The Colorado Trail stretches for 486 miles across the state, from Denver to Durango.
It’s a favorite among thru-hikers, trail runners, mountain bikers, and more.
This guide is here to uncover everything you need to know.
Start planning your trip!
(links jump down the page)
- Quick Facts, Stats, Elevations
- Races & Fastest Known Times
- Hazards & Safety
- Weather & Best Seasons
- How Long it Takes
- Packing List
- Dealing with Bears
- Timing / Nobo or Sobo
- Colorado Trail vs Other Trails
- Alternates (Collegiate Loop, more)
- Thru-Hiking Journal
- Resupply Guide
- Road Crossings (chart)
- Waterton Alternates
- Mountain Biking
- Climbing the 14ers
PAPER MAP: Trails Illustrated
PERMITS: none (easy self-registration for wilderness areas)
DESIGNATION: primarily 7 different National Forests
BEST SEASONS: July, August, September
DISTANCE: 486 miles from Denver to Durango
WATER: I thru-hiked with 4 liters capacity.
ROUTE: well maintained, popular trail, signed junctions
GUIDEBOOK: Colorado Trail 10th Edition
DATA BOOK: 8th Edition
More Stats & Elevations
The Colorado Trail Foundation often quotes the length of the trail at 567 miles, but this figure includes both their Collegiate East and West alternate routes.
A walk from Denver to Durango (or vice versa) totals about 486 miles. Google thinks that the trail’s “length” is the full 567 miles, but it’s wrong. Oh, silly old Google.
Mile for mile, the Colorado Trail probably has the highest average elevation of any long-distance trail in the United States. Over its full distance, it’s said to average about 10,300ft above sea level. In this regard, I imagine that only the John Muir Trail comes close to rivaling it.
The trail’s highest point is at a place called Coney Summit, 13,271 feet above sea level. Many thru-hikers take side trips to Colorado’s 14ers, which exceed 14,000ft.
From Denver to Durango, the trail’s elevation gain totals about 89,100 feet.
From Denver to Durango, the trail’s elevation loss totals about 81,100 feet.
Roughly 500 people finish the full length of the Colorado Trail each year.
The mountains in Colorado are considered to be crowded in the summer. There’s a lot of open space, however, so a thru-hiker won’t see the traffic levels like they would on the Appalachian Trail, or even on the PCT.
Maps of the Colorado Trail
Here’s a breakdown of all the available maps of the trail, in various formats.
For my thru-hike in 2010 I carried the Data Book coupled with the Trails Illustrated overview maps for each area. Now in more modern times I’d simply use the FarOut phone app.
As hikers move way from paper maps, the most popular app used on the trail is easily the one published by FarOut. It really shines for thru-hikes and long sections, but day hikers will find it useful as well. Note that they make a different version that’s specific for bikepackers, too.
Other phone apps that are good for general navigation include Gaia GPS, Avenza, and AllTrails. These all follow the model of having a free version available, with an up-sell for a paid subscription.
A Google Image search yields a lot of good maps for an overview of the trail, but none are complete with mileage data.
Most of these mark the individual segments. For example, here’s a nice PDF file from the US Forest Service website.
If you’re looking for a quick, small-scale topo map to do your own research, look no further than the wonderful resource that is CalTopo, free on the internet.
My favorite maps of the CT are published by Trails Illustrated. These give a great overview of the trail and surrounding area. The Collegiate West alternate route is not included. They have a separate map for that.
I’m not a big fan of the map book that’s published by the Colorado Trail Foundation. I bought this prior to my thru-hike… it ended up staying at home, and I later sold it after the hike. It shows the trail in great detail with plenty of GPS waypoints, but little else outside the trail corridor.
The pocket map is worth mentioning, but only because it exists. I’ve never handled one and therefore cannot comment on its quality.
The Guidebook and Data Book also have useful maps tucked away in their pages. The Guidebook is a large volume that will probably stay at home (Great for section hikers and aficionados).
The Data Book has useful overview maps to follow your progress through each segment, but I’d consider these as “diagrams” rather than proper maps.
Individual Trails Illustrated Maps
Finally, a number of other Trails Illustrated maps can be pieced together to cover the entire trail.
