No more camping without a reservation near Conundrum Hot Springs and Four Pass Loop, USFS proposes

The days of free-for-all camping around the Maroon Bells area may end starting in summer 2018.

Views of Maroon Bells. (USDA/Scott Mecum)
Views of Maroon Bells. (USDA/Scott Mecum)
Views of Maroon Bells. (USDA/Scott Mecum)

The days of free-for-all camping around the Maroon Bells area may end starting in summer 2018. The U.S. Forest Service intends to create a reservation system for campgrounds near the hugely popular Conundrum Hot Springs and later for the also hugely popular Four Pass Loop.

It’s unclear exactly how many people will be allowed to camp overnight at once — but, if it’s anything like other popular areas, you’ll need to book months in advance.

Overnight traffic around Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. (USFS)
Overnight traffic around Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. Conundrum and Maroon Lake trailhead are the two highest lines. (USFS)

The area’s problem is that it’s just too good: Conundrum Hot Springs offers up beautiful bathing pools at high elevation. Despite an eight-mile hike in, it often turns into a rollicking party zone.

The highest-use areas around Maroon Bells have seen traffic triple since 2006. Among the impacts: Rangers had to pack out 136 pounds of trash last summer from Conundrum.

Later, the reservation system would expand to the Four Pass Loop area, which takes hikers on a gorgeous 28-mile journey over high mountain passes. Last summer, rangers found 273 unburied human poops around the trail.

Finally, Maroon Bells without the crowds, as portrayed in Horizon: Zero Dawn. (Sony Computer Entertainment)
Maroon Bells without the crowds, as portrayed in the video game Horizon: Zero Dawn. (Sony Computer Entertainment)

Eventually, reservations also would be required near Capitol Lake, which is part of an excellent alternative hiking loop. Traffic there has only increased slightly.

In all, the proposal would limit the entire Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness to about 302 campsites, including 20 at Conundrum Hot Springs.

Fees for similar systems are about $10 per trip, which can cover multiple people. Obviously, this would mean that you could no longer jaunt out to Conundrum — but it also would reduce human impacts on the area and guarantee a calmer experience for those who do go.

Snowmass looms over Snowmass Lake. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)
Snowmass looms over Snowmass Lake. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)

Part of my personal theory, by the way, is that the internet is making things worse. People see Four Pass and Conundrum on their feeds as the greatest thing ever, so they go up there and then share it as the greatest thing ever. This concentrates all the activity on just a few places. Just four of 24 trailheads in the area get 82 percent of all the overnight visitors, and locations besides Conundrum and Maroon Lake have seen little increase in traffic.

However, this is not a done deal: Anyone who submitted written comments prior to today now has 45 days to file an objection via email.

Andrew Kenney

Author: Andrew Kenney

Andrew Kenney writes about public spaces, Denver phenomena and whatever else. He previously worked for six years as a reporter at The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. His most prized possession is his collection of bizarre voicemail. Leave him one at 303-502-2803, or email akenney@denverite.com.