shouldn’t be considered “scenic” tours. Other than a few nice glimpses here and there, the buses generally don’t run right 'on' the rim, or the views are obscured by foliage. Most scenic stops involve getting off the bus and walking to an overlook.
• Baby strollers (folding) are OK on the shuttles but not jogging or elephant-sized models
• No four-legged friends other than service animals are allowed
• No eating or drinking on the buses
• Shuttles can handle most wheelchairs (see the website for details) but not electric scooters
• No shuttle service on Hermit’s Rest Road from December 1 - February 28
• Most of the bus stops are not covered so bring rain gear for wet weather
Want to see the canyon from both sides? Getting to the remote North Rim generally requires your own wheels or an escorted tour but there are two alternatives:
The Trans Canyon shuttle makes the 4.5 hour, one-way trip twice a day from either rim from mid-May to mid-October, and once a day from mid-October to the end of November. It isn’t cheap, and reservations must be made in advance but it’s mighty handy for getting back to your vehicle after a rim-to-rim hike.
Custom shuttle service may also be arranged through Flagstaff Shuttle and Charter:
Most North Rim facilities (lodge, restaurants, etc.) close on October 16th, and it doesn’t have an inter-park shuttle system like the South so once there, you’re on your own. Also, if your hike involves an overnight stay in the canyon, be sure to get your (required) backcountry permit!
Within the hugely overcrowded South Rim area around Grand Canyon Village, the National Park Service provides free shuttle buses that operate on three different routes. The service range is from Hermit's Rest on the west end all the way to Yaki Point on the east end. Most of the time these buses operate once every 15 minutes, but at times of lesser demand they operate only once every half hour. Most of the time, they stop operating at one hour after sunset, but if there is a night time ranger program at one of the facilities in the shuttle bus route system, the buses will operate until as late as 10 PM to accomodate people.
Parking is a significant problem at the Grand Canyon South Rim, and therefore you should come prepared to use the shuttle buses. This means plan what you take with you, and be able to carry it on a bus.
Bike racks are available on the buses, so it is possible to bike one direction and take the bus on the return trip.
The shuttles also allow for a better walking experience: walk one way and take the bus the other direction to allow for a longer walk.
A number of bus stops are only available in one direction. For example, buses only stop at the Pipe Creek Vista trailhead if they are going westbound. This does add a little bit of travel time to a number of destinations over what it would be if there were a stop going the other way.
The current scheme has three different routes that do not overlap, but transfers are possible and planned between the routes at popular destinations.
The best way to find out about the routes is to look at the current map, which is on the Grand Canyon National Park web site (see map below). These routes are also given in the National Park guide and newspaper that are handed out at the National Park offices or on the Grand Canyon Railway Train. Therefore, there is pleanty of opportunity to learn of where and how the buses operate.
You will find that these buses are considerably less hassle than trying to fight the traffic that abounds around the Grand Canyon.
The bus stops are almost always very easy to locate, as in many locations they have fairly substantial bus shelters with benches. In some cases the bus stop is simply a bus stop sign that notes it is a shuttle stop for a particular bus route - similar to a city bus route.
It is best to take the shuttle around the south rim area. It has a designated route that goes for about. The shuttles generally run every 15 minutes. There are three routes that are designated by color coding. The furthest east is at Yaki Point, and 2-3 miles from the more central Mather Point, where most people board. When I was there, the area to park and drive was under construction so people were parking alongside the road for 2-3 miles, and walking to the pick up point. I parked at Yavapai POint to avoid that hassle. What they do not tell you is not all buses go to this point every time. You need to switch and pick up another bus that does at eh market plaza. ALL buses are marked with green stripes, so do not use this as a guide to know which to choose and board. ONLY the bus goes down the Hermits Rest area. I did not take that because the line to get a bus was taking 75+ minutes, and then to see the stops and go to the end would be 2+ hours. It was late, and I passed. Way too many people and hassle to wait that long.
The park service should do a better job of explaining the bus system and how it works and where it goes, The process is like the Government;touch and feel and not knowing where you are going to end up.
On busy summer weekends, expect around a 1hr wait in line to enter the park thru the South Entrance. The line is literally bumper to bumper for several miles.
SO TO AVOID THIS:
1. Use the East Entrance at Desert View
2. Enter the park early, before around 9AM
3. Take The Train up from Williams, & leave your car there. Spend more time looking at the Canyon, & less time looking for a parking spot. Use the free shuttle bus service to get around.(does not run out to Desert View)
4. Consider The North Rim instead( a 5hr drive once you are at the South Rim)
5. Stay at one of the Lodges INSIDE the park. This avoids commuting thru that line from a room in town.
If anyone needs a restroom, stop in town BEFORE the line. There are no toilets at the South Entrance.
Park your car and take the park shuttles. There are three routes which very conveniently take visitors anywhere in the park. The red route is the only way to see the stops along Hermit Road (although visitors with Handicapped plates may be permitted to drive in). The bus is a comfortable way to travel along this part of the South Rim. It stops about 10 or so times and another bus comes along every 15 minutes or so. Drivers provide interesting narration along the route.
Open road tours provides bus service from Phoenix to Flagstaff and on to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
$55 round trip between Phoenix and Flagstaff and $38 round trip between Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon.