|Continental Divide Trail|
|Length||3028 mi (4873 km)|
|Designation||National Scenic Trail in 1978|
|Trailheads||Northern: Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Glacier National Park, Montana at the U.S.–Canada border |
Southern: Crazy Cook Monument, Big Hatchet Mountains, New Mexico at the U.S.–Mexico border
|Use|| Hiking |
some Horseback riding
some Mountain biking
|Highest point||Grays Peak, Colorado, 14,278 ft (4,352 m)|
|Lowest point||Lordsburg, New Mexico and Waterton Lakes, Alberta, 4,200 ft (1,300 m)|
|Months||April to October|
|Hazards|| Avalanches |
The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (in short Continental Divide Trail (CDT)) is a United States National Scenic Trail with a length measured by the Continental Divide Trail Coalition of 3,028 miles (4,873 km) between the U.S. border with Chihuahua, Mexico and the border with Alberta, Canada. Frequent route changes and a large number of alternate routes result in the actual hiking distance to be between 2,700 miles (4,300 km) and 3,150 miles (5,070 km). The CDT 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 near the Canadian border the trail crosses Triple Divide Pass (near Triple Divide Peak, from which waters may flow to either the Arctic Ocean, Atlantic Ocean or Pacific Ocean.
The CDT is a combination of dedicated trails and small roads and about 70 percent completed. Portions designated as uncompleted must be traveled by roadwalking on dirt or paved roads. This trail can be continued north into Alberta and British Columbia, to Kakwa Lake in Kakwa Provincial Park and Protected Area, B.C., north of Jasper National Park by the Great Divide Trail.
The CDT was described in 2013 by a Triple Crown hiker as "Raw, wild, remote and unfinished; it is a trail that will make use of all the skills of an experienced backpacker. It is also a trail that is beautiful, stunning and perhaps the most rewarding of the major long-distance hiking trails."Distances given are approximate as the trail is still being constructed in some areas and is sometimes re-routed.
The establishment of the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail inspired proposals to create a Continental Divide trail. The first section of the proposed trail was laid out in Colorado in 1962 by the Rocky Mountain Trails Association. In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson proposed a national system of trails and in 1968 the U.S. Congress adopted the National Trails System Act. In 1978, the Continental Divide Trail was formally established with the responsibility for management given to the U.S. Forest Service. Portions of the trail already existed and a few hikers claimed to have walked from Mexico to Canada on the informal trail.
Progress in completing the trail was slow and interest in hiking the complete trail was minimal. By 1995, only 15 people were recorded as having hiked the whole trail, still largely unfinished. In that same year, the Continental Divide Trail Association (CDTA) was created and with volunteers built or improved the route of the trail. In 2012, the Continental Divide Trail Coalition replaced the CDTA to coordinate the efforts of several regional partners engaged in constructing and maintaining the trail.Thru-hikers increased from four in 1999 to more than 150 in 2019, and uncounted thousands hiked sections of the trail every year. Horseback riding is permitted on the trail; mountain biking is only permitted on a few sections.
Thru-hikers of the Continental Divide Trail, the Appalachian Trail (AT) and the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) achieve what is known as the Triple Crown of Hiking. As of November 2019, 440 hikers have been designated Triple Crowners since 1994 by the American Long Distance Hiking Association—West.More than 1,000 thru-hikers completed both the AT and PCT in 2019 compared to 150 completing the CDT, a reflection of the isolation and difficulty in hiking the CDT.
Hundreds of people every year attempt to hike the entire trail, taking an average of five months to complete it. The definition of a thru-hike is left to the judgement of the hikers. The purists hike a "continuous and unbroken footpath between Mexico and Canada," but about 50 percent of the thru-hikers admit to having skipped small sections of road-walking because the trail was closed, mostly due to forest fires or snow. All hikers must replenish their food every few days, often hitchhiking from a road crossing of the trail into a town to buy food and supplies. Most hikers occasionally take a "zero", a day without hiking, or a "nero", a day with little hiking, to rest and recuperate. "Trail angels" (volunteers) at locations along the trail assist hikers with food, water, and transportation to and from resupply points to trail heads. A few hikers, especially those attempting to set speed records, are "supported," meaning they have helpers who meet or accompany them along the trail and perform non-hiking tasks, such as food preparation.Permits are required to hike or camp along some sections of the trail and a passport is needed to cross the Canadian border.
