The Colorado Trail “End to End” Guide

A guide for planning long hikes on The Colorado Trail. Town info, resupply, alt routes, and general info. Revised April 2014.

Guide Sections

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About The Colorado Trail and the “End to End” Guide

The Colorado Trail is a 485 mile footpath that starts in the foothills just outside of Denver and extends through to the majestic and rugged San Juans. In between those two points are sweeping views, gorgeous wildflowers and an experience in the mountains you will not forget.

While this handout will help you prepare for the basics on a journey of this trail, it is not the only item you need for information to complete The Colorado Trail. As always, you should consult with other resources before heading out on an extended trek in the mountains.

The Colordao Trail at Glance

Want to know the major details about The Colorado Trail?.  Here are the details in a nutshell:

  • Official length of trail is 485 miles in length
  • Northeastern terminus just outside of Denver in Waterton Canyon State Park
  • Southwestern terminus just outside of Durango, CO
  • Highest official point is 13240 ft
  • Lowest point is 5520 ft
  • According to the latest figures, The Colorado Trail averages 10347′ throughout its length!
  • The CDT and The Colorado Trail share the same treadway for 234  miles; over 300 if you take the new Collegiate West option.
  • It takes most hikers 4-6 weeks to hike the trail.
  • Five weeks is a very average pace.
  • Well marked and easy to follow (by Western trail standards)
  • Horses and mountain bikers (in non-wilderness areas) are also allowed in addition to hikers

The window for hiking The Colorado Trail is relatively narrow. Generally speaking, the window for hiking the CT is no earlier than mid-late June and ending no later than late September/ early October. Before mid-late June there is generally too much snow in the high country; after late September/early October there is a very great chance there will be a snowstorm where the snow will accumulate and not melt the following day.   If you are Denver bound, the hiking season can be extended about 1 to 2 weeks as you will be in the lower elevations.  This time frame is just a rule of thumb that can change depending upon snow pack, hiking pace, rate of snow melt and an early winter. The rule of thumb is pretty accurate however. This link from The Colorado Trail Foundation may be useful as well.

Hiking The Colorado Trail During the Summer
Pros Cons
More daylight for hiking More people
Generally warmer weather Lightning danger
Wildflowers are in full bloom May be too much snow in a high snow year, esp. if start in mid-June
Water is flowing well (generally) More insects
Monsoon season in ~mid-July to ~mid-late August. Lots of torrential downpours in the afternoon.

 

Hiking The Colorado Trail During the Fall
PROS CONS
Cool crisp weather Less daylight
Less people Always a chance of freak snowstorm
Aspen are changing, gorgeous! In a low snow year water flowing less
Elks bugling Colder at night
Less danger of lightning

(Note: Fall generally comes to The Colorado high country by late August)

Now,  with changing weather patterns, the above rules of thumb are getting skewed. As I type this note, it is Sept 8, 2013. Still 90+ F days in the foothills with frequent afternoon t-storms  as well.  Very unusual and, if the hot and dry patterns hold going forward in the years ahead, hard to tell what is in store!  Monsoon season may be off, possibly more wildfires and a prolonged Fall/later winter. We’ll see what Ma Nature does.  That’s about all we can do. :)

About lightning: Lightning is the fact of nature many CTers have the most concern about. During The Colorado summer, thunderstorms start brewing around 1 or so in the afternoon and go until late afternoon. Almost like clockwork! When planning your mileage for the day, try to keep this fact in mind. Ma Nature doesn’t always keep to this schedule, but she sure is consistent about if for the most part!

About “Da Bears”: While there are black bears on The Colorado Trail, they are not even as remotely aggressive as their High Sierra cousins. The black bears tend to stick to the valleys and are not habituated to backpackers like their Sierra cousins. A bear canister is overkill (IMO); normal bear precautions should be plenty.

SOUTHWEST vs. NORTHEAST on The Colorado Trail

Southwest / Durango Bound Starting from Denver eases a hiker into the higher elevations, starts off more gentle, more options to bail out if you need some RnR. You also get to end in the San Juans; a much more scenic ending than Waterton Canyon. Due to the elevation factor, this method is preferred for people from outside of Colorado. Durango has less transportation options to get back home vs. Denver.

Northeast / Denver Bound: You do face some of the hardest terrain and higher elevation right away, end in the more subtle Wateron Canyon. End of trip will prove to be easy terrain wise. If you start late in the season, going
Denver bound extends the window of hiking by one or two weeks to early-mid October. Ending in Denver is also much easier logistically to get back home vs Durango.

Starting in Denver

There are three popular places to start the Colorado Trail from Denver.

The Official Start – Waterton Caynon

Waterton Canyon is the official Denver terminus of The Colorado Trail

Details here….

Waterton Canyon is perhaps the logistically easiest of the three popular starts in terms of getting to, is the official trail terminus  and allows the CT hiker to ease into the trail gently. Seeing the bighorns at the dam is always a treat, too.

This start does not allow dogs or camping however. It is also essentially a wide dirt road and a is a very popular trail running/biking/fishing area so not the most remote feeling start.

The Dog Friendly Start – Indian Creek Trail

Have a dog and do not want to skip ahead to segment two? You could do this dog-friendly alternate (with somewhat hard logistics).

If you wish to have long term parking for this alternate, here’s some info posted online:

If you’re starting at Indian Creek TH, parking in Sedalia might be convenient for you. Maybe phone Sedalia RV Storage (303) 688-3842, owner Jim Sikora, and get a price quote etc. There are many other RV storage places where you might also inquire but some won’t take cars.

Besides allowing dogs, this alternate has a campground at the start of the alternate and camping is allowed along the way.

The Scenic Alterate – Roxborough State Park

Another alternate start could  be to take this alternate not far from Waterton Canyon . Roxborough State Park does not allow camping or dogs, but is an interesting and scenic alternative. Take trail #800 to hook on The Colorado Trail again. It hooks up again just after Waterton Canyon.

