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.
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.
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.
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.