Most thru-hikers begin the hike in April in New Mexico, hike northbound, and finish at the Canadian border in August or September. If hikers begin too early they may encounter heavy and near impassable snow conditions in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, and if the hiker finishes too late they may also encounter heavy snow in Glacier National Park near the Canadian border. A few thru-hikers hike southbound (SOBO) from the Canadian border beginning in June and finishing in October or November. They may also encounter adverse weather conditions. A few hikers "flip-flop," hiking different sections of the trail when the weather is most favorable rather than sequentially. The most common problems reported by thru-hikers are injury and snow.
In 2019, the respondents to a survey of CDT thru-hikers were two-thirds male with a median age of 31. Three-fourths were from the United States and the remainder came from eleven other countries.
David Odell was the first person to thru-hike the (still undefined) CDT in 1977, although there was an earlier claim.In 1978 three women hiked the entire trail: Nancy Andujar and the team of Jean Ella and Lynne Wisegart. In 2007, Francis Tapon became the first person to do a round backpacking trip "yo-yo" on the Continental Divide Trail when he through-hiked from Mexico to Canada and back to Mexico on the CDT. This seven-month journey spanned over 5,600 miles. Tapon took the most circuitous, scenic, high, difficult route north and while returning south, took the more expedient route. Andrew Skurka completed the trail as part of the 6,875-mile Great Western Loop in 2007. Olive”Raindance”McGloin, yo-yoed in 2020 becoming first woman on her second attempt (also yo-yoed the PCT 2014).
The youngest person to thru-hike the trail is Reed Gjonnes, who hiked the trail with her father Eric Gjonnes from April 15, 2013 to September 6, 2013 in one continuous northbound hike at age 13.
The Continental Divide Trail closely follows the Continental Divide, but has a large number of approved alternate routes, some of which are more utilized than the official trail. The trail is uncompleted in a few sections, especially in New Mexico, which requires walking on roads. Ninety-five percent of the trail is located on public land, including National Parks, National Forests, Wilderness areas or land owned by the Bureau of Land Management.There are few facilities along the trail itself, and it is usually necessary for the hiker to leave the trail to resupply or find lodging.
The official route of the CDT in New Mexico is 794.5 miles (1,278.6 km) long, although many alternate routes shorten or lengthen that distance. The lowest elevation of the trail in New Mexico is 4,189 feet (1,277 m) in the town of Lordsburg and the highest elevation in New Mexico is 11,301 feet (3,445 m) at the summit of Mount Taylor. Much of the CDT route in New Mexico traverses desert and dry mountains and a challenge to hikers is finding drinking water.
Three southern termini of the trail exist: 1) Crazy Cook Monument, the official CDT southern terminus, east of the Big Hatchet Mountains; 2) Antelope Wells, New Mexico; and 3) near Columbus, New Mexico. The Crazy Cook Monument in New Mexico's bootheel is the most commonly used starting or finishing point of the CDT, but due to its remote location lacks lodging and other services. In northernmost New Mexico, the CDT crosses into Colorado near Cumbres Pass at an elevation of 10,022 feet (3,055 m).
