COVID-19 Brings Large Operational Changes to Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park
Hallett Peak from Sprague Lake

By Jessica Shouse

Rocky Mountain National Park

Nestled in the quaint mountain town of Estes Park, Colorado, this park holds a very special place in my heart. I am blessed to live only about an hour away and also to have a job that takes me into town frequently. The beauty and splendor of Rocky’s peaks, waterfalls and lakes is unmatched. Rocky boasts breathtaking views of the Continental Divide and the famous Long’s Peak, which can be seen throughout the park. At over 12,000 ft above sea level, Rocky is famous for the highest, continuous paved road in the United States, Trail Ridge Road. Rocky is also home to an abundance of wildlife including several species of birds, marmots, foxes, deer, elk, moose, big horn sheep, mountain lions and bears. Hiking hundreds and hundreds of miles on her trials has helped me to overcome anxiety, the trauma of having a son with some complex medical needs and the general stresses of everyday life. It is where I go to find peace and seek solitude. The best way for me to recharge my soul.

Established in 1915, Rocky Mountain National Park is the 3rd most visited National Park in the United States, with an average of 4.5 million visitors per year. Most of those visitors come to the Estes Park Valley between the summer months of June and September. It is not uncommon for parking lots at trailheads to fill up by 8:00 am and entrance lines into the park to backup for 2-3 miles, especially on the weekends. Campground reservations fill up six months out and backcountry wilderness permits can be very hard to come by. With already scarce resources and very limited funding, Park management has struggled with how to balance protecting and maintaining the parks treasured resources with the ever-increasing rise in visitation. Fast forward to Spring 2020.

 

Rocky Mountain National Park 1
Elk in Road – May 31

 

Coronavirus/COVID-19 changed all of our lives, seemingly overnight. Many of us around the world were placed on strict social distancing orders. Schools closed. Economies devastated. Hospitals overwhelmed. Loved ones lost. The day to day routines we once knew were uprooted. In the United States many of our National Parks were also closed at the recommendation of The White House and Centers for Disease Control. This included Rocky Mountain National Park. On March 20th, 2020 the park was closed to all public access. When I received the news, my heart sank. For the past few years, I have visited the park, on average, 2-3 times per month, year-round. I very much look forward to and thrive on chasing sunrise on the shores of the park’s many beautiful alpine lakes on Sunday mornings. Rocky was closed for 9 weeks; I was away for 12 long weeks. With the long-awaited announcement of the re-opening of the park, also came the announcement of major changes to the way entrance into the park will work, at least for the Summer 2020 season. More on details on those changes that in a minute. The park re-opened on May 27th 2020. I had to try to be one of the first ones back in. It is important to note here that in its normal operation you can access the park 24/7.

 

Rocky Mountain National Park 2
Sprague Sunrise March 2020

 

On the morning of May 27th my alarm went off at 3:00 am. I left my house at 3:15. It was the day, my return to Rocky. I was so excited; I barley slept a wink. I planned to catch sunrise at Sprague Lake, a most favorite. I was at the main entrance to the park just after 4:00 am and the blockades were still up. I quickly thought to drive around to the other entrance gate, only to run into those blockades still up too. I was super disappointed, as I knew I had limited time before I had to be at a work meeting in town at 8:00 and couldn’t just wait around. I decided to head to another favorite sunrise spot close by, knowing I could come back up and try again in a few days. While at my backup sunrise spot, around 5:30 am I started to hear and read the gates to the park would be opening at 6:00. You guessed it, I quickly rushed back over to the park. However, by 5:40 am the line to get into the park was already backed way, way up. Again, being time limited, I could not wait. For the second time that morning, I was crushed. But wait! It hit me, I knew a spot where I could park and walk into the park. I love you all, but I won’t give this one away, so please don’t ask. After a little hike, I was in, I made it back into the park. The grass was so green, the birds were chirping, the river was dancing, and the elk were grazing in the meadow. It was almost as if the park was re-energized, quite literally breathing a breath of fresh air. I firmly believe she needed and enjoyed the break from years and years of increased visitation. I was able to spend about 45 minutes enjoying the moment and the morning. Although it was not my original plan, it was perfect!

 

Rocky Mountain National Park 3
Moraine Park – May 27

 

Only five short days later I was able to return to the park for my treasured Sunrise Sundays. I met a friend at 4:00 am and we were in the park and at Sprague Lake by 5:00. The colors started off very soft and I was not sure we were going to get much of a show. Just a moment later, the colors popped! They were some of the most vibrant pinks, purples and oranges I had ever seen in the Colorado sky. It was simply magical, the perfect first sunrise back in one of my most cherished places.

