Big Trip: The Colorado Trail

Human U-Haul: Fall temps are ideal for backpacking. 

The Colorado Trail spans 486 miles from Denver to Durango and traverses across eight mountain ranges, reaching its highest elevation at 13,271 feet above sea level. The eastern portion of the trail covers well-traveled hiking terrain while the western half dives into some of the deepest true wilderness in Colorado. Along the way there are dozens of peaks to bag, crystal clear rivers and lakes and the constant awe-inspiring background of the Rockies.

For those wanting to experience every step of the trail, hikers can break off chunks at a time or go for the whole enchilada in one shot. Thru hikers average about 40–50 days to complete the entire trail and the majority undertake the journey east to west. More aggressive hikers or those who have gone for the “hybrid thru hike” (biking and running) can likely finish the trail in about a month.

If you want to break up the adventure into segments (which is a more realistic option for most of us), a long weekend can cover 40–50 miles with an average of about 15 miles per day. For some of the western sections of the trail, 7 or 8 miles will constitute a full day, especially where the trail stays over 12,000 feet for extended periods of time. These are also some of the most beautiful areas where you will be blissfully free of all signs of civilization.

Baby Steps

To start planning either a thru hike or shorter outings, begin at the Colorado Trail Homepage, coloradotrail.org, where you will find a wealth of information, including maps and up-to-the-minute trail condition updates. There are also suggested itineraries with user-contributed information and photos. The gear list is especially helpful since some people go feather-light while others like bringing along the kitchen sink. As a note, dogs are allowed on nearly the entire trail so planning your adventure with Fido is entirely plausible. Note that unlike other similar trails, there are no cabins or shelters—you must bring your own gear or stay at the occasional hotel in mountain towns. Luckily, there are no fees unless you choose to stay at an established campground.

Ultimately, starting your adventure on the Colorado Trail is as simple as putting one foot in front of the other. It only takes a day or two on the trail to melt away the stress of urban living.

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