Friday, March 27, 2015

The Colorado Trail

Along the Colorado Trail.  All photos courtesy the Colorado Trail.
I have wanted to through-hike the Colorado Trail since I first moved to the state in 1993.  The trail stretches 480 miles from Denver to Durango following the continental divide.  Most of the trail is above treeline and it is divided into 28 sections.
The trail passes through 6 Wilderness Areas, 6 National Forests, penetrates 8 of the states mountain ranges and traverses 5 major river systems.

Total elevation gain of the trail is 89,354 vertical feet, or more than climbing Mount Everest from sea level THREE times.  Trail elevation ranges from 5520 feet at Waterton Canyon at the Denver Trailhead to 13,271 feet just below the Coney summit in section 22.  Average trail elevation is 10,300 feet.

Through-hikers usually complete the trail in 4-6 weeks.  Numerous road crossings make it possible to meet family and friends (bearing food) and allows Section Hikers to cut the trail into do-able pieces. It rains most every day and lightning is a real safety concern; most hikers setup camp for the night before the rains and lightning start.

The trail can also be ridden by mountain bike, excepting Wilderness Areas and there are trails/roads around those.  You can also use a pack animal like a horse where you can ride it or carry your gear. Or you can go like my friend Mike who has used a llama each year to carry his groups gear while section hiking the trail.

The beauty of the Colorado Trail is beyond outstanding and hiking through summer wildflowers at elevation with forever-long views can't be beat.   Expect daily temperatures to run from a high of 80 degrees to a low of 30 degrees.  There are two long sections where water may be an issue. Cell phone coverage is spotty at best an many hikers use a Spot tracker service to notify family of their location (helps with rendezvous) and to call for help.  Some sections near towns will be busy with people day hiking on weekends but most of the trail will be quiet.
For a blast into the past you can even board the Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad at Elk Park on the CT and ride to Durango or Silverton if you have a ticket.

Backpackers can begin hiking the trail in late June and must finish by early September due to weather.  Even then it can snow every month in Colorado at the elevations the CT passes through.
Planning for the hike will take a little time.  Check out the Colorado Trail Trip Planning section and read the Guidebook.
If you live or vacation in Colorado consider joining the Colorado Trail Volunteers to maintain and work on trail sections part of the season.  Your generosity will be enjoyed by many.
When you go backpacking on the Colorado Trail, bring the CT Data Book and Trail Maps.  Happy hiking in some of the best scenery Colorado has to offer!

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