 

Rocky Mountain National Park 4
Sprague Sunrise May 31

 

Back to the changes on the park’s entrance system. The National Park Service obtained approval from the Department of the Interior to implement a timed entry reservation system for Rocky Mountain National Park. The intent of the new system according to the official park website is, “To increase park access while providing the public a reasonable opportunity to comply with health guidelines.” The timed entry reservation system started on June 4th. Park Superintendent Darla Slides added, “This system will more safely manage the pace and flow of visitor use, reduce crowding, and provide an improved visitor experience in alignment with the park’s safe operational capacity.” Pre-payment of entrance fees, limited visitor-staff contact and decreased parking lot congestion are other hoped for benefits of the new system. This initial phase allows for 60% of the parks maximum parking capacity. Allowing for an estimated 13,500 visitors per day. (www.nps.gov/romo/timedentry) Reservations will be required between 6:00 am and 5:00 pm. Please note, same day reservations will not be available at this time.

Visitors to the park will need to make and purchase their reservations on www.recreation.gov. It is a user-friendly experience and only takes a couple minutes. You do have to create a user account. There is a small $2 fee for each reservation made. Visitors must still also purchase a park entrance pass. For more information about entrance fees you can visit, https://www.nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/fees.htm. Annual and other pass holders can enter their pass numbers at the time of making a reservation and only pay the $2 fee. The current reservation window is open until July 31. On July 1st reservations will open for the month of August. On August 1st spots for September will open up. Finally, on September 1st the window for October reservations will open. The reservations provide for a two-hour entry block. Visitors can enter the park at any time during their two-hour window. You can stay as long as you wish. You can re-enter the park if you leave as long as it is on the same day.

Wanting to take some friends who are not early risers into the park on June 9th allowed me the opportunity to test out the new reservation system. I made my reservation a few days prior to our visit. Our time block was for 8:00-10:00 am. We arrived at 8:45 am and arrived, very surprisingly, to no lines at the entrance gates. I simply showed the ranger my email confirmation and off we went to our hike to Alberta Falls. On our way out, we did notice a short line at the gates, but nothing like you would typically see during a summer day at Rocky Mountain National Park.

 

Rocky Mountain National Park 5
Alberta Falls – June 9

 

Blogger, Reviewer and Multiple Contributor at | Website

Jessy is a 30 something, wife, mother, photographer, blogger, gear reviewer and avid nature lover. Nature, hiking and camping are her game! Jessy is blessed to call colorful Colorado and her beautiful Rocky Mountains home. Jessy lives just 45 minutes from Rocky Mountain National Park and spends as much of her free time in the park as she can. Frequently visiting the park for Sunday morning sunrise sessions that are truly breathtaking! Jessy is also a volunteer for the US Forest Service and conducts patrols of some of her favorite trails in the Indian and James Peak Wilderness areas.

Jessy believes deeply in and advocates for all the health, mental and physical, benefits that spending time in nature provides. There is more and more scientific, evidence-based, research supporting this. Jessy tries to share that with as many people as she can.

Through her honest and authentic writing on her Colorado Mountain Momma blog, accompanied by her nature photography, Dragonfly Colorado, Jessy aims to share how nature has been one of the, if not the most, powerful healing tools for her in overcoming her mental health struggles. By opening a very candid and personal door into her own journey and life experiences Jessy hopes to show others that they too can benefit from all nature has to offer. Jessy aims to guide others how to find a healthy balance between catering to life’s responsibilities and caring for one's self and one’s deep passions.

“Her religion is the Earth. The mountains, the air, the water, the fire and the soil are her sanctuary. They live in her as she lives in them.” -Colorado Mountain Momma, Jessy Shouse-

43 thoughts on “COVID-19 Brings Large Operational Changes to Rocky Mountain National Park

  • June 19, 2020 at 5:21 pm
    Permalink

    Colorado is such a beautiful state! I see so many photos of the mountains and other scenery and I want to visit so bad. Rocky Mountain State Park is high up on my list. I can certainly see why it would be a place where you can go to rest and recharge. There is just something about nature! Your photos are gorgeous. Watching a sunrise with that scenery would be amazing! I hope to make it to Colorado someday very soon! The changes they made for entering the park don’t actually sound too bad-it seems like there is less of a wait time for getting into the park and fewer people is always better I think! And you can stay as long as you want so you’re not rushing.

    Reply
  • June 19, 2020 at 4:16 pm
    Permalink

    No matter what is going on in the world, it is important for people to take time to get outside, appreciate nature, and distance themselves from the stressors of life. Thank you for sharing this infomation and your story!

