Rocky Mountain National Park is my favorite park in the country. Similar to 2020, the Rocky Mountain National Park timed entry permit system is going back into effect!
I don’t know about you, but I am planning all kinds of Summer adventures. It’s not hard to do with the Rockies at my doorstep. But adventures in the mountains can take a little planning, especially when you’re traveling 3+ hours from home. One of my favorite places to explore in Colorado is Rocky Mountain National Park. And this year, not only do I have to consider the 3-hour travel time but also the timed entry permits. Well, not so new. Keep reading.
The permits were introduced in 2020 to help keep crowds down due to COVID-19. Capacity was capped at 60% (of normal entry) and with continued concerns in 2021 like COVID-19, staff housing, reduced shuttle bus capacity and residual 2020 fire impacts areas of the park – the permits are being reintroduced in 2021.
In 2021, capacity will be capped between 75%-85% of the park’s normal parking capacity. I speak from experience when I say capping the capacity is a godsend. Yes, it takes planning and can cause minor inconveniences but with less people in parking lots and on trail, the experience in Rocky Mountain National Park is so much better!
Here’s what you need to know about the Rocky Mountain National Park Timed Entry Permit system.
Rocky Mountain National Park Timed Entry Permit: Permit Types
There are two types of permits available for purchase: the Bear Lake Road Corridor and Park Access (excluding Bear Lake). The basis for these permits is timed entry. Meaning, you have a two-hour window to enter the park (depending which time you purchase). For example, I purchased a permit for a timed entry of 9-11am so this means I can only enter the park, on the date I purchased the permit between 9am and 11am. After 11am, I will no longer be able to enter the park. However, there is no time limit once you’re in the park so once you’re there you are good to go!
Bear Lake Road Corridor Permit
The Bear Lake Road permit gives visitors access to (you guessed it) the Bear Lake Road corridor of Rocky Mountain National Park. The daily reservation periods are between 5am and 6pm – anything outside of that window does not require a permit to enter.
Park Access (Excluding Bear Lake Road Permit)
This permit is for the rest of Rocky Mountain National Park, excluding the Bear Lake Road corridor. When visiting this area of the park, reservations are required between 9am and 3pm – any visit outside of this timeframe does not require a permit to enter.
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.
The Rocky Mountain National Park timed entry permits are $2 per vehicle. This permit is in addition to the park entry fee which is anywhere between $15 – $25 per vehicle. You can read more about park passes here. You can cancel your permit up to 24 hours before your visit, but your permit is non-refundable.
Park Re-Entry with a Timed Entry Permit
If you plan to exit the park to explore Estes Park or other surrounding areas during the day of your timed entry permit, you can re-enter the park at any time.
Entering Rocky Mountain National Park with a Timed Entry Permit
Entering the park is business as usual. The only difference is showing the Ranger at the fee station your permit on your phone (or printed). The park has no record of reservations as the system is a third-party service provider – so you must bring your reservation with you.
How Do I Book a Rocky Mountain National Park Timed Entry Permit?
Reservations for timed entry permits to Rocky Mountain National Park can be made on recreation.gov. The reservation system began May 1 and will continue through October. Permits are made available at 8am MST the 1st of each month until October.
Thus, the second release of timed permits for Rocky Mountain National Park is at 8am MST on June 1, 2021 for the month of July and any remaining dates that have not been booked for June. On July 1, permits for the month of August will be released and any remaining dates in July that have not been booked will be available to reserve. On August 1, permits are released for September and any remaining dates available in the month of August can be reserved. On September 1, reservations will be made available for the month of October and any available dates remaining for September can be reserved.
When You Can Book a Rocky Mountain National Park Timed Entry Permit (at a Glance)
- June 1: Permits available for July and any remaining dates in June
- July 1: Permits available for August and any remaining dates in July
- August 1: Permits available for September and any remaining dates in August
- September 1: Permits available for October and any remaining dates in September
I Didn’t Reserve a Permit- Can I Still Enter the Park?
Although the park encourages planning ahead and booking your permit in advance, 25% of permits will be held from the reservation system. These permits will be available for purchase the day before you would like to visit at 5pm through recreation.gov. As a reminder, these permits will sell quickly and there is no guarantee they will be available. From May through October you will not be able to enter Rocky Mountain National Park without a timed entry permit.
Things to Consider Before Visiting Rocky Mountain National Park
National Parks, especially Rock Mountain, can get busy. Especially in the summer and even more so when so many people are flocking to the outdoors. Here are things to consider when planning your trip to Rocky Mountain National Park:
- Visit in the middle of the week if possible! That way you can avoid the weekend crowds
- Try to get the earliest permit reservation possible on the day you want to visit. Early risers have such an advantage because most tend to arrive mid-day.
- Hit the trails! Rocky Mountain National Park has so many beautiful trails that are of varying difficulty – one of my favorites is Emerald Lake. You can read more about that hike here.
- Consider purchasing a National Parks pass if you plan to visit a few others this year! The America the Beautiful Pass is $80 and gives pass holders access to all federally operated/maintained parks and land.
- Plan your itinerary ahead of time! You’ll likely not have service in the park so have an idea of what you want to see. Don’t forget to snag a paper map of the park from the ranger.
- Bring plenty of food, water, sunscreen and sunglasses!
- Pets are not permitted on any of RMNP’s trails, tundra, and meadows only in developed picnic areas, campgrounds and on established roads and parking areas.
- Follow Leave No Trace Principles so we can keep enjoying its pristine wilderness.
- Stay up to date on all things RMNP on the NPS website.
- Here are other national parks that are using a permit system.
Final Thoughts on Rocky Mountain National Park Timed Entry Permits for Summer 2021
I hope this blog post helps you feel more at ease as you begin planning your Rocky Mountain adventure! If you’re in need of more Colorado trip inspiration, head to the Colorado page of my blog!