Deb thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail and is a Search & Rescue volunteer and writer living in Flagstaff, AZ.
A Backpacking Vacation on Colorado's Signature Long-Distance Trail
It had been too long since my husband and I had done a multi-day backpacking trip together, and we were really looking forward to our first section-hike on the Colorado Trail.
As I planned the trip, I decided I would share the information here in case it might be helpful to others who want to do this hike or maybe even assist them in planning a trek on another trail. I also updated the information after the trip.
About The Colorado Trail
CT Facts & Figures
Open to hikers, bikers and horseback riders, the Colorado Trail is 482 miles long, extending from Denver to Durango.
Some officially designated wilderness sections are closed to mountain bikes, but there are detours for bikers around those areas.
For 200 miles (or 320 km), the "C.T." is one and the same with the Continental Divide Trail.
The elevation of the Colorado Trail ranges from 5,280 feet at the eastern end near Denver to 13,000 feet at Silver Mesa near Durango to the west, passing through three "life zones" along the way.
This elevation range has a major effect on climate. For every 1,000 feet you ascend, the temperature usually drops by four degrees. And a sunny day in the valleys can be cold and wintry on the peaks.
The majority of "thru-hikers," who complete the Colorado Trail in one continuous journey, travel from east to west. This direction is often preferred because the snow melts earlier in the year on the eastern portion of the trail than it does on the higher, western portion. Also, hiking east to west--from Denver to Durango--allows a thru-hiker to begin with smaller elevation gains and build up to the more rugged terrain of the San Juan Mountains.
The time needed to thru-hike can range from less than 10 days for supported trail runners to about 40 days, the latter being much more the norm. Steve and I would love to do a (somewhat leisurely) thru-hike, but we just don't have that kind of time these days, at least not all at once, so we'll do contiguous section-hikes instead.
The Colorado Trail Data Book
This guide gives you trail information at a glance.
FYI: The GPS waypoints listed in the Databook are in Lat/Long decimal degrees, NAD27 Conus datum.
Read More From Skyaboveus
Also, there are camping options not listed in the book; you just have to keep your eyes out.
Another thing to be aware of is that, while locations of trail intersections are noted, the mileages of those spur trails to roads and "ways out" from the Colorado Trail are not. So I'd recommend familiarizing yourself and making note of alternate routes before the hike, just in case you might need to leave the trail sooner than later.
The Colorado Trail Guidebook
I also suggest picking up a copy of the guidebook. This is a very useful and what I consider indispensable resource for hiking the CT, and I'd highly recommend photocopying pages for the section you'll be hiking and taking them with you. The segment pages in the guidebook contain lots of detailed information that the Data Book does not.
Get the Map Book Too
The Colorado Trail Map Book, with shaded relief, full-color topo maps showing the entire trail, is available only from the Colorado Trail Store (unless you can find someone with a used copy to sell).
This is a spiral-bound, softcover book, 8.5" x 11", and weighs just 14.5 ounces. The book can be disassembled, so you can carry just what you need. It includes magnetic declinations for compass users and maps showing each bicycle detour around the Wilderness areas. You'll also find a complete list of nearly 1200 GPS waypoints in UTM & Lat Long formats.
The book is 92 pages with 73 maps.
To order, call the CT Store at 1-866-279-6962 (toll free). They're available to take orders 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, holidays included. The CT Store accepts Visa and Master Card.
Some Section-Hiking Pros & Cons
Not that hiking isn't always great, but.....
Having thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, I do love an extra long long-distance hike from a trail's end to end. But that's not always feasible, often due to time constraints and other obligations. Not to mention the fact that spending six months on a trail, or even a month or so on the CT, isn't for everyone. So section-hiking is another option.
What I see as some of the up-sides to section-hiking are:
- You can vary the length of sections, from days to weeks or more, or even as short as day-hikes, to accommodate the time off you have.