Notable points on the CDT in New Mexico from south to north include:
The official route of the CDT in Colorado is 735.5 miles (1,183.7 km) long, although several alternate routes shorten or lengthen that distance. The lowest elevation of the trail in Colorado is 8,044 feet (2,452 m) along the Middle Fork of the Elk River near the border with Wyoming and the highest elevation in Colorado is 14,278 feet (4,352 m) at the summit of Gray's Peak. Several additional mountains with elevations of more than 14,000 feet (4,300 m) are near the trail
The CDT traverses many of the highest and wildest mountain ranges of Colorado, frequently at elevations near or above timberline which is about 12,000 feet (3,700 m) in southern Colorado and 11,000 feet (3,400 m) in northern Colorado. In most areas the CDT is well marked. It is concurrent with the Colorado Trail for approximately 200 miles (320 km). Mountain bikes are allowed on parts of the Colorado Trail. Depending on any given year's snow-pack and a hiker's individual schedule, alternative routes are available. Forest fires often result in parts of the trail being closed and the hiker must take alternative routes. Another hazard to hikers is Colorado's 'monsoon season' with violent afternoon thunderstorms that are common in July and August on high mountain ridges
Notable points on the CDT in Colorado from south to north include:
The official route of the CDT in Wyoming is 513 miles (826 km) long, although several alternate routes shorten or lengthen that distance. The lowest elevation of the trail in Wyoming is 6,522 feet (1,988 m) about 12 miles (19 km) north of Rawlins. and the highest elevation in Wyoming is 11,115 feet (3,388 m) at Lester Pass in the Bridger Wilderness of the Wind River Range.
The Rocky Mountains of Colorado terminate in southern Wyoming and the CDT passes through a through a long section of desert range-land in the middle of the state, known as the Great Divide Basin. Hikers must decide on a route with regard to the Great Divide Basin as the actual Continental Divide forks, forming an endorheic basin. The shortest route is through the middle where water availability is uncertain in most years. Leaving the Basin, the CDT traverses the remote and rugged 'bench' of the Wind River Range, climbing to above timberline which is about 10,000 feet (3,000 m) in this area, and then through the Absaroka Range in the northwest portion of the state. The grand finale of the CDT in Wyoming is Yellowstone National Park. The trail exits west to Idaho. Grizzly Bears become a possible danger from the Wind River Range northward, especially in and near Yellowstone Park.
Notable points in Wyoming on the CDT from south to north include:
Northbounders leaving Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming enter the Centennial Mountains of Idaho. For the next 358 miles (576 km) the trail closely follows the border of Idaho and Montana, which is also the Continental Divide. The lowest elevation of the trail on the Idaho/Montana border is 5,764 feet (1,757 m) along the North Fork of Sheep Creek in Idaho and the highest elevation is 10,091 feet (3,076 m) at the summit of Elk Mountain. Timberline along this section of the trail is 8,500 feet (2,600 m) to 9,000 feet (2,700 m) in elevation. Much of the CDT follows high, grassy ridges with some walking on dirt roads required. Water can be scarce and Grizzly Bears are found near Yellowstone Park.
Notable points on the CDT from south to north along the Idaho/Montana border include:
Leaving the Idaho/Montana border, the Montana portion of the CDT is 627 miles (1,009 km) in length although several alternate routes shorten or lengthen that distance. The lowest elevation of the trail in Montana after leaving the Idaho/Montana border is 4,215 feet (1,285 m) at Upper Waterton Lake which straddles the U.S./Canada border. The highest elevation is 9,324 feet (2,842 m) in the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness. Timberline can be as low as 6,000 feet (1,800 m) in Glacier National Park at the Canadian border and as high as 9,000 feet (2,700 m) is the southern part of Montana. The Montana Wilderness Association is the leading non-profit partner for the northern section of the CDT. MWA staff work to maintain the CDT in Montana and Idaho with the help of volunteers and agency partners.
The CDT trail goes east from the Idaho border, circles around the city of Butte, then turns north toward Glacier National Park via the Lewis and Clark National Forest and through three National Wilderness areas. Several alternate trails shorten the meandering route of the official CDT in Montana. Some road walking is required. Frequent forest fires in late summer often force closure of sections of the trail and early snowfalls in late September may make the trail in Glacier National Park impassable.
