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Water Sources

metal pipe emitting fresh water

This pipe taps into a spring.

Water sources are abundant along most of The Colorado Trail, but given the importance of hydration to those traveling in Colorado’s high country, users should not be complacent about carrying adequate supplies with them at all times. A usually reliable water source may, for instance, dry up earlier than expected, so we recommend “topping off” your supply whenever possible.

There are some lengthy dry stretches, particularly in Segment 2-3 (14 miles), Segments 18-19 (11 miles) and Segments 26-27 (22 miles), which require planning to pass through safely. (See more information on these sections below.)

The latest editions of The Official Guidebook to The Colorado Trail and The Colorado Trail Databook are excellent sources of information on where water can be found along the Trail. The Databook is particularly helpful, showing a symbol for each water source (full cup, half cup or empty cup) indicating its reliability. Both books are available at our online store at We also offer a two-page, printable PDF list of additional water sources that have been added since the latest guidebooks were published. (Click here to access the list.)

The Colorado Trail Hikers smartphone app is another great resource, providing the most up-to-date information on water sources along the CT, including access to Trail user reports that may be only hours or days old. The app is available for both iPhone and Android devices via

The Colorado Trail Map Book and The Colorado Trail Collegiate Loop Map Book, with their detailed topo maps and precise Colorado Trail line, can be helpful as well. Both are available at the CTF’s online store. Map Book waypoints in electronic format are available to download for free. (Click here for those.)

Here is some additional information on the CT’s three driest stretches:

  • Segments 2-3: There is usually no creek water available between the beginning of Segment 2 (South Platte River Trailhead) and mile 2.8 of Segment 3, a distance of 14.3 miles. There is, however, an outdoor spigot at the North Fork Volunteer Fire Department building about 200 yards northwest of the CT at mile 10.1 of Segment 2. The building, which is not always manned, is visible from the trail. The spigot is on the northeast corner of the main building.
  • Segments 18-19: In the relatively dry Cochetopa Hills, there are a number of unreliable water sources. Most typically dry up as early as July. The longest dry stretch is usually from Lost Creek at mile 9.7 of Segment 18 to Cochetopa Creek at mile 7.0 of Segment 19, a distance of 11.1 miles.
  • Segment 26-27: Potentially the longest dry stretch on the Trail is, at its worst, from Straight Creek at mile 8.4 of Segment 26 to Taylor Lake at mile 19.4 of Segment 27, a distance of about 22 miles. Between these two reliable sources, however, are two possible water sources at the headwaters of Big Bend Creek and Deer Creek that are short distances from the Trail, and maybe a little hard to find, where a traveler might top up. (There’s more information in the current edition of the CT Databook.) We recommend carrying additional water through this stretch of trail.
Bikes at stream crossing and person getting water

When crossing a stream, it’s often a good idea to replenish your water.

All natural water sources should be treated before drinking. See below for information on water treatment.

Treat or Filter? Relative to treating water, we offer this one tip from a most experienced CT user: “I prefer using a filter because you can stop at a water source and camel up on water without waiting the 20-30 minutes for chemicals to work. The CT has some of the best tasting, clear, and cold water you will find. I used a Sawyer Squeeze for a couple of years and liked it, but after awhile found it hard to use. I now use a Platypus Gravity filter, which weighs only slightly more, and can be set up to work exactly like a Sawyer. It has worked flawlessly, and I highly recommend it.”

Water Treatment

man treating water by an alpine lakeNo water source along The Colorado Trail should be considered safe to drink from directly, except for water available at campgrounds, picnic areas and the like that is clearly marked as potable. Don’t be fooled by the clear rushing water of a mountain stream or the seeming pureness of a pond high above treeline – animals, both wild and domestic (cattle and sheep are most common), can introduce protozoa and bacterial organisms to water sources even in the most remote areas.

As a consequence, to avoid ingesting pathogens such as giardia lamblia or cryptosporidium that could ruin your backcountry trip – not to mention endanger your health – you should treat all drinking water by one of four recommended methods: boiling, filtration, chemical disinfectant, or by using an ultraviolet water purifier.

Here is a closer look at each:

  • Boiling is the simplest, if you have adequate fuel, and kills all known pathogens. While there is debate about boil times, a minimum of 5 minutes at a rolling boil is recommended.
  • Iodine disinfectant (or less-effective chlorine) is not as reliable as boiling, but provides some protection against giardia and most bacteria, but not crypto. Very cold water should be left to treat overnight.
  • Filters are popular for backcountry water purification, but check the specifications for individual devices before buying one. A filter with pores larger than 0.2 microns will let bacteria through. A system with an iodine matrix will kill viruses.
  • Ultraviolet water purifiers are relatively new on the scene. These battery-powered devices use UV light rays instead of chemicals to purify water for drinking.

In all cases, choose your water sources carefully, away from obvious animal hosts such as beaver and cattle, and take water from as close to the source as possible, such as a spring.

An additional reminder: Always practice Leave No Trace principles to safeguard the water supply for other users, including camping at least 100 feet from any stream, lake or spring.

Short video, “Filtering water on The Colorado Trail with a Sawyer Squeeze” by 2021 thru-hiker.