This is somewhat of an old school method. Once upon a time, the narrowly-focused map book was your only option. If you were interested in the surrounding trails and landscape (What’s that cool mountain over there?), you were forced to pick up the following maps, listed in order from Denver to Durango:
#135 – Deckers Rampart Range
#105 – Tarryall Mountains, Kenosha Pass
#104 – Idaho Springs Georgetown Loveland Pass
#108 – Vail, Frisco, Dillon
#109 – Breckenridge Tennessee Pass
#110 – Fairplay, Leadville
#127 – Aspen, Independence Pass
#129 – Buena Vista, Collegiate Peaks
#130 – Salida, St. Elmo, Mt. Shavano
#139 – La Garita, Cochetopa Hills
#140 – Weminuche Wilderness
#141 – Telluride, Silverton, Ouray, Lake City
#144 – Durango, Cortez
Races & Fastest Known Times
The Fastest Known Times website records an obscene amount of variations for the Colorado Trail. Now since the advent of the Collegiate West Route, they include records for Collegiate East & West, as well as eastbound and westbound.
Since the Collegiate East is the original Colorado Trail, the listed records below do not include the Collegiate West, and list only the fastest time regardless of direction.
Hiking & Running FKTs
According to the FKT website, Michael Mcknight holds the supported record at 7 days, 13 hours, and 30 minutes, accomplished in 2020.
The self-supported record is held by Andre Michaud, in 8 days, 23 hours, and 16 minutes, accomplished in 2019.
The female supported record is held by Nina Bridges – 8 days, 14 hours, 15 minutes.
Claire Bannwarth holds the female self-supported record at 9 days, 2 hours, 50 minutes, accomplished in 2023.
Timon Fish holds the current bicycle record at 3 days, 16 hours and 13 minutes, set in 2023.
Katya Rakhmatulina also set a new female record in 2023. Her time was 5 days, 1 hour, and 53 minutes, accomplished during the race that’s held each year.
There is not an official, coordinated foot race for the full length of the Colorado Trail Trail, but there’s an abundance of ultra and trail events each year that incorporate sections of it.
Most notable among these is the esteemed Leadville series.
Colorado Trail Bicycle Race
A bike race has taken place each year since 2007, typically in late July or early August. It’s a rather unofficial event, but maintains a noted popularity within its niche.
Organization of the race seems to have changed hands in 2021, as current registration info and results from 2021 through 2023 are now found on this wordpress website.
Historical information and results from the ride’s inception through 2020 are still found here.
Wildlife on the Colorado Trail
Some of the most exciting wildlife in Colorado includes black bears, elk, moose, and mountain lions.
And let’s not forget about those furry little marmots!
Go further down the page to see more about food storage precautions.
Hiking with Your Dog
Yes, dogs are allowed on the great majority of the Colorado Trail!
There’s only one small section at Waterton Canyon where dogs are not allowed. This is easily bypassed via the Indian Creek trailhead.
Otherwise dogs are okay throughout the entire trail. Some of the National Forest Wilderness Areas require dogs to be on a leash.
The Colorado Trail isn’t a bad one for beginners, but there’s better places for an absolute novice.
Beginners will like its friendly grades. If most of the trail is open to mountain bikes, how hard can it be? 🙂
Another positive aspect is that there’s a good amount of traffic in the summer, so if you get into trouble, help usually isn’t too far-off.
The Hardest Segment
Deciding which part of the trail is hardest is always subjective to an individual’s preparation and attitude.
Objectively you might say that segments 17 through 19 are the hardest because water is harder to come by. Another may say that segments 22 and 23 are the most difficult because they maintain such high elevations.
Finally, a hiker starting in Durango would certainly attest that Segment 28 is the most difficult, as they think back on the stiff 5,300-foot ascent out of town that climbs to 12,000+ in no time, fresh off the couch.
Hazards: Storms, Altitude Sickness, Remote Country
Thunderstorms are especially dangerous (and frightening) above treeline, so it’s best to have experience and physical conditioning in place to handle them. The Rocky Mountain’s high elevations certainly increase the difficulty level, especially for those coming from sea level.
Travelers from out of state should take at least a day or two to acclimate before your hike. Familiarize yourself with the symptoms of altitude sickness (dizziness, headache, nausea, etc.) and be aware that the only cure is to go back down!
