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Home > Trip Planning > Trail Use Overview

Trail Use Overview

Welcome to The Trail . . .

The journey that you are about to embark upon follows a portion, or perhaps the entire 486 miles of recreational trail that crosses Colorado 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.

tent site with a view of the mountains beyondThe Colorado Trail is administered and maintained by the joint efforts of The Colorado Trail Foundation and the U.S. Forest Service. What makes The Colorado Trail unique is that it was developed with the efforts of thousands of volunteers, all interested in the conservation and recreational exploration of Colorado's stunning mountainous areas.

This introduction can serve as a guide to those who are new to the Trail, and to those who are new to hiking and camping. For more detailed information, The Official Guidebook of The Colorado Trail Foundation is the single best resource for planning your excursion on The Colorado Trail. Included here are guidelines for just about any kind of traveler, whether you might be a hiker, cyclist, cross country skier or horse-back rider. We offer them because of our interest in seeing The Colorado Trail, as well as other natural areas, remain as scenic as they are today. In an effort to preserve the beauty of the Trail while enjoying your travels, we ask that you consider and share in the ethics that follow.

We recommend you get your CORSAR card via the Colorado Department of Local Affairs by clicking here.

Treading Lightly

While enjoying the freedoms offered by forests and trails, visitors sometimes love nature to death, unknowingly causing serious damage to the land. It is each person's responsibility to educate themselves about the basics of nature so that everyone can help to reduce human impact upon the land. Alternately, the enjoyment derived from seeing and experiencing nature's workings can be considered one of the main benefits of being in the backcountry.

For thousands of years our wildlands have evolved into a complex ecological relationship. The balance of this interrelationship, which involves climate, water, soil, plants, and animals can be easily upset or even destroyed. Once damaged, these systems can take lifetimes to regenerate.

backpacker silhouetted against mountainsIn many backcountry areas nature is already struggling to cope with the results of unacceptable backpacking and camping techniques, as well as heavy use. Many areas are camped out. Firewood is scarce to nonexistent, fire rings dot the once scenic landscape, vegetation is trampled or picked to extinction, and soils are rapidly eroding. The backcountry experience seems to be harder and harder to find as more and more people move deeper into the wilderness looking for nature's solitude.

Laws and regulations are being enforced to correct and eliminate these situations, but cooperation, proper attitudes, and voluntary actions of visitors are better ways to preserve the land. The concept of backpacker awareness is what evolves when travelers take only pictures and leave only footprints.


Below are a few of the pertinent regulations, though we direct users to consult the managing jurisdictions (e.g. U S Forest Service, etc.) for more information.

Group Size: Often, the Forest Service will limit group size to 25 people. Check with local land managing agencies to determine allowable group size for the area that you will be visiting. Many backcountry areas have other restrictions for the maximum number of people, possibly requiring your party to split up into smaller hiking and camping groups.

Backcountry Trail Courtesy: If you are a hiker or cyclist, it's quite likely that you will encounter other hikers, cyclists, and possibly travelers on horse-back. Since horses and other stock animals are easily spooked, it is best to make your presence known when approaching them. When you meet on the Trail, be sure to allow ample right of way. Horses tend to be wary of unexpected people and especially wary of bicycles. In such instances you should pull completely off the Trail, preferably on the downhill side, and then remain still as the animal(s) pass by. It may help if you talk to the horse in a calm voice as the rider passes.

Cyclists: As their popularity develops, you can expect to encounter mountain bicycles on the Trail. Cyclists should know, however, that all wilderness areas are closed to bicycles. Where they are allowed, cyclists should strictly follow the backcountry ethics that follow, especially in regard to trail use. Cyclists should similarly obey the courtesy of allowing hikers (as well as horse-back riders) the right-of-way, just as vehicles do on city streets. If you are traveling through any area with a limited field of view be sure that your ability to stop quickly is maintained at all times.

Fishing and Hunting: Fishing and hunting are authorized under State regulations and vary from area to area. Obtain permits and regulatory information in advance of your trip from local equipment suppliers and other outlets.

Dogs: Click here for dogs information on this site under Trip Planning > Dogs.

Pack Animals: if you should desire to ride horses, or pack your gear on llamas and other pack animals you should check with the land managing agency located near the areas of your travels for any restrictions. In all instances it is wise to carry enough food for your animals, whether or not animals may be maintained by trail browsing. Certified weed-free hay must be used in much of the backcountry and in Wilderness areas. This is to help prevent the spread of invasive non native weeds, particularly thistles. Begin feeding the certified hay a couple days before you go, so your horse does not deposit seeds when you reach the Trail.

Also consider the distances and terrain that your animal might encounter during your travels. It is advisable to be familiar with animal first aid, and to know of veterinarians along the way in case of illness or accident. Some sections of the Trail are very difficult for horses, in particular segments 22, 24, and 27 in the San Juans. If you are not an expert rider, consider skipping these. A highly spirited thoroughbred horse may not have the best temperament for mountain trails.

When on the Trail, it is only courteous to step aside when your animal needs to relieve itself so that hikers and cyclists do not have to experience your presence after you have left. If your animals spook easily be sure to let approaching hikers and cyclists know of the danger. Ask them to move slowly, and to keep their voices low, if that is what you need. Do not expect them to know how to deal with shy animals.

rainbow over the mountains