Notable points from south to north on the CDT in Montana include:
The Continental Divide of the Americas is the principal, and largely mountainous, hydrological divide of the Americas. The Continental Divide extends from the Bering Strait to the Strait of Magellan, and separates the watersheds that drain into the Pacific Ocean from those river systems that drain into the Atlantic Ocean and, along the northernmost reaches of the Divide, those river systems that drain into the Arctic Ocean and Hudson Bay.
The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), officially designated as the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, is a long-distance hiking and equestrian trail closely aligned with the highest portion of the Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges, which lie 100 to 150 miles east of the U.S. Pacific coast. The trail's southern terminus is just south of Campo, California by the U.S. border with Mexico, and its northern terminus is on the Canada–US border on the edge of Manning Park in British Columbia; it passes through the states of California, Oregon, and Washington.
The John Muir Trail (JMT) is a long-distance trail in the Sierra Nevada mountain range of California, passing through Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. From the northern terminus at Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley and the southern terminus located on the summit of Mount Whitney, the trail's length is 213.7 miles (343.9 km), with a total elevation gain of approximately 47,000 feet (14,000 m). For almost all of its length, the trail is in the High Sierra backcountry and wilderness areas. For about 160 miles (260 km), the trail follows the same footpath as the longer Pacific Crest Trail. It is named after John Muir, a naturalist.
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 Beaverhead–Deerlodge National Forest is the largest of the National Forests in Montana, United States. Covering 3.36 million acres (13,600 km2), the forest is broken into nine separate sections and stretches across eight counties in the southwestern area of the state. President Theodore Roosevelt named the two forests in 1908 and they were merged in 1996. Forest headquarters are located in Dillon, Montana. In Roosevelt's original legislation, the Deerlodge National Forest was called the Big Hole Forest Reserve. He created this reserve because the Anaconda Copper Mining Company, based in Butte, Montana, had begun to clearcut the upper Big Hole River watershed. The subsequent erosion, exacerbated by smoke pollution from the Anaconda smelter, was devastating the region. Ranchers and conservationists alike complained to Roosevelt, who made several trips to the area. (Munday 2001)
The Weminuche Wilderness is a wilderness area in southwest Colorado managed by the United States Forest Service as part of the San Juan National Forest on the west side of the Continental Divide and the Rio Grande National Forest on the east side of the divide. The Weminuche Wilderness was designated by Congress in 1975, and expanded by the Colorado Wilderness Acts of 1980 and 1993. It is located 4 miles (6.4 km) southeast of the town of Silverton, 17 miles (27 km) northeast of Durango, and 8 miles (13 km) west of South Fork. At 499,771 acres (2,022.50 km2), it is the largest wilderness area in the state of Colorado. Elevation in the wilderness ranges from 7,700 feet (2,300 m) along the Animas River to 14,093 feet (4,296 m) at the summit of Windom Peak.
Mount Rogers National Recreation Area is a United States national recreation area (NRA) in southwestern Virginia near the border with Tennessee and North Carolina. It centerpiece is the Lewis Fork Wilderness containing Mount Rogers, the highest point in the state of Virginia with a summit elevation of 5,729 feet. The recreation area is under the jurisdiction of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests. The recreation area was established by an act of the United States Congress on May 31, 1966.
The Appalachian National Scenic Trail spans fourteen U.S. states during its roughly 2,200 miles (3,500 km)-long journey: Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. The southern end is at Springer Mountain, Georgia, and it follows the ridgeline of the Appalachian Mountains, crossing many of its highest peaks and running almost continuously through wilderness before reaching the northern end at Mount Katahdin, Maine.
The Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT) is a 1200-mile hiking trail running from the Continental Divide in Montana to the Pacific Ocean on Washington’s Olympic Coast. Along the way, the PNT crosses three national parks, seven national forests, two other national scenic trails, and against the grain of several mountain ranges, including the Continental Divide, Whitefish Divide, Purcells, Selkirks, Kettles, Cascades, and Olympics. It was designated as the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail by Congress in 2009.