- You can choose the optimal time of year to hike a section. That way, for instance, you can avoid heavy snow pack, summer monsoon season, certain pesky insects (black fly season, mosquito season), and so forth. You might choose to hike during peak wildflower season or when you know there will be fewer hikers if solitude is your preference.
- Section-hiking can allow you to do fewer miles per day, because you aren't necessarily trying to fit your trip into a seasonal window as you might have to if thru-hiking. This can mean more time to enjoy scenic views, the "small things," and nice campsites.
And there are a few things that might be considered drawbacks of section-hiking:
- Section-hiking usually requires shuttling. You'll need some form of transport back to your start point to pick up a vehicle, or vice versa; you'd have to ride back to the start to begin your hike after leaving a vehicle at the end. Or you'd need to arrange to be both dropped off and picked up at either end of the section, which means enlisting the help of friends, family, public or private transportation ... or one's thumb perhaps.
- Section-hiking requires travel to and from the trail multiple times if you do multiple sections. This costs money, of course.
- Depending on how active you are between hikes, you may not be as trail hardy and fit when you begin each section-hike as you would if you were thru-hiking, so difficult sections -- including those at altitude -- may be even tougher. On a thru-hike, you get into "trail shape" and can get acclimated to altitude as well.
Planning Our Colorado Trail Section Hike
When? How? And Which Way?
As I write this article, we're currently in the process of gathering information and making our plans, so there will be some things I'll have to add. And some things may change. Once we do the hike, I'll come back and add information (in bold), including anything that maybe didn't go as planned.
When should we go?
Well, we want to avoid the monsoon season and its frequent thunderstorms, which means the majority of July and August are out. We also want to avoid most of the snow, which narrows it down to either June or September. But we don't want to wait till September ... when we might end up doing another CT section anyway ... so we've chosen to go in June. I have another trip planned with some friends in late June, so Steve and I have decided to do this hike mid-month. As we get closer to the time of our hike, we'll check on snow conditions at the higher elevations. We'd probably be better off waiting a week or two, but my other plans prevent us from doing that.
6/3 Update: The Forest Service says the section we'll be doing is now pretty much snow-free above treeline. We should expect some snow to remain in the trees, but they say it'll be more "messy" than a hindrance and we won't need snowshoes. (Apparently, the next section to the east, from Silverton towards Denver, still has a significant amount of snow, being even higher elevation. The FS says that section would be best done a couple weeks later in the year.)
After the fact: Well, you can't count on the weather. Turned out, this has been an unusually cold and wet spring in Colorado. We were rained on, snowed on, sleeted on, and were downright wet and cold much of the time. We also had a number of thunderstorms. So definitely go prepared for anything, no matter what the time of year, especially given the high elevations along the trail, often over 11,000 feet for long stretches with no easy "out."
What are the typical weather conditions for that time of year?
Being at the higher elevations at the eastern end of the trail, and hiking in mid-June, we know we may encounter snow, on the ground at least. And I know any kind of weather can happen at any time of year up there, so we'll go prepared for a range from warm and sunny to rain to below freezing and snow.
Check this out: Today, May 20, 2009, at 10:30am, I looked at the weather for both Silverton and Durango. At the time, it was 72 degrees Fahrenheit in Durango, while it was 36 degrees in Silverton! I read that the year-round average temperature in Silverton is just 35.6 degrees, and the frost-free growing season can be as short as twelve days! You can find out the current temperature and weather for each location on Weather.com:
Of course, those are just the conditions in town. On the trail, things can be quite a bit different (and colder).
After the fact: On that last point ... uh-huh! As in, at least 30 degrees colder and a lot wetter.
Which direction should we hike? Durango to Silverton or vice versa?
Originally, I thought it would be nice to hike west to east, from Durango to Silverton, for a couple of reasons, one being that we could do future contiguous sections, all heading to the east, so we'd always begin where we last ended. Unlike most thru-hikers, we had already decided to start at the western end of the trail, beginning with the terminus closest to home.
