It’s about to get considerably easier for hikers to get to Rocky Mountain National Park’s famed trailheads — once more.
Beginning May 27 and running through October 10, Rocky Mountain National Park will operate its Hiker Shuttle, making runs from the Estes Park Visitor Center to the Park & Ride Transit Hub on Bear Lake Road. Once the Hiker Shuttle arrives at the Park & Ride station, riders will transfer to the Bear Lake or Moraine Park shuttles to get to trailheads, said Kyle Patterson, Rocky Mountain’s public affairs officer, in a statement.
Rocky Mountain has operated the Hiker Shuttle since 2006. In fact, in 2019, 45,000 visitors used the Hiker Shuttle, according to the National Park Service. However, the Hiker Shuttle was not in operation in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19 pandemic-related restrictions.
What’s different this year, however, is that timed-entry reservations will be needed to ride the Hiker Shuttle.
Rocky Mountain National Park is home to 76 mountains, each of which is more than 10,000 feet high. The park, which sits just outside Estes Park and is about a 2-hour drive from Denver, is also known for its 355 miles of hiking trails. Visitors frequently see bighorn sheep, elk, mule deer, and other wildlife.
In 2019, Rocky Mountain had a record-setting 4.7 million visitors. In 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, that number fell to 3.3 million visitors. Last year, however, visitation nearly rebounded to pre-pandemic numbers when 4.4 million people visited Rocky Mountain, according to the National Park Service.
That growth in popularity has been happening for years. Indeed, increasing visitation, and resulting crowding and congestion, led to a negative impact on visitor and staff safety, resource protection, visitor experience, and operational capacity. Park management has used various visitor-use management strategies over the years to address the situation. Piloting timed-entry reservations on the Hiker Shuttle is one of those strategies.
As part of Rocky Mountain’s pilot for the overall timed-entry system, those who want to ride the Hiker Shuttle will need two things. The first is an annual or lifetime park pass, such as a senior pass, or a one-day pass. You can learn more about the various types of passes here.
Secondly, anyone who wants to ride the Hiker Shuttle will need to reserve tickets for everyone in their party. One person may reserve up to four tickets in each $2 reservation.
At 5 p.m. each afternoon, a limited number of tickets will become available for seven specific time slots the next day. For example, if you want to reserve a spot on the Hiker Shuttle for May 27, tickets will become available on May 26 at 5 p.m.
You can make reservations for the Rocky Mountain Hiker Shuttle on Recreation.gov.
The Hiker Shuttle’s Schedule
The Hiker Shuttle will depart daily from the Estes Park Visitor Center en route to the Bear Lake Road Park & Ride at 9 a.m., 9:45 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 11:15 a.m., noon, 12:45 p.m., 1:30 p.m., and 2:15 p.m., May 27 through October 10. There are no other stops along the way.
As part of the timed-entry system, passengers are required to depart from the Estes Park Visitor Center using the specific time slot they reserved.
For the return trip, the Hiker Shuttle will depart from the Bear Lake Road Park & Ride station en route to the Estes Park Visitor Center approximately every 45 minutes beginning at 9:45 a.m.
Passengers can return using any Hiker Shuttle throughout the day.
The last shuttle will depart from the Bear Lake Road Park & Ride at 5:15 p.m. each day.
You can learn more about shuttle buses and public transit at Rocky Mountain, including the Hiker Shuttle and the Bear Lake and Moraine Park routes, here.
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