2021 Hiking Prospects

Over the last decade or more, it has been my habit (or goal) to spend fifteen to eighteen days a year wandering through Rocky Mountain National Park. It appears, at this point at least, that I won’t make a great effort towards that goal in 2021.

First, in the time since I first started backpacking (as opposed to day hiking), my approach has been to visit the permit office in person when making reservations. My thinking is that I’ll get better results than by email. I go in with a list of specific camp sites and vague dates. “What dates do you have available for Upper Ouzel Creek,” for example. Given a short list of desired sites and a bit of flexibility on dates, I have been able to secure my desired permits.

This year, however, due to the knock-on effects of the COVID pandemic, the office is closed to in-person visits. And, to complicate matters, they had technical issues that caused several delays in getting the online process functioning. The bottom line is they stopped accepting requests before I even knew they started. I should have been paying closer attention.

But, in the end, I don’t think my failure to act promptly was as big of a problem as I first thought. When I was trying to figure out what they’re doing with the timed entry passes, I found their map of area closures:

Map captured on June 3

It looks to me like about a quarter of the Park is closed. The yellow shaded areas on the map are the closures. This area is not the same as what was burned last summer: I’m pretty sure the campsite we camped at last summer did not get burned, but because the lower sections of the trail were burned, anything above the burned area is closed.

So, on the west side of the park, the only trails available are those west of the Colorado River and the trails to Timber Lake and Mount Ida. On the east side, everything around Fern Lake is closed.

The timed entry passes this season are a bit different from last year. Last year, you needed a pass to go anywhere in the Park. I’m not sure that this applied to Wild Basin, as on my visits there last year I never saw any rangers at the entrance station. This year, the greatest restrictions are on the Bear Lake area. A pass is required starting at 5 am. The rest of the Park is generally open before 9 am, so no pass would be required for an early start on a hike to, say, Lawn Lake.

I picked up a July pass for the Bear Lake area. I’m thinking I’ll visit Andrews Glacier, which I haven’t done in at least fifteen years. After that, I’m not sure where I want to go.

So all this leads me to start looking for hiking opportunities outside RMNP. Luckily, there is no shortage of choices. It’s a great excuse to see the beauty of Colorado outside my normal stomping grounds.