- About this guide
- About The Colorado Trail
- Time of the year to hike The Colorado Trail
- General Safety
- Durango or Denver bound?
- Waterton Canyon and alternate Denver starting points
- Guidebooks and maps for The Colorado Trail
- Collegiate West alternate
- Collegiate Loop
- Collegiate West vs Collegiate East?
- Equipment for The Colorado Trail
- Resupply on The Colorado Trail
- Alternate Routes and 14ers on The Colorado Trail
- Getting to and from Denver
- Getting to and From Durango
- Section hiking Transportation and Shuttles
- Hiking The Colorado Trail with a dog
- Other Colorado Trail Resources
CLICK HERE TO SAVE THIS GUIDE FOR YOUR OFFLINE USE – Print this guide or save in PDF for your local use. The best method for smartphone use. 🙂
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.
Revised June 2022
Want to know the major details about The Colorado Trail?. Here are the particulars in a nutshell:
- The official length of the trail is 486.4 miles
- 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 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
- Horses and mountain bikers (in non-wilderness areas) are also allowed in addition to hikers
- Alternate routes for mountain bikers
The Colorado Trail map from The Colorado Trail Foundation.
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 (depending on snowpack) and ending no later than late September/ early October. Before mid-late June there is generally too much snow in the high country even in a lower snow year; 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.
For the increasing amount of people hiking the Colorado Trail from out-of-state, July 1st or later is a safe date to plan in advance for a start. I would not count on mid-late June and earlier. For more information, see what Bill Manning, Executive Director of The Colorado Trail Foundation, wrote.
Here’s a very detailed and statistic-based Colorado Trail “Class of 2016” post. The post has some fantastic information that should be read as well.
If you are Denver-bound, the hiking season can be extended about 1 week or so as you will be in the lower elevations at the end of the trail.
This time frame is just a rule of thumb that can change depending upon snowpack, hiking pace, rate of snowmelt, and early winter. The rule of thumb is pretty accurate, however. This link from The Colorado Trail Foundation may be useful as well. Another very useful site is the SNOTEL snowpack update for Colorado.
|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.|
|Cool crisp weather||Less daylight|
|Fewer 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. Not uncommon to have 90+ F days in the foothills with frequent afternoon t-storms as well in September. Very unusual and, if the hot and dry patterns hold going forward in the years ahead, hard to tell what is in store! The monsoon season may be off or even short as in recent years, possibly even more wildfires, and a prolonged fall/later winter. We’ll see what Ma Nature does. That’s about all we can do. 🙂
The trail itself: The Colorado Trail is very well-marked for a western trail. Navigation is easy, the weather hazards (see below) are quickly dealt with with some prior planning and the trail is logistically easy. A great trail for a first long hike and/or to get a western trail experience! For recent updates on the trail itself, be sure to check out The CTF webpage with current trail conditions.
Hiking solo: Enough people are hiking The Colorado Trail, especially in July and August, it will be very easy to hike with others if so desired. There is a community on the trail and in towns. You will see fellow CT travelers along the way. If you absolutely want a solo experience, hiking towards fall would be best.
Hitching: Hitching into town to resupply is usually needed. Along the CT corridor, locals are very used to CT hikers, and obtaining a ride is usually not an issue. If you do not feel comfortable solo hitchhiking, and don’t have a formal partner, you can usually partner up with someone as the town gets closer. Also, ask at the trailhead for a ride usually works too. It should be noted that more local businesses in towns are offering shuttle options, too.
Mobile device coverage: For the stretch from Denver to Copper Mountain (with the exception of Lost Creek Wilderness) mobile device coverage can be OK to excellent. Outside of this segment, mobile device coverage is spotty. Obviously, do not depend upon a cell phone for safety. Even in known good coverage areas, cell phone coverage can be spotty at times. At some high points and near busy roads into town will be best overall regardless of location. This link for cell phone coverage will give more coverage info and for your particular carrier.
About lightning: Lightning is the fact of nature many CTers have the most concern. During The Colorado summer around mid-July to about mid-Agust, 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 stick to this schedule, but she sure is consistent about it for the most part! I’ll typically take a break and then continue on in the later afternoon and take advantage of the later daylight summer hours.
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 an overkill (IMO); standard bear precautions should be plenty. At this time, bear canisters are not required on The Colorado Trail
The exception for bear precautions on The Colorado Trail is new as of August 2016.
Nicely summed up by Jerry Brown of Bear Creek Survey:
Hikers need to be aware that the USFS has just enacted new restrictions regarding food storage which is in effect for San Isabel and Pike National Forests. This affects both the CDT and CT where they cross popular car camping roads. The regulation requires that food be stored in hard canisters or hung 10 feet above ground 4′ from the trunk of the tree. No consideration is given for Ursacks, so I think they will need to be hung within the described zones. The zones are 1/2 mile wide (1/4 mile on each side of the roads.) Roads included are Halfmoon, Winfield, Hancock, Cottonwood, Mt. Princeton/ Chalk Creek, and Buffalo Creek/ Little Scraggy on the CT. These restrictions include portions of both the Collegiate East and West routes for the CT.
For most hikers of The Colorado Trail, the primary place impacted will be the popular USFS Bootleg campground near Princeton Hot Springs. As of Sept 2017, there is a bear box in the camp for food storage.
