colorado trail segments
Distance: 83.2 milesElevation gain: 19,748 feetElevation loss: 17,058 feetOpen to bikes: partially. If you’re wondering if we’ve ever gotten lost, though, that answer also is a yes. Then the CT plunges into the Elk Creek drainage in a dramatic descent to the Animas River, loosing nearly 4000 vertical feet in 8 miles.
I was worried that I wouldn’t be given a good trail name, but hey, this couldn’t be more perfect. Segment 8’s southern terminus is on US Hwy 24 at Tennessee Pass Trailhead, which has a parking lot and is easily accessed from Leadville. Stats: 25.4 miles; 3,823-foot elevation gainAccess: From Denver, take I-70 west past Frisco to Copper Mountain resort. Luckily I picked it up and was able to make a call to the owner’s brother. But taking on this classic middle-distance long trail is no small feat: Due to its rugged nature, the Colorado Trail requires almost as much planning and prep as longer hikes like the Continental Divide Trail (which shares over 200 miles of its route with the Colorado Trail) or the Appalachian Trail.
You park your car, follow the path, and a few hours later end up back at your vehicle. Or, you could continue to segment 23…, Distance: 17.2 milesElevation gain: 3829 feetElevation loss: 2385 feetOpen to bikes: yes. This is where we met another member of our tramily, Garden Center! I continued on thorough about half of Segment 3, and made day two another 16-miler. Mile for mile the most beautiful trail in America… Midnight, I had to pee and couldn’t find my headlamp so I ventured across the trail to let it out.
I met some incredible humans on trail, and have found myself a wonderful little tramily. Ultrarunning fans will be thrilled to traverse part of the famed Leadville 100 race course in this highly scenic section. They’re also convenient bail-out points should something go wrong (i.e., injury or bad weather), and determine where hikers can resupply. I also bring beef jerky, trail mix, dried apricots, and a protein bar or two depending on how long we’re planning to be out. Izzy and I made it up and over the Divide and immediately met back up with the CT/CDT. I would say the Collegiate Loop is in the same category as the Tahoe Rim Trail and even the John Muir Trail, though thankfully lacking the permit hassles of the latter. Colorado Trail: Segment 25 is a 19.8 mile moderately trafficked point-to-point trail located near Silverton, Colorado that features beautiful wild flowers and is only recommended for very experienced adventurers. It notes probable water sources—and other valuable information—in brief, yet detailed, segment descriptions. The trail is more difficult and the elevation higher in the San Juan Mountains around Durango than it is at the relatively mild start closer to Denver, so most choose to head southwest, easing into the difficulty. The free Summit Stage bus — which runs between Silverthorne, Breckenridge, Frisco, Dillon and Copper — gives you even more flexibility: you can hike farther without doubling back.
Mike parked there and then we drove back up the road to Copper Mountain. 5280 has a newsletter for everyone. Turn left on Waterton Road (just before the entrance to Lockheed Martin) and park there. They respect me and I feel safe with them. I hiked with Izzy through most of the morning, but ended up slowing down to take a break at some point in the day. Segments 18 and 19 can also be quite dry and traverse cattle country, making them a bit less pristine. I had lunch at Rock Creek, did some journaling, and ended up expelling a demon as I puked a bit after eating too fast. Segment 6 is long, varied, and takes southbound hikers up and over their first real pass and the Continental Divide.
If you’re into exploring the wild outdoors, sign up here for occasional emails with my best and most relevant posts about hiking and more. Yes, the trail is generally well-marked (look for the triangular Colorado Trail symbol). The Colorado Trail is a 486-mile-long greatest hits collection of the Centennial State’s most picturesque scenery, from wildflower-strewn meadows to sky-high rocky ridges, that runs from Denver to Durango. The Trail passes through six National Forests, six Wilderness areas, traverses five major river systems and penetrates eight of the states mountain ranges. The Trail passes through six National Forests, six Wilderness areas, traverses five major river systems and penetrates eight of the states mountain ranges. This day was honestly rather eventful. The Colorado Trail is no joke. Looking at length and elevation gain is a good way to gauge each segment's difficulty. Hiking usually involves either an out-and-back or a loop route. We took the gondola up to the resort and I was able to schmooze the ticket office into letting us take the Colorado chairlift up toward Peak 8. When I got back to camp, I accidentally grabbed Lil Engine’s hair thinking it was my sleeping bag.. Hahahaha. CW segment 1 gets right down to business with a 3000+ foot climb up to iconic Hope Pass above 12,500 feet. However, segments 10 and 11 offer access to the Colorado 14ers Mount Massive and Mount Elbert, respectively, if you’d like to do some peak bagging. Learn more or say hi. It took me just over five days to hike from the Waterton Canyon trailhead all the way to Breckenridge. Collegiate West technically begins around mile 13.7 of segment 11, which starts at the small town of Twin Lakes. Night two was kinda rough. Ultrarunner Bryan Williams set the current Fastest Known Time for the Colorado Trail in 2017, finishing the route in eight days and 30 minutes with the help of a support crew. The restaurant has very restricted hours, the snack shop has limited inventory, and the 1.5 extra miles feel very long on the (uphill) way back. We said our goodbyes as we thought that this would be the end of our fun lil group.
Dust off your backpack and spend a couple nights under the stars along this incredible portion of the Colorado Trail. Distance: 12.7 milesElevation gain: 3104 feetElevation loss: 1478 feetOpen to bikes: no. I chose Collegiate West on my thru hike and loved it! …cared for by The Colorado Trail Foundation.
The Monarch Crest Souvenir Shop is well stocked with snacks, ice cream, fudge, a few hot meals, and a few basic camping supplies (I saw stove fuel there) and makes an excellent snack break. For more inspiration and preparation, you might enjoy my post on essential tips for hiking the Colorado Trail, or these other popular backpacking resources: About the Author Segment 25 is easier and more forested.
In this post I’ll highlight the best and most scenic segments of the CT in order from Denver to Durango. For those interested in continuing all the way to Durango, the next few segments are not as spectacular but still worthwhile. Distance: 20.2 milesElevation gain: 3475 feetElevation loss: 5119 feetOpen to bikes: no. Segments 16 and 17, in the Sargents Mesa area, include some unpleasantly steep, rutted, and rocky trail that is open to motorbikes. Section hikers looking for the most scenic segments would do well to start here, and consider continuing all the way to Durango for some of the most scenic miles on the CT. I was able to pickup some emergency bivys for me, Izzy, and Lil Engine at REI. Logistically speaking, segment 6 is relatively easy to access on both ends.
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