Here’s a little report I wrote about it. Makes a nice way to  start  The Colorado Trail. (Wtih some caveats: There is an entrance fee, no overnight parking, no camping, no horses, and no MTBikes or dogs)

If you do not find a shuttle (see below), you can get there via these instructions:

Starting from Durango? See below!

 

Guidebooks

The following are good Guidebooks for The Colorado Trail

  • The Colorado Trail: The Official Guidebook, Eigth Edition. By The Colorado Trail Foundation
    For a general overview of the trail, includes expanded re-supply info vs previous editions, USFS maps, and general description of the trail. The eight edition is totally revised and has much info useful for a long distance hiker on the CT. Yours truly wrote the section on lightweight backpacking.  As always, check The Colorado Trail Foundation’s website for latest trail re-routes and information.
  • The Colorado Trail: The Trailside Databook, Fifth Edition. By The Colorado Trail Foundation The Colorado Trail’s equivalent to the AT databook.  Compact enough for a good sized cargo pocket.  Ounce for ounce and dollar for dollar, the most valuable guidebook  for the CT. The 5th edition is completely revised with basic maps showing side trails, has excellent “quick and dirty” resupply info, water info, campsite info and gives details for the Collegiate West alternate and has information on bike detours for wilderness areas.
  • Jackie “Yogi” McDonnell now has a Colorado Trail Handbook similar to her PCT and CDT handbooks. More detailed info for pre- trail planning and very detailed information for the towns. Useful if you are new to long distance hiking and need help with what gear to bring, how to do mail drops and so on and/or like more extensive information about towns and resources avail.
Maps:

The following represent a wide range of map resources for The Colorado Trail.

 

  • USFS Maps in Guidebook : Some basic maps do come with the guidebook, but they are limited in scope, do not show alternate routes/bailout points and have no topo lines. Some people find them adequate; I do not like using them. YMMV.
  • The Colorado Trail Map Book: A new map set available on the The Colorado Trail Foundation website for $43.95:
  • CT Topo Map Book: Detailed, up-to-date topographic maps and waypoints help you navigate The Colorado Trail and plan your trips. Includes recent trail reroutes in Clear Creek and Cataract Ridge. Soft cover, 8.5″ x 11″ and spiral bound to lay flat for ease of use, it weighs only 14.5 ounces. Can be disassembled allowing users to carry just what they need. (Paper is not waterproof and packing in a Ziploc bag is recommended.) Includes 73 pages of full color, shaded relief topo maps detailing The Colorado Trail and the bicycle detours around Wilderness areas. Magnetic declinations for compass users. Complete printed list of nearly 1200 GPS waypoints in UTM & Lat Long formats. Additional detail is available on http://bearcreeksurvey.com/colorado_trail_mapbook.htm Note: These maps are very detailed, however they only show the CT corridor. If you want to take alt routes, “bag” some of the more obscure 14ers or prefer a wider view than just the CT corridor (for bailout points perhaps) you may want to take different maps or the Bear Creek maps with the appropriate sections of the DeLorme Gazetteer for Colorado. Taking the narrow corridor maps with the appropriate Gazetteer maps are a strategy many CDT hiker use for their thru-hikes FWIW.
  • Another option is the new MOUNTAIN MAPS – SAWATCH RANGE map that show alternate routes, 14ers and bailout points between Leadville and the CDT/CT junction to the south (.  Sections 10-15 in the guidebook.)
  • Trails Illustrated Maps: Very detailed with a nice overview of not just the trail, but surrounding trails as well. Good if you plan on taking alternate routes and/or doing 14ers. They are water resistant. Cost ~$12 ea. A  bit heavy. You need fourteen maps to complete the trail, so it can be an expensive option. Being a Colorado resident, already owned many of the maps anyway so it was an option that worked for me. If you do not plan on hiking in Colorado again any time soon, the other map resouces are a better investment.
  • Postholer.com now has a CT Databook and maps available
  • Erik the Black also has a Colorado Trail Atlas available (maps, town guide and databook for the CT corridor and some alt routes)

The guidebook, databook and map book can be ordered from The Colorado Trail Foundation.  Many bookstores in Colorado have the guidebook and data book. Amazon and other online resources also carry the guidebook.

Trails Illustrated maps can be found at www.trailsillustrated.com and many local outfitting stores in Colorado. If you decide to use the TI maps, you will need the following to cover the whole trail:

    • #104 Idaho Springs/Loveland Pass
    • #105 Tarryall Mountains/Kenosha Pass
    • #108 Vail/Frisco/Dillon
    • #109 Breckenridge/Tennessee Pass
    • #110 Leadville/Fairplay
    • #126 Holy Cross/Reudi Reservoir
    • #127 Aspen/Independence Pass
    • #129 Buena Vista/Collegiate Peaks
    • #130 Salida/St. Elmo/Shavano Peak
    • #135 Deckers/Rampart Range
    • #139 La Garita/Cochetopa
    • #140 Weminuche Wilderness
    • #141 Silverton/Ouray/Telluride/Lake City
    • #144 Durango/Cortez

Pemits: No permits are needed to hike The Colorado Trail.In some areas, such as Holy Cross Wilderness, there is a self-signed permit station when entering the wilderness areas. There is no charge for this permit.

New Collegiate West Alternate

As of 2013, there is a higher alternate route on The Colorado Trail that takes in the existing Continental Divide National Scenic Trail though the Collegiate Peaks. This route is the same length as the existing CT (~80 miles) though this section, but offers a higher ridge walk alternative that many people may find interesting. Alpine lakes, ridge walks and above treel line views are to be found. See below for more info.