What about bear spray?
You’ll find that most experienced people in the black bear country say you don’t need it. Myself included.
However, I also recognize this issue can be an emotional one for many people. If you are part of the “better to have it and not need it” crowd, by all means, take it if it makes you feel better. But, and this is a very BIG but, please do the responsible thing and practice using it first.
Cabelas, REI, and similar sell inert training canisters for about $17 each. Get two or three canisters and practice in real conditions holstering and unholstering it with your gear (poles included) and spraying in moderately windy conditions.
LEOs, rangers, game wardens, and even volunteer scientists (like my partner in Glacier) do this very thing in the backcountry as a required part of their training.
If you are going to take a canister into the backcountry without knowing how to use the tool correctly, you are merely giving lip service to safety.
At best, you’ll use the tool ineffectively when it counts. And you may accidentally harm yourself and others because of your lack of responsibility.
Do the right thing; if you take a bear spray canister, practice first.
(* While In-person training is always better for this type of skill, various organizations offer online 1 hr training classes to get you the basics before you practice in the field. https://bearsafety.com/services/bear-spray-training )
CORSAR card?: Despite popular misconceptions, the CORSAR (Colorado Outdoor Recreation Search And Rescue) card is not insurance. The CORSAR card is essentially a charitable donation to help defray the cost of training and rescues for the hard-working SAR groups in Colorado. No surprise, these SAR groups are very busy in Colorado. A good card to buy to help out a bit.
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 fewer 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 Waterton Canyon. The end of the 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 week or so to early-mid October depending on that season’s weather conditions. Ending in Denver is also much easier logistically to get back home vs Durango.
The Official Start – Waterton Canyon
Waterton Canyon is the official Denver terminus of The Colorado Trail
Waterton Canyon is perhaps the logistically easiest of the three popular starts, 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, for Denver in general, 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.
Other people have confirmed that this is a good option. As of 2021, they charge ~$45/mo.
Besides allowing dogs, the alternate start has a campground at the start of the alternate, and camping is allowed along the way.
The Scenic Alternate – 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 at Lenny’s Rest.
Here’s a little report I wrote about it. Makes a nice way to start The Colorado Trail. (With some caveats: There is an entrance fee, no overnight parking, no camping, no horses, no MTBikes, or dogs)
If you do not find a shuttle (see below), you can get there via these instructions:
- Rail from the airport to Union Station –
- walk to the nearby light rail station on 16th Street mall. Take Light Rail to Mineral – Littleton station
- Take a taxi to Roxborough State Park (~$35). Uber or Lyft is an option as well.
The following are good Guidebooks for The Colorado Trail
- The Colorado Trail: The Official Guidebook, Ninth Edition. By The Colorado Trail Foundation, The book is now available in Kindle format.
New for the 2016 trail season, this is the most up-to-date, official CT Guidebook.This book covers the entire Colorado Trail, all 567 miles between Denver and Durango, including Segments 1-28 plus CW01-CW05. This is the first edition that covers both the CT Collegiate East and CT Collegiate West. It helps you plan your CT excursions, can guide you on the trail, and is particularly well-suited to have either in an automobile or at home. It is your official resource for hiking, backpacking, horseback riding and bicycling The Colorado Trail.Maps in this guidebook show near-the-trail roads. Travel directions are also provided for each major trail access point. This road coverage is almost essential for the automobile portions of many excursions, including the car trips done by segment travelers and rendezvous between users and support people.
- The Colorado Trail: The Trailside Databook, 8th 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. Has quick resupply info, alternate routes for mt bikers, and more.
- Jackie “Yogi” McDonnell now has a Colorado Trail Handbook similar to her PCT and CDT handbooks. More detailed info on 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.
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 map set available on the The Colorado Trail Foundation website for $40: 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 or the Benchmark Atlas. Taking the narrow corridor maps with the appropriate atlas maps is a strategy many CDT hikers use for their thru-hikes FWIW. The maps are also available in electronic form.
- Another option is the MOUNTAIN MAPS – SAWATCH RANGE map that shows 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 an excellent 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 ~$13 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 resources are a better investment.
- New for Summer 2017 is the NatGeo Trails Illustrated maps that cover The Colorado Trail North and The Colorado Trail South.
- Postholer.com now has a CT Databook and maps available. Postholer also has a neat little , and free, databook app that also has the weather and makes it easy to post journal entries on the Postholer site. For Android only at this time.
- Erik the Black also has a Colorado Trail Atlas available (maps, town guide and databook for the CT corridor and some alt routes)
- The Latitude 40 Maps aren’t as detailed as other maps but cover a wider area. Good for on-trail hiking and bail-out points. The new maps for the Collegiates (Buena Vista and Salida) are confirmed to cover the new Collegiate West route as well. The Summit County, Salida/BV and Durango maps cover the CT from Kenosha Pass (70 miles) to the end. Less money than using all TI maps if, again, with less detail.
- FarOut (Guthook) has a Colorado Trail app for iOS and Android platforms. Maps, trail info, profiles, resupply info as well as info for the Collegiate West option and mountain bike detours. The app has notes from users about water, campsites, and other info of use to hikers.
