The 486-mile Colorado Trail starts at Waterton Canyon on the outskirts of Denver and goes west into the heart of the Rocky Mountains, ending in the town Durango. As Colorado’s premiere thru-hike, it offers a wealth of fantastic backcountry camping for both backpackers and those looking for a quick weekend escape. A majority of the trail is over 10,000 ft. (with a high point of 13,271 ft.) meaning you’ll be basking in the glory of alpine scenery for a bulk of the adventure.
The Colorado Trail passes through eight mountain ranges, six National Forests and six wilderness areas. Those hoping to hike the entire distance will have to conquer a lung-busting 89,000 total vertical feet of elevation gain. East of Monarch Pass, the trail is mostly in wooded areas with relics of Colorado’s mining past including ghost towns, abandoned railroads and several closed mining operations. West of Monarch Pass, the trail assumes its more wild side, reaching into remote sections of the San Juan mountains -- the most isolated and untouched wilderness in the state.
What Makes It Great
The option to thru-hike or knock off the trail in chunks is great -- many of the trailheads are easy to reach and start near well known mountain towns. The chance to watch the landscape evolve from the nearly flat prairie of Waterton Canyon to the majestic heights of the high peaks is truly amazing. The camping is outstanding with many established sites near rivers, lakes and streams. The Colorado Trail may not have the glamour of other American long trails (such as the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail) but it has all the challenge and beauty -- if not more.
Connecting with the wilderness is good for the soul and the Colorado Trail offers a pathway into much more than the mountains. Those who traverse its entire 486 mile length will come to know the spirit of Colorado and what makes our mountains so special.
Who is Going to Love It
Backpackers, day-hikers and even mountain bikers (where allowed) will love the terrain that the Colorado Trail explores. Peak baggers can add to the experience by tacking on summits along the way (there are over 100 that are reasonable climbs from the trail).
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
For details on hiking the Colorado trail, please visit the Colorado Trail website. This site has detailed information on trailheads, distances, maps, camping, fees and much more.