ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK, Colo. — Rocky Mountain National Park can be called a cornerstone of Colorado. That title feels fitting, after looking at how many people visit the park every year.
The year 2019 was record-breaking for Rocky Mountain National Park, with 4.6 million visitors. Last year was a close second, recording 4.4 million visitors, even with a reservation system in place.
July is normally the busiest month for the park, with more than 900,000 visitors.
Over the last seven years, those with Rocky Mountain National Park said they have seen a 42% increase in visitation, and as a result, are starting to see the impacts associated with so many people.
“Resource impacts, visitor and staff safety, operational capacity, just a lot of issues that we're managing for with an increased visitation," said Kyle Patterson, the public affairs office for Rocky Mountain National Park. “We have been managing for that congestion since 2016. And then in 2020, we started piloting park-wide timed entry permit system.”
The Beaver Meadows Entrance is the busiest in all of Rocky Mountain National Park, which around 85% of visitors use. A 45-minute wait period is typical for busy days, Patterson said. Sometimes on weekends, visitors may spend around an hour in line.
At the entrance is a gate that was used from 2004-2019 as a FastPass lane. The national parks pass system changed in 2019, and their annual passes no longer work with their gate.
“We recently came to the public to ask them their thoughts on how they would feel about a voluntary, optional possibility to use a transponder to come through our FastPass gate," Patterson said. “Transponders are little devices. So, they're about the size of a credit card, and you actually affix them on your windshield.”
A transponder would cost $15 for visitors with annual or lifetime passes. If the park moves forward with the proposal, sales would start late next spring. The first gate to use the transponders would be the Beaver Meadows Entrance. In the next three to four years, the goal is to have that ability at all of their major entrance stations.
Patterson said, depending on the day, the transponders could alleviate the time spent waiting in line by 30-45 minutes.
The transponders could not be used during the timed entry permit reservations, except before 9 a.m. and after 3 p.m. The park uses the reservation system from May 27 to October 10.
Rocky Mountain National Park is accepting public comment on the transponder system through the end of July. Comments can be submitted by clicking here.
Comments can also be mailed to:
Rocky Mountain National Park
Office of the Superintendent
1000 US Hwy 36
Estes Park, CO 80517