- Gaia GPS features the entire trail via the NatGeo layer.
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, Amazon, 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
Note: These maps are not in trail order and are listed in the numerical order as put forth by National Geographic/Trails Illustrated. The trail winds in and out of some of these maps and would be cumbersome to list in trail order versus the number order that is more convenient for purchasing. The Colorado Trail guidebook lists the appropriate map to use for each section.
New for summer 2017 is the NatGeo Trails Illustrated maps that over The Colorado Trail North and The Colorado Trail South. A good compromise between details, an overview beyond the trail corridor, and weight. At ~$30, an affordable alternative as well.
- GPS Waypoints: For those who wish to enter waypoints for their GPS and do not wish to manually enter them, Bear Creek Survey has their waypoints avail for downloading to your GPS
- The Colorado Trail Databook is, in my opinion, the most useful purchase in terms of quickness and using less battery.
- My guide for basic town and mileage info seems to be well used
- The FarOut Guides (Guthook App) for The Colorado Trail navigation. A smart device has largely replaced a dedicated GPS for consumer-level use. Uses the Bear Creek Maps.
- Yogi’s Guide for those who want the more detailed town and logistic info. Lots of ideas, tips, and advice from CT hikers if you are new to long-distance hikes, as well.
- The Colorado Trail Guide for pre-trail planning, trailhead info, and post-trail recollection. Very useful if section hiking as the trailhead directions are very detailed.
- Bear Creek Maps for those who like print maps or PDFs for their mobile devices.
- New for Summer 2017 is the NatGeo Trails Illustrated maps that cover The Colorado Trail North and The Colorado Trail South. A good compromise between details, an overview beyond the trail corridor, and weight. At ~$30, an affordable alternative as well. Note that Gaia GPS app has these maps via their NatGeo layer, too
- Less used: Other alternate resources for data books, alt routes, or planning
If I personally did the CT again? I’d take the databook, The Colorado Trail North, and The Colorado Trail South maps, and would have my town info saved to a mobile device. I’m an experienced Colorado hiker so I would not need Yogi’s guide and I feel comfortable enough with the navigation that I would not need the FarOut (Guthook) CT app for that task but could be useful for notes and potential camping spots in addition to trail news.
Permits: No permits are needed to hike The Colorado Trail. In some areas, such as the Holy Cross Wilderness, there is a self-signed permit station when entering the wilderness areas. There is no charge for this permit.
However, starting in the summer of 2020, you’ll need an SWA Pass to traverse segment 12 of the Collegiate East. “CT Segment 12 travelers will need a valid fishing or hunting license or risk being fined, typically $100, though authorities indicate they’ll get more serious with fines starting in 2021.” Please see the Colorado Trail Foundation blog for updated 2021 details.
As of 2013, there is a higher alternate route on The Colorado Trail that takes in the existing Continental Divide National Scenic Trail through the Collegiate Peaks. This route is the same length as the current CT (~80 miles) through this section but offers a higher ridge walk alternative that many people may find interesting. Alpine lakes, ridge walks, and above-treeline views are to be found. See below for more info.
On The Colorado Trail, there are two “designated” alternates that are the same mileage roughly. Between Twin Lakes and Monarch Pass, the CT splits for ~80 miles between the two Collegiate routes.
Which option to hike?
- The Collegiate West option is more scenic, more remote feeling and is on or near the Continental Divide. Simply stunning. However, it is more exposed
- The Collegiate East is the older and lower version of the CT. Best if the weather is going to be iffy, don’t enjoy the high elevation as much and want something less remote.
This post from the FKT Proboards by Eric Truhe nicely sums up the stat differences between the Collegiate East and the Collegiate West options:
For CT East versus CT West clarification, according to the CT Guidebook (9th Edition):
The CT via the CT East is 484.6 miles with 87,645 feet of climbing (Durango to Denver)
The CT via the CT West is 489.7 miles with 89,665 feet of climbing (Durango to Denver)
The CT East section is 78.1 miles with 15,038 feet of climbing (south to north)
The CT West section is 83.2 miles with 17,058 feet of climbing (south to north)
Thus, the CT West section is 5.1 miles longer with 2,020 feet more climbing (south to north)
However, it is important to note that the 78.1 mile CT East section is at an average elevation of 9K-10K feet, while the 83.2 mile CT West section is at a much higher average elevation of 11K-12K feet. While the CT East route does top out above 11K feet a few times, the CT West route has whole sections that run above 12K feet (for example, the CT West route has a 15-mile section that runs between 12K-13K feet)!
The CT “West” route could be more aptly named the CT “direct” as it goes through the Collegiate Peaks mountains, rather than around to the “West.” The higher mileage, climbing, and average elevation, make the CT West route more challenging (and in my opinion, more aesthetically pleasing) than the CT East route.
My 2017 Collegiate Loop hike also has some photos that contrast the two routes.
How much will it cost to take a hike on The Colorado Trail?
That is a question with many different answers depending on your hiking style, length of trip, how many town stops you go on, cost of transportation to the trail, etc.
In general assuming an average hike of The Colorado Trail of 4-5 weeks, figure roughly $1200 +/- taking into the account of inflation vs years past. This price does not include the cost of gear or transportation costs to and from the trail.
