Rocky Mountain National Park Backcountry Campsite Reservations Only Available Online: What to Know

by Jon D. B.

COVID-19 is squashing Rocky Mountain National Park’s “quirky but charming” backcountry campsite lottery, choosing to move the process entirely online.

For Rocky Mountain backcountry enthusiasts, 2021 will be the first year in recent memory without a traditional in-person lottery for backcountry camping permits. Before the deadly COVID-19 Pandemic struck, backcountry hopefuls made their way to the Wilderness Office together. There, each hoped to participate in a lottery for the limited permits.

The highly-sought-after permits allow campers to secure a secluded backcountry plot that typically requires extensive backpacking to reach.

Now, amidst our new pandemic-laden reality, there will be no in-person opportunities.

Instead, Rocky Mountain National Park officials have chosen to move the entire process online. The decision comes with the safety of visitors and staff in mind.

As such: The link for backcountry reservations will go live at 8 a.m. MST (U.S. Mountain Time) on March 1, 2021.

In previous years, 267 backcountry campsites were available in 120 designated park areas. This year, however, there will be less due to another horrific aspect of 2020: the East Troublesome and Cameron Peak wildfires.

“Park staff will continue to assess wilderness backcountry site availability this year due to fire impacts from 2020,” says a recent Rocky Mountain National Park news release. “There will be less campsite availability this year in areas that were [within wildfires].”

Breaking Rocky Mountain National Park Tradition

While the lottery will still (thankfully) take place, the move severs the public from one of the park’s most beloved traditions.

“Backcountry enthusiasts would gather at the Wilderness Office in the park on a morning in March to participate in a lottery for limited backpacking camping permits. They would make lists of desired dates — first choice, second choice and so on — put their names in a ranger’s hat and wait for an hour or more for the lottery draw to determine their place in line to make their reservations,” details The Know Outdoors of the “quirky but charming” tradition.

“Last year nearly 100 turned out, even though they could have accomplished the same thing sitting at home, refreshing their computers over and over in search of permits online.”

In a story published just before 2020’s widespread shutdowns, TKO offers a direct glimpse into the tradition of years past:

“Hoping that she would finally score a backcountry permit to camp at Glacier Gorge in Rocky Mountain National Park this summer after years of trying in vain, Longmont librarian Helen Robbins got up at 5:30 a.m. Sunday and drove to the park’s Wilderness Office to be there when permits went on sale shortly after 8 a.m.,” TKO reports.

“More than 30 people packed into a small room in a rustic park cabin at 7:30 a.m. And the number swelled to 71. Plus two dozen representatives of commercial outfitters… Before random draws were held to determine the order by which those assembled would apply for prime backpacking spots,” the Colorado trade continues. “There were so many people. About twice the normal crowd on the annual day when backcountry permits go on sale. [As a result], the draws were held outside.”

Hopefully, 2020’s round won’t have been the last for this Rocky Mountain National Park tradition.

Click here to view RMNP’s online backcountry camping registration page.

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[Source: The Know Outdoors]