FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, there are access points at each end of every Segment (28 Segments) plus some in between. All are described (with driving directions) in The Official Guidebook of The Colorado Trail Foundation, available through the CT Store. Some are accessible for passenger cars, while others require high clearance and/or 4wd vehicle.
There are no other accommodations on the Trail. Motels and hostels offering lodging and services for CT hikers are listed in The Official Guidebook of The Colorado Trail Foundation and on the website under Trail Resources by Segment. Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Centers of towns near to the CT may also provide accommodation information.
Camping is allowed on the majority of The Colorado Trail. Waterton Canyon is one place along the Trail where camping is not allowed. Also, camping should be avoided on private land (mainly near communities along the Trail, shown in white on the guidebook maps). Designated campsites (some free, some charge a fee) along the CT are sporadic. Most people just camp right along the trail in a flat location that has been used before and avoid camping on undisturbed ground.
If you are a hammock camper, you will have to be more careful in picking you campsites. Much of the CT is above tree line where there are fewer options.
We recommend contacting the Forest Service about camping. Most of the CT runs through National Forest and Wilderness Areas within the Forest. The CTF maintains the CT, but the USFS established and administers the regulations, including on camping. View USFS contact information here on our website.
Cell phone coverage along The Colorado Trail is spotty. Cell phone coverage is best nearest the towns (where cell towers are located) and at high points (where signals to/from cell towers sometimes reach). Depending upon your phone and provider, your cell phone MAY work in a few places while you won’t get a strong enough signal in many other locations. A cell phone is not a dependable emergency communication device along all of the CT. Users should always leave their plans, routes and timeline with someone responsible.
A satellite transmitter known as a SPOT tracker might be a worthwhile consideration. It is a communication device considered useful by many. It transmits your location to the computer screens of others at home (helps greatly with rendezvous) and can transmit an emergency signal to your friends or even 911 search & rescue.
Prepare for a wide range of temperatures, say 30º-80º, and maybe more. We recommend synthetic fabrics and layers including rain shell and pants. Avoid cotton clothing altogether. There are many sources of good info on the web and elsewhere, including the CT Guidebook.
Completing the CT
We do not know the number of folks who have completed the CT. You can visit our CT Completers page if you like to view a list of those who have reported back to us of their completion. If you have thru-traveled the entire trail and would like to receive your free completion certificate and/or to be added to our list of CT Completers, please submit a CT Completer Application.
A thru hike generally takes 4 to 6 weeks to complete. Some people complete the trail by “segment travel” over the course of several seasons. We estimate that 150 people complete the CT each year, with thousands of people hiking, bicycling or horseback riding portions of it.
The CTF Facebook page may be the single best resource for current trail conditions, updates, and information sharing. CT users post frequently on this Facebook page and so does the CTF. We recommend you visit and check it out; many users have reported finding useful information there.
Some, for sure. Sections close to the larger towns and busiest trailheads have more users, particularly day hikers and cyclists. Other sections are quite isolated. Generally, thru hikers will encounter one or more other users each day and possibly many. It is always best to hike with someone.
Dogs are allowed on all sections of the Trail except in the Waterton Canyon part of Segment 1. This dog prohibition is intended to protect the bighorn sheep habitat. What’s a dog owner to do? One alternative is to have your dog join you at the beginning of Segment 2 at the S. Platte River Bridge Trailhead. Another alternative is to begin the CT at the Indian Creek Trailhead and there is good info here: Dogs: Alternatives To Waterton Canyon.
Through many sections of the CT, including Wilderness areas, dogs must be kept on a leash. Outside of the Wilderness areas, many leash and voice control rules still apply; it is best to check with the Forest Service Ranger District offices to be sure. Dog owners should control their pets around people, prevent harassment or chasing of wildlife, and pick up after their dogs around the Trail and campsites.
Dogs are not allowed on CTF volunteer Trail Work Crews. Having dogs near sharp, swinging trail-work tools presents a possible risk to the dog or the worker(s). Also, some work-crew volunteers are not comfortable around dogs. Another reason is our volunteer Crew cooks have had troubles with dogs in the camp kitchen. We appreciate your cooperation and understanding.
Durango & Silverton Train
You can access The Colorado Trail from the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. Information about the train (you need to purchase a ticket in advance) can be obtained from their website durangotrain.com or by calling 970-247-2733. The train can drop you off or pick you up from Elk Park, a point on The Colorado Trail. Taking the train one-way and hiking to/from your car is a popular loop option.