Finally, I think the best trails for beginners are those with an abundance of bail-out options should things go astray. The Colorado Trail doesn’t generally doesn’t fit the bill in this regard, especially in its western reaches.
Weather & Best Time of Year
The best time to be on the Colorado Trail is in July, August, and early September.
June is a good possibility if there’s been a dry winter, but snow at the high elevations usually lingers late into the month.
Likewise, the chances of encountering an early-season snowstorm increase from September into October.
The Colorado Trail Foundation has an informative conditions page that provides links to local weather forecasts and snowpack levels, organized by segment.
You can also look into Facebook groups or the AllTrails App for recent first-hand accounts, especially in May and June for early-season reports.
Colorado gets frequent afternoon thunderstorms in July and early August. Getting caught in one can be scary and unnerving, especially if you’re above treeline!
Since storms tend to occur later in the day, it’s best to start early at this time of year to avoid getting caught above treeline.
Avoid camping above treeline during these months, unless the weather looks absolutely perfect.
Should you get caught on an exposed ridge, descend immediately off the trail if necessary (Don’t get lost!) and hunker down. It’s best to squat on your backpack to insulate yourself from the potential ground current.
If you’re hiking with a partner, create some distance from each other to decrease the likelihood of both of you getting zapped by a single strike. Needless to say, if you’re still on foot and see or feel the hairs rising on your head, get out of there.
Colorado Trail History
It’s unclear where the concept of a trail from Denver to Durango first originated. There was already talk of creating a “Rocky Mountain Trail” among the Colorado Mountain Club when Bill Lucas spurred the initial push to make it a reality in the early 1970s.
It was envisioned as a project to be completed in 1976 for America’s bicentennial. Merrill Hastings, as editor of Colorado Magazine, played a big roll in drumming up early support.
Gudy Gaskill took the reigns in 1974. Most of the original route was drawn out by 1976, but interest waned and funding disappeared. Gudy never gave up, and the trail was officially completed in 1987. The Colorado Trail Foundation was founded in the same year, and still serves as the trail’s primary steward. The first guidebook was published in 1988.
Gudy served as the first president of the CTF through 1998. She’s recognized as the “Mother of the Colorado Trail” and has received several honors for her efforts, including awards from both Ronald Reagan and George H. Bush. She passed away in 2016.
Today’s Colorado Trail Foundation
The CTF is going strong as the non-profit association that manages the trail. You can go here to learn more about how to volunteer for trail work.
Their largest project (and most impactful for hikers) in recent times was finished in 2012 when they completed the “Collegiate West” alternate route, adding 80 miles of trail to the Colorado Trail Foundation’s oversight.
Thru-Hiking the Colorado Trail
Here’s some FAQs and information that’s specifically oriented toward thru-hikers.
Do I need any permits?
There’s no permit required to thru-hike the Colorado Trail, nor will you find a voluntary online registration system, like the one for the Appalachian Trail.
You won’t cross any of our highly-regulated National Parks out here.
The wilderness areas on the Colorado Trail do have a permit system in place, but they don’t involve any designated campsites, fees, or general planning. When you enter a wilderness area you will find a self-registration box. That’s it.
How long does it take?
Most thru-hikers take about 4 to 6 weeks to backpack the trail’s full length.
We can break that figure down to a range of 28 to 42 days. To break that down even further, check out the necessary average miles per day:
28 days (4 weeks) = 17.4 miles per day (fast)
35 days (5 weeks) = 13.9 miles per day (average)
42 days (6 weeks) = 11.6 miles per day (rose sniffing)
When you’re in the planning stages in the comfort of your home, I generally recommend against working out out a day-by-day itinerary. Such itineraries are only made to be broken when faced with reality of the trail. Besides, part of the beauty of a thru-hike is to just sort of wing it as you go.
How about gear, what’s a good packing list?
Sometimes a thru-hike can require specific gear, like a bear canister or an ice axe for the PCT, but that isn’t the case with the Colorado Trail. A 20-degree sleeping bag (or quilt) and 4 liters of water capacity should get you through the trail just fine. See about food storage and bear precautions further below.
If you’re looking for more details on backpacking gear, start with my ultimate gear list.
As for on-trail resources, in 2010 I carried the Individual Trails Illustrated Maps, and the resupply info from PMags Guide, but the most useful item was the Data Book that I kept in my pocket at all times.
