Program’s $48 million helps maintain parks, support safety

No matter where you find yourself in Colorado, there’s a state park ready to embrace your arrival.

Colorado’s parks reflect the state’s ecological diversity, whether nestled in the mountains or sprawled across the prairies, alongside flowing rivers, or in dense forests. Embark on an adrenaline-pumping whitewater rafting adventure or gather for a family picnic. Enjoy snowshoeing in the winter or ambling along serene trails.

From Eastern Plains parks at 3,800 feet to the heights of high-mountain parks at 9,500 feet, Colorado’s network of parks offers a plethora of activities for people of all ages.

Related: Sales of new DMV-issued state park passes reach $30 million

And now it’s easier — and cheaper — than ever to get out and enjoy nature thanks to the Keep Colorado Wild program. Through a partnership with the Colorado Department of Revenue, Colorado Parks & Wildlife launched the program on Jan. 3, 2023, to give residents discounted access to the state’s 42 state parks.

Under the program, Colorado residents can purchase an annual state parks pass for $29 — normally $80 per year — with their annual vehicle registration. Since the program kicked off, about 30% of Colorado residents have purchased the discounted pass, raising about $48 million.

The funds help keep parks clean and maintained, supporting search and rescue teams and safety programs.

“The hope is that people will see that it’s a good deal, and it’s a great way to give back to search and rescue, avalanche and contribute to outdoor education,” said CPW Public Information Officer Bridget O’Rourke.

Visitors to state parks show their vehicle registration cards, which have the Colorado Parks and Wildlife logo on them, to indicate they’ve opted into the program. You can also make your pass digital and display it on your phone. Passes are valid for one year or until the vehicle registration expires.

The Keep Colorado Wild passes are linked to the valid registration of specific cars, motorcycles, recreation vehicles or light trucks. Purchase a pass for each vehicle you want to use to enter a state park.

Last year, there were 18 million visitors to Colorado’s parks, up from 15 million in 2019.

“It’s stayed mostly the same since the pass has become available,” O’Rourke said. “We’re not seeing too much of an increase where it’s overburdening our parks.”

Because visitation fluctuates yearly, Colorado Parks & Wildlife needs to study the impact on the parks over the five years since the Keep Colorado Wild pass became available.

“We’ve seen an increase in visitation in the last five years,” she said. “That’s also when COVID hit and people were flocking to the outdoors. Now we’re seeing it go back to pre-COVID levels.”

Golden Gate Canyon State Park in Golden, Colorado on Saturday, September 30, 2023. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)

Just a few of the parks you can visit using the Keep Colorado Wild pass include:

  • Barr Lake State Park: a 1,900-acre prairie reservoir on the northeast side of Denver known for birdwatching. Many bald eagles spend winter in the area, and one pair regularly nests in the park during the summer.
  • Rifle Falls: A 70-foot triple waterfall attracts movie crews and photographers from all over. The park offers good trout fishing, and the 50-seat Mountain Mist Amphitheater is popular for weddings.
  • Lake Pueblo State Park: Boating, fishing, and water sports are popular at the park, which has 4,600 water acres surrounded by 12,000 acres of land. Anglers can fish for largemouth and smallmouth bass, walleye, wiper, catfish, and trout.
  • Golden Gate Canyon State Park: Located near Golden, the park’s 12,000-acre mountain, meadow and forest is a great choice for a close-in high-country hike. The park boasts a 100-mile view of the Continental Divide and 35 miles of trails. Mountain bikes and horses are allowed.
  • Paonia: Surrounded by the Gunnison National Forest, this park near Somerset has a 334-acre lake along the North Fork of the Gunnison River. Jet and water skiing, powerboating, sailing and canoeing are permitted. Two campgrounds offer 13 scenic but primitive campsites with no hookups.

CPW’s mission is to perpetuate the state’s wildlife resources, provide a quality state parks system, and provide recreation opportunities that educate and inspire current and future generations to serve as active stewards of Colorado’s natural resources.

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