Tired of timed-entry reservation systems? Try these Colorado summer getaway options


With more public recreation areas going to some variation of timed-entry permit reservation systems, it takes a bit more to plan trips this summer.

Popular destinations such as Rocky Mountain National ParkMount Evans, Pikes Peak  and Hanging Lake in Colorado have implemented various systems to restrict visitation again this summer.

The thought behind timed-entry permits is to address overcrowding and protect visitor experiences as well as resources, an equation further complicated the worker shortage faced by many public lands.

Colorado is home to four national parks — Rocky Mountain, Mesa Verde, Great Sand Dunes and Black Canyon of The Gunnison. The latter three do not have timed-entry permit systems in place.

Rocky Mountain National Park draws the most visitors by far — 4.5 million annually — and can still be accessed at certain times of the day without a permit. 

But if you don’t want to mind those times or hassle with timed-entry permit reservations, Colorado offers many options where you don’t need to reserve a spot to bask in the natural splendor.

But if you do head to Rocky:How to book Rocky Mountain National Park timed-entry permits in 2022

Mesa Verde National Park

Groups tour through Cliff Palace, one of the larger cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park on June 25, 2015. Coloradoan file photo

Mesa Verde is known for its incredible collection of dwellings and petroglyphs among its mesas and cliffs that capture the lives of the ancestral Pueblo people.

Black Canyon of The Gunnison National Park

The final bits of the day's light show off the Painted Wall at the Black Canyon of The Gunnison National Park in 2015. Coloradoan file photo

Black Canyon is famous for its spectacular scenery punctuated by a deep, steep and narrow canyon, which draws comparison on a smaller scale to the Grand Canyon. 

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Rain begins to fall on the Great Sand Dunes National Park on June 27, 2015, near Alamosa, Colorado. Coloradoan file photo

Great Sand Dunes is uniquely odd with the tallest sand dunes in North America juxtaposed with the towering Rocky Mountains. 

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Hovenweep National Monument

Once home to more than 2,500 people, Hovenweep near Cortez includes six prehistoric villages built between A.D. 1200 and 1300.

Mesa Verde’s lesser-known cousin is Hovenweep National Monument, which is an hour’s drive from Mesa Verde. Remains of ancestral Puebloan villages dot the dessert and canyon rims while petroglyphs are hidden among sparsely visited trails that wind among the rugged landscape.

If you want to ditch Mesa Verde’s crowds, this is the place to go.

Garden of the Gods

Colorado Springs’ Gardens of the Gods is another to-do in Colorado with trails taking visitors up close to its awe-inspiring rock spires and formations.

Rim Rock Drive at Colorado National Monument

Colorado is home to many breathtaking drives and Rim Rock Drive at Colorado National Monument outside of Grand Junction is among the best.

The 23-mile paved road is not for the faint of heart as the road twists and turns with sheer drop-offs with no shoulder. Good thing there are ample pull-offs to allow you to safely take in sheer-wall red rock canyons, monoliths and bighorn sheep.

Trails on the canyon floor offer a more personal view of the rock formations.

Rattlesnake/Mee Canyons

Feeling a little bit more adventurous? Check out nearby but difficult to access Rattlesnake/Mee Canyons.

It’s 13 miles of bumpy four-wheel-drive road to get to the heart of Rattlesnake’s 35 arches, the world’s second-largest concentration of arches outside of Utah’s Arches National Park, but worth it to those who seek solitude.

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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.