Visitation down at Rocky Mountain National Park |

Visitation down at Rocky Mountain National Park

A pair of Rangers saunter down a trail in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Lance Maggart / Sky-Hi News |

Something rather remarkable happened this year at Rocky Mountain National Park — for the first time in nearly a decade, except for 2013 when massive flooding along the Front Range impacted accessibility, Colorado’s second-oldest national park saw an overall decline in visitation.

Visitation was down roughly .4 percent through the end of September, according to data provided by the National Park Service. That data, however, does not show a sudden shift in popularity or a drastic decrease in visitation for the park, which has seen sizeable bumps in visitation numbers year after year since 2009. In fact, even with a decline in visitation in 2017 over 2016 numbers, visitation in 2017, through the end of September, stood at 3,868,675. That is a higher figure than the total number of visitors the park saw through all of 2014.

The last time RMNP witnessed a decrease in summer visitation figures over the same month from the previous year was in 2014.

The data shows a mixed bag for visitor statistics for the entire year. The new year kicked off with a significant dip for the park, with 17 percent fewer visitors in the month of January 2017 over January 2016. The drop continued in February, but the dynamic shifted in the early spring as visitation increased over the amounts seen in 2016. However, the slight uptick was more than eliminated by the end of May.

As the calendar switched over to June, and the start of the park’s peak summer tourism season, the park had seen roughly 10,000 fewer visitors than by the same time in 2016. Visitation numbers for RMNP were up in June, down in july and up again slightly in August. As Labor Day approached this year, the park was still on course to beat visitation numbers from 2016 and had welcomed nearly 13,000 more visitors than the previous year.

As of Nov. 5, statisticians from the National Park Service had not yet released visitation data for the park for October 2017.

Data available from the park service shows RMNP welcomed just shy of 400,000 visitors in Oct. 2016. RMNP would need to have seen roughly 416,125 visitors in October to bring visitation figures for this year up to the level seen by the end of October last year.

One of the largest year-to-year visitation increases occurred in 2015 when park visitation increased over the previous year’s figures by 721,165. Last year was the biggest year ever for visitors at Rocky. The park welcomed just over 4.5 million through the park’s three main entrance areas. The lowest visitation year in Rocky’s history was 1915, the year the park opened, when only 31,000 individuals visited the park.

The entrance figures provided by RMNP do not account for all visitors to the Park as people often enter Rocky through lesser entrances that do not provide access to Trail Ridge Road. Notably there are several hiking path entrances to Rocky in the Grand Lake area that do not require entering the Park through the formal Grand Lake Entrance.

Figures for Rocky Mountain National Park have taken on an additional air of importance as the National Park Service is considering increasing entrance fees at the park, and a few other parks around the nation, during peak visitation seasons. For Rocky Mountain National Park, those months stretch from June through October.

If the fee increase is approved, the vehicle entrance fee a the park would increase from $30 during the peak season to $70 while per-person entrance fees and motorcycle entrance fees would double over current levels.

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