If I were to do it again, I’d likely rely solely on the FarOut App – but it would irresponsible to recommend doing so without at least carrying something like the hard-copy Trails Illustrated Maps as backup.
Do I need a bear canister? Bear spray?
Bear canisters are not required anywhere on the Colorado Trail.
In the past, I would have said no, you absolutely do not need one. I’d say to use a lightweight food bag and maybe even to use it as pillow (like I may or may not have done in 2010).
But things are changing, and trending in the direction of recommending hard-sided bear canisters for all locations where black bears are present. Incidents are on the rise in the east along the Appalachian Trail, and even in Colorado, which used to be known for its relatively tame bear population.
Bear Attacks in 2023
Colorado’s biggest bear stories in 2023 include a sheepherder that was attacked in the middle of the night, a couple of boys charged at a campground, and (amusingly, I must admit) an incident that took place inside a hotel kitchen in Aspen.
The current recommendation:
If I were to thru-hike again, I (probably) wouldn’t carry bear canister, but nor would I sleep with my food like a wragged scofflaw.
Instead I believe I’d opt for an Ursack AllMitey and hang my food as often as possible. The AllMitey, (though not as sturdy as a canister) is advertised as bear and rodent-proof, and saves some weight and bulk.
I only recommend carrying bear spray in grizzly bear country, and there’s no grizzlies in Colorado.
Timing – when to go?
Because of heavy snow along the the trail, the hiking season is only from late June through early October. This is the widest possible window for traditional hiking.
It’s best to be on the Colorado Trail only from July 1st through mid-September. Snowpack can be a problem through late June, and winter storms are more likely to hit the mountains after mid-September (I even experienced a light snowstorm in August).
July has a higher incidence of lightning, but more wildflowers and more thru-hikers.
Late August into September has clearer weather and even some foliage in the high grasses and aspens, but cold nights.
Which way? Nobo or Sobo?
First, let’s just clear up the technicality that the Colorado Trail runs in a general southwest / northwest direction. So some simplify it as northbound or southbound, while others call it eastbound and westbound. It doesn’t really matter what you call it, because we ultimately get your meaning.
Denver to Durango
The highest sustained elevations occur closer to the trail’s western terminus, so most hikers choose to start their trip on the Denver side. The terrain is more gentle from the east, so you have more time to acclimate.
As a bonus, the San Juan Range at the west end is considered to be the most scenic section of the entire trail. I think it’s more pleasing on a long hike to save the best for last!
Denver to Durango is the traditional direction for a Colorado Trail thru-hike, just as the traditional direction on the triple crown trails tends to be northbound.
Durango to Denver
For strong, acclimated backpackers, there’s a couple of advantages to starting the trail from Durango. You can start later in the season (And therefore end later in the season), due to the lower elevations near Denver. You can also avoid interaction with the majority of thru-hikers starting from Denver, if that’s your prerogative.
How much does it cost?
Cost is yet again a very subjective matter, depending on how much time you spend in town and the luxury you indulge in there.
Ten years ago I would have said to have $1,000 saved for on-trail expenses from Denver to Durango. Nowadays I’d say to double it $2,000, just to be in the clear. It’s a real bummer to be mentally and physically capable, yet forced to quit a thru-hike because of finances.
This figure does not include other expenses like the travel to and from Colorado, gear you bring to the trail, and regular bills from home that require upkeep.
Thru-Hiker’s Logistics (Getting there and getting home)
Fortunately the logistics of traveling to Denver and Durango are fairly simple. Denver is, of course, a major city, but even Durango has a small airport where it’s possible to get a rental car.
Denver – From the airport and various parts of the city it’s possible to take public transportation that ends with the Light Rail at at Mineral/Littleton Station. From there you can take a taxi or Uber, private shuttle, etc. to Waterton Canyon.
Look here (down the page) for more about the Waterton Trailhead & its alternates.
Durango – It’s only about 4 miles from the end of the trail to downtown Durango. I ended up walking it and it wasn’t so bad. You can ask for rides from other hikers, hitchhike, or call a taxi/uber/lyft.
Pmags.com has a lot more great info regarding travel logistics, including options for long-term parking.