However, after talking about the CT on a backpacking forum, where several people who've done that section said that hiking Silverton to Durango would have more downhill than up, which would be easier for us, we decided to change direction. I confirmed that information on ColoradoTrail.org and learned that we'd have a total elevation gain of 8,629 feet in that section if we started in Durango. Not that there won't be ascents going the other way, of course; just not as many long ones.
How will we travel to Colorado?
This is an easy answer, since we're just one state over in Arizona: We'll drive. Durango is about six-hours from here, but we're starting our hike in Silverton, so that's about another hour and a half through the mountains on US 550, also called "The Million-Dollar Highway." Kinda neat--we'll drive in ninety minutes what we'll take the better part of a week to hike (although the route is different, of course).
Where do we access the trail at the beginning of our hike?
I found out that the trail does not go right into Silverton, and the nearest CT trailhead is about 7 miles away on the Million Dollar Highway, which is narrow and not safe for walking along the side of the road. I don't know, though; I have this ... thing about trying to get a ride from Silverton to that trailhead. I've got it in my head that we're going to park our car in town and walk all the way to Durango.
There is also the option of taking the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway train from Silverton to Elk Park, where we could access the Colorado Trail (there's a "short stop" there), but I'm not sure I'd want to do that either, for the same reason I gave above.
So as of right now, we're planning to hike the railroad right-of-way from Silverton along the Animas River to rendezvous with the CT.
5/28/09 Update: Well, I didn't realize it's illegal to hike a railroad right-of-way (people apparently just do it, but I don't like to break rules), so we're coming up with plan B. Since it's the same price to take the Durango-Silverton train one way as it is round-trip, and since we've reserved $79 seats for the ride from Durango back to Silverton at the end of the hike on June 20th, I'm going to inquire whether we could take the train from Silverton to Elk Park as part of a round trip at the start on June 13th. For our next CT section-hike, from our starting point this time, we'd just take the train back to Elk Park and head the other way--eastward.
5/29/09 Update: Okay, we're all set. We're going to take the train from Silverton to the Elk Park "short stop" on 6/13. They didn't charge us anything extra for the reservation change. When we get off the train, we'll have an elevation gain of more than 1,800 feet, right off the bat. We'll be in Segment 24 at that point and have 5.8 miles of hiking to Molas Pass, the beginning of segment #25. On June 20th, we'll then have the train ride back to Silverton, where our car will be.
People wave goodbye as the train leaves us off at Elk Park to begin our hike, just as the rain and thunder begins.
How many miles is this section-hike?
We will be hiking segments 25 through 28, which total 73.9 miles. We'll also have those extra 5.8 miles in segment 24, from Elk Park to Molas Pass. So that will make our trip 79.7 miles.
Where is the trailhead at the end of our hike? Is it anywhere near downtown Durango?
The Junction Creek Trailhead is about three miles from downtown Durango. To get to the trailhead from downtown, you go north on Main Avenue, then turn left onto 25th Street, also called Junction Creek Road. Then take Junction Creek Road to where it enters the San Juan National Forest. There's a parking area on the left, near the trailhead.
5/29 Update: I spoke to the Forest Service today. They said that the road from the Junction Creek Trailhead to downtown Durango is narrow and not great for walking. It's not even good for cyclists. The helpful man I spoke to--Mark--said that if we stop in either their Durango or Silverton office before the hike, they can show us on the map how we can walk "city trails" from the CT right into town, as long we'll have our own good map ... which we will. We'll have time to stop in at the Silverton FS office on 6/13 before our train leaves.
After the fact: We did stop in at the Silverton Forest Service Office, but the man there didn't know anything about hiking from the CT into downtown Durango. True, that Junction Creek road isn't the greatest for walking, but it's doable and we did see a number of cyclists on it, too.
Colorado Trail Section and Segment Information
The Colorado Trail is divided into 28 segments with an access point at the beginning and end of each. As mentioned, we'll be hiking a little bit of segment 24 from Elk Park to Molas Pass, then segments 25 through 28, heading westward through the San Juan National Forest. Our total mileage will be 79.7.