Equipment for The Colorado Trail

If you are an AT or another long trail veteran, most of your equipment and clothing choices should work fine. There are some caveats that do apply:

  • You are hiking at altitude! UV radiation is more intense; sun exposure is a major concern. Sunglasses and sun protection are a must! Wear sunscreen and/or a large hat, long sleeves and long pants. Even the dime store sunglasses now have 100% UVA and UVB protection.
  • You will want to be hydrated as well. The sun exposure means you are more likely to get dehydrated. A dehydrated body does not work efficiently. Drink!
  • If you are hammock camper, you will want  be more careful in picking you campsites.  Some of the CT is above tree line so less options.
  • If you use canisters for fuel, be aware there are less gear stores than on the AT. Depending upon your route/pace/amount of meals cooked, you may  have to mail canisters by surface mail and mark accordingly. Ken and Marcia Powers (GottaWalk) have an excellent FAQ on mailing fuel canisters and other fuel types. Ken and Marcia are updating their webpage. This is cached info until the page is updated.

Canisters should be found at the following places:

  • Denver area – Pick one!
  • Breckenridge – Mt Outfitters – 970-453-2201
  • Twin Lakes – General Store -  719-486-2196  Limited quanity reported; may want to call ahead
  • Leadville – Sawatch Backcountry 719-658-2359
  • Buena Vista – Trailhead Sports – 719-395-8002
  • Salida – Salida Mt Sports – 719-539-4400
  • Creede – San Juan Sports – 719-658-2482
  • Lake City – Sportsman Outdoor and Fly Shop – 970-944-2526
  • Silverton  – Outdoor World  – 970-387-5628
  • Gunnison – A few different choices
  • Durango – Many choices as well (if not as many as Denver..go figure! ;D)

Note: There may be more stores than listed. Feedback always welcome. I’d be lying if I said I visited or know about every outdoor store in the state.  :)

  • White gas and Heet/denatured alcohol are found fairly easily in most re-supply areas. Heet is usually found in gas stations, hardware stores, auto supply stores, grocery stores and convenience stores in the automotive section mixed in with oil, transmission fluid, etc.
Resupply

Resupply is similar to the PCT: Not overly hard but less choices and longer hitches than the AT. Because of the relatively short length of the CT, mail drops are a viable option for many thru-hikers. Below is a list of some popular re-supply areas with approximate mileage to each from a Denver start. Also have a brief description of each town for supply purposes. This is not a complete description by any means, but does give a brief overview of some the more popular options.

Please Note: As with all mountain areas, the places below can be busy on weekends and holidays on or before Labor Day Weekend.  Don’t be surprised if the accommodations are full on a busy summer weekend!

Resupply Spot Miles From Denver Miles From Trail Notes
Denver 0.0 0.0 A large metro area with everything you may need. Near the downtown area there is an REI, and a hostel. The hostel is not far from the Market street station bus station if you should take the RTD airport bus (see below) . The hostel is also close to the REI.  Denver now has very convenient bike kiosks where bikes can be rented by the hour or even the day. Perfect for getting around the immediate area quickly!
Buffalo Creek 26.9 3.2 Very soon into the trail if you need to bail or just want to get a cold Coke. Small general store with marginal resupply. PO inside general store. Ask nicely and you may be able to get package outside or normal business hours.
Bailey 40.5 8 Lodging (just outside of town), restaurants,  The resupply is marginal at the gas station. Bailey Country Store  reopened in summer of 2013 with moderate resupply with hiker specific items including fuel canisters.  May have lodging avail. Shuttle back to trail  Call  303-816-9383 for avail.  Town does have PO if you want do a maildrop. Bailley may be an option you need some RnR while getting your trail legs. FS-560 gets a decent amount of traffic on a weekend.
Jefferson / Fairplay 71.7 4.5 S20 S
Jefferson: General Store for marginal to moderate  resupply. Post Office is closed. ..  Two restaurants (one in general store) and an ice cream place. The market is hiker friendly and will take packages. http://jefferson-market.com/  Suggest FedEx or UPS.
  
Fairplay: Small, compact town past Bailey with everything a hiker may need. Good sized grocery store, lodging, restaurants.  Relatively easy hitch on 285. Rumored to be the inspiration for the show “South Park”!
Breckenridge/Frisco/Dillion 104.4 4
Breck: Full service town. Bus will stop at trailhead and take you into and out of town for free. Fireside Inn is hiker friendly hostel
for only $25 a night! Takes maildrops via UPS only . www.firesideinn.com
Frisco: The same free bus will take you into the other direction to Frisco. Frisco is a full service town with less expensive lodgings (esp. if you want a private room). I’ve been know to frequent the Backcountry Brewery there once or twice. ;)
 
Silverthorne/Dillon: The Summit County Bus will also take you a little further  into nearby Dillon/Silverhotne. More lodging, stores and BREW PUBS! :)
Copper Mtn / Frisco 118.8 0 Copper: Ski Resort, NO LONGER HAS POST OFFICE! Very marginal resupply. Many restaurants.   Follow CT into Copper at American Eagle Ski Lift. Follow side trail into “town”.Frisco:  You can pick up the same free bus in Copper (Summit Stage) as for Breck. Will take you into Frisco.
Leadville 142.6 via US 24 at Tennessee Pass 9.5 Full service town. Leadville Hostel takes maildrops. Hostel has shuttle service for neaby trailheads and areas. www.leadvillehostel.com
  156.7 via  Haggerman Rd FS-105 11.0 The FS roads see a fair amount of traffic, esp, on a weekend. Could be an easy hitch. US 24 at Tennessee Pass sees the most traffic. Many people bagging Elbert and Massive make hitching from Half-moon easy as well (esp. on weekends)
  169.7 via Halfmoon Creek Rd. FS-110 8.0  
Twin Lakes 175.2 On trail or 1-3 miles.   Depends if you use alt. roadwalk route, old CT over Hope Pass or current CT route General store with  marginal to moderate resupply. Has basic backpacking food and supplies.  Post office in Twin Lakes CO is closing June 06 2013. Contact the General Store at 719-486-2196 regarding how to send resupply packages there   More info from the new owners here.  Looks to really hiker friendly! http://www.twinlakesgs.com/Two small motels.  Other lodging (cabins, lodges) just outside of “town”.Patrick “Gumby” Basso reports: 

