Colorado Trail

The Colorado Trail is a long-distance trail running for 486 miles (782 km) from the mouth of Waterton Canyon southwest of Denver to Durango in Colorado, United States. Its highest point is 13,271 feet (4,045 m) above sea level, and most of the trail is above 10,000 feet (3,000 m). Despite its high elevation, the trail often dips below the alpine timberline to provide refuge from the exposed, storm-prone regions above.

The Colorado Trail was built and is currently maintained by the non-profit Colorado Trail Foundation and the United States Forest Service, and was connected in 1987.

Colorado Trail
Length486 mi (782 km) [1]
LocationColorado, United States
UseHiking, Biking and Horseback Riding
Highest point13,271 ft (4,045 m)
Lowest pointmouth of Waterton Canyon (Denver terminus), 5,500 ft (1,700 m)
Hiking details
SeasonPrimarily July–September
SightsRocky Mountains
HazardsSevere Weather


View from Colorado Trail, overlooking South Park, near Kenosha Pass
View from The Colorado Trail, overlooking South Park, near Kenosha Pass
Colorado ref 2001 with trail
The trail's route, roughly, in red

The Colorado Trail is an established, marked, and mostly non-motorized trail open to hikers, horse riders, and bicyclists. From the eastern terminus at Waterton Canyon, southwest of Denver, the trail winds its way for 486 miles (782 km) through the state's most mountainous regions, to its final conclusion, about 3.5 miles (5.6 km) north of Durango. Along the way, it passes through eight mountain ranges, six National Forests, and six wilderness areas.

Trail elevations range from a low of about 5,500 feet (1,700 m) at the Denver end of the trail to a high of 13,271 feet (4,045 m) on the slopes of Coney in the San Juan Mountains. The trail rises and falls dramatically. A hiker traversing the entire length of the trail will gain (and lose) about 89,000 vertical feet. The trail passes through what is considered to be some of the state's most beautiful country. Wildlife abounds and wildflowers, in season, are abundant. While much of the trail passes through forests, a good portion of it reaches above timberline, where trees are unable to grow and views are breathtaking.

The trail passes through historic mining towns, along ancient Native American trails, and through a modern, world-class ski resort. Other sections appear much as they would have 500 years ago. The western half of The Colorado Trail, between Monarch Pass and Durango, has less human influence, greater vistas and a display of spectacular wildflowers.

For 235 miles (378 km), The Colorado Trail runs concurrent with the Continental Divide Trail along the Collegiate East route. On the Collegiate West route, the Colorado Trail follows the Continental Divide Trail for 80 miles (130 km) more.


Summer days are warm with cool nights, but unpredictable mountain weather can threaten snow any month of the year. Violent thunder and lightning storms may ravage the afternoon sky, then quickly give way to warm sunshine and cloudless skies.

The practical season for the entire Colorado Trail is roughly July, August and September, though low elevation portions near Denver are often accessible April through June. In the winter, large parts of it are prohibitively difficult because of deep snow.


Marker for the South Cottonwood trailhead of the Colorado Trail, near Buena Vista
Kiosk for the South Cottonwood trailhead of the Colorado Trail, near Buena Vista, Colorado

The majority of thru-hikers (those who hike the entire trail in one trip) hike from east to west. This choice of direction is preferred partly because snow typically melts earlier in the year on the eastern portion of the trail than on the higher western portion. In addition, the east-to-west hike allows a thru-hiker to start with more gradual elevation gains and build up to the more rugged terrain of the western portion of the trail in the San Juan Mountains.

The time required for a thru-hiker to complete the Colorado Trail varies greatly. While some supported trail runners can finish it in less than 10 days (the unsupported fastest known time is 9 days 12 hours 32 minutes by John Zahorian[2]), most thru-hikers spend about 4 to 6 weeks (28 to 42 days) on the trail.[3]

Mountain biking

The Colorado Trail is one of the few major long trails that allow mountain biking.[4] Mountain bikes are permitted along most of the trail, but there are six wilderness areas where it is against federal regulations even to possess a bicycle. As a whole, the trail is of interest to bicyclists from beginners on up. Top cyclists consider it to be a world-class long-distance trail.[5]


  1. ^ The Colorado Trail (8th ed.). Golden, Colorado: Colorado Mountain Club Press. 2011. p. 9.
  2. ^ Colorado Trail Unsupported FKT
  3. ^ Colorado Trail Foundation
  4. ^ "Colorado Trail (southern segments)". Epics. International Mountain Bicycling Association. Retrieved 2016-02-06.
  5. ^ "Mountain Biking the Colorado Trail". The Colorado Trail. Colorado Trail Foundation. Retrieved 2016-02-06.

External links

Chalk Creek

Chalk Creek is a 27.3-mile-long (43.9 km) river flowing east from the Collegiate Peaks mountain range in Chaffee County, Colorado. Mount Antero borders the southern side of the river, while Mount Princeton borders the northern side. The headwaters of the river are located at the Continental Divide. The river empties into the Arkansas River at the town of Nathrop, Colorado.