A way to save money is to limit town stops and overnight stays in particular, only purchase food for re-supply purposes, do not indulge in any alcohol, and limit side trips while in town such as rafting.
If you are an AT or another long trail veteran, most of your gear 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 to be more careful in picking your campsites. Some of the CT is above treeline so fewer options. in some cases.
Fuel canisters should be found in the following places. As more people are now hiking The Colorado Trail and the coinciding Continental Divide Trail, strongly suggested calling ahead to be sure of availability in these sometimes smaller stores esp with supply chain issues expected to continue into 2022.
- Denver area – Pick one!
- Bailey – Platte River Outfitters – 303-816-9383/ 303-895-7229 .
- Fairplay – Prater’s Market (719) 836-1618 – Fairly easy hitch past Jefferson. The market reported having canisters in stock.
- Fairplay – High Alpine Sports – (719) 836-0201
- Breckenridge – Mt Outfitters – 970-453-2201
- Dillon – REI – (970) 468-0161
- Frisco – Walmart – (970) 668-3959 larger 8oz or 16oz isobutane
- Silverthorne – Wilderness Sports -(970) 468-5687
- Twin Lakes – General Store – 719-486-2196 Limited quantity reported; may want to call ahead
- Leadville – Leadville Outdoors (719) 486-7392
- Buena Vista – Trailhead Sports – 719-395-8002
- Princeton Hot Springs – PHS Store – (719) 395-2447- Store reported to have some canisters in stock.
- Salida – Salida Mt Sports – 719-539-4400 – Monarch Crest Store (limited quantity reported)- 1-719-539 4091
- Creede – San Juan Sports – 719-658-2482
- Lake City – Sportsman Outdoor and Fly Shop – 970-944-2526 High Country Market 970 944-0161
- Silverton – Outdoor World – 970-387-5628 – Silverton Hardware (970) 387-5774
- Gunnison – A few different choices among the outdoor stores, Walmart, and possibly hardware stores.
- 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. 😉 Also, the small town’s stores can change or run out of inventory esp as more people hike The Colorado Trail and the CDT. Always good to call ahead.
- 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 the oil, transmission fluid, etc.
With more wildfires and drier conditions in the American West, open flame bans are becoming more common.
What this often means is that in addition to campfires, stoves without an on/off valve are often banned. That means alcohol stoves and Esbit stoves. You can go stoveless, use a canister stove, or go with a white gas stove. Some years, even white gas stoves get banned. Naturally, wildfires will affect trail closures or even resupply.
Resupply is similar to the PCT: Not overly hard but fewer 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 esp those on a fast pace with limited time. 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 of the more popular options.
Maildrops vs resupply in towns
Places that have adequate supplies in stock for CT travelers are not in short supply. Oatmeal, Ramen, bars, cheese, etc. are all staples in good supply for people on the CT. Buying as you go works for most people on their CT journey.
When to use maildrop (package of supplies mailed to yourself)?
Maildrops are simply mailing a pre-made food parcel to a post office, hostel, or other areas in town on the trail. The advantage of this method is that the supplies are waiting in a package for you.
A hiker will pick up their package, dump the food in their pack, and go. The disadvantage of this method is that you are dependent on Post Office hours (if not sending to a hostel or business), have to pay for shipping, and need a person on the home front to send out packages for you. Unless you have special dietary needs or on a time crunch, there is no real reason to use maildrops on a regular basis.
As mentioned, many towns on the CT have good-sized grocery stores and other resupply areas.
If you use a maildrop, be sure to mail out as the example below shows:
c/o General Delivery
Some Town, CO 55555
Please hold for CT hiker, ETA 7/23/28
The post office will generally hold your package for up to two weeks. Be sure to have an ID ready when you pick up your package. If possible, you may want to mail a package directly to a hostel or business rather than the post office. The hours will be longer and more flexible.
A mail drop works best if:
- Have dietary needs (vegan, GF, etc.) not easily addressed via a typical town resupply.
- Prefer to pick up meals you made yourself be it for nutritional or personal taste
- On a time crunch and grabbing a package does save time vs. shopping in town.
Note you can mix and match, too. Send maildrop to the place where the selection is limited; buy where there are full-service options.
**** Due to the increasing popularity of The Colorado Trail, it is suggested that you contact a business first before you send a mail drop ****
And speaking of towns and interaction with hikers…
Remember, hiking The Colorado Trail is a privilege and not a right. Always say “Please” and “Thank you”, don’t act like you are entitled to anything because you are a long-distance hiker, and respect not only your fellow hikers but also the people in the towns you are entering. Remember, your actions can impact the hikers coming after you.
The Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Assoc. has an excellent set of guidelines at the “Endangered Services Campaign” site. Written quite a few years ago for the Appalachian Trail, the guidelines work equally well for the growing amount of hikers on The Colorado Trail.
On to the resupply info…
- 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 the trail.
- Full Service – Has a supermarket, lodging, restaurants, often an outfitter of some sort. Anything you need will probably be in this town.
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 for a busy summer weekend! Wildfires can also affect town resources or even cause outright closures.
