RMNP implemented a first-of-its-kind reservation system in 2020 due to COVID concerns. This year’s system will operate a little bit differently.
“This year we’re doing two separate reservation systems,” Rocky Mountain National Park spokesperson Kyle Patterson said.
One system will be specifically for those wanting to visit the Bear Lake Road area, which is the most popular area in the park. The rest of the permits are called “Rest of Park” and will allow visitors access to all areas except Bear Lake Road.
“The rest of the park was not necessarily seeing the same level of visitation so places like Alpine Visitor’s Center parking lot were about half full for all of the summer,” Patterson said.
The reservations are meant to keep park visitation around 75 to 85% of full capacity to avoid overcrowding.
“In 2019 we regularly saw hour to hour and a half lines at our entrance stations all the way back into town,” Patterson said.
Park rangers also had to turn vehicles away in popular areas of the park every weekend and every day in July, Patterson said.
RMNP was the fourth most visited park in 2020 and has seen a 44% increase in visitation over the past 10 years.
“Which is a wonderful thing that people are getting out and finding peace in nature and solitude and it’s really key that we continue to make decisions to allow access in order to manage some of these areas too where we’re expecting really high visitation,” Patterson said.
Those who secure permits will be able to have a higher quality experience at the park with fewer crowds. However, that also means some people who want to visit, simply won’t be able to go.
“You hear from people that are also very frustrated by it because they can’t be as spontaneous,” Patterson said.
She says permitting systems at national parks and other wilderness areas across the U.S. are becoming more common due to increased use of public lands.
“Planning ahead is really key no matter really what you’re doing outside and I think no matter whether you’re skiing or going to other locations that planning ahead is key,” Patterson said.
There will likely be about 6,500 vehicle permits available each day.
Permits will cost $2 in addition to regular park fees and will go on sale through recreation.gov on May 1 at 8 a.m. for reservations between May 28 and June 30. Reservations for the month of July will be available June 1, August permits will be available July 1, September dates will be available Aug. 1 and October reservations will be available Sept. 1.
The park will hold back 25% of the permits available for each day and release them for sale at 5 p.m. the day before. However, they are expected to sell out very quickly.
Visitors to the Bear Lake Road area will need permits to enter between 5 a.m. and 6 p.m. May 28 through Oct. 11. Rest of Park permits will be required for entry from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. during the same dates.