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Boulderites Privy To Secret to Rocky Mountain National Park Entry! TIMED??

Boulder is in the center of world for many things. Denver lies 40 minutes to our South-East. To the immediate North-West, about the same distance away, lies Rocky Mountain National Park: a gem by which the sparkle of all other gems is measured.

Once upon a time, before COVID-19, getting out of the park was the challenge. We carried compasses, topographic maps, and whatever survival gear we’d want when we got lost. The trick was getting OUT of the park!

No More! NOW the trick is how to get INTO the Park! It works! I tried it personally today.

With this great beauty literally right up the road, I have had summers when I was up in the Park almost weekly, and sometimes multiple times in a week. The invention of the pocket cell phone made it possible to practice law, but for the typing and court appearances, by phone directly from the Park. I could and did do this at a whim. It was like going skiing when you live in Aspen. You throw on the board(s) and ski out your office door for a break after lunch!

For better or worse the spontaneity of dropping in on the Park is no longer part of our reality. Instead of going to the Park on a whim, think of it more like getting tickets to a major Rock Concert. We now have the Rolling Stones of National Parks! Ticketmaster and the like will be selling Park tickets soon, and at inflated rates if any are available. You may need your lawyer to translate the instructions.

Blame COVID-19! Seriously. “Timed Entry” is mostly an artifact of the recent “plague.” And it has outlasted the worst of the “plague.” Timed entry is the way of the Park. But what does that really mean to us mere mortals who want to go to the Park for a day?

Start with the website or phone app and register. That will require a certified birth certificate, a driver’s license from any state, and a note from your parents. And even that won’t work! Don’t panic quite yet. In fact, don’t panic. Just get up early.

Note that the rules for the Bear Lake area, a truly marvelous part of the Park, are entirely different, more difficult, more restrictive, and beyond the scope of a mere 500-1000 words. Let’s focus on the main entrance from the middle of Estes Park. No longer a matter of showing your Golden Eagle Pass, or paying for entry and driving in, a timed reservation is required. IF you can get one. Basically, tickets go on sale for one-month blocks. When a block goes on sale, 60% of the ticket options go on the open market. The “market” opens at 7 PM and the tickets do NOT last long. Then, the website happily shows “no tickets available for your entry time.” Looking at the calendar you’ll see that NO entry times are available for the month!

As long as planning is not called for, the 40% of tickets which are held back do go on sale at 7 PM the night before your fantasy trip. And fantasy it may be. THOSE tickets sell like Beyonce tickets!

So what is a tourist to do? EASY!!! Here’s the secret. I’ll be trying it on Tuesday to see if I have read the RMNP Rocky Mountain National Park website correctly. HERE”S THE SECRET! Entry (except for Bear Lake) is permitted without an advanced ticket, without a reservation, and without having to have your Congressional Representative on speed dial.

GO EARLY! Entry before 9:00 AM is a walk in the park so to speak. Before 9 AM according to a careful reading and re-reading of the website, means simply driving in the gate. I suspect that there may be a sign-in, fee envelope system in place. BUT no reservation, no timed entry, no tricks, and an ole-ole-in-free to the Park. (Well you do still have to pay). Get there before 9 AM and you’re in like Flint! That’s it. No secret handshake. No code test. No hidden key. Just get up early. To be safe, for my Tuesday visit, for the 1:15 minute drive to the entrance to the Park, I’ll leave at 6;45 AM. Ignoring construction and related delays and ignoring picture stops (this is REALLY hard to do), I should be at the entrance by 8 AM. That’s an hour leeway. I’ll either enter the park before 9 AM, or I’ll spend the day wandering around Estes Park, longingly looking at Longs Peak, and wishing I’d left at 5:30 AM. I’ve had to get up that early to get to distant courthouses on time, and the views in the Park are far better! No other entry options appear to be available except for a vaguely mentioned special park permit. I could not figure that out from the website. It is easier to just get up early. And remember when driving up in the dark, to watch for mule deer, elk, mountain lions, squirrels, marmots, rabbits, foxes, coyotes, and other travelers of the night. The adventure starts when you start your car in Boulder!

Lenny Lensworth Frieling

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