Also, new commercial enterprises are mailing out food, gear, and other sundries to hikers. Quite a few may be found via a Google search such as, but not limited to, Trail Supply Co, Outdoor Herbivore, Zero Day Resupply, and Sonora Pass Resupply . They regularly post on forums and Facebook advertising their services. Some hikers are using Amazon Pantry Service or the Walmart equivalent, too.
Also, this information can change…even during a season. If there is incorrect/additional info, please send feedback. Thank you!
THOUGH COVID NOT AN ISSUE AS MUCH FOR 2022, I SUGGEST CALLING AHEAD AS BUSINESSES HAVE FREQUENTLY UPDATED OVER THE SEASON. FURTHER UPDATES AT https://coloradotrail.org/blog/
|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.|
|Conifer||16.5||15||Large town with many restaurants, retail stores, grocery stores, PO, etc.|
|Buffalo Creek||26.6||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 the general store. Ask nicely and you may be able to get package outside or normal business hours.|
|Bailey||40.7||8||Lodging (just outside of town), restaurants, The resupply is marginal at the gas station. Basic camping items as Sasquatch Outpost and Knotty Pine. Platte River Outfitters will take maildrops by UPS and FedEx only. Stocks canisters, dehydrated food, and snacks. Some backpacking supplies: “More the place for forgot this, forgot that” “Shuttles when we can”
The town does have PO if you want to do a maildrop. Bailey may be an option if you need some RnR while getting your trail legs. FS-560 gets a decent amount of traffic on a weekend.
Two Bridges Lodges (the former site of Lynwood Park) offers a hiker hostel, holds packages and performs local shuttles for guests. More info – https://www.twobridgeslodge.com/ RSVP is not required but preferred.
|Jefferson / Fairplay||71.7||4.5 S||Jefferson: Hungry Moose Caboose has BBQ. Small post office nearby. (slated to close in Aug 2022).
Jefferson Market also open:
P.O. Box 253
Jefferson, CO 80456
Looks like the grill is open again, too. http://jeffersonmarket17.com/
Fairplay: Small, compact town past Jefferson with everything a hiker may need. Good-sized grocery store, lodging, restaurants. Outdoor store. Relatively easy hitch on 285. Rumored to be the inspiration for the show “South Park”! Brewery, too.
From this point, Bailey may also be hitched back to ~19 miles north on 285.
|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 with bunk rooms. Takes maildrops via UPS and FedEx only . www.firesideinn.com
Newer hostel called The Bivvi offers a bunk and breakfast stay. Book online at this link with the code “HikeCO” for a discount.. Prices do go up for last minute bookings. “Hot tub…outdoor firepit..draft beer”. On free bus line and next to Breck brew pub (or a .5 mile walk)! Onsite laundry services now . Takes mail drops.See website for more info. More info here as well.
Frisco: Another full-service town with outfitters, grocery stores, etc. The same free bus will take you in 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 known to frequent the Backcountry Brewery there once or twice.
Silverthorne/Dillon: Full-service town. The Summit County Bus will also take you a little further into nearby Dillon/Silverthorne. More lodging, stores, and BREW PUBS!
|Copper Mtn / Frisco||119.3||0||Copper: Ski Resort, NO 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 to Frisco.
|Leadville||142.8 via US 24 at Tennessee Pass||9.5||Full-service town. Leadville Hostel is now:
Inn the Clouds – Leadville’s Hostel & Inn
maildrop for guests (yes)
shuttles for a fee when time permits (yes)
Showers for walk-in’s $6/person
Newer low-key hostel: The Colorado Trail House . wifi, showers, 127 E 8th S 970-343-2565 or you can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org Showers reported being at laundromat.
|157.9via 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)|
|171.2 via Halfmoon Creek Rd. FS-110||8.0|
|Twin Lakes||175.8||On-trail or 1-3 miles. Depends if you use alt. road walk route, old CT over Hope Pass, or current CT route||General store with basic backpacking food and supplies. Moderate re-supply. Resupply packages info at this link: ! http://www.twinlakesgs.com/ Info for 2021 Two small motels. Other lodging (cabins, lodges) just outside of “town”.
Patrick “Gumby” Basso reports Lodging at Twin Lakes Inn. Very Clean and New. The food at the Twin Lakes Inn is very good.
|Collegiate West alt route info is below Durango.||Collegiate West alt starts just past here at ~ mile 14 of segment 11. Please see below Durango for resupply info on Collegiate West alt route|
|Buena Vista||191.3 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.
New hostel – BV Overlook with hiker accommodations and tent sites. Local shuttles. Some hiker supplies in store per website. https://www.bvoverlook.com/
|209.6 via 365||6.5|
|216.6 via 306||9.5|
|Mt. Princeton Hot Springs||230||0||On-trail resort. Princeton Hot Springs General store/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 Rooms and day-use hot springs avail.|
|Salida||247.7 via CO 240
253.2 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 low-costs bunks. In downtown near all amenities. They do take mail drops. Offer bikes for getting around town. www.simplelodge.com
Many local places shuttle MTBikers to the nearby Monarch Crest Trail that is part of the CT/CDT Headwater IPA at Amica brewpub highly recommended by Ed Hyatt!