Twin Lakes now has a Hostel for $40/night associated with the Twin Lakes Inn.  Very Clean and New.  The food at the Twin Lakes Inn is very good.  
- Great apple glaze pork spare ribs – yummy + beer.
Collegiate West alt route     Collegiate West alt starts just past here at mile 13.7 of segment 11. Please see a below for resupply info on Collegiate West alt route
Buena Vista 190.8 via  Clear Creek Rd/RT 390 then US 24 ~20 Full service town. Different lodging options.. All roads see a fair amount of traffic esp on a weekend, but 306 sees the most traffic and is by far the easiest hitch.
  209.3 via 365 6.5  
  215.9 via 306 9.5  
Mt. Princeton Hot Springs 229.6 0 On-trail resort. General store w/marginal to  moderate re-supply. Restaurant, lodging, hot springs you  can soak in for a day. May take maildrops if you call ahead. www.mtprinceton.com
Salida  
Monarch Spur RVCampground 
247.4 via CO 252.5 via US 50 13 to Salida
TH at 240 is for “Angel of Shavano”, a 14er. On weekends, there could be a decent amount of traffic.
Otherwise you may want to hike ~5 m more miles to US 50, then hitch. US 50 is a much busier road.

Simple Lodge and Hostel $25/nt for bunk as of 2012. In downtown near all amenities. They do take mail drops. Offers unofficial shuttle service  and can arrange shuttles with other area businesses (many local places shuttle MTBikers to the nearby Monarch Crest Trail that is part of the CT/CDT).  Offer bikes for getting around town. www.simplelodge.com  Headwater IPA at Amica brewpub highly recommended by Ed Hyatt!
Monarch Spur RV campground is 1 mile East. May take maildrops. http://www.monarchspurrvcampground.com/ 
The Monarch Lodge appears to no longer be active as of summer 2013. So it goes with mountain businesses esp after to very bad ski seasons in CO.  :(
 
COLLEGIATE WEST ALT ROUTE ENDS HERE AND REJOINS CT 266.8    
Sargents 266.8 15 Tough hitch on low traffic road. Marginal resupply. PO. Lodging in cabins. Bar and grill. http://www.tomichicreektradingpost.com/
 Saguache / Gunnison  302.4 Saugauche is approx 30 miles EAST.  Note: I was hesitant to add this info, but I have received some e-mails about it. I also had to use this point as a bail out point during a very heavy snow storm on my CDT hike in 2006.  Though this is a hard and long hitch in both directions, it could be useful for patient people and/or those who really need to bail.Saguache: This county seat, but dying town, has a few small businesses that have been known to be for sale. As for this writing in 2013, the town does have two gas stations for min – moderate resupply, restaurants (breakfast, lunch, dinner), lodging and a post office.
     Gunnison is approx 40 miles  WEST. It is a two part hitch via 114 and 50 Gunnison: A good sized college town that has full resupply, outfitters, lodging, etc.  Everything a hiker may need and more. The Wanderlust Hostel has been recommended by other hikers. They will take maildrops. Look at their website for contact info to inquire more. The owners seem super hiker friendly.
       ALSO: A trail angel  by the name of “Apple” has been known to camp out in this area with goodies, holding maildrops and possible shuttles for hikers to Gunnison. BUT, trail angels do this out of generosity. I would not count on this as a normal service..but rather a nice bonus if available. See The Colorado Trail forums at www.trailforums.com for more details. He occasionally posts there.
 Creede  342.6 via FS- 503 @ San
Luis Pass
 10 – ~2 miles of hiking to a TH parking lot first. Then about 8 miles to town down a jeep road  Getting into Creede requires some finagling.  The FS road requires a walk down to a semi-official parking area at Equity Mine  and hoping for traffic. The other way involves a hitch that is reported to be much easier than in years past.If you do get down to the TH parking lot, it is sometimes an easy hitch into Creede, esp. on a weekend and/or during hunting season as people are heading back to town. Road essentially only goes into and out of Creede. Many people use this road to “bag” San Luis Peak and do the self guided Bachelor City mining tour.   Mountain Man Rafting also offers rides to Equity Mine and shuttles to Spring Creek Pass. Cookerhiker also reports that  “The owner of San Juan Sports offers rides to the Trailhead up that 4WD road”
   357.4 via Spring Creek Pass at 149    Creede has a good grocery store with moderate to full service resupply. Snowshoe Lodge is reasonable in price. Other more $$$ options, too. Has an outfitter as well. Reported to be easier hitch now than in years past.
 Lake City   357.4 via Spring Creek Pass at 149  17
Much easier hitch now than in years past.  Lake City has become one of the “go to” places on the CT and CDT.
From Lucky at Raven’s Rest: . Just wanted to let you know that we formed a group called Lake City Trail Angels. The goal is to assist hikers any way we can, but primarily to provide a free ride to and from Spring Creek Pass. For the months of July and August there will be a daily ride Departing Lake City (at the billboard on the North end of the Town Park) at 12:00 noon. And leaving Spring creek pass at 12:45. Outside of these peak months hikers can contact us 
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-City-Trail-Angels/626227070796756 ) and we will do our best to help them out.
Decent grocery stores (moderate to full resupply). High Country Market actively seeking hiker input on what to stock.
Restaurants.  Elkhorn RV resort has tent sites and heated camper cabins. May take maildrops if you call ahead. http://www.elkhornrvresort.com/
2012 thru-hiker Dogwood reports the The Raven’s Rest hostel  is hiker friendly and run by AT/PCT alumni. In downtown near amenities. They take maildrops. Offers communal kitchen, work for stay, $25 night.  Thinking of offering shuttles in 2014.  Silver Spur Motel reported to be good as well. Local businesses offer possible shuttles out of town.
 Molas Lake Campground  409.2  ~.5 m to campground off CT  Campground is in pretty location. Takes maildrops via UPS, USPS and FedEx. Please call 970-759-2218 to set up mailings. No supplies.
 Silverton  410.7  5.5 m  Silverton is an easy hitch. Small, touristy town. Can do moderate  re-supply at the small  grocery store.  Outfitter. Prospector Hotel in Silverton likes hikers. Will do basic shuttles. ~$55/nt  Near all amenities. Will shuttle back to trail.
www.prospectormotel.comThere is a hostel in Silveton:
http://www.hostelz.com/hostel/26890-The-Silverton-Inn-%26-HostelMike Felix, a 2009 CT hiker, states “..chill and hiker friendly. ..they don’t run the tightest ship.  The caretaker (Francisco)…prefers face-to-face interaction.  So, it’s not the easiest to reserve, etc. but if you do stay there, it is really pretty cool.”San Juan Backcountry http://www.sanjuanbackcountry.com/ will do extensive shuttles all over the San Juan area. Advanced reservations suggested.
 Durango  484.6  End of Trail Treat yourself to a beer and a burger. Mail yourself some comfy clothes! Trail ends ~4 miles
from outskirts of this full service town.Should be easy hitch into town.  the Durango Hometown Hostel is closed as of Aug 2013. Cookerhiker reports “At the end of our successful Colorado Trail thruhike, Northern Harrier and I celebrated with a free brew at Carver’s in Durango. They offer a free CT Ale to all thruhikers. Very satisfying.”    FREE BEER! ’nuff said.  :)
       
