The Continental Divide Trail runs 3,100 miles from Canada to Mexico. It passes through 5 states of North America. These states are Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico. Along with the Continental Divide Trail, the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail are the Triple Crowns of long-distance hiking in the United States.
This rugged landscape is a beloved challenging trail for many backpackers and hikers who wish to experience the true North American Wilderness. The trail is long and strenuous with the elevation ranging from 4,000 to 14,000 feet. Many hikers attempt the Continental Divide Trail in a single season, wanting to take the famous journey across continental USA.
What Do You Need To Bring?
The entire backpacking adventure can span 4-6 months. So, hikers must carefully pack their gear to ensure they have everything they need for this undertaking. There are few gear stores available along the CDT (Continental Divide Trail), especially in the first and last 500 miles where majority of the troubles could arise. A couple of the most important things to bring is a plan for replacement gear, and potentially, an extra pair of shoes.
When choosing your equipment, make sure to pick high-quality, durable but lightweight options. Your backpack is probably your most important piece of equipment. It needs to fit your body well and not chafe as you walk. Your shelter is the next piece of survival gear as the high altitudes can quickly chill you, and the mosquito swarms in the Anaconda Pintler range would make a feast of your skin if left exposed. In terms of a sleeping bag, investing in a high-quality lightweight sleeping bag designed for 20-degree temperatures will ensure you stay comfortable even in the continental trail in Colorado.
Keep In Mind
The Continental Divide Trail’s long-distance and high altitude makes it a treacherous long-distance hike typically reserved for experienced walkers. The trail will bring you into contact with grizzly bears, avalanche danger, unmarked sections of trail, long water carries, weeks at altitude, raging snow melts, extreme temperatures, lightning storms, and no contact with civilization. If you decide to take on this multi-month-long hike, remember to bring heavy-duty gear which can survive New Mexico Desert heat as well as the 14,000 feet altitude in snowy Colorado.
What You Will See
It is hard to narrow down the 3,100 to the most picturesque spots on the Continental Divide Trail. However, here are 10 things to look forward to on your hike. These are also great little sections of the massive trail, which you can do as day hikes.
The destinations listed below are divided into states!
1. Anaconda Pintler Wilderness
This part of the trail is covered in rugged mountains featuring bald peaks, glacial lakes, and angler beloved trout streams. There are also many lakes including Seymour, Edich, Ivanhoe, and Johnson, which are all brimming with trout. The area is famous for its solitude and unmatched views of the Big Hole Valley in Northern Montana.
Additionally, during early spring, the area can be quite icy, so ensure you have warm and weatherproof clothing. If you wish to camp and stay in this area, you will have plenty of opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, and reaching tall peaks without the need for technical equipment.
2. Green River Lakes
If you love spotting wildlife along your hikes, then you will certainly love these glacial lakes located a short 2-hour drive south of Jackson. The CDT passes through 70 miles of this beautiful environment. However, for people who wish to do shorter day trips, there are many loops and trails which will give you views of high-altitude lakes such as Little Seneca, Island Lake, and Summit Lake without the need to commit to the entire CDT.
3. Sierra Madre Mountains
The old west history surrounded by magical views of the Platte Valley and Snowy Range Mountains. The trail will take you along grassy landscapes and peaceful creeks, with many birds singing from the few trees in the area. Over the years, several of the markers of the CDT have fallen. Hence, you should make sure to bring a map and a compass for certain navigation. This area also has plenty of camping opportunities in Hudson Park.
4. Triple Divide Pass & Rising Wolf Mountain
The Glacier Mountain Park potentially has some of the most magnificent glaciated landscape views in the entire world. There are over 700 miles of maintained hiking trails along with the CDT. The hike here gives you an elevation gain of 2,380 feet. However, it is quite a comfortable day trip with plenty of spectacular spots to stop at and view mountain scapes or wildlife.
5. Great Divide Basin, Crooks Gap
This is the only place where the Continental Divide splits and goes either side of an enormous circular basin from where the water does not flow to either the Pacific or the Atlantic Ocean, but instead to ponds and salt flats. This extensive connection of waterways and systems is known as the Chain of Lakes. They are known to be covered in native brush and active sand dunes. This part of the trail typically has scorching sun. However, aspen tree, cottonwood, and sagebrush makes the walk pleasurable. The views of many sage grouse and other birds keep hikers entertained.
6. Twin Lakes In San Isabel National Forests
Twin Lakes are a national historic site as they are the home of the largest glacial lakes in Colorado. The area surrounding these picturesque lakes reveals breathtaking scenery of the highest peak in Colorado, Mt. Elbert. Be mindful of the high altitude, as high-altitude sickness may occur at the Twin Lakes Campground. Keep an eye out for bear activity and reports of it, and always make sure to secure your food in storage lockers or far from your campsite to avoid unwanted run-ins with these creatures.
7. Cataract Lake, Gunnison National Forest
The beautiful alpine trek near Cataract Lake ranges from the high altitudes of 11,000 and 14,000 feet. The lake provides a fantastic spot to relax at, camp near, or simply to enjoy breathtaking views. The trail in this part of the CDT takes you through the Cataract Basin, which is well below the high alpine tundra below the Continental Divide.
8. Devil’s Thumb Loop
This part of Colorado features diverse terrain ranging from dense forests, snow-capped Divide, and expansive meadows. It is the home of wandering elk and allows hikers to walk through the wilderness with the breathtaking Devil’s Thumb, a granite spire reaching 12,000 feet above Devil’s Thumb Lake. This is a beloved destination during the wintertime for snowshoes and skiers. Additionally, if you simply want to explore this area for the day, there are plenty of loop opportunities for adventurers to hike to the Devil’s Thumb or the King Lake Trails.
9. San Pedro Parks Wilderness, Santa Fe National Park
This section of the Continental Divide Trail passes through the stunning wilderness national park which covers 41,000 acres of pristine nature. The park has luscious vegetation, rolling mountains in the background, and wildlife in every direction you look. If you are here during July or August, you will also be met by beautiful smells and views of mountain wildflowers blooming in the meadows.
10. Zuni-Scoma & Chain of Craters
This conservation area winds through the chain of craters that were sculpted by underwater lava flow creating rifts, cinder cones, and stunning topography. Now the brushy flats are dotted with conifer, pinon-juniper, and aspen woodland, which is the home to many creatures. During summertime, however, this 30-mile section of the CDT often reaches triple digits. So, make sure to become familiar with desert hiking skills for this area.
11. Chama River Canyon Wilderness
This part of New Mexico is so picturesque and beautiful that renowned painter Georgia O’Keefe found much inspiration from this landscape. To experience the same awe, you can start your hike near Abiquiu Reservoir at Skull Bridge. Here, there’s a 10-mile, easy, and scenic hike along sandstone cliffs. The Rio Chama is a flowing river that attracts kayakers, rafters, and canoeists to all paddle through the canyon. It also embraces the warm reds and oranges of the cliffs. Grab your camera or paint set and enjoy this gorgeous part of New Mexico.
Whether you decide to take it upon yourself and hike the entire length of this spectacular part of the world, or you choose to simply do some of the smaller treks and trails, you will not be disappointed by the breathtaking beauty of these mountains. Prior to setting off, ensure you have enough water, good quality hiking boots, and someone in your friends or family who knows where you are and when you will be back.