Keith “Wolf” Kimball reports “Salida town is spread out. The Simple Lodge hostel is over a mile walking through a community area to get back to Rt 50. On Rt. 50 offers other lodging accommodations that are close to several restaurants, Walmart, and other facilities. The ‘Salida Hot Springs Aquatic Center’ offers a “Hot Spring” to soak in for $11. Set up more like an indoor pool area with showers. Lockers and towels are also available for an extra $1 each.
Hayduke’s Hideout hostel avail as of May 2021.
This business takes maildrops:. Roxy’s Bottle Shop 102 E Rainbow Blvd. Salida, Co 81201. 719-539-4163
The Monarch Mountain Lodge (Garfield) is about five miles below Monarch Pass. Previous owners have let people park here if hiking the Collegiate Loop.
The Butterly Hostel a popular option for both collegiate West and East hikers. Various ways to reach including a two-mile hike down a jeep road. Takes maildrops. See https://www.monarchbutterflyhouse.com/
|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||302.9||Saguache 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 bailout 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 a dying town, has a few small businesses that have been known to be for sale. As for this writing, 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.|
|Creede|| 343.1 via FS- 503 @ San
|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 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. However, if you are the type of person who wants a 100% definite ride, I would not do this option. 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”|
|357.8 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 an easier hitch now than in years past.
A reported in a Facebook group “If you need to ship to Creede, the Chamber and San Juan Sports both accept packages. Check out creede.com if you need more information. K-belle also has a nice selection of all the food you need.
Creede Chamber of Commerce
San Juan Sports
|Lake City||357.8 via Spring Creek Pass at 149||17||Easier hitch now than in years past. Lake City has become one of the “go to” places on the CT and CDT.
The Sportsman will shuttle to and from Spring Creek Pass for $41.20 one way. https://www.lakecitysportsman.com/
Decent grocery stores (moderate to full resupply). High Country Market actively seeking hiker input on what to stock.
Silver Spur Motel reported being good as well. Local businesses offer possible shuttles out-of-town.
“Mary and Marc” did find helpful people at the Matterhorn Motel: www.matterhornmotel.com/
“Lake City Trail Hiker Center opening in June 2022. The Center is located at the Presbyterian Annex (418 Silver Street) and will be open weekdays from 9am to 11am and 2pm to 5pm. Keep in mind… we’ll likely need to adjust as the season unfolds.
We’re offering hikers several new amenities: Free high speed wifi..afimple outdoor and indoor seating, an outdoor water refilling/hand washing station…, free tea and espresso bar.. snack bins (with lots of travel bars, snacks and some toiletries items), a unisex toilet (no shower available), communications board with local accommodations and offerings, hiker box, and public computer/printing services available)”.
|Molas Lake Campground||410.7||~.5 (half-mile) to campground off CT||Campground is in pretty location. New ownership in Summer 2015. Amenities for hikers, supplies with a hiker focus, take mail drops. Described as an “oasis” by one thru-hiker. Please see http://molaslake.com for more information, mail drop instructions, and contact info.|
|Silverton||412.1||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. Near all amenities. Will shuttle back to trail.
www.prospectormotel.com Silverton Hostel is another option.
.San Juan Backcountry http://www.sanjuanbackcountry.com/ will do extensive shuttles all over the San Juan area. Advanced reservations are suggested.Silverton Hardware takes maildrops: We are no longer able to accept USPS or Fed-Ex packages as we are now an official UPS access point. Also, all packages shipped to our 740 Greene St Silverton CO 71433 address via UPS must be picked up within 7 days or we have to return them to UPS. This is out of our control now, as an access point. We are, however, stocking more fuel, freeze-dried food, meal bars, electrolytes, and first aid than we have ever carried in the past for hikers. Our phone number is (970) 387-5774 if you want to call us with questions.
|Durango||486.4||End of Trail||Treat yourself to a beer and a burger. Mail yourself some comfy clothes! The trail ends ~4 miles
from the outskirts of this full-service town. Should be easy to hitch into town. the Durango Hometown Hostel is closed as of Aug 2013. Cookerhiker reports “At the end of our successful Colorado Trail thru-hike, 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 INFO STARTS HERE. THE MILEAGE MARKERS WILL BE DIFFERENT FROM COLLEGIATE EAST RESUPPLY ABOVE.||THE TWO ROUTES DIVERGE AT ~ MILE 185 AND CONVERGE AGAIN AT ~MILE 266|
|BV and nearby.||219.3||14E to Cottonwood Hotsprings
18E to BV
Cottonwood Hot springs could work for maildrop. Call ahead. Lodging avail too.
See above about BV amenities
|Tincup||228.3||8.5||Restored mining town. Small restaurant and snack-type store. Very hard hitch and climb. Not suggested. http://www.pitkincolorado.com/tincup/|
|St. Elmo||235||4||Marginal resupply at general store St. Elmo is easier to reach and get to than Tincup above. Contact for possible maildrops.|
|Mt. Princeton Hot Springs||235||15||Could be a tough hitch. See above for more details|
|Monarch Mountain Lodge (Garfield)||252.3||2||see above. You will need to hike this route down for resupply more than likely.|
Monarch Crest Store
|Varies; see website
|Varies; see website
The Butterly Hostel a popular option for both collegiate West and East hikers. Various ways to reach including two-mile hike down a jeep road. Takes maildrops. See https://www.monarchbutterflyhouse.com/
On trail store. Moderate resupply in recent years. Cafeteria. Takes maildrops via UPS only Call first: (719) 539-4091 Hwy 50 West
|Gunnison||263.3||42||OBVIOUSLY, A DIFFERENT HITCH HERE VS COLLEGIATE EAST. THIS HITCH IS AT MONARCH CREST (HWY 50) AND NOT HWY 114 THEN GO VIA 50 AS WITH THE COLLEGIATE EAST ROUTE. see above for info on “Gunni”|
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 such as found on eBay or Amazon. These sturdy, metal boxes are often used in National Park Service backcountry campsites to critter-proof food. At ~$15-20 ea, considerably less expensive than bear canisters, too.
