It’s official, Rocky Mountain National Park reservations system back for third year

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Like it or not — and there appears to be a pretty even split on the matter — Rocky Mountain National Park will for the third straight season be implementing a timed-entry permit reservation system.

Late last year, the park proposed using the system for a third year in 2022. That plan was approved recently by the National Park Service.

The system will run May 27 to Oct. 10 and be similar to the one used in 2021, according to a park news release.

There are a few changes in this year’s version of the system, so here is what you need to know, as planning will be key to entering the park when you want to.

When you can start booking

Reservations will go on sale through www.recreation.gov starting at 10 a.m. MDT May 2 for May 27 through June 30.

The next releases will occur at:

  • 10 a.m. MDT June 1 for July and any remaining days that have not been booked for June
  • 10 a.m. MDT July 1 for August and any remaining days that have not been booked for July
  • 10 a.m. MDT Aug. 1 for September and any remaining days in August that have not been booked
  • 10 a.m. MDT Sept. 1. for October and any remaining days in September.

Horsetooth Reservoir: No timed-entry system in place this season

2 types of reservations to be offered

Like last year, one permit will be for the Bear Lake Road Corridor, which includes that area as well as access to the rest of the park. This reservation period will be from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The second permit will be for Rocky Mountain National Park excluding the Bear Lake Road corridor. This reservation period will be from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Permits issued using the reservation system will allow park visitors to enter the park within two-hour windows of availability. The reservation system will apply to all areas of the park.

Once again, reservations are not required if entering the park before 5 a.m. or after 6 p.m. for the Bear Lake Corridor or before 9 a.m. or after 3 p.m. for the rest of the park.

A man hands his timed-entry pass and driver's license to a park ranger at the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park last summer.

Day-before reservations still an option

Initially, 30% of the timed-entry permits will be held and made available for purchase at 5 p.m. the day before a visit through www.recreation.gov. The day-before permits are expected to sell out fast, so it’s better to plan ahead if you can.

Number of visitors allowed in the park will increase 

This year’s available reservations will be based on about 90% of total parking capacity in the park, compared with about 75% to 85% last year.

Why does the park have such a system in place?

Park officials say visitor crowding and congestion have led to resource damage to the park.  

The park was the country’s third-busiest national park in 2019, with more than 4.6 million visitors, a 42% increase in visitation over the prior seven years.

The park says that has led to increased negative impacts to visitor and staff safety, resource protection, visitor experience and operational capacity.

Strategies implemented by the park to manage crowding and congestion in the past six years include using shuttle buses and closing entry to popular areas when parking lots were full. 

The park will use information gathered from its timed-entry permit system along with public input to create its Long Range Visitor Use plan.

A crowd of people stand along an overlook in Rocky Mountain National Park last summer.

Do other national parks have such a system?

In some sort of fashion, these other national parks have announced reservation requirements this year: Arches National Park, Glacier National Park, Acadia National Park, Muir Woods National Monument, Shenandoah National Park, Haleakala National Park and Zion National Park.

Also, popular Colorado attractions Mount Evans and Brainard Lake on the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests have implemented a similar timed-entry permit system the last couple of years.

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Timed entry permit system answers

For answers to frequently asked questions and other information, visit https://www.nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/timed-entry-permit-system.htm

Reporter Miles Blumhardt looks for stories that impact your life. Be it news, outdoors, sports — you name it, he wants to report it. Have a story idea? Contact him at milesblumhardt@coloradoan.com or on Twitter @MilesBlumhardt. Support his work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.