If you want to camp overnight in Rocky Mountain National Park's backcountry this summer, you will need to use the park's new permit reservation system.
The permits, which are required for an overnight stay in the park's backcountry any time of year, will go on sale March 2 at 8 a.m. MT on Recreation.gov, though the website is already online. Users must select a date, location and group size when making the reservation. They can then book and pay for the reservation online, meaning that all phone, mail, fax or in-person reservations are no longer accepted.
A $36 non-refundable administrative fee is in place for reservations from May 1 to Oct. 31, and the same sort of fee, but just $10, is applicable for reservations from Nov. 1 to April 30.
RMNP officials recommend that anybody wanting to purchase a backpacking permit this year get acquainted with the website, plan which campsites they want to use, and set up an account on Recreation.gov ahead of March 2.
That day, click "Check Availability" to book small groups of one to seven people and large groups of up to 12 for any dates between May 1 and Oct. 31, 2022. According to Recreation.gov, you can pick up the permit at the Headquarters Wilderness Office beside the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center on Highway 36 or at the Kawuneeche Visitor Center along Highway 34, north of Grand Lake.
The Recreation.gov site has more details on what to expect when purchasing a backcountry camping permit, plus a map of the campsites available. RMNP's website details tips for wilderness camping, the Leave No Trace policy, and what to bring. You can also call the park’s Information Office at 970-586-1206 with specific questions.
So, why use permits and reservations?
If you've visited RMNP anytime in the past couple years, you have likely used the timed entry system to enter the park. It was first announced in May 2020 after the park closed due to the pandemic in March 2020. As part of its phased reopening, park officials introduced a timed entry system. In January 2022, the park said it would continue the reservation system to alleviate crowds. The 2022 reservations will be based on approximately 90% of the park’s total parking capacity compared to 2021’s system, which was based on approximately 75% to 85% of the park’s total parking capacity, officials said.
Timed-entry reservations are only required May 27-Oct. 10, 2022. If you paid for a camping permit, you do not need a timed-entry reservation.
These reservations were implemented to help with visitor crowding and congestion that have led to issues including staff safety, resource protection and poor visitor experiences. The park's first come, first served strategies worked initially, but started to lose their effectiveness.
Likewise, having wilderness camping permits helps provide a positive experience for visitors, minimizes impact to resources, and ensures sites are available for those who plan ahead.