Coronavirus and The Colorado Trail

2020 Colorado Trail travelers will encounter restrictions. Photo thanks to Summit Daily.

2020 Colorado Trail travelers will encounter restrictions. Photo thanks to Summit Daily.

VERY DIFFERENT TRIP. This “Trail Tip Tuesday” on June 2, 2020 includes some of the Covid-related circumstances you’ll encounter as you travel The Colorado Trail. Even though these things have been changing rapidly and likely will continue to change, we hope this is helpful and gives you a sense about this year’s experience. You’ll want to factor into your planning that a CT trip this year will be very different and more challenging than a more normal year.

OPEN & CLOSED. Most of the CT is open, though users will encounter restrictions as they travel. The Waterton Canyon part of our trail and the parking lot remain closed and it is a good guess they might be closed all trail season. Visit ColoradoTrail.org and scroll to the bottom of the Starting In Denver page to learn about the Waterton Alternatives.

DOWNED TREES. Currently there are Forest Service prohibitions on volunteer activity. Unless these change, 2020 CT travelers should be prepared to encounter many more than the normal few downed trees that block the Trail. Over the many years that the CTF has been building and maintaining this Rocky Mountain gem, we have learned that every year 450-500 trees fall and block The Colorado Trail. This year, expect to encounter many of them.

TRAVELER NUMBERS. This 2020 trail season will be different from all others. Most of us have been feeling cooped up and we think it is likely that many travelers will head for the CT this summer. We don’t know with certainty, but there could be more people than normal on the CT. You will have many along-the-trail encounters. If you’ve been wanting to spend time outdoors and not be near many other people, this might not be ‘your year’ on the Trail.

NARROW PASSAGE. In some areas along the CT there is plenty of room to pass other travelers and achieve the distancing some desire. But other sections are narrow, constrained by foliage and/or steep hillsides. It is a good guess few trail travelers will be wearing masks. If you are serious about wanting to maintain distance, it would be good to consider these aspects.

CONTAGIOUS STILL. Learning about the Coronavirus, it is probably just (or nearly) as contagious as it ever was. If you feel symptoms or if you have been tested positive, please do not visit The Colorado Trail or any of the small mountain communities along it. If you are in the subset considered vulnerable because of advanced age or preexisting conditions, it seems prudent to consider how contagious it remains. If you’re along the trail and develop symptoms, please exit quickly and carefully.

MASK & SANITIZING WIPES. You should add mask and sanitizing wipes to your normal trail kit and have them ready to use when needed. They will come in handy for any transportation and in town. Also likely worth adding is biodegradable soap.

TRANSPORTATION. Pertinent for section- and thru-hikers, hitchhiking and shuttling will likely be more challenging and time consuming this year. We think it is a good bet that some vehicle drivers who normally give rides might not be offering. Others might require you have a mask. Just one aspect of a lengthy trip on the Trail, we’re guessing this will translate into a moderate hassle rather than being a deal breaker. For people on a tight schedule, though, this virus-related shift should be considered as just one of the aspects likely to slow trail travel this year.

RESTRICTIONS. In recent days we have seen several jurisdictions relax their restrictions. But many restrictions still exist. The rate of change may be slowing, still relaxing right now, but could reverse and get more restrictive if the number of virus cases spike. Here are pertinent restrictions we know about now.

FIRE BANS. We think each of the local U.S. Forest Service units through which The Colorado Trail travels still has a fire ban and that they’ll likely remain in place all trail season. The USFS placed these months ago because of Covid-19, in part to reduce the need for large encampments of firefighters that are needed to put out any wildfire. Campfires are banned. Several backpacking stoves are banned including alcohol, esbit and wood burning twig stoves that all lack an on-off valve. Please be ultra-careful with all flame, as wildfires are very easily started in the super dry climate in the Colorado mountains.

FS AMENITIES. Amended USFS restrictions leave it up to their local units, but it is likely CT travelers will come across bathrooms that are locked and maybe some developed campgrounds that are closed.

RESUPPLY PLACES. The towns and counties have struggled mightily with their Coronavirus-related restrictions in part because of limited health facilities. Further, some Colorado mountain communities experienced early virus cases brought in by visitors. Most of these towns created visitor restrictions and, even though they’ve now relaxed them some, townspeople remain nervous. CT travelers are encouraged to keep in mind how risky and troublesome all of this is in these communities and be ultra-nice to all townspeople.

HOSTELS & HOTELS. These businesses are reportedly opening at partial capacity and with more restrictions than normal that, in many instances, are coming from state and county governmental agencies. CT travelers who want hostel lodging might find there’s no vacancy. Hikers who want the normal, low rates at hostels, might instead find only an available hotel room at a higher price. CT travelers may want to prepare for expenses that are likely to be higher this year. We suggest everyone adopt an attitude of flexibility as it will serve you and others well. If the framework for your trip does not have room for the flexibility that will be necessary this year, we suggest you postpone your trip.

RESTAURANTS & BARS. State and local restrictions apply to these businesses. Dining-in has begun just recently but is at very limited capacity. Most bars have yet to open at all. We think hikers will find it more challenging to satisfy that craving for, say, pizza and beer. Take-out may save the day.

JURISDICTION. The U.S. Forest Service has more than 95% of the jurisdiction along The Colorado Trail. (The CT Foundation has none.) Even though it is federal jurisdiction, the agency often defers to state and county rules. It can get confusing to determine exactly what restrictions are pertinent in each location but, to date, the restrictions have not precluded trail use. Bottom line, we are thankful to the Forest Service folks who have allowed the National Forests, including The Colorado Trail, to remain open during this pandemic.