Rocky Mountain National Park will not require timed entry permits after Oct. 12
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional comments from Rocky Mountain National Park.
Following a summer implementing a timed-entry system at Rocky Mountain National Park, visitors will no longer need reservations to enter starting Tuesday.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the national park — which saw a record year in 2019 — limited visitors for the first time ever with a timed-entry system capped at 60% of the park’s maximum capacity. Visitors were able to enter in two hour windows with the bulk of tickets being released the month before and a handful of reservations available two days before the desired date.
“This system has helped safely manage the pace and flow of visitor use, reduce crowding and provide an improved visitor experience commensurate with the park’s safe operational capacity,” park spokesperson Kyle Patterson said. “The system has also helped the park avoid scenarios where a visitation surge could result in stakeholders inside and outside the park demanding the park to re-close.”
Rocky shut down for 67 days this spring due to the pandemic at the behest of local communities including the mayor of Estes Park, who sent a letter to the Secretary of the Interior asking that the park be closed.
It reopened May 27 and began requiring reservations to enter on June 4. The reservations came with a $2 fee plus the park pass. Reservations were required not only for entering the park but for outlying areas like the popular Adams Falls Trail as well.
As the third-most visited national park in the country, Rocky sees most of its visitors from late May through early October. The timed reservations were implemented daily from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. and allowed for 4,800 vehicles to enter.
In July 2019, almost one million people visited the park. Rocky saw an almost 30% dip in July visitors this year.
For some visitors this summer, the reduced entry improved the park experience, but those unable to obtain a pass raised concerns about the future barriers to visiting Rocky. Patterson said that this summer’s system was a temporary solution to aid in reopening the park during COVID-19.
Patterson did confirm that the park is working on a “long range day-use visitor access strategy” to address the crowding and congestion in the park during peak periods.
“With a 44% increase in visitation since 2012, we continue to seek solutions to address what effect this level of visitation is having on visitor and staff safety, resource protection, visitor experiences and operational capacity,” Patterson said.
Prior to the COVID-19 limitations, the park had implemented vehicle restrictions on Bear Lake Road, Wild Basin area and the Alpine Visitor Center when congestion and crowding warranted. Last year, those restrictions occurred every day in July, most days in August and weekends in June and September.
“We will learn from the temporary timed entry permit system this year and incorporate lessons learned as we move forward with our visitor use management planning efforts,” Patterson said.
However, as the park explores these strategies, Patterson emphasized that there will be opportunities for public engagement and input well before anything formal is implemented.
Timed entry reservations are still required through Monday and can be bought at recreation.gov. Visitors must still purchase entrance passes, which are $25 per vehicle, or hold an annual pass to enter the park.
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Both the Grand County/Granby airport and the Kremmling airport are upgrading facilities this summer.