COLLEGIATE WEST ALT ROUTE RESUPPLY      
Taylor Park Trading Post  217.4  11 Cottonwood Pass Rd Marginal resupply, maildrops, bar and grill, lodging http://www.taylorparktradingpost.com/
 Tincup  228.3  4  Restored mining town. Small restaurant and snack-type store.  http://www.pitkincolorado.com/tincup/
 St. Elmo  234.4  4  Marginal resupply at general store
Mt. Prninceton Hot Springs  234.4 15 Could be tough hitch. See above for more details
 Monarch Mountain Lodge (Garfield)  249.4  2  see above
 Monarch Crest Store  260.2  0  On trail store. Marginal resupply. Cafeteria.  Takes maildrops via UPS only. 719-539-409124500 Hwy 50 West
Salida, CO 81201
 Gunnison  260.2  42  see above
 Salida  260.2  22  see above
  • Marginal resupply – Soda, chips, snacks. Maybe some Ramen or canned goods if you are lucky.. Hard resupply basically.
  • Moderate resupply - All the basics, if not many choices. Your typical small town grocery store.You’ll be able to get everything you need for a few days of trail.
  • Full Service - Has a super market, lodging, restaurants, often an outfitter of some sort. Anything you need will probably be in this town.

CACHING: Every-so-often, I get an inquiry asking about caching supplies along the trail. As the hitches are easy with ample resupply, it is not an option that makes much sense logistically (have to drive A LOT to drop caches and  A LOT to pick up caches). But it is an option that could work for some people esp in long stretches (e.g. at Spring Creek Pass) or if you absolutely do not want to hitch.   James and Rebecca hiked the CT in 2009 using bear canisters cached along the trail. As they stated “If you take this method, please note that it is not okay to leave a bunch of flimsy Rubbermade bins in the forest. Bears will find your food and eat it. All.”   . Here’s their link if you are curious about how and where they cached supplies: http://www.the2016plan.com/coloradotrail/planning.html

Also, I saw a presentation at Neptune Mountaineering where the two hikers cleverly used metal ammo boxes from the surplus store as well. These sturdy, metal boxes are often used in National Park Service backcountry campsites to critter proof food. At ~$20 ea, considerably less expensive than bear canisters, too.

ALTERNATE ROUTES AND 14ers

One of the big attractions of The Colorado Trail is the alternate routes that can be done. Some people choose to walk the CDT for a bit, others choose to follow some harder but more scenic routes, still others take alternates that encompass doing 14ers then dropping back to the CT. Look at your maps and see what looks good to you! I took two alternate routes that added a fair amount of elevation gain and about ten miles to my overall route. Below are some alterate route ideas.  There are others as well. Be sure to consult your guidebooks and/or maps to get back to the CT!  NO REALLY, BE SURE TO TAKE MAPS IF YOU DO ALTERNATE ROUTES!

Lost Creek Wilderness High Route: Interested in exploring some high country soon into your trip? Take the Lost Creek High Route!  This is a mainly-off trail route that takes in the highest peak in the Kenosha Range (Peak 12429′; unofficially called Peak X) in the Lost Creek Wilderness  and is a high route parallel to The Colorado Trail below. To access this route (Durango bound), take the Brookside-McCurdy Trail  north off the CT. At a saddle between two peaks, head off trail and west towards Kenosha Pass along the ridge. You are now on the backbone of the Kenosha Mountains. The off-trail hiking is easy to navigate, but challenging in terms of elevation gain and loss. Follow this route to the Ben Tyler trail junction (unofficially called “Platosha Pass” ) and then head south to rejoin The Colorado Trail. If you want to continue the high country route (and add a fair amount of mileage) continue into the Platte River Mountain range and follow the range to North Twin Cone Peak, follow the long and meandering dirt road down to Kenosha Pass and rejoin The Colorado Trail.   The views from North Twin Cone are quite exquisite, but the road walk can be tiring after a long day. You will need Trails Illustrated Map #105. Please note that while this route is easy to follow with basic map reading skills, it is not marked. Water is also scarce along the ridge itself. Consider it a scenic alternative for more experienced hikers.