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 alternate 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!
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 or appropriate topos from other sources.. 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 / Collegiate West route) is harder but much more scenic than official CT on the Collegiate East. At 12540’ the views are breathtaking. Hope Pass is also the literal high point of the Leadville 100 ultramarathon that takes place in mid-August. After coming down Hope Pass, you can go east on 390 viathe short Sheep Gulch spur trail off the CT and eventually connect back up to the Collegiate East CT on a dirt road (Note, I am not saying this road is the CT!..you just connect to it again via the dirt road. 🙂 ) Or you can do the alternate below… (Use Trails Illustrated Map #127 or the NatGeo TI Colorado Trail Maps. Other maps sources may work, too. )
Missouri Gulch: Not too long after Hope Pass, you can get to the historic town of Vicksburg that is accessed by the short Sheep Gulch spur trail off the CT. 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 the official CT East in the sage IMO. 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 Illustrated Maps #127 and #129 or the NatGeo TI Colorado Trail Maps)
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. The Latitude 40 series and the Guthhook app /Bear Creek Survey Maps also have this route, including the 2014 re-routes, in detail. The Trails Illustrated NatGeo Maps have this route, too.
Speaking of the Collegiate West loop, this newer alt route combined with the traditional CT will make a wonderful ~165 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. NatGeo Trails Illustrated has a map set avail as of Summer 2017. In the Fall of 2017, I hiked the Collegiate Loop. I put together a Colorado Trail Collegiate Loop guide based on that trip that is adjunct to information found on this page.
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. It does NOT have the 2014 Collegiate West re-route however.
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:
- Mt Elbert – Highest peak in Colorado. Near Leadville and Twin Lakes. Many choose to go off the CT, summit and come down another trail.
- Mt Massive – Second highest peak, just down the trail from Elbert.
- 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.
Justin Simoni also has very detailed information on accessing the 14ers from The Colorado Trail. Complete with CalTopo maps, alt routes, and where dropping your pack for a side trip may be advisable.
Here’s how to get to the trailhead via public transport: –
- Rail from the airport to Union Station
- walk to nearby light rail station on 16th Street mall. Take Light Rail to Mineral – Littleton station
- Taxi to Waterton Canyon TH. Lyft and Uber are viable options as well.
- Rather stick to strictly public transit? Detailed instructions for public transit and walking, with a camping option, here.
Another possible option?
- Jerry Harp on Facebook reports that “FWIW: The Holiday Inn Express and Suites in Littleton will allow you to leave your vehicle for the duration of your hike for the price of a one night stay. There is a shuttle that will take you to the trailhead. 720-981-1000.”
(see SECTION HIKING TRANSPORTATION for more info on RTD)
The CTF also has a volunteer shuttle driver list. . The CTF has confirmed they do keep a shuttle list. Primarily people who wish to help but do not want their information posted publically online.
Leaving A Car at Waterton Canyon
And, as cautioned above, COVID changed things. TBD if the ban on leaving a car at Waterton Canyon is permanent or lasting into other seasons. As of this writing in Jan 2022, no longer-term parking avail. If the trend continues into 2022 safe to say leaving a car there will not become an option going forward. More info – https://coloradotrail.org/waterton-now-open-7-days-but-no-overnight-parking/
Other Denver area parking options
- Another option is the Sedalia RV storage listed earlier: Sedalia RV Storage (303) 688-3842 for about $40/month. Other RV storage areas in the Denver metro area may work. Google is your friend!
- Jerry Harp on Facebook reports that “FWIW: The Holiday Inn Express and Suites in Littleton will allow you to leave your vehicle for the duration of your hike for the price of a one-night stay. There is a shuttle that will take you to the trailhead. 720-981-1000.
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. United Airlines also has one-way flights from Durango to Denver; which reported being expensive. American Airlines as well. Enterprise car rental is located in Durango itself. Enterprise has been reported to do pickups (such as a motel room). These one-way rentals book quickly.
Bus service is avail again for Durango to Grand Junction via public transit. 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)
Note that Grand Junction has a decent-sized airport with regular flights to/from Denver. Car rentals also available.
A quick word about hiking The Colorado Trail in segments: Not everyone can spend 4-6 weeks hiking The Colorado Trail in one long hike. Section (segment) hiking is a great way to see the trail and being able to do the trail a weekend, week or more at a time. Whether thru-hiking the trail or section hiking the trail, hiking The Colorado Trail is a great accomplishment. If you hiked the trail in segments, be sure to let The Colorado Trail foundation know you complete The Colorado Trail!