The Colorado Trail vs Other Thru-Hikes
Here’s a brief comparison of the CT vs common long distance trails of ballpark length.
vs The John Muir Trail
The John Muir Trail is 275 miles shorter than the Colorado Trail, or less than half of the CT’s length.
The alpine terrain and climate on the JMT is similar to the Colorado Trail.
The timing for the John Muir Trail is similar to the CT, best done in late summer.
The JMT requires a special permit, which can be especially competitive to acquire. The Colorado Trail needs no permits.
The John Muir Trail is subjectively a more scenic experience than the CT.
vs The Long Trail (Vermont)
The Long Trail is 213 miles shorter than the Colorado Trail.
The climate and terrain is much different on The Long Trail. The LT stays at much lower elevations, has a warmer climate, and terrain that’s more steep and rough than the graded Colorado Trail. Vermont also sees much more precipitation than Colorado.
The timing for the Long Trail is similar to the CT, best done in late summer.
The LT does not require any permits.
The Colorado Trail subjectively a more scenic experience than the Long Trail, but Vermont’s fall colors outshine Colorado.
vs The Arizona Trail
The Arizona Trail is 303 miles longer than the Colorado Trail.
The climate on the AZT is even more dry than the Colorado Trail, with longer distances between water sources. The Arizona Trails sees overall lower elevations than the CT, but has stretches that may be higher than expected upwards of 9,000 feet. The grade of the AZT is similar to the Colorado Trail, often suitable for mountain bikes.
The timing is significantly different. The Arizona Trail is best done in Spring or Fall, whereas the Colorado Trail is ideal in late summer and early fall.
The AZT does not require permits, save for the section through Grand Canyon National Park.
Both trails are subjectively equally scenic experiences, dependent upon your preference for desert or mountain terrain.
vs the CDT (Continental Divide Trail) in Colorado
The CDT through Colorado is 154 miles longer than the Colorado Trail.
The 2 trails are actually one and the same as they coincide with each other for a distance of 200 miles, from the CT’s Segment 6 through Segment 24. Add about 50 miles to this figure if you opt for the Colorado Trail’s Collegiate West route.
The Colorado Trail is more established and better-marked than the CDT, so a CDT hiker should approach the trip with a little more experience than may be necessary for the Colorado Trail.
A Colorado Trail thru-hike earns the satisfaction of doing a complete trail from end-to-end, whereas a Continental Divide hike through Colorado is a section of a much longer route that stretches from Mexico to Canada.
Alternate Routes – The Collegiate Loop (and more)
In 2012 the Colorado Trail Foundation introduced the 83-mile Collegiate West route.
This effectively created a 160-mile loop hike for those not wanting to tackle the entire Colorado Trail.
So thru-hikers have a choice to make when they arrive at the Collegiate Loop:
Should I do the Collegiate East or Collegiate West?
The Collegiate West alternate is reputedly more scenic than the original trail (Now often dubbed “Collegiate East”). In Colorado, however, more scenery comes with higher elevations and more exposure to lightning.
Collegiate West leaves the CT (Collegiate East) in Segment 11 and rejoins it in Segment 15.
Collegiate East is 78 miles with a southbound elevation gain of ~17,800 feet.
Collegiate West is 85 miles with a southbound elevation gain of ~19,800 feet. The west route maintains a significantly higher elevation and adds just 5 miles to a thru-hike.
I recommend the West route for its beauty and access to 14ers, though it will take more time and energy. If you’ve had enough of high, exposed elevations and lightning, then go East.
The Collegiate East is the original alignment of the Colorado Trail.
Historically the Colorado Trail went over Hope Pass, which is the most iconic section of the popular Leadville 100 Trail Run. Eventually the official trail was re-routed to the east, but several hikers still chose to incorporate Hope Pass into a thru-hike. Now it gets even more love as part of the Collegiate West route.
This split in the CT occurs in Segment 11. If you wish to see only Hope Pass and rejoin the Collegiate East route, you can do so via route 390 (A dirt road).
OR you can continue on the Collegiate West Route.
OR you can continue to Missouri Gulch, a great option to bag some 14ers.
From Hope Pass one can continue to the Missouri Gulch trailhead and over Elkhead Pass, eventually picking up the Pine Creek Trail that leads east back to the official CT. From the pass you’re within striking distance of three Fourteeners – Missouri Mountain, Belford, and Oxford.