Hope Pass: The old Colorado Trail route (and current CDT route) is harder but much more scenic than official CT. At 12540’ the views are breathtaking. Hope Pass is also the literal highpoint of the Leadville 100 ultramarathon that takes place in mid-August. After coming down Hope Pass, you go right and eventually connect back up to the CT on a dirt road.  Or you can do the alternate below… (Use Trails Illustrated Map #127)

Missouri Gulch: Not too long after Hope Pass, you will go by the historic town of Vicksburg. This town is actually a historic site that has been re-built. Shortly after this town , you will come to a trailhead for Missouri Gulch. This alternate is far prettier than dirt road of the official CT. Much harder, though. This alternate has you surrounded by
three 14ers (Missouri, Belford, Oxford) and is an incredible view. If you are into peak bagging, this route is esp. good as the 14ers are easily accessible. The views from up to and at Elk Head Pass are stunning. You follow the trail and connect back to the CT in a  valley. (Use Trails Illusrtated Maps #127 and #129)

Collegiate West / CDT Alternate:   After Hope Pass, rather than turn towards Missouri Gulch, follow the designated Continental Divide Trail route from Hope Pass to where it meets up with The Colorado Trail again at the Fooses Creek trail near Monarch Pass. This route is  higher than the Colorado Trail (and sometimes more exposed) and can provide another high country alternate for those who wish to take it. Use Trails Illustated Maps #127, #129, #130 and #139.  The  Mountain Maps – Sawatch Range and the new Bear Creek Survey Maps also has this route in details.

Speaking of the Collegiate West loop, this new alt route combined with the traditional CT  will make a wonderful ~160 mile CT/CDT loop with  beautiful scenery and easy logistics.  A map book of this loop is also available.  A good overview with planning info from David Collins of Clever Hiker  is available, too.

Beer Thirty Hike: Not an alternate per se, but an easy way to do a  14 mile/3500′ gain slack pack between Breck and Copper using the Summit County Bus transit system.  Info here. Reverse the route if Durango  bound.   If you are not a purist, you can even veer off the CT and hike directly into Frisco via the Peaks Trail right to the Frisco Backcountry Brewery! ;)

Note that the Mountain Maps-Sawatch Range will also work for the alt. routes between Hope Pass and Monarch Pass.

Colorado 14ers: The 14ers are the high peaks in Colorado. There are fifty-eight of these 14000+ foot mountains in Colorado, many of these along the CT itself. Many CTers can’t resist climbing these immense peaks. Three of the more popular ones (due to accessibility and able to make a loop with the peak and CT) are:

  1. Mt Elbert -  Highest peak in Colorado. Near Leadville and Twin Lakes. Many choose to go off the CT, summit and come down another trail.
  2. Mt Massive - Second highest peak, just down the trail from Elbert.
  3. San Luis Peak - You climb to San Luis Pass at 12500 on the CT. Just a little over  1500 (and 1.5 miles) is the top of San Luis Peak. One of the least climbed 14ers. Very accessible from the CT, can make a loop as well

Please Note: There are other 14ers near the CT as well. The above are just three of the most popular. Jamie Compos has a nice list of 14ers near The Colorado Trail and corresponding Trails Illustrated maps to hike them. Scroll down the page until you see the appropriate section.Consult your guidebook and maps if you want to know more about the 14ers that can be done from the CT. Climbing the 14ers is a very popular activity in Colorado. Especially on weekends you will see many people on a summit. Climbing 14ers means you are above tree line more. You will be more exposed and at higher altitude. Be careful! As the saying goes “There are old mountaineers and there are bold mountaineers. There are very few old and bold mountaineers.” If in doubt about the weather head down and don’t climb up to the summit.

Getting to and from Denver

Here’s how to get to the trailhead via public transport: -

(see SECTION HIKING TRANSPORTATION  for more info on RTD)

Mags: Also, you can try asking on The Colorado Trail list on www.trailforums.com ,   there have been people willing to do shuttles.

Leaving A Car at Waterton Canyon

I’ve been asked about leaving a car at Waterton Canyon.  Waterton Canyon is a very busy trailhead with a lot of parking space. There trailhead is also on a busy road. It should be safe. But nothing is 100%!

Thanks to Justin “Chewy” Edge for forwarding this info from The Colorado Trail Foundation:

Yes, it’s fine to leave your car in the parking lot. Here’s the info we have as of late 2005:

Michelle at Waterton Canyon would like people to call 303-979-4129 and give them the make of the car, license plate, etc. so that they know the car has not been abandoned. They can leave cars there while thru-hiking the CT. Common sense would advise against leaving any valuables in your car for an extended period of time. The Waterboard is not responsible for your vehicle.

Getting to and from Durango

Getting back to Denver or into Durango you have a few different options. There is a small airport in Durango. You could rent a car at this airport as well. The Doubletree Hotel in downtown Durango also has car rentals.  Frontier Airlines has flights to and from Durango and Denver for less than $150 one-way. If you feel comfortable booking a flight in advance and can stick to the schedule, a great way to go. The number of these flights have been cut back so you will have to book well in advance.  United  Airlines also has one way flights from Durango to Denver but, though more numerous, reported to be more expensive.

Bus service  was planned from Durango to Grand Junction via Road Runner Transit  “coming soon”. However, there is no definite date listed. Once the service is to Grand Junction, you can catch a Greyhound bus back to Denver. You can reverse the route to get into Durango.  (see info below in Section Hiking Transportation for The Colorado Trail)  Please check the Road Runner site to find a definite date when making transit plans.

Another option is to fly into Albuquerque and get to and from Durango via other means.
Once into Durango, it is a ~4 mile walk from the downtown area to the Durango terminus of The Colorado Trail (Kennebec Trailhead) at Junction Creek Road.  An easy walk or hitch (or at least partial hitch) to the trail head.   If you start The Colorado Trail later in the day, there is also a campground about two miles  from the the Durango Terminus of The Colorado Trail.
Naturally, this is a good place to crash if you end The Colorado Trail later in the day and don’t wish to push on into Durango that night.
Directions to the Junction Creek Trailhead from Durango.com:
From Durango, head north on Main Avenue, and turn left onto 25th Street, Junction Creek Road. Travel on Junction Creek Road for about 3 miles to where it enters the San Juan National Forest. A parking area is located on the left, near the trailhead.
For long term parking in Durango, you may want to ask on Whiteblaze and Trailforums.com. (see below in OTHER RESOURCES. ). People have offered to do long term parking in the past for a Durango start.   If that does not work out, there is the Durango airport at $7 a day as well. The Durango and Silverton NG railroad also offers long term parking for $7 a day. It is located near downtown Durango, so perhaps more convenient than the airport if other options can’t be found.
Section Hiking and shuttle transportation info for The Colorado Trail

