Bear Lake Road is one of the most popular scenic roads in Rocky Mountain National Park and provides year-round visitor access to a variety of wonderful recreational opportunities. More than 2 million visitors a year are estimated to drive on Bear Lake Road and last year over 440,000 riders took advantage of the shuttle buses along the corridor.
Visitors should expect a major construction project on Bear Lake Road this year. Beginning May 29, through October 9, from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Bear Lake Road, approximately one mile southwest of Moraine Park Visitor Center to Bear Lake, is accessible by free shuttle bus only, seven days a week. Private vehicles are allowed both directions prior to 9:00 a.m. and after 4:00 p.m. Visitors in private vehicles, who make the 9:00 a.m. cutoff time can leave throughout the day. All visitors, in private vehicles or shuttle buses, should expect at least two 20-minute delays both directions through the construction area, twenty-four hours a day. There are no construction delays between Park & Ride and Bear Lake. There may be night closures during the construction. Night closures will be announced at least two weeks prior to occurring.
The construction is taking place on Bear Lake Road from the junction of Trail Ridge Road/Highway 36 to the Park & Ride – Glacier Basin Campground intersection, covering 5.1 miles. The work is similar in scope and impacts as the first phase of reconstruction on Bear Lake Road which was completed in 2004, and took place on the upper 4.3 mile section of road. This major project involves construction of significant retaining walls to improve safety and drainage. In addition, a 0.9 mile section is being rerouted away from Glacier Creek, in order to prevent impacts to wetlands and riparian habitat and reduce costs. Repairs will be made on the Big Thompson Bridge to improve safety. Structural deficiencies will be corrected in the roadway and inadequate parking and pullout design will be improved. This project will widen the road and improve the road surface to better accommodate park shuttle buses. Safety associated with winter snow removal will be enhanced by the wider road.
The park’s three shuttle routes are modified during the construction.
The Bear Lake Route runs between Moraine Park Visitor Center and Bear Lake with stops at Hollowell Park, Park & Ride, Bierstadt Bus Stop, Glacier Gorge Trailhead and Bear Lake. The Moraine Park Route runs between the Moraine Park Visitor Center and the Fern Lake bus stop with stops at Moraine Park Campground, Cub Lake Trailhead and Fern Lake bus stop. The first bus departs from the Moraine Park Visitor Center at 7:00 a.m. and the last bus leaves at 7:00 p.m. The last bus of the day leaves Bear Lake and Fern Lake Trailheads at 7:30 p.m. Bear Lake Route buses run every 15 minutes but will be delayed during periods of road construction. Moraine Park Route buses run every 20 minutes.
The Hiker Shuttle Route stops at the Estes Park Fairgrounds Park-n-Ride, the Estes Park Visitor Center, the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center, and the Moraine Park Visitor Center where passengers will transfer to either the Bear Lake Route or the Moraine Park Route. The first bus leaves the Town of Estes Park Visitor Center at 6:30 a.m. and the last bus leaves the Moraine Park Visitor Center bound for Estes Park at 8:00 p.m.
The Hiker Shuttle runs on an hourly schedule early and late in the day; switching to a half hour schedule from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Most facilities along Bear Lake Road are available to the public during the reconstruction project. However, Glacier Basin Campground and the Tuxedo Park picnic area and shuttle stop are closed. Numerous pull-off areas may be closed at times during the construction. Moraine Park Visitor Center will be open, however visitors should expect congestion and very limited parking. Visitors should also expect congestion and limited parking at the popular picnic and angler area in lower Moraine Park, north of the Big Thompson River.
During the next two years, visitors who plan to go to the Bear Lake area will have easier access if they plan ahead, hike early or hike late and carpool. All trailheads along the Bear Lake Corridor, the Park & Ride, Moraine Park Visitor Center and Beaver Meadows Visitor Center have limited parking spaces available. For those visitors who want to access the Bear Lake area between 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., the best option will be to park in Estes Park at the Fairgrounds Park-n-Ride or the Estes Park Visitor Center and take the Hiker Shuttle in to Rocky Mountain National Park.
Visitors should expect congestion.
Rocky Mountain National Park is approaching its Centennial anniversary in 2015. Bear Lake Road was completed in 1928 and until 2003, no significant improvements were made. No major road work has taken place on the lower section for more than 80 years. When this project is complete, just prior to the park’s hundredth anniversary, it will conclude over 47 miles of critical improvements on park roads since 2003.
The Federal Highway Administration awarded a $23.4 million contract to American Civil Constructors and is administering this project on behalf of the National Park Service. American Civil Constructors is based in Littleton, Colorado. The overall cost of the project is $27.7 million.
This project involves 5.1 miles of road and access to another 4.3 miles. There are 110 miles of road in the park. This project does not include Trail Ridge Road. Information on the Bear Lake Road Reconstruction Project is available at www.nps.gov/romo, the park’s recorded road status line (970) 586-1222 or through the park’s Information Office at (970) 586-1206.
May is a wonderful month to visit Rocky Mountain National Park, but the weather can proove to be challenging. The good news for spring travellers is that snow storms aren't as commom, but like anywhere, you can still be surprised! This photo is from Many Parks Curve on a foggy May morning. Down low in the Estes Valley the fog was amazingly thick, but the higher we drove, the more it broke. We made it just in time for the sun to rise, lighting the top of that foggy layer and dusting the clouds with golden orange rays. Just an hour later the foggy seas lifted, uncovering a glorious day!
Guest blogger is Jared Gricoskie of Yellow Wood Guiding. Visit their website here to learn about custom tours of Rocky Mountain National Park.