The river is named after the magnificent white kaolinite cliffs that stand at the entrance to the Chalk Creek valley, and are a result of hot spring deposits. These white cliffs are visible for miles in all directions, and stand in stark contrast to the otherwise wooded surrounding mountains. Stands of aspen trees and evergreens of various species surround the river for its entire length.

The river is surrounded by a mix of privately owned and US forest service land. Campgrounds and public trails, including the Colorado Trail, are located along the length of the river. Several hot springs emerge in this valley.

Collegiate Peaks Wilderness

The Collegiate Peaks Wilderness is a 168,000-acre (680 km2) area located in central Colorado between Leadville and Buena Vista to the east and Aspen to the west and Crested Butte to the southwest. Most of the area is in the San Isabel and Gunnison National Forests, with a smaller area in the White River National Forest southeast of Aspen. Most of the area is in northwest Chaffee County with smaller portions in Gunnison, Pitkin, and Lake counties.

Colorado Trail Foundation

The Colorado Trail Foundation, based in Golden, Colorado, is a nonprofit organization that operates and maintains the Colorado Trail, a 567-mile hiking, biking, and horseback riding trail running from Denver to Durango, Colorado.

Continental Divide Trail

The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (in short Continental Divide Trail (CDT)) is a United States National Scenic Trail running 3,100 miles (5,000 km) between Mexico and Canada. It follows the Continental Divide of the Americas along the Rocky Mountains and traverses five U.S. states — Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico. In Montana it crosses Triple Divide Pass (near Triple Divide Peak which separates the Hudson Bay, Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Ocean drainages.) The trail is a combination of dedicated trails and small roads and considered 70% complete. Portions designated as uncompleted must be traveled by roadwalking on dirt or paved roads. This trail can be continued north into Canada to Kakwa Lake north of Jasper National Park by the Great Divide Trail.

The Continental Divide Trail, along with the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, form what thru-hiker enthusiasts have termed the Triple Crown of long-distance hiking in the United States.

Cowboy Songs Four

Cowboy Songs Four is the twenty-first album by American singer-songwriter Michael Martin Murphey, his fourth album of cowboy songs, and his first album produced by his son, Ryan Murphey. The album features a guest performance by Lyle Lovett on "Farther Down the Line".

Gudy Gaskill

Gudrun "Gudy" Gaskill (1927 – July 14, 2016) was an American mountaineer who is regarded as the driving force behind the creation of the Colorado Trail, a 567-mile (912 km) hiking, biking, and horseback riding path between Denver and Durango, Colorado. Beginning in the 1970s, she helped plan out the route, solicited donations, and recruited teams of volunteers to work in one-week shifts developing the Trail each summer. She was named executive director of the newly formed Colorado Trail Foundation in 1987. She was inducted into the Colorado Women's Hall of Fame in 2002.

Hal Koerner

Hal Koerner (born January 23, 1976 in Morgantown, WV) is an American distance runner specializing in ultramarathon running. He is the owner of a specialty running store, Rogue Valley Runners, located in the mountainous Southern Oregon town of Ashland. He is one of the subjects of JB Benna's feature-length documentary "Unbreakable: The Western States 100".He is Race Director of the Pine to Palm 100 Mile Endurance Run - A hundred mile footrace from Williams, OR to Ashland, OR held each year the second weekend in September. In addition to that race he also directs the Lithia Loop Trail Marathon in Ashland, OR.

In 2014, "Hal Koerner's Field Guide to Ultrarunning" was published and released by VeloPress. The book details training for an ultra marathon; from 50k to 100 miles. It debuted #1 in its category on Amazons bestsellers list.

Hal has held the Fastest Know Time for the Colorado Trail (489 miles) and the John Muir Trail (221 miles). To date he has completed over 150 ultra marathons.

La Garita Wilderness

The La Garita Wilderness is a U.S. Wilderness Area located in the La Garita Mountains of southern Colorado. The 129,626-acre (524.58 km2) wilderness established in 1964 in Gunnison and Rio Grande National Forests includes segments of the Colorado Trail and the Continental Divide Trail. At 14,014 feet (4,271 m), San Luis Peak is the highest point in the wilderness area.

One entrance to the wilderness area is via Forest Road 787 from Saguache Park and Cochetopa Park off State Highway 114 west of Saguache, Colorado. There is a parking lot for visitors to the wilderness area at the south end of FS 787. Cochetopa Park may also be entered from the east over Cochetopa Pass via Saguache County Road NN14.

La Plata Mountains

The La Plata Mountains are a small subrange of the San Juan Mountains in the southwestern part of Colorado, United States. They are located on the border between Montezuma and La Plata counties, about 12 miles (19 km) northwest of Durango. Their name is Spanish for silver.

The peaks of the range are easily visible from U.S. Route 160, which skirts the range on the south. The La Plata River and the Mancos River have their headwaters in the range. The Colorado Trail accesses even towards the northern peaks.

The best-known and highest peak in the La Plata Mountains is Hesperus Mountain, which is the Navajo sacred mountain of the north. The six of the highest summits are listed below.