For trail conditions and other information, I've been contacting the San Juan National Forest Public Information Center at 970-247-4874
**I spoke to Mark, who's "the hiker" in the office, and he was a BIG help in planning our trip.
Columbine Ranger District, San Juan National Forest
367 Pearl St.
P.O. Box 439
Bayfield, CO 81122
Dolores Ranger District
29211 US Hwy. 184
Dolores, CO 81323
These are my descriptions of the segments between Silverton (well, Elk Park) and Durango....
Portion of Segment 24: Elk Park to Molas Pass
Distance: 5.8 miles
There is a 1,840-foot elevation gain between Elk Park and Molas Pass. Before getting to the Million Dollar Highway at Molas Pass, there's a short side-trail that leads to Molas Lake Campground. Since our train from Silverton to Elk Park doesn't leave till 2pm on Saturday, we've decided to stay at Molas Lake Campground our first night on the trail and then continue on into Segment 25. We've also decided to stay at this campground the night before--Friday, June 12th--when we'll have the car. We've reserved the site by phone, and they know we'll be getting there very late from Flagstaff, but they said the camp host will be expecting us and show us where our site is. (How nice!) In the morning, we'll drive to Silverton, where we'll leave the car at the Visitor Center as planned, take the 2pm train to Elk Park and hike BACK to the campground. This will allow us to "slack-pack" those first steep miles of the trip. We'll leave our tent, sleeping pads and bags and some of our food and cooking equipment at the tent site. We'll still carry what we need and then some back-up gear "just in case."
Molas Lake Campground (pictured below):
Highway 550 (aka Million Dollar Highway)
Silverton, Colorado 81433
Segment 25: Molas Pass to Bolam Pass Road
Distance: 20.9 miles
The trail stays fairly level here but does remain above treeline for a long stretch--over 10,000 feet for most of the next 50 miles.
Segment 26: Bolam Pass Road to Hotel Draw Road
Distance: 10.9 miles
The trail remains well above 11,000 feet until after Blackhawk Pass.
Segment 27: Hotel Draw Road to Cumberland Basin
Distance: 20.6 miles
There is a stretch of 24.2 miles in this section with no reliable source of water.
Segment 28: Kennebec Trailhead to Junction Creek Trailhead
Distance: 21.5 miles
There's one significant climb over a 4-mile stretch in the this section, which is otherwise a relatively gentle to rolling descent into Durango.
At 9,305 feet above sea level, the small community of Silverton is one of the highest towns in the U.S. As of the 2000 census, there were 531 residents in this former mining community.
Steve and I have driven through historic Silverton a few times, but we've never actually stopped. This time, though, we'll pay two visits, once just before we begin our hike and then a longer stay after we're done, when we ride back on the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway.
The western terminus of the Colorado Trail
We've visited this small city of about 16,000 residents several times. At 6,523 feet above sea level, it's just a few hundred feet lower than our home town of Flagstaff, and the downtown area is just about as nice as we think ours is.
One thing Durango has that Flagstaff doesn't, though, is a beautiful river running right through it. In this case, it's the Animas River, which is very popular for whitewater rafting, kayaking, canoeing and fishing.
Our Section-Hike Logistics
Parking, Lodging, Camping, Shuttling
Where will we leave our car while we're hiking?
I emailed the Town of Silverton at firstname.lastname@example.org with this question and got a same-day response. We can park at the Visitor Center. They just ask that we go inside and let them know our plans. That was easy enough!
After the fact: The folks at the Visitor Center were very nice. They took down our names and a contact phone number and the date we expected to return. The center closes at 4pm, so if you're going to park there, either get there before then or call to let them know.
What will we do about a shuttle?