The following are ways you can section hike The Colorado Trail:

  • Greyhound goes to the town of Frisco to and fom Denver. From Frisco you can take a Summit Stage Bus to Copper or the trailhead out of Breck/Frisco. See below for more info on Summit Stage.  Greyhound will also go to and from Denver, CO and Grand Junction, CO. Road Runner transit had plans to go from Grand Junction to Durango, but those plans seem on hold.
  • Alberquerque, NM is an option some people use for flying into or out of. With Greyhound service ending on Sept 6, 2011 into Durango, this option may be more diffcult.
  • Summit Stage: Summit Stage is the free bus service that goes along the various mountain towns. You could catch a Greyhound bus to Frisco and from there take the free Summit Stage Bus to the trailhead just outside of Breck/Frisco or to Copper Mountain. Naturally, you can reverse the route and take the Summit Stage from the trailheads at Breck/Frisco or Copper and go to Frisco and catch a Greyhound or Amtrak back to Denver.  http://www.summitstage.com/
  • As of Jan 2011, the Sumit Stage also connnects Frisco to Leadville for $5. Makes doing section hikes easier!
  • Denver Regional Transportation District (RTD): Not only for section hikers! RTD has buses  from the airport (DIA) to the trailhead. (See above in “Getting to and from Denver).  You can also use the RTD station on 16th and Market St. to get back to the airport for any flights out of Denver.
    The RTD station is about a 20 minute walk from the Greyhound station. If you take the train (see below), you can pick up the light rail at Union Station.  http://www.rtd-denver.com/
  • Colorado Mountain Express: If you’d rather keep your transportation needs simple, Colorado Mountain Express offers shuttles to and from the airport directly to and from Summit Country.  http://www.ridecme.com/
  • Durango – Silverton Narrgow Gauge Rail Road: A unique way to get to and from The Colorado Trail! This tourist train will drop you/pick up in Durango, Silverton and also has a spot in middle of the San Juans  at the Elk Park stop. A little expensive, but an interesting way to see the mountains. http://www.durangotrain.com/wilderness-access
  • Wilderness Journeys and Pagosa Outfitters: Offers shuttles in Durango/Pagosa Springs/Wolf Creek Pass area.  http://www.pagosarafting.com/
  • San Juan Backcountry San Juan Backcountry http://www.sanjuanbackcountry.com/ will do extensive shuttles all over the San Juan area. Advanced reservations suggested.
  • Buckhorn Limousuine Carl Geer at Backpackinglight.com reports “… run by a friend of mine and he offers, despite the name, really inexpensive shuttles to and from any destination in the southwest. He knows his stuff and spends thirty plus days backpacking in the Weminuche and the San Juans every Summer. Call this number 970-769-0933 and tell them Carl sent you. He can transport up to 7 people with gear at a time in a super clean new suburban. Visit his web site at www.buckhornlimousine.com
  • Dee Hive Tours and Transportation: Based in Leadville. According to their website:
    • Transportation between all points in Leadville and Lake County and all points in Colorado.
    • Including Trail Heads, Ski Areas, and much more. We gladly accommodate Down Hill and Cross Country Skiers, Hikers, Bikers, Backpackers and their equipment. http://www.leadville.com/deetours/
  • Gunnison Valley Rural Transportation Authority: In brief, this bus line  makes it easier to get from Denver (and DIA) to such places along or near The Colorado Trail (within hitching distance) such  Poncha Springs. Salida, Jefferson and  Buena Vista. With this bus line, you can mix and match flying, local transit (RTD) and train to get to more places for hiking in CO. http://www.gunnisonvalleyrta.org/denver-bus-schedule.php
  • Arrow/Blackhill Stage Lines works with the above and could be useful, too http://www.blackhillsstagelines.com/schedules.asp
  • Amtrak: I had an e-mail asking about using the train to get to The Colorado Trail. Here’s a brief synopsis. If someone wants to do more more thorough research, I’ll gladly add it.  In brief, the major train stations in Denver are Union Station and the Denver Greyhound Station. From there, you can access such services as Greyhound, Gunnison Valley RTA, RTD, etc to get to various points on The Colorado Trail.  Amtrak also stops in Frisco . From there you can use the Summit Stage bus to get to The Colorado Trail. http://www.amtrak.com
  • Shuttles: Shuttles are probably your best bet as a Colorado Trail section hiker. In 2004, I met a hiker who contacted The Colorado Trail foundation for possible shuttle info. They gave him the name of a person to call. The Colorado Trail foundation can be reached at 303.384-3279, www.coloradotrail.org On The Colorado Trail forum at www.trailforums.com people have offered to do shuttles as well.    Try asking on the forums, you just may luck out.
  • Getting into Lake City or Creede:  A fair amount of people ask about getting into these remote towns deep in the San Juans.Jerry Brown of Bear Creek Survey posted this info on Trailforums.com : There is a regional airport in Alamosa with United and US Air. Alamosa Bus Company can probably set something up to take you to Creede. They advertise transportation to the Creede Repertoire Theater so maybe you could get some sort of group deal. Phone 719 1589-3384
Hiking The Colorado Trail with a Dog
Dogs are allowed on the majority on The Colorado Trail. Be sure to follow leash laws and be respectful of your fellow hikers and wildlife.
The only place where dogs are not allowed is the stretch of trail in Waterton Canyon.
For the dog owner, there is an alt route that is described in The Colorado Trail Guidebook.
Take the Indian Creek Equestrian Trail located on Hwy 67  approx 10 miles from the small town of Sedalia.  Follow this trail approx 6 miles to connect to The Colorado Trail at mile mark 8.8 at Bear Creek.
Directions to this alt route are as follows from
To reach this area, take U.S. Highway 85 south to Sedalia then take Highway 67 to the junction with Rampart Range Road. To access all the following sites turn left on to Rampart Range Road, this is a dirt road that is heavily traveled; please abide by posted speed limits.
Map provided of this area by The Colorado Trail Foundation:
Naturally, getting to and from this area will require more than the standard logistics.  You may have to find a willing friend in the area or contact a shuttle service. Still, for a person hoping to hike with a dog on the CT, it provides a a good option.
Other Resources for The Colorado Trail

Here are some other resources about The Colorado Trail:

 

Once you have competed The Colorado Trail, be sure to fill out The Colorado Trail Completers form. The CTF will mail you a rather nice looking certificate to add to your mementos from your CT hike.

