World → North America → Rockies → Colorado Trail
One of the best hikes in the world
This is a MAJOR long distance adventure like the Pacific Crest Trail. You need do a lot of advance planning. If 500 miles is too much we recommend 3 highlight sections:
- Collegiate West 80mi (4-7 days) <site><trip>
- San Luis Pass to Molas Pass (4-7 days)
- Silverton (Molas Pass) to Durango (4-5 days) <trip>
AT A GLANCE
- 486mi (782km) from Denver to Durango
- shares 234 miles with the Continental Divide Trail
- 4-6 weeks
- highest point is 13,240ft (4035m)
- average elevation about 10,347ft (3048m)
- long stretches where resupply is difficult
- no permits required
- wildflowers best in July
- sprawling above-the-treeline mountain vistas
- wildflowers, alpine meadows make you think you’ve died and gone to hiker’s heaven
- dispersed camping – no rules
- Colorado Trail Foundation does a terrific job maintaining and even improving the CT
- miles of new singletrack has been built – mostly by volunteers – to replace logging road sections
- open fires are (sometimes) allowed
- dogs are allowed on the CT (aside from the section near the Denver trailhead – Waterton Canyon)
- wildlife🙂 – elk, marmot, pica
Start hiking early. Thunderstorms start brewing around 1pm many afternoons. You don’t want to be caught high up and exposed if and when that happens. Consider taking a siesta mid-day. Wait and see what happens. By late afternoon you may be able to continue hiking.
- “monsoon season” mid-July to mid-late August. Lots of torrential downpours in the afternoon. Lightning danger.
- sections shared with mountain bikes and horses
- availability of water is a concern in some sections. It can be 20 miles between good sources
- sun protection is essential
- if water is high, you may need to do some creek crossing
- black bears on the Colorado Trail pose not nearly the same problem as the California Sierra bruins. But you still need to store your food away safely.
- plan on mosquitoes
- it’s difficult to find good bear hanging branches. Consider bringing a bear vault or Ursack.
There is no way to spend any money on the Colorado Trail itself.
See a larger larger version.
- most often hiked east-to-west, north-to-south from Denver to Durango
- start no earlier than mid-late June. Finish no later than late September/ early October.
We recommend you walk from Denver towards Durango. Hikers call it “south” when on the trail. The start easier, the end more challenging. Save the spectacular San Juan’s for the finish.
But walking north extends the window of hiking by one or two weeks to early-mid October. Elevation / snow storms are less an obstacle on the last days arriving Denver.
If ready to start planning, click over to a page titled Colorado Trail Resources by Segment. It links to maps and information for 33 different sections plus alternatives.
The Colorado Trail Foundation offers guided hikes.
They can transport your gear. You’d only carry a day pack.
Leave a comment if you can recommend other companies that guide parts of – or all of – the Colorado Trail.
Since no permits or fees are required, you can start and stop wherever you like.
Camp wherever you like. (If water is available.)
Transportation to-and-from trailheads are your biggest issue. Starting and finishing. And heading off the trail to resupply with food and fuel.
To plan transport get your hands on a copy of a good guidebook well in advance. For example – The Colorado Trail.
The Colorado Trail Foundation
710 10th Street, Room 210
Golden, CO 80401
Phone: (303) 384-3729 (Mon–Fri usually 9:00–5:00 Mtn Time; 24-hour voice mail)
Best Trekking Guidebooks & Apps
The Colorado Trail Databook (4″x 7″) is enough for most hikers. It includes maps, elevation profile charts, GPS waypoints and highlights of each of the 28 segments of the trail in a compact format.
We used the heavier, more detailed official guidebook – The Colorado Trail.
Yogi’s Colorado Trail Handbook (2015) is a new alternative.
- Colorado Trail Hiker app (Android)
- Guthook’s Trail Guide Apps (IOS and Android)
See more Colorado Trail material in the official store. Check to ensure you are ordering the most recent edition(s).
Best Travel Guidebooks
Best Web Pages
- Paul Magnanti’s pmags.com – Colorado Trail “End to End” Guide
- whiteblaze.net forum » Colorado Trail
- Trail Journals » Colorado Trail
- History of The Colorado Trail
- CT volunteer Trail Crews
Best Trip Reports
- Denver Post photo editor Dean Krakel
- Willow Belden – A 500-mile solo hike cured my loneliness
- Jamie Compos – Down the Trail
- Blind hiker Trevor Thomas is the toughest hiker on The Colorado Trail
- Clever Hiker – Collegiate Peaks Loop Guide
- Landscape photographer Roger O’Doherty – Colorado Trail
- BestHike editor Rick McCharles – Collegiate West (2015)
Click PLAY or watch a Colorado Trail Foundation promo video on YouTube.
Click PLAY or watch an artistic take by John Bryant Baker 2012 on YouTube.
Click PLAY or watch a 2012 thru hike time-lapse on YouTube. Note how the scenery gets increasingly spectacular as they move south.
Click PLAY or watch David Fanning’s (intended) solo thru hike on YouTube.
Questions? Suggestions? Leave a comment on this page. Our editors will reply.