As I've already mentioned, we'll be using the Durango-Silverton train as our means of shuttling. We're now planning to do this hike with a third person, so we could use two cars and leave one in Durango at the trailhead. That would seem to be the simplest solution, although it would also mean taking two cars to Colorado, which equals more gas of course. Instead, we've decided to carpool and spend the extra money on the scenic train ride. (See more details below.) Mostly, I just thought it would be fun that way. I've always wanted to take that train.
How many miles per day will we need to average to finish within our timeframe?
We have one week for this trip, with a weekend at either end.
We want to end our hike in Durango on Friday, June 19th, so we can take the train back to Silverton on Saturday morning, the 20th. So, if we take the 2pm train from Silverton to Elk Park (wilderness access) on Saturday, June 13th, and hike to Molas Lake Campground that afternoon, we'd have six full days remaining to hike the remaining miles to Junction Creek trailhead in Durango. That comes to 12.32 miles per day from Sunday through Friday.
After the fact: I think this average mileage might feel rushed to some folks, especially if weather becomes a factor and you want the option to wait it out for a while. If you can plan more time for this hike and give yourself a buffer, I'd highly recommend doing so, so you don't have to hike more miles to "make up time." Altitude, some hefty climbs and pack weight can definitely combine to slow you down, too, if you're not used to it.
Where will we stay at either end of the hike?
We're planning to leave our house on Friday, June 12th after Steve gets off work and drive all the way to Molas Lake Campground, which is just off Highway 550 about seven miles before the town of Silverton. On Saturday, our train doesn't leave till 2pm, so we'll have a leisurely morning and time in Silverton for lunch before we hit the trail.
We do plan to spend the night in Durango before taking the train back to Silverton, but we don't want to spend big bucks on a hotel, so we're looking at some inexpensive options.
One of those possibilities is the Durango Hometown Hostel, which is 1.2 miles from downtown, accessible by a pedestrian path. The hostel is also serviced by the Durango "T" public transportation. At the time of year we'll be hiking, the hostel runs $22 to $28 per person per night, including tax. They have both unisex and co-ed bunk rooms.
736 Goeglein Gulch Road
Durango, CO 81301
Update of 5/23/09: Well, there's no room at the hostel for that night. All booked up. So we'll keep looking. There are plenty of places to stay in Durango, so no worries.
Update of 5/2709: Okay, I found a hotel for us, and it's a 1/2-mile from the train station, which will make getting there in the morning very easy. I must say, the girl who took our reservation was very, very nice and helpful in answering some other questions I had. We'll be staying at the:
We're getting a 2-room "suite" (for us three adults) with a queen bed in each room (and a pull-out sofa) for $84 plus tax. Their website states they have 25 rooms and offer pet-friendly and non-smoking rooms. They also have rooms with full kitchens. From online reviews I've read, I expect the rooms will be basic but clean. For this trip, our #1 criteria will be: hot shower!
After the fact: Well, we ended up staying at the Spanish Trails Inn on Main Street instead, because it was just $39 plus tax, and also because the Dollar Inn was undergoing renovations and didn't look so hot at the time. The Spanish Trails Inn was ... well, it was a room. It was clean enough for us dirty hikers, and the shower (eventually) was hot. The problem was the people in the room next to us. I had to call the after-hours front desk number, and the lady who answered did take care of the noise, so that was good. But, really, if you'd prefer to pamper yourself a bit after your backpacking trip and not be quite so close to the busy road, I definitely don't recommend this place.
A Scenic Train Ride Back To Silverton
on the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
Rather than arrange for a shuttle from Durango back to our vehicle in Silverton, we decided to treat ourselves to a scenic train ride on the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, which has been in continuous operation for 127 years.
Daily runs between Durango and Silverton operate May 2nd through October 31st, 2009, with prices ranging from $79 to $179 for adults for the 3.5-hour trip. There is reserved seating on the train.
