Rocky Mountain National Park's new 2021 reservation policy — The Know

Officials of Rocky Mountain National Park have confirmed a two-tiered, timed-entry reservations policy that will be in effect from May 28 through Oct. 11.

Visitors will have their choice of two types of reservations. One will be for the popular Bear Lake Road corridor and will include access to the rest of the park. The other reservation excludes the Bear Lake Road corridor but includes the remainder of the park.

Park officials first revealed their plans to the Estes Park town board of trustees in a virtual meeting on Monday, but they made it official with a news release on Wednesday.

“Park staff are managing for significant increases in visitation to public lands in Colorado, including Rocky Mountain National Park, along with continued COVID-19 concerns, ongoing seasonal staff shared-housing challenges, reduced shuttle bus capacity and residual fire impacts in some areas of the park from historic fires in 2020,” according to the release.

Park officials instituted a timed-entry reservation system last year to reduce visitor numbers due to the pandemic. They are calling this year’s policy a “pilot, temporary” system, but critics worry officials are bent on moving to a permanent reservations system in the future. At Monday’s meeting, park superintendent Darla Sidles said public meetings would be held in May to discuss long-term strategies for managing visitation, with the intention to seek approval for a permanent solution next year. That would require another round of public meetings.

“I’m even more concerned than ever that it’s your intention to make this permanent for reasons not yet communicated transparently to the public,” Estes Park resident Dan Denning, a critic of the park’s reservation plans, wrote in a letter to park officials after Monday’s meeting. “Those may be valid reasons. But it feels very much like COVID-19 has been the catalyst for accelerating plans you already had. Two temporary systems in a row, followed by a process intended to make a permanent change, is awfully hard to misinterpret.”

This year, the reservation requirement for the Bear Lake Road corridor will be in effect from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. The reservation requirement for the rest of the park will be in effect from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. In both cases, entry reservations will be good for two-hour windows.

Reservations for May 28 through June 30 will go on sale May 1 at 8 a.m. through the website recreation.gov. Reservations for July will go on sale on June 1, and ones for August will go on sale July 1. Reservations for September will go on sale Aug. 1, and October spots will start being sold on sale Sept. 1.

Neither the news release nor the announcement of the system on the park’s website say how much reservations will cost, but park superintendent Darla Sidles told the Estes Park board Monday night that the cost of a reservation will be $2, in addition to the park entry fee. Currently the daily fee is $25 per car.

Last year’s reservation system was intended to limit visitors to 60% of the park’s parking capacity, and this year the goal is to keep it at 75% to 85%. Park officials are planning to hold back 25% of the permits to be made available the day before at 5 p.m., but those can be expected to be swept up in minutes, based on how last year’s system played out.

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