CT elevations range from 5,520 feet at the Denver terminus (Segment 1, Waterton Canyon) to the highest point of 13,271 feet, just below Coney Summit in Segment 22 at mile 15.6. The average elevation is over 10,300 feet.
There are no fees to travel the CT; however, some of the National Forest campgrounds and parking areas along the Trail may charge a fee.
There are lakes and streams along the CT that provide fishing opportunities. Remember your fishing license. Do not plan on your main food source coming from fishing.
The only place you can buy all 3 of the CT Guides is from the online CT Store. All are valuable for different reasons. Every user has their own preference for which combination of guides they like to use.
The CT Map Book can only be purchased at the CT Store. The Map Book includes a highly accurate, detailed line of The Colorado Trail with mileage indicators plotted on USGS topographic maps. Includes bike detour routes around Wilderness.
The Official Guidebook of The Colorado Trail Foundation is best for CT trip planning and is the guide that best shows the roads and road accesses. It covers each of the CT’s 33 segments in detail, including trail access points, trail description and maps (maps not as detailed as the CT Map Book). Includes bike detour routes around Wilderness.
The Colorado Trail: Trailside Databook, a pocket-sized guide that has “mini maps” and symbols representing intersections and water sources, etc. The “barebones” of The Official CT Guidebook. The Databook is easy to carry; it is a condensed version of the Guidebook.
Listed in the Official Guidebook of the CT, but not available via the online CT Store, are other maps that depict The Colorado Trail with reasonable accuracy, including National Geographic/Trails Illustrated and Latitude 40º. These are great maps but possibly best suited for trips on just a portion of the CT because 14 maps are needed for full CT coverage. Retailers include REI.com, National Geographic map store, and Latitude40maps.com.
The CT is considered well marked by western standards and usually fairly easy to follow. Nearly every user though will want to carry the CT guide(s) of their choice, available through the CT Store. Some portions of the Trail are marked better than others, but sometimes the signage disappears due to souvenir takers and Mother Nature. CTF volunteers work hard to preserve the signage, but aren’t able to immediately replace every missing sign. Side trails can sometimes sidetrack the trail user and weather can obscure signs and cairns. Good preparation and carrying/using your chosen CT guide (Guidebook, Databook and/or Map Book) is necessary.
Open / Close Dates
No, but the CT ‘season’ is short, primarily July and August. We recommend that thru-travelers begin no earlier than late June because high elevations plus north-facing and treed slopes can retain very troublesome snowpack into July. We also recommend finishing the Trail no later than late September before snow becomes plentiful. The CT is extremely difficult to locate when covered by snow. July and August storms at higher elevations often include lightning and hail, sometimes even snow. We do not recommend attempting a thru-hike in the winter as the CT is not marked for winter travel and avalanche danger is prevalent.
You do not need a permit to hike The Colorado Trail with the exception of where it passes through wilderness areas. When you arrive at a wilderness area, the U.S. Forest Service has a do-it-yourself or self-service permit station where you need to fill out a FREE permit, leaving half at the station and keeping the other half with you while in the wilderness. For questions and details about permits, please contact the USFS. USFS offices and contact information are listed here on www.ColoradoTrail.org. To determine which USFS Ranger District office is ‘local’ to a particular CT Segment, visit our page listing USFS offices.
Hiking footwear is a matter of personal choice. Choose what has proven best for you. Consider some of today’s lower, lighter, breathable, sturdy shoes; users have reported having success with these. Whatever hiking boot or shoe you wear, make sure it’s broken in before you begin the Trail. Many people report having success with the combinations of sturdy trail running/hiking shoes and hiking poles. Shoes/boots made with polyurethane (PU) midsoles have been reported to provide support and durability over longer distances than those made with EVA. Although EVA feels cushiony and pleasant in the store, it will break down more quickly than PU, needing to be replaced more frequently. Sock choice is also important; consider and test the new blends that dry quickly and find the sock or sock-combo that works best for you in your chosen footwear. Avoid cotton socks. Blisters are common and it is always recommended that you bring blister care with you on the Trail. Also, keep your feet and socks clean and dry to prevent excess friction.