If you have additional questions or about this document or The Colorado Trail in general, then please feel free to e-mail me. New info and feedback is always welcome too! Please try to have a subject line with COLORADO TRAIL somewhere in the text. Makes it easier to filter my mail. Thanks!

Best of luck on your Colorado Trail journey!

Paul “Mags” Magnanti

 

Many thanks to  Almanac, Bearpaw, Patrick “Gumby” Basso,  Jamie Compos, Matt Cecere, Rick “Rickles McPickles” Armstrong, Randy Brown, Book Burner, Chewy, Cookerhiker, Dirty Bird, dirtmonger, Dogwood, Frank Dumville, Mike Felix, Karl Gottshalk, Ed Hyatt, Jest Bill , Les Glassner, Little Bear, Mr. Clippy, Paccer, Profile, Matt Roane, Henry Shires, Shutterbug, Skeemer, ,Skittles, Bill Webster and Yogi who all added some input to this doc.

Special thanks to Rain Maker; whose original doc provided part of the inspiration for mine! You can all thank my friend Keith McGuinnes who did The Colorado Trail in 2005. He picked my brain for an hour or so at a coffee shop in Boulder just before he did the CT. Out of that conversation this doc was written.

 

Finally, a very big thanks to the many volunteers at The Colorado Trail Foundation who make this fine trail possible!

 

Colorado Trail “End to End” Guide – first version June 2005

 

Revised:

December 2005, May 2006, February 2007, July 2007, August 2007,
November 2007, July 2007, August 2007, November 2007, April 2008,
July 2008, August 2008, October 2008, January 2009, July 2009, August 2009
September 2009, Feb 2010, Sept 2010, April 2011, May 2011, July 2011, August 2011, October 2011
, January 2012, March 2012, October 2012, March 2013, July 2013, Sept 2013, April 2014

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17 thoughts on “The Colorado Trail “End to End” Guide

  1. mags,
    thanks for the forward on the c.t. trail. have a good summer and will look
    for your forwards and e mails. i just might make it out that way this summer.
    cutty taylor

  2. Good update Mags. Don’t know if this is the kind of info you want to include but in Creede, there are other shuttlers. The owner of San Juan Sports offers rides to the Trailhead up that 4WD road and there’s a woman named Debbie who shuttles to Spring Creek Pass. San Luis Pass to Spring Creek Pass makes a good slackpack for those so inclined (we did).

      • Sorry for the late response – I didn’t get any prompt so I guess I have to check the site. I didn’t call her myself to arrange the shuttle so I don’t have her number. But I think the folks at the motel know her. In fact, it’s a small town – everyone knows her!

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  4. greetings Pmags!
    I found your End to End guide very informative. Thank you for all your hard work. I wanted to pass along some trail talk. The hitch into Lake City is becoming easier and easier, and is not as hard as the guide imples. The locals are much more aware of hikers than before. I have met at least 10 hikers this summer who waited less than 10 minutes on Spring Creek Pass before someone swooped them up, including me. Not saying that Creede is a bad place, just that hanging out with other trail alumni is a pretty cool thing.

    Thanks again for you upkeep and hard work on this resource…

    dirtmonger

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  7. Just got an email from the folks at the store in Jefferson, CO. They claim that the Post Office was shut down due to cut back, but you can still send resupply boxes to them. Recommend using UPS or FedEx.

    Swagman

  8. Hey,
    I really enjoyed reading this, full of good information. I’m actually planning a trip doing the Collegiate Peaks Loop this summer from June 12th-22nd but I was wondering what your thoughts on that timing is. I feel like its right on the edge of being too early, but I think it could be doable pending the weather in May. I messaged the Colorado Trail Foundation on facebook and they told me it’d be too early by a month, but I definitely can’t push it back that far due to other engagements. Any thoughts?

    • For the Collegiates, that is unfortunately on the early side, esp in a “normal” snow year like we are having so far. The lower (Eastern) route may be OK for the most part, but even that will have a good amount of snow in spots. The western portion that hugs the divide? Very snowy. It it will be full of what we call rotten snow: hard in parts, full of dirt and ice, easy to post hole through, not consistent enough for snowshoes or skis. And the really high areas? Well, I go skiing on Mt Toll (13k) at the time of the year. :)

      If there is a large melt out in May, perhaps. But I would not count on it.

  9. Hello, Swagman here again.

    What are the laws concerning hitch hiking in Colorado and what is the general attitude of the local authorities if they encounter a hiker hitch hiking? My experience on the AT is mixed. In Georgia the police have been known to give lifts to hikers. In New York and Connecticut they’ll arrest you on the spot if you even look like you’re going to stick your thumb out.

    One solution many of us have found is to make a sign (Need ride to town or ride to trail) out of some cardboard scrap or, this is my favorite, I bough two 36×36 inch bandanas (one international orange and the other florescent yellow) and stenciled “Ride to Town” and “Ride to Trail” on each respectively with black spray paint. When I am trying to get into or out of town I just pull out the appropriate bandanna, tie the ends to my back and start walking. Sooner or later some kind soul will stop and offer a ride.

    Thanks!

    • Gotta say this is spot on:

      http://hitchwiki.org/en/Colorado

      Basically, anywhere unless the town forbids it and some federal exceptions (the interstate).

      In general, esp in outdoorsy areas, you should have no trouble finding a hitch. People in Colorado are generally aware of the CT now and are happy to help. Even Spring Creek pass is an easier hitch due to increased awareness of the trail.

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