Colorado Trail Recap

Colorado Trail

A Colorado Trail emblem slowly being engulfed by this tree.

We have much to share regarding our hike of the 486 mile Colorado Trail. In this article, I will share some of the basics of what we did, when we did it, why we did it, and what we thought of it. There are so many stories to share from this adventure and we’ll aim to share them over the course of the next few weeks in a manageable, fun manner.

The Colorado Trail is a trail that goes from Denver to Durango over a span of 486 miles. At times, the Colorado Trail coincides with the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (which is the last remaining long trail needed for our triple crown of hiking) and at other times, the Colorado Trail diverges. The trail has a low elevation around 5,000’ and tops out a little over 13,000’. There are forested sections, burned out sections that have suffered from forest fires, and there are also amazing and scary sections with miles above tree line where we can see for miles in all directions. The trail does not travel directly through any towns as the Appalachian Trail does, with its closest real town being Breckenridge, about four miles from a point where the trail crosses a highway. The trail could feel quite lonely at times and we saw far fewer hikers on the Colorado Trail than on either the PCT or the AT.

We took a total of 22 hiking days to complete the trail. While the average per day was 22 miles of hiking, our days ranged from a low of 5.5 miles to a high of 30 miles in a day. This was due to a variety of factors. Our low day was our day into Creede, CO where we met with friends Lowell and Dottie Smith for a day away from the trail. Our high day of 30 was more a matter of circumstance as we finished up on September 10th. We had the option of camping about 5 miles out of town or finishing the trail before dark and getting a hotel room; we opted to do a big day and finish up the trail. We had lower mileage days to start the trail due to my tired Leadville-legs but as we got going, the standard day was composed of 8 to 9 hours of walking per day, covering around 24 to 27 miles each day.

We chose to hike the Colorado Trail for a variety of reasons. Most importantly, we had the itch to get out on the trail again and this trail fit logistically. I had a break from school, Julie was finished with her first draft of her book, and the Colorado Trail’s length fit perfectly with our time available. We also knew we wanted a clean break from our summer projects and knew a trail would be a good carrot to look forward to and a good break from our projects. We also thought it’d be good for Julie as she works on completing her second book on long distance hiking by getting her into the trail mindset and refreshing all our trail memories. This trip also fit the bill because we were already committed to be in Colorado for the Leadville 100 miler. I figured, despite the cries of craziness I heard from many, that a good long walk would be great recovery from the ultra marathon. The trail also fit as a perfect opportunity for our annual Dad trip as he was planning to be in CO for the race and was able to stay for a few days after the race to hike with us. Lastly, the trail gave us an opportunity to test some of our new food and gear ideas before hopefully hiking the CDT next year.

Overall the trip went very smoothly with no real problems. We saw amazing scenery, some of the very best we’ve ever hiked through at times. The Colorado Trail was also a very difficult trail in many respects. The higher elevation was certainly a challenge. We were also challenged by steep, long climbs, afternoon thunderstorms, and significant time spent above tree line where we were exposed to strong sun, high winds, and scary, unpredictable weather. With that said, our trip was promising for our planned CDT hike. We met the famous triple-crowner named Snorkel along the way and she said the section in southern CO was probably as tough as it got. We feel good that we’ve experienced this and feel more prepared for the next hike as a result. We have new ideas for how to make our next hike better too. Lastly, the Colorado Trail experience served its purpose as a much needed break. We got into the hike, left much of our summer tasks behind for awhile, and are now ready to get back to work.

One other major benefit of hiking long trails is the collection of new stories from each adventure. We had encounters with wildlife, we battled the weather, and we were treated to top-notch trail magic. While much of the hiking life is quite boring due to the simplicity involved with simply walking all day, there are also so many amazing experiences. We’ll have much more to share about this awesome adventure over the coming weeks so stay tuned!

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