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Home > Trip Planning > Hike/Backpack

Hiking and Backpacking The Colorado Trail

Whether you're planning a day hike or a multi-week thru hike, you will find The Colorado Trail to be a great outdoor experience.

Colorado Trail Foundation Sponsored Hikes

Currently, the only officially sponsored hikes on The Colorado Trail are part of the annual Colorado Trail Trekking Program. These Treks are an enjoyable way to experience the CT. Trekkers carry only a daypack while camping supplies are shuttled to the next camp each day. Several week long Treks are offered each summer.


hikers along The Colorado TrailThe CT is broken up into 28 Segments with an access point at each one, making the CT easily accessible for day hikers along the length of the Trail. The CT also offers a wide range of elevations and levels of difficulty, accommodating a variety of skill levels and hiking preferences. Many people drive a second car to the destination point in order to lengthen their hike and prevent having to retrace their steps.

Always be sure to carry adequate rain protection for summer storms and extra clothing to deal with an unplanned overnighter in the high country. Time your hikes to avoid being exposed to lightning on high ridges in the afternoon. Good maps, a compass, and, or a GPS are very useful on the more remote sections of the Trail.


Backpackers and thru hikers have described the CT as an amazing and life changing experience. Thru hikers should allow at least 4 – 6 weeks between late June and early September to cover the entire 486 miles.

The Colorado Trail is a long distance mountaineering trail that requires respect. All users should be familiar with basic back country techniques, precautions and orienteering skills. Safety is paramount. The Colorado Trail Foundation (CTF) has taken the responsibility to assist with your safe passage by providing an official guidebook, The Official Colorado Trail Guidebook by The Colorado Trail Foundation, a databook, and CT Map Book. The Colorado Trail is divided into 28 segments. For each segment, the guidebook has a brief introduction to the area, trailheads, access points, water availability, supplies, services and accommodations, which USGS or USFS maps to use, and specific information about the Trail that will add to your awareness.

Check out this Lightweight Gear List, provided by Jerry Brown, to get an idea of what you might need for your next backpacking trip.

Thru-Hike Video worth watching (click image below) thanks to Zach Hague:

Thru-Hike Video

The Colorado Trail Foundation cautions hikers:

  • Take no chances. Assistance can take hours or days and cell phones should not be relied on.

  • Be aware of conditions. The varied terrain exposes you to hypothermia dehydration, and lightning hazards on exposed ridges. Snowfields can remain into mid summer.

  • Start hiking early in the day. You will encounter storms of varying intensity. Generally mornings are clear. An early start gives you time to get to your destination and set up your camp in comfort.

  • It is always safer to travel with a companion. Backpacking or hiking solo is not recommended. File a hiking plan with loved ones, and check in often with revisions, so that unnecessary searching can be avoided.

    If you are solo, and are injured along the Trail, try to remain on the Trail itself and wait for help. If you are with someone who is injured along the Trail and happen to have a GPS, then make a waypoint of where the person is before going for help. Leave extra clothing, shelter, water, food, etc. with the injured party in case it takes a long time for a rescue.

    Cell phones may or may not work along the Trail. They work a lot better on top of passes or ridges than in the valleys, so if you are going for help you may wish to try them at several places along your route. Generally speaking, you can access the 911 system with a cell phone even if you do not have a cell service provider.

    It is a good idea for all backcountry travelers to take a first aid course. You may be called upon to provide assistance to someone, and it’s also nice to know whether the person giving you first aid is doing it correctly.

  • Be in shape. Good physical conditioning counts.

    Allow time to acclimatize yourself (get used to high altitude). Guard against fatigue. Pushing yourself in rugged terrain invites disaster. The only good way to treat severe altitude sickness is to go down to a lower elevation. Failure to do so can be fatal. A high level of fitness does not necessarily protect someone from altitude sickness. If you live at low altitude, and plan to through hike the Trail, it will be easier if you begin in Denver than Durango, as you will start lower and go up more gradually. The adage “Climb high, sleep low” applies.

  • If you have creaky knees, a pair of trekking poles may help a lot, especially if you are carrying a pack.

Trail guides, photo books, maps, and other items are available from The Colorado Trail Foundation, outfitters, major outdoor retailers and bookstores. While every effort has been made to insure the accuracy of the information presented here, it should be understood that the distances and elevation changes may be affected by relocations of selected portions of the Trail. Furthermore, adverse trail conditions may require you to detour around sections that are impassable due to heavy snow accumulations, high water, washed out bridges, forest fires, or denial of access by private land owners. Local ranger district offices, outfitters, and fellow hikers are all good sources of information regarding sections of the Trail that you plan to hike.

The Colorado Trail has an average elevation over 10,300 feet. Many areas are above 12,000' with the highest point 13,271'. Care was taken in planning to keep the Trail dipping into timberline to reduce the problem of high altitude exposure for long stretches.

Backpackers resting next to The Colorado TrailImagine the sight and smell of wild flowers as you reach timberline and they take over, growing smaller as you ascend. Inspect the beauty of the tundra and notice the hardiness of those plants and the fragility of the ecosystem spread before your eyes. As you travel, and as you rest, let the stillness of your thoughts sharpen your senses, enabling you to increase your awareness of the beauty that is about you. Observe carefully and look for the creatures whose territory you are sharing.

You never know who, or what, you will meet on the CT. You might have a peacefully energizing experience or your ingenuity and abilities might be challenged. Hikers from across the nation and around the world enjoy the diversity the CT offers. Notice the lessons it teaches . . . . and pause to learn what impresses others:

"There is no question that the natural history of this region is the prize, the reward for the effort made in hiking the CT. This opportunity to observe the Rocky Mountain ecosystem also underscores the need to walk, not run, while making one's tour of the trail."
- Dr. Hugo A. Ferchau, Western State College

Hiking Groups

The Colorado Mountain Club
710 10th St., Suite 200
Golden, CO 80401
American Hiking Society

To purchase a CORSAR Card, click here.