There is no formal network for arranging a shuttle. Still, some people are willing to assist CT users with shuttle services. Email the CTF office, at ctf@ColoradoTrail.org, for a list of people who have offered to shuttle Trail users along the CT.
The CTF and our volunteers helped develop both of these spur trails but no longer maintain either of them nor are these side routes covered in our CT guides. For information on these spurs you can contact the Gunnison and Dolores Ranger Districts.
Yes, you can purchase Trail planning guides as well as commemoratives from the CT Store. Please make your purchases carefully and note that due to the small size of the organization, we are unable to handle returns. Orders are shipped via US Postal Service. Shipping time depends on your chosen shipping method. Please order well in advance of your CT departure to allow sufficient delivery time and plenty of time for you to make plans using the guides.
Yes, The Colorado Trail Foundation offers supported treks along the CT every summer and the schedule is posted online in (approx.) December for the following summer. All food is furnished, hike leaders and staff provided, and camp (including personal camping gear) is driven to the next night’s camping location. Trekkers need only hike with their daypack. See the Guided Trekking page of this website for details.
Thru Hiking the CT
The average thru hike usually takes 4-6 weeks. Thru hiking the CT requires extensive physical training and careful preparation. First, buy The Official Guidebook of The Colorado Trail Foundation and study it. If you like to do research on the web, you’ll find many journals and worthwhile resources, including the Colorado Trail “End to End” Guide by Paul Magnanti.
The Colorado Trail is suitable for hikers, equestrians, pack animals, and mountain bikers, though bicycles are prohibited in wilderness areas. Cyclists will find detail of the mandatory bicycle detours around wilderness areas in both the CT Guidebook and CT Map Book. Envisioned from its inception as a non-motorized route, The Colorado Trail is mostly non-motorized, and there are only a few sections of the CT that are still shared with motorized users.
Yes, there are many sources of drinking water along the CT. However, CT users must be prepared to filter or purify water from springs, streams, ponds, lakes, etc. This water should not be considered drinkable without treatment. Availability of water is sometimes sporadic. The longest dry stretch is in Segments 17-19 where you will likely encounter minimal or no water for up to 40 miles. In Segment 17, Baldy Lake (mile 7) and Razor Creek (mile 10.6) are the best options for water. The next longest dry section is in Segments 26 & 27 from Straight Creek to Tyler Lake, a distance of 22 miles. The balance of the CT has water sources frequent enough for daily-or-better resupply. See our page on water sources. Both the CT Guidebook and Databook provide more details and are available through the CT Store.
Rocky Mountain weather can be intense and change very quickly. CT users experience sunburn, chilling thunder and hail storms, and even snow storms in summer. Afternoon thunderstorms can happen daily in July and August. Lightning is a real danger at higher elevations. Trail users should take proper precautions and plan to be off high ridges and exposed areas by noon. Horseback riders should remember to get off and away from their shod horses when lightning is near. Hypothermia is also a danger, even in summer. The CT user needs to be prepared for temperatures from below freezing to the 80’s.
Winter snow remains on the CT into late June, with snowfields lingering into July. Trail users should not plan to travel higher elevation portions (generally above 10,000 ft) until late June to allow for snowmelt. Trail users are advised to complete their excursions on the CT before the end of September to account for potential early winter storms.Much of the CT is exposed to the sun, making sun protection a necessity. Plan to consistently cover skin and head with light clothing or sunscreen. More at our Weather page.
The Colorado backcountry has a range of animals from bears and mountain lions to mice and insects. You will likely see marmots, squirrels, deer, elk, bighorn sheep and a variety of birds. Avoidance is the best policy. The Colorado Division of Wildlife, 303-297-1192, has a number of informative pamphlets on wildlife in Colorado.
Animal encounters have not been much of a problem for hikers. We receive a handful of reports of bear sightings each year. To date, we have not received any reports of aggressive bears or bear-related injuries/attacks, but have received reports of bears eating hikers’ food. It is best to take proper precautions with your food. One option is to hang your food using scent-proof bags or canisters. We receive 0-2 reports of mountain lion sightings each year. There have been no reports of attacks against humans, but rare attacks on off-leash dogs.
Yes, we have both a Trail Crews program and an Adopt-A-Trail program where volunteers participate each summer to build and maintain the CT. See the trail crew page and Adopt-a-Trail page of this website or contact the CTF office for additional information.