Feel Crowded on Open Space? Tips to Improve Your Visit

Hiker in the rain

The highly anticipated reopening of Pella Crossing and the grand openings of the Overland Trail at Heil Ranch and the Lagerman Agricultural Preserve remind us that our parks are a cherished part of the Boulder County landscape and lifestyle. Since Pella Crossing’s opening this spring, thousands of park visitors have enthusiastically walked the new trails, explored the restored shorelines, and reeled in trophy-sized bass.

When rangers are on park patrol, visitors often express gratitude for a restoration well done. However, not all feedback is positive. Visitors to Pella Crossing also express concerns about vehicles parked in horse trailer parking, not adhering to regulations, dogs off of leash, trash along the shoreline, visitors smoking cigarettes, after-hours park use, and negative interactions with other visitors on the trail.

Unfortunately, these types of complaints are not isolated to Pella Crossing. As the population in Boulder County increases and recreationists continue to discover the world-class parks and trails in our backyard, we will need to reevaluate how we recreate and interact with one another in the outdoors. As I look into the future of recreation in Boulder County, I am reminded of an ominous warning that a wise ranger shared with me, “we can love our parks to death.” If we fail to recognize that our outdoor culture is changing and expanding, we will be forced to react in dramatic ways to protect the resources we love. However, a simple recognition of the changes occurring throughout Colorado and a few simple adjustments in our mindset can ensure that our parks, trails, and open spaces remain world-class places for recreation, conservation, and preservation for generations to come. Although most trail conflicts can be avoided with a smile and friendly greeting, there are a few surefire ways to make your next trip to open space more enjoyable.

Your Visit—Only Better

Visit parks during off-peak times. If your idea of a great hike or ride involves a more solitary experience, try visiting your favorite park during the early evening hours on Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday. Visitor studies show that these are the least busy times of the week. Just remember, parks close at sunset. Many of our trails can be accessed by public transportation. Try extending your hike or bike ride by walking from the bus stop to the trailhead. In fact, the Hessie trailhead is one of the only wilderness trailheads in the country that can be accessed from a major international airport entirely on public transportation!

Know and understand the rules and regulations. Rangers do not enjoy issuing citations. In fact, most rangers got into the profession out of their love of Colorado’s spectacular natural resources and a desire to help others enjoy the outdoors safely. In Colorado, it is the visitor’s responsibility to know and understand the regulations of the places they are visiting even if they are not posted. For example, if you are walking your dog off leash on a Boulder County park because you have a voice or sight tag issued by the City of Boulder, you will likely be ticketed by a county ranger. Dogs are required to be on leash on most trails owned or managed by Boulder County.

Keep track of time. Another common citation issued by rangers in Boulder County is an after-hours violation. This $75 ticket can be avoided by simply checking the time of sunrise and sunset each day. A free sunrise/sunset app downloaded to your smart phone can save you a lot of money and make your trips to our parks ticket-free.

Explore volunteering. One of the best ways to experience Boulder County Parks and Open Space is from an insider’s perspective. Although we are not hiring new rangers at this time, we are always looking for volunteers and participants in our diverse outreach programs.

It is no secret that our parks and open spaces are changing, but the memorable experience we have on our trails with friends and families don’t have to. Together, we can work smarter to plan our visits, better understand park rules and regulations, and volunteer in order to maintain our unique outdoor way of life for many, many more visitors to come.

Quieter Times to Visit Parks

  • Early evening: Sunday-Monday-Tuesday
  • If it’s sprinkling, but conditions aren’t muddy, you might find the trails less crowded.
  • Don’t forget that trails at lower elevations are often walkable year-round.