The Colorado Trail Guide: Everything You Need to Know to Hike the CT

Thru-hiking the Colorado Trail is no mean feat. It’s 486 miles long and traverses some of the most rugged mountains in the United States. But the best things in life never come easily, right? Backpacking the whole CT is so challenging, so beautiful, that it’s sure to become one of those lifetime memories you cherish forever if you can pull it off.

If this is your dream, set yourself up for success by learning everything you need to know to thru-hike the Colorado Trail with this handy six-part guide (plus some helpful bonus content). We cover it all—from trail highlights to resupply logistics to a detailed, section-by-section breakdown of the entire trail.

Highlights of the Colorado Trail

I always say the first step in committing to any thru-hike is to look at lots of pretty pictures and get yourself hyped for the coming adventure. Pretty views and memorable towns won’t set up your tent for you or keep you from getting lost, but they’ll remind you why you’re out there when the going gets tough. And motivation is just as important as (if not more important than) cut-and-dry logistics to the success of a thru-hike.

Packing List

Gear costs a lot of money. You need to account for your packing list when laying out a financial plan for your thru-hike because depending on how much gear you already own, it can eat up a significant chunk of your total budget. Your packing list will determine what luxuries you get to enjoy in camp, how much weight you have on your back during the day, and have an outsized effect on your safety in the backcountry. This list outlines everything you’ll need to pack to thru-hike the CT successfully, including recommendations for every budget and CT-specific considerations.

Logistics of a CT Thru-Hike

The nuts and bolts of the CT: total length, elevation change, the best time of year and direction to hike, getting to and from the trail, etc. Everything you need to know to lay specific, concrete plans for your thru-hike without getting lost in the weeds.

Resupply and Trail Towns

Salida, CO.

For most modern thru-hikers, the adventures you have in town are just as much part of the thru-hiking experience as the trail itself. This installment will tell you everything you need to know about the towns of the Colorado Trail: mile markers for every town on the CT, how to get to it, and what services you can expect to find, restaurant and activity recommendations, plus a few handy tips for resupplying on the CT to help you maximize your time and money.

Essential Safety Tips for Backpacking the CT

The Colorado Rockies are no joke. You’ll have to contend with high altitude, exposure, freezing temperatures, lightning, and more on your 486-mile journey from Denver to Durango. You can manage all of these risks pretty easily if you know what to expect—which is where this guide comes in.

The Colorado Trail Section by Section

In case you want the blow-by-blow, this narrative description of the CT walks you through every section of the trail from Waterton Canyon to Junction Creek, pointing out more challenging or scenic stretches, areas where you may need to pack more water than usual, etc. so you have at least a rough idea of what to expect when you get out there.

Bonus Content: More Info About the Colorado Trail

Collegiate East vs. West: 8 Key Differences for CT Hikers

CT thru-hikers can choose their own adventure in the 75-mile stretch from Twin Lakes to Salida. Will you stick to the traditional Collegiate East route or follow the Continental Divide Trail on the Collegiate West alternate? This article lays out all the differences so you can make an informed decision.

How to Hike Every 14er on the Colorado Trail (with FarOut Miles)

Colorado is home to 53 peaks above 14,000 feet elevation. Many hikers challenge themselves to summit every “14er” in the state, but it usually takes years to complete the challenge. A large number of 14ers are accessible from the CT, and many thru-hikers feel that they’ll never be in a better position to bag a few of these scenic peaks.

The Beer Drinker’s Guide to the Colorado Trail

In case you want your thru-hike to double as the world’s most challenging and memorable bar crawl. This directory of breweries along the CT will give beer lovers something to look forward to in each town along the way.

86 Absolutely Incredible Photos from the Colorado Trail (Part 1 | Part 2)

What was that we were saying earlier about motivation? Flip through these gorgeous pictures when you want some simple visual inspiration. You won’t be disappointed.

Featured image: Graphic design by Chris Helm (@chris.helm).

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