Missouri Gulch is not part of the Collegiate West Alternate, and rejoins the CT in Segment 12.
My experience on the alternate routes
I went over both Hope Pass and Elkhead Pass (Missouri Gulch) on my hike, and I loved it!
This was prior to the creation of the Collegiate West Route. If I were to go again, then that’s the road I’d choose – the Collegiate West. With extra time and energy I’d consider doing an out-and-back trip up Missouri Gulch to do the nearby 14ers.
My Colorado Trail Journal
If you’d like to immerse yourself in a more subjective take on thru-hiking the trail, with all the tidbits of wisdom gained via a detailed firsthand account, please check out my journal.
It’s over 40,000 words with 1,500 beautiful photos.
A Thru-Hiker’s Resupply Guide
Thru-hikers will traditionally hitchhike into towns along the way for a shower, food resupply, and a good hot meal.
Modern Resupply Strategies
The gig economy has changed some of the traditional means of resupply via the convenience of our cell phones.
Here’s a few creative exist that didn’t exist until just a few short years ago.
Call hostels and services (Or Uber or Lyft) via cell phone to pick you up at the trailhead. There’s extra fees involved here, but at least it’s not hitchhiking!
Try AirBnB to get lodging in town, especially if you have a gang of friends or “tramily”.
Send yourself timely resupply boxes of food as you go, via Amazon Prime or other services. Why not? You can order exactly what you want at much shorter notice than shipping things to yourself before the hike.
Try DoorDash for grocery delivery at a trailhead. Most of the trail crossings are probably out of range for the delivery apps, but it could be worth a try.
For more information about specific services and hostels available in towns, check out Pmags guide.
Traditional Food Drops
It’s possible to mail food to yourself prior to your hike. You can ship it via USPS to a local post office. Sometimes businesses along the trail will accept packages too (Especially worth considering for UPS and FEDEX, which do not deliver to the Post Office).
For boxes going to the post office, the way to address them is:
Amazing Hiker (Your name)
Awesome Town, CO 12345
My Resupply Experience
Here’s the towns I went to in 2010, which I thought were well-spaced from one another:
- Frisco / Breckenridge (104 miles from Denver)
- Leadville (143 miles from Denver)
- Buena Vista (216 miles from Denver)
- Salida (253 miles from Denver)
- Creede (343 miles from Denver)
- Silverton (411 miles from Denver)
- Durango (finish, 486 miles from Denver)
I prefer buying my food along the way on a thru-hike. Those who send packages to themselves often do a lot of supplemental shopping anyway! Are you really going to eat oatmeal every morning for a month? Really?
Main Road Crossings with Town Access
Here’s a chart that shoes the Colorado Trail’s main access points.
|Miles from Denver
|Miles from Trail
|US Hwy 285
|US Hwy 285
|US Hwy 24
|Princeton Hot Springs
|US Hwy 50
|FS 503 (4wd)
|US Hwy 550
|Miles from Denver
|Miles from Trail
|FS 267 (dirt)
|FS 267 (dirt)
|Princeton Hot Springs
|Princeton Hot Springs
|FS 230 (4wd)
|Garfield, Butterfly Hostel
|US Hwy 50
|Monarch Pass (store)
|US Hwy 50
|US Hwy 50
The Colorado Trail officially begins at Waterton Canyon. The popular trail here does not allow dogs and has been subject to closures in the past, so I’ll break down a couple of established alternates below.
Most thru-hikers start from the northeast end of the trail at Waterton Canyon, near the Denver metro area (technically Littleton, Colorado). You can enter “Waterton Canyon Trailhead” on Google Maps to see the precise location.
No dogs are allowed at Waterton Canyon. The trail will often close due to issues related to its nearby dam, so there are two alternate trailheads:
This is the main alternate for those with dogs. “Indian Creek Campground Sedalia” on Google Maps will essentially get you there, but you’ll want to have a copy of this PDF file with precise directions. You’ll walk 4.4 miles to connect with the official Colorado Trail. This also acts as a shortcut, shaving 3.5 off of the official route.
Roxborough State Park
This alternate was popular one year when Waterton Canyon was closed for almost an entire season. You’ll have to pay an entrance fee for the state park, but some folks still like this as a quiet alternative to the busy Waterton Canyon Trail. There are no dogs, bicycles, horses, camping, etc. allowed here.
