Rocky Mountain National Park Will Require Reservations for Hiker Shuttle This Summer

by Amy Myers

Starting May 27, Rocky Mountain National Park will begin operating the hiker shuttle. In order to hitch a ride, visitors will have to make a reservation. The shuttle ride begins at the Estes Park Visitor Center. The vehicle then travels to the Park & Ride Transit Hub located on Bear Lake Road with no other stops. From Bear Lake Road, hikers can transfer to the Bear Lake or Moraine Park shuttles to access trailhead destinations. The shuttle will run until October 10 before closing for the season.

This will be the first year that shuttle services resume after a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19 precautions. As a part of Rocky Mountain’s timed park-entry system, the shuttle system will help moderate the number of people at the trailheads at one time. Only a limited amount of reservations will be available, both to accommodate the number of seats on the shuttle. However, after 5 p.m. the night before your visit, a limited number of tickets will be available for seven specific time slots at Rocky Mountain’s official site.

In order to access the Hiker Shuttle, visitors will need two things: reservation tickets for all passengers and a valid Rocky Mountain entrance pass. Each hiker can reserve up to four tickets at a time for $2 a pop.

Shuttle rides at Rocky Mountain National Park begin at 9:45 a.m. at the Visitor Center. Rides will continue until the last ride from the Park & Ride at 5:15 p.m. Plan your hiking trips according to your time slot reservations if you decide to use the park’s shuttle services.

Rocky Mountain National Park Hopes Hiker Shuttle Will Help Solve Congestion

Like many of our national parks, Rocky Mountain visitation has been steadily increasing in recent years. While this brings in more funding, it also means more crowds and more stress on the trails and staff. So, in order to reduce the damage without sacrificing visitors, Rocky Mountain implemented a timed park-entry system.

“Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the busiest national parks; third in the country in 2019 with over 4.6 million visitors,” the park’s official release reads. “This represents a 42 percent increase in visitation in seven years. Visitor crowding and congestion at the park have led to increased negative impacts to visitor and staff safety, resource protection, visitor experience and operational capacity.”

According to the park, officials originally implemented a first-come, first-serve system with vehicles, but eventually, this style of transportation system couldn’t keep up with the demand.

As a result, “The park piloted park wide timed entry permit reservation systems (2020-2021) and will be piloting a similar system again in 2022. Park staff are learning from these various strategies since 2016, including piloting timed entry reservations on the Hiker Shuttle, to help inform long-range day use visitor access strategies.”