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During the Colorado trail season, particularly at higher elevations, fierce thunderstorms and lightning are common and snow and hail are not unusual. Bluebird skies in the morning can turn into blinding rainstorms in a manner of minutes. When venturing into the mountains, even for a day hike or bike, the rule is simple: Be prepared for anything and pack accordingly. That means adequate rain gear and additional layers of clothing, including hat and gloves.

peaks and storm clouds at sunset; ©Roger O'Doherty

photo by Roger O’Doherty

Furthermore, because much of The Colorado Trail is at high elevations where solar radiation is more intense, sun protection (sunscreen, long sleeves and pants, brimmed hat) is strongly recommended.

Typically, thunderstorms form in the mountains in the afternoon as temperatures rise. Plan your day to avoid exposed areas when the danger is the highest. When that’s not possible, consider your alternatives. Sheltering in place may be a better option than continuing on and risking hypothermia and injury.

When lightning is involved, it is almost always better to move to safer terrain. A tent will provide no protection from a lightning strike. The current from a lightning flash will easily travel for long distances.

If you absolutely cannot get to safety, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says you can slightly lessen the threat of being struck by following these tips:

  • Avoid open fields, the top of a hill or a ridge top.
  • Stay away from tall, isolated trees or other tall objects. If you are in a forest, stay near a lower stand of trees.
  • If you are in a group, spread out to avoid the current traveling between group members.
  • If you are camping in an open area, set up camp in a valley, ravine or other low area.
  • Stay away from water; wet items, such as ropes; and metal objects, such as fences and poles. Water and metal do not attract lightning but they are excellent conductors of electricity.

In any event, check the local weather forecast, if possible, before going out. Forewarned is forearmed. Here are some links to forecast information for towns located near The Colorado Trail.

Segment # Trail Section Descriptions Weather Info.
1 Waterton Canyon Trailhead to South Platte River Littleton
2 – 5 South Platte River to Kenosha Pass Bailey
6 – 8 Kenosha Pass to Tennessee Pass Breckenridge
9 – 11 Tennessee Pass to Clear Creek Road Leadville
12 – 14 Clear Creek Road to U.S. Highway 50 Buena Vista
15 – 19 U. S. Highway 50 to Eddiesville Trialhead Saguache
20 – 22 Eddiesville Trailhead to Carson Saddle Lake City
23 – 27 Carson Saddle to Cumberland Basin Silverton
28 Cumberland Basin to Junction Creek Trailhead (Durango) Durango