Big Hole Pass is a high mountain pass on the Montana Idaho border approximately 8 miles due south of Montana State Highway 43 in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, Beaverhead County, Montana and Salmon National Forest, Lemhi County, Idaho. This location should not be confused with a sign on Montana Highway 278 at the height of land west of Dillon, Montana that denotes the eastern entrance to the Big Hole valley. The Continental Divide Trail goes over this pass which is about 11 miles south southeast of the more famous Chief Joseph Pass. The Pass can be approached on a Forest Service road, Dahlonega Creek Road (079), from the west, or Forest Service Road #943 from Highway 43 from the east. On their return trip the Lewis & Clark Expedition separated at Travelers Rest in Idaho. On July 3, 1806, Meriwether Lewis headed north to explore the Marias River while William Clark headed up the Bitterroot River with 50 men, Sacagawea and her baby. They crossed Big Hole Pass on their way to their cache of supplies at Camp Fortunate.
Lost Trail Pass is a mountain pass in the Rocky Mountains of the northwestern United States, on the border of Idaho and Montana in the Bitterroot Mountains. The pass is at an elevation of 7,014 feet (2,138 m) above sea level and is traversed by U.S. Highway 93.
The Big Hatchet Mountains are an 18 mi (29 km) long, mountain range in southeast Hidalgo County, New Mexico, adjacent the northern border of Chihuahua state, Mexico.
The Indian Peaks Wilderness is a wilderness area in north central Colorado managed jointly by the United States Forest Service and the National Park Service within the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and small parts of the southern section of Rocky Mountain National Park. It borders the James Peak Wilderness to the south, and straddles the Continental Divide. The area receives high visitation due to its proximity to the Denver metropolitan area.
Wyoming Highway 70 is a 57.66-mile-long (92.79 km) state highway in southern Wyoming. The route travels from an intersection with WYO 789 in Baggs eastward to WYO 230 in Riverside. WYO 70 over Battle Pass is closed during winter. The section of the route within Medicine Bow National Forest is designated the Battle Pass Scenic Byway.
The 900-mile (1,448 km) Idaho Centennial Trail (ICT) is a scenic trail through Idaho. It winds its way through various ecosystems from high desert canyonlands in southern Idaho to wet mountain forests in Northern Idaho. ICT travelers will cross many mountains, streams and rivers in between.
The Triple Crown of Hiking informally refers to the three major U.S. long-distance hiking trails:
The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (GDMBR) is a 3,083.8 mi (4,962.9 km), off-road bicycle touring route between Jasper, Alberta, Canada and Antelope Wells, New Mexico, USA. Completed in 1997, the GDMBR was developed by Adventure Cycling Association, who continue to maintain highly detailed route maps and a guidebook.
The Great Western Trail is a north-south long distance multiple use route which runs from Canada to Mexico through five western states in the United States. The trail has access for both motorized and non-motorized users and traverses 4,455 miles (7,170 km) through Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana. It was designated a National Millennium Trail in 1999.
The San Pedro Parks Wilderness is located in southern Rio Arriba County in northern New Mexico and part of the Santa Fe National Forest. It is 41,132 acres (16,646 ha) in size. Elevations range from 8,300 feet (2,500 m) in the southwestern corner to 10,592 feet (3,228 m) at San Pedro Peaks near the center of the Wilderness. The Wilderness's average elevation is over 10,000 ft. Conifer forests, interspaced with grassy meadows, called "parks," characterize the wilderness. San Pedro Parks Wilderness is primarily visited for hiking, camping, hunting, and fishing. The Continental Divide Trail passes through the Wilderness.
The Oregon Skyline Trail is a long-distance trail in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon. The trail extends 428 miles (689 km) from Cascade Locks on the Columbia River south to Siskiyou Summit near the Oregon-California border. The century-old trail is a foot and equestrian path that passes through nine wilderness areas, Crater Lake National Park, and Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. Historically known as the Oregon Skyline Trail or Skyline Trail, the entire length of the trail was incorporated into the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail in 1968.