Continuing with the Colorado Trail

My relationship with the Colorado Trail over the past few months has been very off-and-on. I first considered the trail last year and delved deeper and deeper into preparations for it in the late winter/early spring months. I developed spreadsheets for my resupply boxes and planned my town stops, I searched online for gear lists from CT finishers, and I focused my physical training around long days on my feet and general good fitness. However, when shelter-in-place orders began to grow, for good reason, in mid-spring I began to have serious doubts about the trail. It wasn’t safe or sensible to risk the health of others for the selfish benefit of some time in the wilderness and traveling to get there. With changing coronavirus restrictions and conditions, it appears that the Colorado Trail is now a viable option again with some precautions and considerations.

Current Guidelines

The organization which oversees the maintenance of the Colorado Trail, the Colorado Trail Foundation (CTF), has not put out any specific guidelines, like the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the Pacific Crest Trail Association, or the Continental Divide Trail Coalition.

The CTF has written several blog posts throughout the spring season with updates on how the trail may look with coronavirus and best practices to follow. In their most recent post, written on June 2, they advocated that hikers simply follow the restrictions/guidelines of local state and county officials. As of the writing of this piece, the most extensive restrictions are the state-wide Safer-At-Home orders and requirements in virtually every county along the trail to wear masks when six feet of distance can’t be maintained. This map has been a useful tool in finding all of this information in any easy-to-see format. However, some of the linked websites have not been updated and additional research must be done. For example, Lake County is displayed as being “More Restrictive.” However, the Lake County Colorado COVID-19 Information Facebook page includes much more updated information than the website linked on the map, including that they have been approved by the state for local attractions/outdoor venues to operate at 30% capacity or 50 people (link here).

Best Practices

My primary focus has been simply to follow these state and county restrictions to ensure compliance with the concerns and knowledge of public health officials. With that goal currently being met, I have several practices that I have planned my hike around. These are to wear a mask in towns, practice social distancing, and minimize contact with locals.

The new normal trail fashion? Via Samuel Beeler


My first practice, wearing a mask, won’t happen continuously on the trail. If I could hike a steady pace at 12,000 feet with a mask, then I would be in ridiculous shape. Instead, I will be wearing my mask in the few instances I travel into towns for resupplies or when interacting with locals on the trail. I’m still unsure whether this will include wearing a mask around other hikers, although I may when passing other hikers or six feet of distance can’t be maintained.

One exception to this may be in forming a trail family and deciding to not wear a mask around them as a form of a “family unit.” Ideally, we would then be treating everyone outside of that group in the same way that members of the same household are expected are act. However, with the trail being so relatively short, I don’t know if I will develop a tramily that quickly. Also, I will certainly avoid anyone who isn’t following social distancing practices as a member of my tramily, as that continues the risk of transmission.

Social Distancing

This component seems fairly straight forward for backpacking. However, there are a few social and logistical pieces of a thru-hike that I am deliberately changing for myself.

The first is the practice of hitchhiking. While I have done this on other hikes and find it a good way to connect with locals and also have access to the food and supplies you need, it is simply too much of a risk during these times. As such, my longest length of travel for a resupply from the trail is the four-mile public bus ride into Breckenridge. Otherwise, I will do no more than a three-mile road walk into towns, campgrounds, or stores to get my supplies. To achieve this, I am using some places that don’t normally serve hikers as a spot to send a resupply box.

I will also be avoiding sharing hotel rooms with anyone, outside of my tramily. I am not actually planning on spending any nights in a hotel, and certainly not a hostel. However, I may feel differently about this after a few weeks on the trail. Regardless, I will be as intentional as possible in who I share a room with or in weighing the cost of a full hotel room to sleeping in it alone.

Minimizing Contact

Overall, my goal is really to minimize contact with others. It means no hitchhiking or being very specific about how I do it. It means resupplying more from boxes than may be normal. It means being as intentional as possible in finding my tramily and maybe even choosing to delay that process more than normal. It means a very different thru-hike than in other years, but an exciting and unique experience regardless.

Last Thoughts

This list is by no means an exhaustive account of everything I am likely to do. My practices may change as my hike goes on and as restrictions continue to develop. One guarantee is that these are the minimum practices I will take, even if all restrictions were lifted because coronavirus absolutely will not disappear completely by the end of July. If restrictions retighten, then I will adjust or cancel my hike accordingly. I hope that doesn’t happen, but there is no guarantee at this time.

Maybe I will see some of you in the wilderness this summer or maybe in the years to come. Whether I see you or not, I hope you stay safe on the trails and continue to dismantle white supremacy in all aspects of your life!

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Comments 1

  • DALE M JOHNSON : Jul 5th

    I was planning to hike the CT this year, but with the pandemic still raging I will postpone it to next year assuming there is a vaccine by then. Hostels no; shuttles no; hotels maybe; restaurants outdoor seating maybe. But the real deal breakers are hitch hiking (the only ones picking you up would be careless) and possibly putting a strain on rural medical facilities. As the song goes… stay the F… at home.


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