The following are ways you can section hike The Colorado Trail:
- Uber or Lyft are both increasingly viable options
- Greyhound goes to the town of Frisco to and from 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. Reported having started service from ABQ to Durango again as well.
- Bustang has various routes connecting throughout Colorado
- Rome to Rio helpful for plotting out many tranist options be it public or private.
- Albuquerque, NM is an option some people use for flying into or out of. Greyhound reported having started service from ABQ to Durango again as well.
- 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 Summit Stage also connects Frisco to Leadville for $5. Makes doing section hikes easier!
- Denver Regional Transportation District (RTD): Not only for section hikers! RTD has rail lines and buses from the airport (DIA) to the trailhead. (See above in “Getting to and from Denver“). You can also use the Union Street Station terminal to get 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 Narrow 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 the 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.wildernessjourneyspagosa.com/shuttle-taxi/
- SilverLining Suttle Service “… reliable and dependable for-hire shuttle service based out of the Denver area serving the CT hiking community. I will be offering ,at a fair price , shuttles , overnights , gear delivery , emergency help and anything else you might need to get on and stay on the trail. “
- San Juan Backcountry San Juan Backcountry http://www.sanjuanbackcountry.com/ will do extensive shuttles all over the San Juan area. Advanced reservations suggested.
- The Sportsman in Lake City does shuttles over the Lake City area (including the Gunnison Airport and Spring Creek Pass) https://www.lakecitysportsman.com/
- Buckhorn Limousine 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 website at www.buckhornlimousine.com
- Western Slope Rides “Ground transportation between regional airports, including Telluride, Montrose, Ridgway, Ouray and Silverton. Plus gear transport and shuttle service to trailheads and other backcountry destinations through out Western Colorado’s San Juan Mountains.” https://gowsr.com/
- 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. https://ridebustang.com/schedules/#gunnison
- See also Chaffee Shuttle http://www.chaffeeshuttle.com/Bus-to-Denver-and-Gunnison
- 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 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 via their thru-way program. From there you can use the Summit Stage bus to get to The Colorado Trail. http://www.amtrak.com
- The Colorado Trail Foundation shuttle list: Shuttles are probably your best bet as a Colorado Trail section hiker. The CTF has confirmed they do keep a shuttle list. Primarily people who wish to help but do not want their information posted publically online.
- Online Forums: Reddit and The Colorado Trail Facebook groups have been known to have people volunteer to shuttle as well. See the Other Resources section for information on how to access these forums.
Finally, if you are section hiking, The Colorado Trail Guidebook is very useful for trailhead info and directions.
- Though written for the Pacific Crest Trail, this document from the PCTA is very useful and should be read for the general information.
- Dogs are allowed on the majority of The Colorado Trail. Be sure to follow leash laws and be respectful of your fellow hikers and wildlife.
- For The Colorado Trail specifically, the only place where dogs are not allowed is the stretch of trail in Waterton Canyon.
- The Thru-Hiker Facebook Group for dogs is also a valuable resource.
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 fromTo 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 good option.
Here are some other resources about The Colorado Trail:
- The Colorado Trail Foundation: The first place to stop for info on The Colorado Trail www.coloradotrail.org
- The CTF also maintains an active Facebook page Excellent resource for current trail conditions, closures and other important information. Updated frequently.
- Mirroring other popular trails, Facebook pages for the current year hikers are cropping up. The Facebook pages are the most active discussion groups. Hikers of previous years had one, for example: “Class of 2021” or “Class of 2022.” Presumably, 20xx will have their own pages, too. Section hiking? Check out this Facebook page for CT Section Hikers.
- If you are a female hiker, be sure to check out the Women of The Colorado Trail group on Facebook. From the administrator of the group: FOR WOMEN ONLY. Gals, please check out a new Facebook group for female CT’ers. It has been created as a comfortable space for women to discuss their upcoming CT trips, whether thru-hike, section hike, or day hikes – in a positive, friendly, and non-judgmental environment.
- Reddit has an increasingly well-used discussion group.
- A PowerPoint-like presentation I did on The Colorado Trail is posted here.
- Trailjournals.com: This site has quite a few journals for The Colorado Trail with pictures www.trailjournals.com.
- Postholer.com has quite a few journals, too along with a Google Map overlay of The Colorado Trail
- Mags’ Journals and Photos: Yours truly has his Colorado Trail photos and journals on-line www.pmags.com
- Along The Colorado Trail: (book) Photography by John Fielder, Journal by M. John Fayhee. Great pics! John Fielder is arguably the best Colorado outdoor photographer
- A recent account of thru-hiking the CT just came out by Bill “Cookerhiker” Cooke, Shades of Gray, Splashes of Color. Check it out!
- Dean Krakel wrote an excellent series for the Denver Post called The Long Haul: On The Colorado Trail.
- David Fanning has an interesting series of interviews with CT hikers from 2014 to the present called Voices of The Colorado Trail. Read it to get a flavor of the people traveling on the trail.
- ..and, finally, a nice video from Wesley “Crusher” Trimble to whet the appetite!
Once you have completed 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 are 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, Keith “Wolf” Kimball, Peter Lane, Little Bear, Lucky Man, 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
Last Revised: June 2022