    Reply
  • June 19, 2020 at 2:34 pm
    Permalink

    Those photos are absolutely stunning, that 3am start must have been worth it! Thank you for making us all aware of the changes! It’s useful to know when I get the opportunity to go

    Reply
  • June 18, 2020 at 1:31 pm
    Permalink

    This is good to know! There’s so many changes to many places and businesses, it’s interesting to see how the future of travel will look like! I haven’t been to this national park before but from the pictures, I need to make my way there some day soon.

    Reply
  • June 18, 2020 at 1:27 pm
    Permalink

    Wow! These images sure make the early mornings worth it! It’s so sad that so much has changed because of the pandemic and I’m actually surprised that the national parks have been so affected. This nature is just what the soul needs during times like these!

    Reply
  • June 18, 2020 at 8:03 am
    Permalink

    For such views and such moments, it is worth waking up at 3 am. I love mornings in such natural surroundings, and I love sunrise photos. It is excellent that you have the chance to live near Rocky Mountain National Park. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get to this park because our road trip was interrupted by COVID. But when we can travel again, I will go.

    Reply
  • June 18, 2020 at 6:17 am
    Permalink

    Yes, I’m also very impressed to read that you’re able to get up at 3 am!! It’s really very hard. Only once I woke up so early and it was when I sailed the River Ganges in India and it was more than enough! Ahhhhaaaa!

    COVID-19 is bringing large operational changes everywhere. Here in Italy, things have changed as well: too many restrictions. 😪😪😪 Sometimes it feels really too much but protecting us from Covid 19 is one of the top priorities now so we must give our bit. Good you wrote this post and gave this precious information for others who might be able to go there now.

    Reply
  • June 18, 2020 at 5:51 am
    Permalink

    So beautiful! I’m quite close to the Rockies living in BC, but have only been a couple of times. I will actually be in Banff next week (where I believe they’ve also made a number of COVID-related changes) but I am looking forward to being back there!

    Reply
  • June 17, 2020 at 10:41 pm
    Permalink

    You are so lucky to live so close to the Rockies. I am a 5 hour flight away from our Rocky Mountains in Canada, but it is the most beautiful place on earth. I completely agree with you that there is just something about the mountains that soothes the soul and puts life back into perspective. Reading this has made me want to book a flight.

    Reply
  • June 17, 2020 at 9:42 pm
    Permalink

    First, I’m very impressed you’re able to get up at 3 am!! hahaha! I Iive in Ontario and wish we had a park like this around here! You have such gorgeous hiking areas near you – I hope one day to be able to visit! The changes are hard for all of us, but grateful things are slowly starting to open back up!

    Reply
  • June 17, 2020 at 9:01 am
    Permalink

    Wow-what a wonderful surroundings you live in. Seems like a dream destination to me. Rocky Mountain National Park with the beauty of Rocky’s peaks, waterfalls, lakes are so beautiful to visualize around me. Add to that wildlife including birds, foxes, deer, elk, moose, bighorn sheep, mountain lions and bears sounds so very exciting. I have been reading quite a lot about Trail Ridge Road of late and different experiences of people. The sunrise, Moraine park and Alberta Falls are all so refreshing. It was really a great journey for me.

    Reply
  • June 17, 2020 at 7:09 am
    Permalink

    Wish we lived closer to a national park like this one. Nature therapy really heals especially in such times, and also comparatively safer being in open large spaces to have minimum encounter with the crowd. With things slowly openings back up we would definitely want our next getaway to be in a place like this outdoors over theme parks or any places that involve physical contact encounters.

    Reply
  • June 17, 2020 at 3:13 am
    Permalink

    4 am is early. That is truly a friend to rise and meet you then. 😉 Totally worth it too.

    Reply
  • June 17, 2020 at 2:29 am
    Permalink

    Beautiful write-up! I almost felt as if I were there with you at 4AM to catch a glimpse of the beautiful sunrise! You’re so lucky to live so close to a beautiful park. Hopefully things will return to normal soon.

    Reply
  • June 16, 2020 at 10:12 pm
    Permalink

    I haven’t been to Rocky Mountain National Park. It looks like an amazing place to visit. I have to really read the operational changes because of the pandemic. Hope to see it soon.

    Reply
    • June 17, 2020 at 2:05 pm
      Permalink

      The pictures you took from the park are so amazing. You’ve got to spend a little bit of sunrise that day and I bet that you are super grateful for seeing your dearest national park. This pandemic had changed the way we do things so much that is incredible. I miss the sea so much and I only live 10 minutes away from it so I know how you felt.

