Climbing the Colorado Trail

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While mountain biking and horse travel on The Colorado Trail are growing in popularity, day hiking and overnight backpacking remain the most common ways to experience the Trail.

Each of the Colorado Trail’s 33 sections (including the Collegiate West alternate route’s five sections) can be accessed independently of the others at their respective starting and finishing trailheads and elsewhere along the Trail. Moreover, the Trail features a diverse array of elevations and terrain, making it suitable for walkers of varying abilities. Many point-to-point hikers have a vehicle shuttled ahead to their final destination to avoid going back over their previous steps.

Warm clothing, rain gear, sunscreen and bug repellant, water, snacks, maps or a guidebook, and a compass are all necessities whether you’ll be out for two hours or ten. Be aware that cell coverage is often unreliable everywhere along the Trail. It’s best to avoid hiking in the mountains in the afternoon when thunderstorms and lightning are more likely to emerge.

Best Time to Hike

Because of its high altitude, the Colorado Trail is feasible only during a small window of the year. Before mid-June, it is typical for the highest elevations and passes to be covered with snow. Beyond late September or early October, it is possible to experience a snowstorm at those same elevations.

Most people take on the trail in the summer when there is more sunshine, higher temperatures, and more water sources. Later in the fall, when fewer people are on the trail, the weather is often pleasant, and the aspen trees and other foliage are a brilliant shade of yellow, so more people will attempt the hike. The previous winter significantly impacts this, and catching a good weather window is an inevitable component of any long trail adventure.

Direction to Hike

Hikers can begin their journey along the Colorado Trail in Denver or Durango, which are convenient starting points. Because the trail is more challenging and the height is higher in the San Juan Mountains around Durango compared to the relatively easy start closer to Denver, most people choose to trek southwest to ease into the trail’s difficulty. In addition, the San Juan Mountains offer a more dramatic conclusion than traveling through Waterton Canyon outside Denver. Nevertheless, finishing in Denver makes it simpler to get back home, and later in the season, hikers can lengthen the period during which they experience beautiful weather by traveling northeast.

How Long to Hike

A hiker can expect to spend anywhere from two to six weeks on the Colorado Trail. Big-mileage days can be challenging during the monsoon season due to the terrain, elevation gain, and common afternoon storms at this time of year. Some experienced backpackers may be able to complete the trail in less time than others. The majority of hikers travel the path at a comfortable pace and factor in a few “Nero” and “zero” days (rest days) to give their bodies time to recuperate along the way.

Difficulty to Hike

The Colorado Trail is well-kept, clearly designated, and simple to follow, so getting lost is rare. However, this trail is notoriously tricky due to its long distance, unpredictable weather, and strenuous ascents at high altitudes.

Elevation – The Colorado Trail maintains a high altitude for significant distances, providing many opportunities for breathtaking vistas. However, constant exposure to such a high altitude can cause altitude sickness. At high altitudes, it is normal to experience fatigue, a minor headache, and a sensation that your lungs aren’t getting enough air. For additional information on preparing for and enjoying trekking at high altitudes, check out our How to Train for Hiking and Backpacking Trips Guide.

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