Learn all about Rocky Mountain National Park's timed-entry permit system and park pass requirements. Make sure you have everything you need to gain entry to the park on your visit.
Obtaining Permits and Passes for Rocky Mountain National Park
During the busy season (late May through mid-October) you will need a timed-entry permit as well as a park pass to enter Rocky Mountain National Park. You can only get the timed-entry permit by purchasing it online in advance. Park passes however are required all year long, but unlike the permits they can be purchased at the park entrance.
The Permit system
Before you take that trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, make sure you have secured a timed-entry permit for each day you want to enter the park. This is a new requirement for visiting the national park during the busy summer and autumn season.
Why it is needed:
Visitation to Rocky Mountain National Park has grown so much over the years that it has begun to take a significant toll on the health of the park itself and on the visitor experience. Over the last few years, the trails have become so busy that not only are the trails and surrounding forest damaged, but the busyness has greatly detracted from the visitor experience. To address these problems, the National Park Service created a timed-entry permit system that limits the number of people who can enter the park each day and spreads out the time of visitor arrivals to limit congestion. This system is used during the busy season, late May through mid-October. It has made the experience in the park much better with less-crowded trails and more of a chance to take in the wonder of this place. It may still seem busy when you visit, but it was much busier before this system was implemented.
How it works:
Timed-entry permits are required from late May through mid-October during peak hours (9am-3pm for most of the park, 5am-6pm for the Bear Lake Road area), unless you have a camping permit, are part of a guided tour, or are entering via the Hiker Shuttle. The timed-entry permits need to be purchased in advance online. They specify which day and what time you are allowed to enter. They cannot be purchased at the entrance stations to the national park.
The timed-entry permits are per-vehicle, not per person. After arriving within the designated time frame, your permit will allow your vehicle to leave and return to the park as needed during that day.
As well as a timed-entry permit you must also show a national park (or interagency) pass to gain entry. These park passes can be purchased at the entry station or online. You always need a park pass to enter Rocky Mountain National Park. Read more about park pass options below.
How to Obtain a Timed-Entry Permit:
The timed-entry permits usually go on sale on the first day of each month at 10am at www.recreation.gov. The permits are always for the following month. So, if you want to visit in July, you’ll want to purchase your permit when they go on sale on June 1st.
If you missed this opportunity, you still have a chance to get a permit. Some percentage of each day’s allotted permits are saved and made available at 5pm the evening before the date of entry. So, if you were visiting on July 10th and forgot to get your permit on June 1st, you could try at 5pm on July 9th. Be aware that these last-minute permits are in high demand and tend to sell out within a minute or even less.
The Recreation.gov Process:
Before you can purchase a permit, you’ll need to setup an account with www.Recreation.gov. I suggest doing this in advance. You’ll then need to navigate to the page for Rocky Mountain National Park. On that page you’ll see several different permit options such as campground permits, wilderness camping permits, etc. You’ll want to select “Rocky Mountain National Park Timed Entry”.
Next you will have two choices: “Park Access +" (Includes Bear Lake Corridor) or “Park Access" (Excludes Bear Lake Rd Corridor). The Bear Lake Road area is the busiest place in the park and so has its own permitting system which runs from 5am until 6pm. If you choose this option, you can visit the popular areas along Bear Lake Road plus all the rest of the park, but these permits are likely to sell out first.
If you choose the second option, you can visit everywhere else in the park except for the Bear Lake Road Corridor. The rest of the park falls under the permitting system from 9am-3pm and this permit is often easier to obtain.
Next you’ll select the date and time you want to enter and add it to your cart. Once it is in your cart, no one else can purchase it and you can select other dates. You have at least 5 minutes of inactivity before your selections are removed from your cart and made available to others.
Lastly, you’ll go through the checkout process and pay for the permits. When you complete this, you’ll be sent a confirmation via email. You can either print this out to show at the park entrance station or you can show them the confirmation email on your phone.
The cost for timed-entry permits is just $2 per day and is non-refundable. The recreation.gov website is run by an external contractor, not the National Park Service. The National Park does not receive any income for this permitting system. The fee goes to recreation.gov to pay for their administration of this system.
The timed-entry permit system could change as the national park refines the system. For the most up-to-date information from the national park about the timed-entry permit system, visit: the National Park website.
If you were not able to obtain a permit, you are not completely out of luck. You just have to arrive before the permitting time begins in the morning or after the permitting time ends in the afternoon or evening. (9am-3pm for most of the park, 5am-6pm for Bear Lake Road corridor). Just be aware that at these times the lines to get into the park can be long.
- A first option is to consider taking the Estes Park Hiker Shuttle from the Estes Park Visitor Center to the Park & Ride Transit Hub on Bear Lake Road. You need to reserve your ticket in advance online. Your ticket for the Hiker Shuttle serves as your entry permit. You can only purchase tickets the evening before you need it. Traveling this way is better for the environment, frees you from the stress of finding parking, and provides you with a relaxing drive into the park. Learn all the details about the Hiker Shuttle here.
- A second option is to take the bus from Boulder, Colorado. On weekends and holidays during the summer there is also a bus that leaves from Boulder called "The Bustang". It will take you firstly to the Estes Park Visitor Center and then into Rocky Mountain National Park to the Park and Ride transit hub. Your bus ticket serves as a timed-entry permit. Learn more here.
- A third option is to consider is to use one of the authorized guiding services to take you into the park. These guiding services are allowed to take their clients into the park without needing to reserve a timed-entry permit. The guiding options vary from jeep tours, to fly fishing, photography, hiking tours, rock climbing tours, etc. Check out our page of certified guiding services in Rocky Mountain National Park.
- Lastly, if you have reserved a campsite at one of the park campgrounds or have made reservations for wilderness camping you do not need a timed-entry permit. Your camping permit will serve as your timed-entry permit.
There are a number of different national park passes available that can be purchased at the park entrance stations or online. You are required to have one of these park passes to enter the park day or night. Here are primary park passes for Rocky Mountain National Park.
- 1-Day Pass - Automobile - $30.00 Valid for date of purchase. Covers single, non-commercial vehicle with capacity of less than 16 passengers.
- 1-Day Pass - Per Person - $15.00 Valid for date of purchase. Applies to walk-ins, bicycles, and non-commercial groups.
- 1-Day Pass - Motorcycle - $25.00 Valid for date of purchase. Covers one motorcycle.
- 7-Day Vehicle Entrance Pass - $35.00 Rocky Entrance Fee - vehicle entrance pass valid for 7 consecutive days
- 7-Day Motorcycle Entrance Pass - $30.00 Rocky Entrance Fee - motorcycle entrance pass valid for 7 consecutive days
- Rocky Mountain National Park Annual Pass - $70.00 Unlimited entry for one year from date of purchase.
Then there is another class of passes that also work. These are the interagency passes which are part of the America The Beautiful - The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass Series. They include access to 2,000 federal recreation areas throughout the United States, including Rocky Mountain National Park.
- Annual Pass: $80
- Annual Military Pass: Free (Details)
- Annual Fourth Grade Pass for US students in fourth grade: Free
- Annual Senior Pass: $20
- Lifetime Senior Pass: $80
- Lifetime Access Pass: Free
- Annual Volunteer Pass: Free (250 hours of volunteer service at any of the six participating federal agencies is required)
A portion of the park pass fees collected by the government is returned to the parks through The Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act. These are put towards park improvements such as trail and road repairs, campsites, hazard tree mitigation, etc.
You can find more information on the various park passes at: https://www.nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/fees.htm