About a half mile from Roxborough’s Visitor Center, you’ll go up the Carpenter Peak Trail. Near the summit of Carpenter Peak will be a singed junction that leads to the official Colorado Trail. You’ll connect with the CT near Strontia Springs Dam. This alternate shaves about a mile from the official route.
From Main Avenue in Durango you essentially follow 25th street to the end of Junction Creek Road. Here it is in Google Maps.
Biking is most popular on the sections of trail nearest to Denver and Durango.
Some reports say that about 10 percent of the distance is spent hiking with your bike, but others say that it feels like quite bit more. Remember that the Colorado Trail is hiking trail that simply allows cyclists to use it… if you dare
Bikepacking is growing increasingly popular on the Colorado Trail. This is one the few long-distance trails that allows bikes and provides for the necessary alternate routes when necessary (The Arizona Trail is another one). The standard hiking trail is 486 miles, but the biking bypasses extend a full length adventure to approximately 540 miles.
The most popular places for cyclists to resupply are Frisco, Leadville, Buena Vista, and Silverton
There’s an annual race.
Six wilderness areas need to be bypassed. These are:
- Lost Creek Wilderness – segments 4-5
- Holy Cross & Mount Massive – segments 9-11
- Collegiate Peaks Wilderness – segments 11-13
- La Garita Wilderness – segments 18-21
- Weminuche Wilderness – segment 24
These bypasses are described in detail (with maps) in the official guidebook. or via FarOut’s dedicated Bikepacking App for the Colorado Trail.
Climbing the Fourteeners
The most popular activity when hiking in Colorado is to climb the peaks that are over 14,000 feet above sea level. About fifty so-called Fourteeners are in the state, and a few are within striking distance of The Colorado Trail.
Each peak has its own character. Hiking just one 14er offers an unparalleled experience, with views that aren’t found along the official trail. You can expect to see more crowds on these mountains than the main trail.
You’ll be tempted to leave all of your backpacking gear behind to bag these summits. You should try and go as light as possible. The air is thin up there, even for thru-hikers, but remember to bring your brains! Snacks, water, headlamp, and extra layers are essential. Don’t be afraid to turn around.
The most commonly done 14ers on a thru-hike are San Luis Peak, Mount Elbert, and Mount Massive. San Luis Peak is the easiest one to get, as its summit is nearest to the official trail. Mount Elbert is especially tempting too, since it’s the highest mountain in Colorado!
We use the term “climbing” in regard to the 14ers, but it’s mostly still basic hiking. Some of the peaks listed here require a little 3rd class scrambling. Missouri Mountain, in particular, had a short section that struck me as exceptionally exposed. Others like Mount Elbert are just fine.
Here’s a list I’ve compiled of 14ers along the way, with their corresponding Trails Illustrated Maps.
Justin Simoni has compiled a detailed page about climbing the 14ers along the Colorado Trail, too.
Segment 10 – Mount Massive, 14,421 – TI map #127
Segment 11 – Mount Elbert, 14,433 – TI map #127
Segment 11/12 – Missouri Mountain, 14,067 – Missouri Gulch Bypass, TI map #129
Segment 11/12 – Mount Belford, 14,197 – Missouri Gulch Bypass, TI map #129
Segment 11/12 – Mount Oxford, 14,153, Missouri Gulch Bypass, TI map #129
Segment 12 – Mount Harvard, 14,420 – TI map #129
Segment 12 – Mount Columbia, 14,073 – TI map #129
Segment 13 – Mount Yale, 14,196 – TI map #129
Segment 13 – Mount Princeton, 14,197 – TI map #130
Segment 14 – Mount Antero, 14,269 – TI map #130
Segment 14 – Mount Shavano, 14,229 – TI map #130
Segment 20 – San Luis Peak, 14,014 – TI map #139
The Colorado Trail Foundation Deserves Your Love
Without the efforts of the Colorado Trail Foundation, there would be no Colorado Trail! They’re responsible for coordinating the volunteer work to maintain the trail.
You can donate to their efforts here, because money makes the world go ’round.
Any More Questions?
I hope this page has satisfied what you needed to know about the trail, or at least pointed you in the right direction. Feel free to contact me with additional questions.
Don’t forget to have a look at my thru-hiking journal!