Popular Forest Service trailheads in Northwest Colorado among sites proposed for new fees

The last rays of sunlight illuminate Gilpin Lake. The lake is surrounded by the tall peaks in the Zirkel Wilderness.
Scott Franz/Steamboat Pilot & Today archive

Trail users who park vehicles at popular trailheads that have long been free such as Mad Creek, Dry Lake, Rabbit Ears and Slavonia, which leads to the popular Zirkel Circle, will likely be paying a $5 fee starting May 1.

District Ranger Michael Woodbridge explained during the August meeting of the Routt Recreation & Conservation Roundtable that it has been approximately 21 years since the Forest Service broadly adjusted fees in the Routt National Forest. He showed an analysis comparing fees at other public, private and state sites that are more expensive.

Woodbridge said fee additions or increases are necessary due to a backlog of more than $5 million in deferred maintenance across the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests and Thunder Basin National Grassland. He said several developed recreation sites cannot be managed with the current amount of allocated funds.

Woodbridge said increases in visitation require more frequent site care, while operations and maintenance costs have increased. In order to charge a fee, the trailhead, day-use or interpretative sites must include amenities such as efficient fee collection stations, designated and developed parking, picnic tables, and permanent toilet and trash services.

Forest Service officials say the $5 day use fees collected at each site will be used for that site for maintenance needs and required amenities. The proposal also includes increasing $10 or $12 single-site campground fees to $20 or $26. Fees for guard station rentals and group campground sites also would increase. The changes would impact 33 sites in the Routt National Forest in Colorado.

Woodbridge said he recommends frequent forest-goers purchase an annual day-use pass for $30 for use at the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests and Thunder Basin National Grassland. Hardcopy hang tag annual permits valid for one calendar year may be purchased at any ranger district office and visitor centers. Or a digital option valid for 365 days can be purchased online and registered to a license plate, with information on the website

The deadline to comment on the proposed fee changes is Nov. 1.

Forest Service Public Affairs Specialist Aaron Voos said six in-person information and comment meetings hosted in mid-July in Wyoming, Walden, Steamboat Springs and Yampa were sparsely attended, but some 100 comments have arrived via phone, email and the website so far.

Comments can be submitted via email to or through an online interactive comment tool at

Voos said the comments submitted since the comment period opened June 15 have been user and site-specific, yet many commentors agreed with fee increases to address deferred maintenance. He encouraged commentors, who often note if the fee increases are worth it or not, should be sure to include an explanation of why in their comments.

Forest Service officials note the increased revenue would help keep developed recreation sites open and maintained, repair water systems that have been inoperable for years, replace old toilets and modernize campgrounds such as adjusting sites for larger camping vehicles. More permanent and seasonal employees or interns also could be hired. The frequency of toilet pumping, trash collection and cleaning could be increased.

Woodbridge also suggested that frequent federal lands users could consider purchasing an $80 America the Beautiful annual pass that provides access to 2,000 federal recreation sites including national parks.

This story is from

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.

Summit Daily is embarking on a multiyear project to digitize its archives going back to 1989 and make them available to the public in partnership with the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection. The full project is expected to cost about $165,000. All donations made in 2023 will go directly toward this project.

Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.