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Long-Range day use visitor access planning in Rocky Mountain National Park

In response to these negative impacts, the park has piloted various visitor use management strategies over the last six years.
Hikers along trail to Emerald Lake July 2021 Courtesy Rocky Mountain National Park
Hikers along trail to Emerald Lake July 2021


Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the busiest national parks; third in the country in 2019, with over 4.6 million visitors. This represents a 42 percent increase in visitation in seven years, since 2012. Rapid growth in day use visitation and changing use patterns in the park have degraded natural and cultural resources, diminished quality of the visitor experience, increased negative impacts to visitor and staff safety and created a heavy strain on the park's facilities and ability to perform daily operations.

In response to these negative impacts, the park has piloted various visitor use management strategies over the last six years. From 2016-2019, this included managing vehicle access to first come, first served visitors in the highly congested areas of the Bear Lake Road corridor, the Alpine Visitor Center parking area and the Wild Basin area of the park. This strategy had some limited success initially, but over time began to lose effectiveness; the length of time they were necessary kept expanding and impacts were pushed elsewhere in the park.

Park-wide timed entry permit reservation systems were piloted in 2020-2021, and the park will be piloting a similar system again in 2022. Park staff continue to learn from these various pilots which are helping to inform long-range day use visitor access strategies. This includes developing desired conditions, defining zones, and identifying indicators, thresholds, strategies and capacities. 

In May 2021, park staff held two pre-NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) virtual public meetings on the long-range day use visitor access strategy. The meetings provided opportunities to learn more about the purpose of the project, key issues, desired conditions for day use visitor access, potential management strategies, and to ask questions of National Park Service(NPS) staff. In total, 271 people attended the public meetings. A recording of the meetings were posted on the park’s You Tube channel and the PDFs of the Power Point presentation and the visitor management zones map were posted on the park’s PEPC website as well.

Public comments were invited for over sixty days beginning May 21 through July 26, 2021. During the review period, 571 correspondences were submitted to the NPS. Although the public comment period has closed for this pre-NEPA report, these webinars, including the presentation and Q & A, are available by clicking on Tuesday May 25 or Thursday May 20 (click on a date to watch a presentation - the content was the same for both meetings).

Comments were reviewed and evaluated. To learn more about the pre-NEPA long-range day use visitor access strategy, the following reports can be found on the Planning, Environment and Public Comment (PEPC) Click on "document list"
1) An Executive Summary of the pre-NEPA Report for Day Use Visitor Access Strategy
2) A pre-NEPA Public Comment Summary for Day Use Visitor Access Strategy
3) A redacted copy of public comments submitted during the 2021 Pre-NEPA comment period

These initial public comment meetings and comment opportunities are the first step in the long-range planning process. They assist park staff in defining the issues and their impacts as well as explore possible strategies and alternatives to address those issues.

There will be more opportunities for public involvement in 2023, when the formal NEPA planning process is initiated. Park staff are eager to continue engaging park stakeholders and park visitors near and far to help identify shared values, clarify key issues, and develop potential management strategies to help the park prepare for long-term day use management. 

If would like more information about Rocky Mountain National Park, please visit or call the park’s Information Office at (970) 586-1206.