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Unbearable Delays Possible During Bear Lake Road Construction

Visitors to Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park will encounter 40+ minute travel delays over the long Memorial Day Holiday weekend – and throughout the summer. A five mile stretch of road leading to one of the parks most popular tourist destinations is undergoing major construction.

Park spokeswoman Kyle Patterson says large crowds are expected over the long holiday weekend, and many of them are coming from along the Front Range. In fact, more and more people are visiting the park each year. Patterson says attendance was up almost 7 percent last year to nearly 3.5 million.

“It was our 3rd busiest season since the park was established in 1915 almost 100 years ago. Because of our mild spring, our March visitation was up, our April visitation was up. So far this year we’re up 30%.”

More Visitors, More Problems.

The main road leading to one the parks most popular destinations – Bear Lake – is badly in need of repair. Completed in 1928, the road has not seen major reconstruction in over 76 years.

The National Park Service project head is Joe Arnold. He says a 5 mile section of Bear Lake Road is receiving major improvements with part of the road actually being rerouted to mitigate environmental and safety concerns [.pdf].

“We’re doing a little bit of road widening here, make it a little safer for shuttle busses and RV’s to pass. It’ll be a little easier to snowplow and things like that. Basically bringing the road into the 21st century and accommodate the sheer number of visitors we have here.” 

The nearly 24 million dollar project funded by the Federal Highway Administration should be completed by next September. Once finished, vehicle pull outs, new retaining walls, and easier curves will make a huge difference in the road’s capacity and safety.

Long Delays Expected.

But in the meantime, it’s going to tie up a lot of visitors wanting to access one of the most popular areas of the park. Arnold says construction kicks into high gear along Bear Lake Road starting Tuesday May 29th, and Bear Lake will only be accessible via shuttle bus because the road will be limited to just one lane.

“From 9am to 4pm it’ll be shuttle access only beyond the Big Thompson river and Moraine Park. But on the south side of Moraine Park, there be a kiosk that will be limiting uphill traffic to shuttle traffic only from 9am to 4.”

Park officials say total wait times to get up and back down the road may exceed an hour and a half during peak construction. ( Approximately 40+ minutes up the road, and 40+ minutes down.)

However, with over 416 square miles of Rocky Mountain National park to explore, rangers say there aremany places to visit far away from the sights and sound of construction. 

The National Park Service has updated travel information available here.