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For outdoors enthusiasts in Colorado, the arrival of winter means skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing and, let’s not forget, making summer camping reservations. You do not want to procrastinate.
Camping reservations for national parks, national forests and Colorado state parks may be made six months in advance, which means it already could be too late for you to reserve your favorite campground for Memorial Day or the Fourth of July.
In general, the registration process this year will look like it did last year. Reservations for national parks and national forests can be made through the website recreation.gov. For state parks, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has its own online reservation system. You also can reserve camping in state parks by phone, at 800-244-5613.
The effect of COVID-19 on camping reservations this year varies, depending on the agency. And keep in mind, things could change, depending on how the pandemic evolves.
“We are not limiting reservations for COVID or any other reason,” said Bridget Kochel, statewide public information officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “But as we saw last year, things can change quickly, and we do ask that people be prepared in case of unforeseen closures as we work to follow all county and state public health orders.”
Keep in mind, Colorado state parks went to a reservation-only system last year, and that will be in force this year as well.
In the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests, which take in national forest lands in the Front Range from Mount Evans north to the Wyoming border (not including Rocky Mountain National Park), the inventory of sites in developed campgrounds will be reduced. A limited number of sites are set aside for day-of walk-ins, but reservations are recommended.
“This year because of COVID we’ve had to reduce the number of campsites in some areas where we might have had a double site,” said Reid Armstrong, public affairs specialist for the Arapaho and Roosevelt forests. “That would be uncomfortable for people in the COVID environment, to be literally right next to another family they didn’t know. We reduced some of those.”
Things are more complicated at Rocky Mountain National Park.
“Reservations could be made starting end of November for Glacier Basin and Moraine Park campgrounds,” said park spokeswoman Kyle Patterson. “Because we have some unknowns regarding public health guidance for this season, we are currently providing availability to reserve about 50% of those two campgrounds. At this time, we are not planning on opening our other reservation campground, Aspenglen, in May until we know more regarding COVID-19 guidance. Last year we had to cancel many visitor camping reservations, adversely impacting their plans, so until we know more we don’t want to put visitors and our staff in that position again.
“We have two first-come, first-served campgrounds, Timber Creek and Longs Peak, and will make the determination later in the season as to whether we will be able to operate those campgrounds this summer.”
Then there are those camping alternatives for those willing to rough it, including dispersed camping in national forests and wilderness permits at Rocky Mountain National Park.
Backcountry permits that allow camping in Rocky Mountain National Park at designated wilderness sites from May through October typically go on sale in March. Eager backpackers either gather in throngs at the backcountry office the day permits go on sale or try to score their spot online — and spots go fast.
“How we issue wilderness permits will look a little different this year, due to COVID,” Patterson said, adding that details have yet to be finalized.
Officials at RMNP also have to weigh the effects of the East Troublesome and Cameron Peak fires, which impacted about 9% of the park.
“We are still assessing wilderness backcountry site availability this year due to fire impacts,” Patterson said. “There will be less availability this year in areas that were burned or sites that are accessed through burn areas.”
In national forests, “dispersed” camping means pitching your tent in areas that have no picnic tables, drinking water, fire grates or toilets. Trash cans usually aren’t available, either. They can be in designated or non-designated areas, as determined by the local ranger district, and cannot be reserved. The forest service has an interactive map that allows you to click on national forests in Colorado for a list of dispersed camping areas.
The forest service also has an interactive map for backpacking, but that is a list of trails in each forest where you can hike and spend the night in the wild. There you can click on specific trails for descriptions and other important information.