Visitors adjusting to new Rocky Mountain National Park permit system

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ESTES PARK, Colo. (KDVR) — One week into the new timed entry system, Rocky Mountain National Park officials say there are some growing pains as visitors adjust to the changes. 

According to RMNP spokesperson Kyle Patterson, the first two days visitors were required to present a permit presented a lot of challenges. 

“We had very full lines on Friday and Saturday,” Patterson said. 

According to Patterson, the move to a timed entry system is not related to the pandemic. 

“The COVID bump is just exacerbating our already increasing visitation that we were seeing since 2012,” Patterson said. 

Rocky Mountain National Park reservations open Saturday morning 

The park is now limiting the number of visitors each day. Every vehicle that gets in the gates must have a pre-purchased reservation for a specific date and time of entry. 

“As the day progressed there were fewer people that were aware of the reservation system,” Patterson said. 

RMNP has implemented several strategies to inform visitors of the new policy before arriving, including social media campaigns, information prominently placed on the park’s website and electronic signage on roads leading toward the gates. 

However, many visitors are still missing the message. 

“I’m bummed, disappointed, discouraged, frustrated,” Carol Stone told FOX31. 

She is visiting Colorado from Yuma, Arizona. Her party planned on hiking inside RMNP Friday. 

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“We didn’t know you needed a reservation so we waited in that line, drove up for like two hours from our hotel, excluding all the flying and all that, and we were told we needed a reservation to get in,” she said. 

In the the span of about 10 minutes Friday afternoon, FOX31 crews observed about a dozen vehicles that were also turned away. 

“On a system like this when people don’t plan ahead and they’re not seeking out information…It’s just — it’s tough,” Patterson said. 

“Well I understand the reason for it, and they’re doing it in so many places now,” Linda Strauss said. 

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Strauss lives locally and said she has successfully purchased several permits for the month of June. 

“I do feel bad for people that have come from out of state and they don’t know about this. I mean, I can come back so I feel a little guilty,” she said of booking multiple permits. “But I can’t resist it. I just love this up here.”

For her, the drawback is having to plan ahead. However, she says it is nice knowing she’s guaranteed entry. 

“The only thing with me and spontaneity because I’ll look out my upstairs window and go I’m going to the park today, it looks beautiful up there. But we have to plan ahead, but I’m willing to do that,” Strauss said. 

For visitors that failed to plan ahead, there are other options to still visit the park. Reservations are not required for entry before 5 a.m. and after 6 p.m. if visiting the Bear Lake Road area. All other areas of the park are available to visitors after 3 p.m. 

“Which is kind of the day is shot,” Stone said. 

The other option is to attempt to secure a last minute reservation for the next day. RMNP holds back 25% of available permits each day. They are released on recreation.gov at 5 p.m. and they sell out quickly.

“We’re talking within five to eight minutes,” Patterson said. 

The stress of trying to secure a last minute entry or plan for non-peak entry times can simply be avoided by planning ahead. Reservations for August will go on sale July 1 through recreation.gov. Slots for the month of September will be up for grabs on Aug. 1. 

“Boy, people will definitely have a more enjoyable experience if they plan ahead,” Patterson said. 

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