SPRINGDALE, Washington County — You won't need a ticket to ride the Zion National Park shuttle and shuttle capacity will return to levels close to where it was before the COVID-19 pandemic began last year, park officials announced Thursday.
The ticket system officially went offline Friday much earlier than originally expected and just in time for the Memorial Day rush. Park officials said the decision to end the system came after receiving new guidance on transit systems in the national parks.
Masks are still required while waiting in shuttle lines and while riding the shuttle, and visitors who travel together will still be asked to distance themselves from other groups, according to park officials.
The park began a timed ticket system for its shuttles last year after the National Park Service allowed the park to reopen. Just last month, the park proposed a ticket increase from $1 to $2 to cover the cost of running the system that was expected to remain in place throughout the summer and into the fall. Ultimately that wasn't the case.
Those who already purchased tickets in advance will be prioritized in the boarding process, park officials said. However, a ticket is no longer required to board.
The announcement came ahead of what is expected to be a busy holiday weekend at the park — some of which already took shape Friday morning. The Utah Department of Transportation tweeted Friday that traffic congestion closed both directions of state Route 9 at two entrances to the park.
Springdale Mayor Stan Smith told KSL NewsRadio on Thursday that he expected restaurants would be "really busy, and won't be fully staffed" due to employee shortages to deal with the high demand in the region. He encouraged visitors to use the Greater Zion smartphone app to help manage some of the difficulties.
"It will show you where parking is available in real-time," Smith said. "That will help you out as far as trying to find a parking spot, and also give you great information on hiking the different trails."
Preliminary National Park Service data shows that a record 1.23 million people have already visited the park through the first four months of 2021.
Contributing: Dan Bammes, KSL NewsRadio