A long-awaited plan meant to curb the overuse of one of western Colorado’s most beloved natural areas will soon be in effect.
Starting Feb. 15, permits will be required for overnight trips into heavily visited spots in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. These will include Conundrum Hot Springs, the “Four Pass Loop” (including Crater Lake and Snowmass Lake), Geneva Lake and Capitol Lake.
The wilderness area near Aspen, known for its jaw-dropping mountain vistas and forested trails, has seen a huge increase in visitation in recent years. It now gets four times as many overnight recreators compared to 2006. The new permit system is a direct result of this overcrowding and problems that come with overuse — from trailside trash to piles of human waste.
“It was just really something we needed to get a handle on,” said David Boyd, public affairs officer for the White River National Forest, the most visited national forest in the country.
Permits and reservations for public land have become a growing trend across the West, from the Grand Canyon to Arches National Park, especially after the pandemic pushed more people to get outside.
For the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, these new permits have been in the works for years, Boyd explained. Overnight permits were first required for Conundrum Hot Springs starting in 2018, before other areas were added to the list this year. The recreation fees are new, too, which Boyd said will be used to help manage and preserve these lands, which are known around the world.
“We really want this to continue to be a spectacular wilderness area that’s treasured in years to come,” he said, “and the path we were on with the levels of use and levels of impacts, that was going to be hard to do.”
He added that the White River National Forest will continue to monitor usage to see if and when additional restrictions are needed.
While permits will be required year-round, the recreation fees are only for trips between May 1 and Oct. 31. In that busy season, visitors will be charged $10 per person, per night, with no fee for kids 16 or under or approved school groups. In addition, a $6 processing fee per permit will be charged by recreation.gov regardless of the season.
While the permits don’t go on sale until 8 a.m. Feb. 15, more information can be found now at recreation.gov.
Lesser-visited parts of the wilderness area will have walk-up registration, no fees required.
These new rules do not apply to day hikers or visitors to the Maroon Bells Scenic Area, with a view of those iconic peaks, which has a separate parking and shuttle reservation system.
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