List of Colorado trails

The following are partial lists of significant historic, scenic, and recreational trails in the State of Colorado of the United States.

Live at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium

Live at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium is a live album by the American folk music group The Kingston Trio, recorded in 1961 and released in 2007 (see 2007 in music).

Lone Mesa State Park

Lone Mesa State Park is a closed-access state park in Colorado. It is currently undergoing development and planning. The only allowed use is limited hunting with special permits.

Long Scraggy Peak

Long Scraggy Peak is a mountain in Jefferson County, Colorado. A prominent peak, it is characterized by its elongated, craggy ridge, for which it is named. The mountain is located within the Pike National Forest near the confluence of the North Fork South Platte River and the South Platte River.The peak, elevation 8,796 feet (2,681 meters), is popular among mountain climbers, day hikers, and rock climbers, especially in winter, as the peak's relatively low elevation means there's often less snow than on higher peaks.

Lost Creek Wilderness

The Lost Creek Wilderness is a 119,790-acre (485 km2) wilderness area located in central Colorado in Jefferson and Park counties south of the town of Bailey. The area is situated entirely within the boundaries of the Pike National Forest.

The Lost Creek Scenic Area in the Wilderness is a 16,798 National Natural Landmark designated site.

Mount Massive Wilderness

The Mount Massive Wilderness is a federally designated wilderness area in the Sawatch Range, located in the U.S. state of Colorado. It is operated jointly by the United States Forest Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service as part of the San Isabel National Forest and the Leadville National Fish Hatchery. It is 30,540 acres (123.6 km2) in size, with 27,980 acres (113.2 km2) in San Isabel National Forest and 2,560 acres (10.4 km2) in Leadville National Fish Hatchery, and it was designated by the US Congress in 1980. The name comes from Mount Massive, the second highest peak in Colorado, located inside the wilderness. Elevations in the wilderness range from 9,700 feet (3,000 m) to 14,421 feet (4,396 m). It is the only federally designated wilderness area within the National Fish Hatchery System.On the west side, the Continental Divide separates the Mount Massive Wilderness from the

Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness, part of the White River National Forest.

Trailheads accessing the wilderness are:

Hagerman Pass Road – The Colorado Trail, Native Lake and Windsor Lake Trailhead

US Fish Hatchery – The Rock Creek Trailhead

Halfmoon Creek Trailhead – Mt. Elbert/Mt. Massive Trailhead and the North Halfmoon Lake Trailhead

Palatine, Illinois

Palatine () is a village in Cook County, Illinois, United States. It is a northwestern residential suburb of Chicago. As of the 2000 census, the village had a total population of 65,479. In the 2010 census its population had risen to 68,557, making it the seventh-largest community in Cook County and the 18th-largest in the state of Illinois.

Spring Creek Pass

Spring Creek Pass, elevation 10,889 ft (3,319 m), is a mountain pass on the Continental Divide in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. The pass is traversed by State Highway 149 and the Colorado Trail. Somewhat unusually for a pass on the Continental Divide, it is not the highest point on the highway in the vicinity; heading north from the pass, the road climbs over the considerably higher Slumgullion Summit before descending toward Lake City.

The Colorado Trail (song)

The Colorado Trail is a traditional American cowboy song, collected and published in 1927 by Carl Sandburg in his American Songbag. Sandburg says that he learned the song from Dr. T. L. Chapman, of Duluth, Minnesota, who heard it from a badly injured cowboy being treated in his hospital. The cowboy sang it, and many others, to an audience of patients in his ward.The trail in the song was a cattle route that branched off from the main Western Trail in southern Oklahoma, heading northwest to Colorado. It has no relation to today's Colorado Trail, which is a hiking trail completely within the state of Colorado.The song got its widest attention from its 1960 recording by The Kingston Trio. It has also been recorded by Burl Ives, The Weavers, the Norman Luboff Choir, Tex Ritter, Johnny Cash, the Bar D Wranglers, and many others. The American Songbag version included only a single short verse; most who have recorded it since have added verses of their own.Members of the Western Writers of America chose it as one of the Top 100 Western songs of all time.

Trevor Thomas (hiker)

Trevor Thomas is the world’s only professional long-distance blind hiker. He was the first blind person to complete the Appalachian Trail on an unassisted, solo hike in 2008. He has hiked more than 20,000 miles. He hikes with a guide dog, Tennille, and uses sophisticated digital technology, emailing his route to his phone to convert to audible sections, using echo location to identify obstacles, and having a satellite beacon which updates his Facebook page with his location every 10 minutes: if he is in the wrong place or not making the expected progress his expedition coordinator is alerted. He supports himself through speaking, writing, blogging and sponsorship, and has set up the Team FarSight Foundation to support young blind people in outdoor activities.He has hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, the Tahoe Rim Trail, the John Muir Trail, Long Trail, the Colorado Trail, and the North Carolina's Mountain to Sea Trail. He has climbed to the summits of Mt. Mitchell, Mt. Rose, Mt. Whitney, Mt. Elbert, and Mt. Friel.

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