      Reply
  • June 16, 2020 at 8:40 pm
    Permalink

    Great to read the park is open again. I can start planning my trip and relax a little

    Reply
    • June 17, 2020 at 2:29 am
      Permalink

      Hope you have a great trip! The park is amazing year round!

      Reply
  • June 16, 2020 at 5:09 pm
    Permalink

    i miss visiting the national parks. glad to hear they have a system for bringing guests in timely and organized. p.s. are public bathrooms open at the parks?

    Reply
    • June 17, 2020 at 2:30 am
      Permalink

      Thanks for reading Joy. Yes, bathrooms are open. At Rocky only 2 campgrounds are open and at 50% capacity.

      Reply
  • June 16, 2020 at 4:34 pm
    Permalink

    This is such a hard time for everyone. Glad people are making changes as needed to help accomodate.

    Reply
    • June 17, 2020 at 2:32 am
      Permalink

      Thanks Jessie. I wouldn’t be surprised if they keep some sort of this system for the long term, even after we come out of the pandemic.

      Reply
  • June 16, 2020 at 3:32 pm
    Permalink

    I do love that the parks are open again, but I am sad that we are still having to deal with Covid. I am still hoping that we can get back to normal at some point in the near future.

    Reply
    • June 17, 2020 at 2:33 am
      Permalink

      I hope so too Marie. Thanks for reading.

      Reply
  • June 16, 2020 at 2:33 pm
    Permalink

    It is sad to hear that changes like this have to be put in place, but at the same time it is good that they are being organised.

    Reply
    • June 17, 2020 at 2:35 am
      Permalink

      I actually think that there are some positives that might come out of all this. Rocky needed some balance, she was getting over loved. This might help give her a bit of a break and restore some balance. Thanks for reading Melanie.

      Reply
  • June 16, 2020 at 12:36 pm
    Permalink

    Rocky Mountain National Park looks incredible. I’m glad you managed to spend some time there capturing those beautiful images despite the lockdown and restrictions.

    Reply
  • June 16, 2020 at 10:15 am
    Permalink

    I love your photos. It’s really inspired me. Unfortunately, I don’t live in the USA but I do have some National Parks where I live, so I’m looking forward to exploring those.

    Reply
    • June 17, 2020 at 2:38 am
      Permalink

      Thank You Celeste. I hope you have fantastic adventures.

      Reply
  • June 16, 2020 at 8:45 am
    Permalink

    Wow….this was nice. I love how extra-care was taken to safeguard everyone as well as let everyone have a glimpse of life outside that the pandemic has brought along.

    Reply
    • June 17, 2020 at 2:40 am
      Permalink

      Thank You for reading!

      Reply
  • June 16, 2020 at 8:15 am
    Permalink

    that park is truly beautiful place to visit ! the views are outstanding x

    Reply
    • June 17, 2020 at 2:41 am
      Permalink

      It never gets old! Thanks for reading Pati!

      Reply
  • June 16, 2020 at 7:11 am
    Permalink

    What an amazing place to visit, I would love to see it with my own eyes! 🙂

    Reply
    • June 17, 2020 at 2:43 am
      Permalink

      It truly is spectacular!

      Reply
  • June 16, 2020 at 6:14 am
    Permalink

    I visited Rocky Mountain once and would love to spend a visit again. Love to know the positive effect of the virus on nature here.

    Reply
    • June 17, 2020 at 2:45 am
      Permalink

      I agree, I think there are some positives to the virus. I think the park, and nature are getting some much needed balance restored.

      Reply
  • June 16, 2020 at 4:12 am
    Permalink

    I would love to visit the Rocky Mountain National Park someday. There is so much beauty to experience in our country’s national parks. Thanks for sharing this information.

    Reply
    • June 17, 2020 at 2:50 am
      Permalink

      You are welcome! Thank you for reading.

      Reply
  • June 16, 2020 at 1:17 am
    Permalink

    This looks like such a beautiful and peaceful place to visit. To see the wildlife in its natural habitat and the gorgeous scenery would amazing.

    Reply
    • June 17, 2020 at 2:52 am
      Permalink

      Thanks for reading Ashley! The wildlife never gets old, no matter how many times you see them! I can sit for hours and watch them. Rocky has wild turkeys that are so funny!

      Reply
  • June 16, 2020 at 12:41 am
    Permalink

    It’s good to hear that places are making necessary changes. Our only plans this summer are to visit outdoor parks, so this is great to know.

    Reply
    • June 17, 2020 at 2:52 am
      Permalink

      Thanks for reading Heather.

      Reply

Leave a Reply to khoingn | The Broad Life Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This
%d bloggers like this: