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Starting in Denver

Most thru-hikers and bikers begin their trips from The Colorado Trail’s northern terminus at Waterton Canyon, southwest of the Denver metro area. For most it’s not only because the elevation gain heading south is much more gradual than it is for those heading northbound from Durango, where the CT ascends to more than 12,000 feet in the first 23 miles. By contrast, southbound travelers don’t hit a similar elevation until around mile 110, giving them more time to develop their “trail legs” and better acclimatize. Most also decide to start at the Denver end after learning that the Trail gets prettier as you travel toward Durango.

From the Waterton Canyon trailhead, the first 6.7 miles of the Trail are on an unpaved road closed to public vehicles. It is administered by Denver Water, which operates the Strontia Springs Reservoir and Dam, just off the Trail at mile 6.2. The road is open to foot, bike and horse traffic (and administrative vehicles), but dogs are not allowed to protect the canyon’s wildlife habitat. Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep and a variety of waterfowl are common sights in the canyon.

If you are planning to travel with a dog, see Dogs on the Trail for alternatives to passing through the canyon, including starting at Indian Creek Trailhead (see below). Fortunately for dog owners, this stretch is the only place on the CT where dogs are prohibited.

Multiday Trail users MUST arrange transportation to the Waterton Canyon trailhead (11300 Waterton Road, Littleton, CO 80125) with a family member, friend, taxi or other ride service. Overnight parking is not allowed in the trailhead parking lot administered by Denver Water.

Long-term PARKING takes advanced planning and we suggest that thru-travelers consider leaving your vehicle at the end point. This strategy has worked well for many; they begin their southbound thru-trip by driving to Durango and leaving their vehicle there. Having your vehicle at the end destination can help a lot given that one is seldom sure what on what day they’ll finish and it can also add peace of mind during you trip. This strategy also enables booking transportation between Durango and Denver on a ‘date certain,’ at the start of ones trip when scheduling is predictable. One long-term parking option in Durango is at the Durango Transportation Center near the center of downtown; phone them Monday-Friday between 8:00 and 5:00 at (970) 375-4960. Another option is to make arrangements with Buckhorn Limousine, (970) 769-0933, as they often have space, understand thru-hikers, and are able to transport you to your destination.

Past CT thru-travelers wanting to park in the Denver area have sometimes found long-term parking at a nearby RV storage lot. There are several that can be found via web search. Some operators may provide transportation to the start of the Trail if arranged in advance.

If you are arriving from out of town by plane, bus or train, the first big challenge you may face is just getting to the trailhead. From Denver International Airport it is about 50 miles; from downtown Denver about 35-40 miles. Again, if possible, arrange a ride in advance.

If that’s not an option, taking a cab or airport shuttle, or ride service such as Uber or Lyft, are the easiest, but can be pricey. Public transportation is cheaper, but because no bus or light-rail routes go to the trailhead, it requires a combination of public and private options to get there.

The Regional Transportation District (RTD) has a “Trip Planner” feature on its website,, that can help you get to within a few miles the Trail. The closest light-rail stop to the trailhead is Mineral Station in Littleton, about 10 miles distant. From there you can bike, hike or take a cab or ride service to Waterton Canyon.

Finally, The Colorado Trail Foundation maintains a contact list of shuttle drivers – both individuals and businesses – in the Denver metro area and in towns all along the Trail, who have offered to help travelers get to and from trailheads along the CT. To obtain the CT Shuttlers List, visit the Shuttlers and Angels page on this site and submit the ultra-simple request form. The list will arrive in your email inbox almost immediately. Those needing a shuttle should make arrangements well in advance.

Waterton Alternatives

ct segment one alternative singletrack route map for people with dogs

CT Segment 1 Waterton Canyon Alternative Singletrack & Dogs Route Map

Two really nice alternate starting points are available for when Waterton is closed and to those who prefer to begin their journey on single-track trail rather than Waterton Canyon’s unpaved road. The CT Foundation considers either of these as legitimate toward the Completion Certificate.

  • Indian Creek Trailhead. People like this alternative and consider it very pleasant. It is straightforward and the 2-page printable map (linked below) covers it fairly well. It might be the only map needed. This trailhead is accessible via Colorado Highway 67 west of Sedalia. From the trailhead be sure to take the western leg of the Indian Creek Loop Trail (Trail No. 800). You travel 4.4 miles on single-track, which is open to dogs, and connect to the CT at mile 7.9 (Lenny’s Rest) in the middle of Segment 1. Given this approach, your Segment 1 will total 13.0 miles in all. Here is the link to the Indian Creek Trailhead website.
  • Roxborough State Park. This alternative is quite scenic but is the more challenging. It greets travelers to additional miles, elevation, and more potentially confusing intersections that may cause one to desire additional maps. Further, this alternative doesn’t work for everyone because there is an entrance fee to Roxborough State Park and dogs, horses, bicycles, camping and overnight parking are prohibited. Trails originating in the park include a connection to the CT at Lenny’s Rest and one to the Indian Creek Trailhead on the eastern leg of the Indian Creek Loop Trail. The more direct route begins on the Carpenter Peak Trail about 0.6 miles from the visitors center. The distance to the top of Carpenter Peak is about 2.5 miles, all uphill. Right before the summit, there is a turnoff with a sign reading “Colorado Trail and Waterton Canyon.” The distance from the sign to the CT at Lenny’s Rest is about 5 miles and may not be signed particularly well. The total mileage for this alternative including Segment 1 is around 16-1/2. Here is the link to the Roxborough State Park website including trails map, etc.

Starting in Durango

Trailhead sign at the Durango terminus is at the Junction Creek Trailhead about 3-1/2 miles from Main Avenue in town.

Trailhead sign at the Durango terminus is at the Junction Creek Trailhead about 3-1/2 miles from Main Avenue in town.

The great majority of thru-hikers, bikers and riders start their Colorado Trail journeys in Denver. (Here at the CTF we think starting from Denver is probably best for most everyone, reasons appear in the ‘Starting in Denver’ section above.)  Some Trail travelers, however, find it either more convenient to begin at the Junction Creek Trailhead, the CT’s southern terminus about 4.5 miles from downtown Durango, or are already acclimatized to high elevations and up for the challenge of climbing from around 7,000 feet in elevation to more than 12,000 feet in the first 23 miles. And some who are considering traveling northbound like the opportunity to cross paths with far more fellow travelers than they would were they heading southbound.

The Junction Creek Trailhead is about three and a half miles along a paved road beginning at Main Avenue and West 25th Street in Durango. After about four blocks, West 25th becomes Junction Street and then Junction Creek Road (County Road 204), which leads to the trailhead. About a mile farther on County Road 204 is Junction Creek Campground, administered by the U.S. Forest Service.

While there is parking at the Junction Creek Trailhead, in part because of its small size and high demand, it is not advisable to leave a vehicle there for extended periods. Either arrange a ride to the trailhead or plan to walk there from your accommodations in Durango. There are numerous lodging options in town, including several on Main Avenue near West 25th Street. The city operates a trolley through downtown Durango and along Main Avenue. For other transportation options, go to the official Durango website,, and click on “Ground Transportation,” or visit the Durango Area Tourism Office website,, and click on “Durango Business Directory” and then on “Transportation and Motor Vehicles.”

Those arriving at the Durango-La Plata County Airport will want to arrange transportation into town, about 20 miles away, before arriving because there is no regular taxi or shuttle service to and from the airport. Again, a number of options are listed under “Ground Transportation” on

Collegiate East/West

The first major expansion of The Colorado Trail came in 2012 when approximately 80 miles of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail on the western side of the Collegiate Peaks were added to the CT’s total mileage, increasing the length of the Trail (altogether) from 485 to 567 miles. The result is a spectacular alternative to the CT’s original route on the eastern side of the Collegiates.

But that’s not all. Together, the Collegiate East and Collegiate West routes create what is now known as the CT Collegiate Loop, a 160-mile circuit that is becoming increasingly popular with hikers looking for a great multiday trip, but don’t have the time for the CT’s full 485 thru-miles. Learn more about the Collegiate East/West route here.