Bear Lake is a wonderful destination in Rocky Mountain National Park. In winter families head there for sledding on the hillsides that run down to the ice-covered lake and snowshoeing in the woods, and in summer it's a great place for hiking.
But much-needed repairs to the Bear Lake Road will create some traffic woes during the next two years as crews work to rebuild retaining walls, reroute one nearly mile-long stretch away from wetlands, and fix problems with the road in general.
While access to Bear Lake won't be cut off, there will be times when you won't be able to drive your own vehicle to the lake but instead have to take the park's free shuttle bus if you want to go there.
According to Rocky Mountain staff, the "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."
Beginning March 5 major construction work on the lower section of the road will impact travel to the lake. The construction will take 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 will be similar in scope and impacts as the first phase of reconstruction on Bear Lake Road that was completed in 2004, and took place on the upper 4.3-mile-section of road.
"This major project will involve construction of significant retaining walls to improve safety and drainage. In addition, a 0.9 mile section will be rerouted away from Glacier Creek, in order to prevent impacts to wetlands and riparian habitat and reduce costs," explains park spokeswoman Kyle Patterson. "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."
Once the work starts, motorists heading to Bear Lake should expect at least one 30-minute delay, Monday through Friday, on the lower section of Bear Lake Road. As the construction proceeds, visitors should expect rough road conditions.
Additionally, during the high season, from May 29, through October 9, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Bear Lake Road, approximately one mile west of Moraine Park Visitor Center to Bear Lake, will be accessible by free shuttle bus only, seven days a week. Private vehicles will be allowed both directions prior to 9 a.m. and after 4 p.m. Visitors in private vehicles, who make the 9 a.m. cutoff time, will be allowed to travel eastbound throughout the day.
All visitors, in private vehicles or shuttle buses, should expect at least two 20-minute delays both west and eastbound through the construction area. There will be 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 park’s three shuttle routes will be modified during the construction. The Bear Lake Route will run 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 will run 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 will depart from the Moraine Park Visitor Center at 7 a.m. and the last bus will leave at 7 p.m. The last bus of the day will leave Bear Lake and Fern Lake Trailheads at 7:30 p.m. Bear Lake Route buses will run every 15 minutes but may be delayed during periods of road construction. Moraine Park Route buses will run every 20 minutes.
The Hiker Shuttle Route will make stops at the Estes Park Fairgrounds Parking Lot, 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 will leave the Town of Estes Park Visitor Center at 6:30 a.m. and the last bus will leave the Moraine Park Visitor Center bound for Estes Park at 8 p.m. The Hiker Shuttle will run on an hourly schedule early and late in the day; switching to a half hour schedule from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Most facilities along Bear Lake Road will be available to the public during the reconstruction project. However, Glacier Basin Campground and the Tuxedo Park picnic area and shuttle stop will be 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 a.m. and 4 p.m., the best option will be to park in Estes Park at the parking lot near the Fairgrounds or the Estes Park Visitor Center and take the Hiker Shuttle in to Rocky Mountain National Park.
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.
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 will be 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.