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Susan Walthall of Austin hikes around Lake Irene on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Visitors get free admission to any national park on Sunday in honor of the National Park Service's 103-year anniversary — but they'll also get the crowds that come with it. 

Rocky Mountain National Park is expecting large crowds, said public affairs officer Kyle Patterson. While the park's highest visitation numbers are on weekends year-round, this Sunday's "Fee Free" day is poised to attract extra guests.

"Anyone coming to RMNP this Sunday should expect high visitation, particularly during 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. with full parking lots, congested roads, busy trails and long lines and wait times at entrance stations," Patterson said.

Rocky Mountain National Park is the third most visited national park in the country with over 4.5 million visitors annually. Which is why, said Patterson, people need to be prepared on Fee Free Days

"Hike early or hike late," Patterson said. "Check the weather forecast before you arrive at the national park to better plan your day and destinations. If you plan to hike later in the day, it is critical that you know the weather forecast for the elevation of your destination, particularly to avoid lightning and thunderstorms."

Sunday, park staff will restrict vehicle access in the Bear Lake Road corridor, the Wild Basin area and Alpine Visitor Center as heavy congestion warrants, Patterson said. As the park fills up, Bear Lake Road restrictions often begin by 9:30 a.m. and Wild Basin Road restrictions at about 10 a.m., she said, so plan ahead.

Colorado has 12 other national parks that will have free admission Sunday, several of them near Colorado Springs.

Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, located about 35 miles west of Colorado Springs, hosts one of the world’s richest deposits for diverse fossils. Spanned across its nearly 6,000 acres are massive petrified stumps of redwood trees and small fossils of insects, spiders, fish, leaves, birds, mammals, cones and seeds.

Further south lies the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve near Alamosa. Visitors can "sand board" or "sand sled" the tallest dunes in North America, or tube down Medano Creek.

Click here to see the rest of the National Park Service's 2019 Fee Free days.

Multimedia Journalist

Liz is a multimedia journalist with a specific interest in space exploration and environment. She watches way too much Star Trek and is working toward her rescue scuba divers certification. Liz joined the Gazette staff in 2019.

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