For more information and reservations, visit DurangoTrain.com or call:
Reservations: (970) 247-2733
General Information: (970) 247-2733
Toll Free: (877) 872-4607
Administration: (970) 259-0274
After the fact: This was fun! If you've never done it, I highly recommend a ride on the DSNGR train. I'll be putting together a lens about it shortly, but if you're planning to ride in a gondola (open air) car, be sure to bring layers and maybe a blanket too. What started out as a fairly warm day in Durango turned rainy and very cold by the time we got halfway to Silverton. Lucky for us, though, there was room on the train, so we were able to move to an inside car.
Location of the Durango Train Station - The Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
Click on the "+" to zoom in.
Packing For Backpacking
Our Colorado Trail Gear List
Given that we fully intend to stick together for the entire trip--not to mention that we're a couple--Steve and I will be sharing some gear. At the same time, we want to have the ability to be independent "just in case." For that reason, we'll have some additional emergency gear in the event we'd get separated. That way, for example, the one without the tent would still have shelter.
I should mention also that we're not "ultralight" backpackers. While pack weight is definitely a consideration, and a lighter pack makes for easier and, one might say, more enjoyable hiking, we also believe in being prepared. I'm sharing our gear list here just for the sake of sharing, not because I think our choices will suit all other hikers. And, to some extent, we're using old gear, because it ain't broke, basically. For sure, there are lighter-weight, new and improved models on the market, but for some items, we're just gonna go with what we have.
So this is our 2-person gear-list:
- For Steve, an Osprey Helix that he's had since he was a teenager
- For me, a Kelty Tornado, about 8 years old
- For Steve, a synthetic Kelty 0-degree bag (about 12 yrs. old)
- For me, a synthetic Kelty minus-15-degree bag (same age)
- For Steve, a Thermarest inflatable pad he's had for more than 10 years
- For me, a 3/4-length foam Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Mattress (because I'm tougher than Steve)
- Sierra Designs Sirius III: We're two people but prefer the extra space in a 3-man tent. This tent and rain fly weighs 5lbs, 4oz and has a zippered door on either side, so we don't have to crawl over each other's head to get out. Steve will carry the tent, while I'll carry a lightweight "all weather" space blanket, which has grommets so I can rig it as a tarp using my nylon cord and hiking poles.
Clothing: (each person, some of it on the person)
- (2) Pair of convertible pants/shorts
- Synthetic t-shirt
- Synethic long-sleeved shirt
- Synthetic tights or long-underwear
- (2) pr. synthetic or wool socks
- Underwear (I don't know about Steve, but I take 3 pr.)
- Gortex jacket
- Rain/wind pants
- Fleece pullover
- Fleece or wool hat
- Sun/rain hat
- Hiking boots
- MSR Whisperlight stove
- Stove fuel
- Wind screen
- Esbit fuel tablets (so the other of us can cook a second item or heat water for drinks while the Whisperlight is in use)
- Pots (2) and gripper
- Utensils--2 Lexan sporks
- (2) Travel mugs
Food: (per person)
- 6 breakfasts
- 7 lunches
- 6 dinners
- Daily snacks, such as trail mix, pretzels, dried fruit, jerky, candy bars (bite-sized), peanut butter crackers and trail bars.
- Drink mix (ie. Gatorade powdered mix)
- Waterproof matches
- (2) Lighters
- (2) Small candles
- (2) Headlamps (1 each)
- (2) Flashlights (1 each)
- Topo map/s, copied pages from the CT Databook and guidebook
- Map case (a big Zip-loc baggie would do)
- Compass w/ sighting mirror that can double as signal mirror
- Garmin Legend GPS
First aid kit
- We'll bring an Atwater Carey Personal First Aid Kit. Contents include splinter grabber forceps, iodine ointment, antibiotic ointment, 2 sterile butterfly wound closures, sting relief pad, tincture of benzoin, adhesive tape, conforming gauze, 5 adhesive strips, 4 sterile gauze pads, 2 telfa non-adherent pads, Acetaminophen tablets, Antihistamine tablets, Ibuprofen tablets. We'll also add moleskin, safety pins and 2pr of nitrite gloves.
- A Leatherman Blast for Steve
- A Leatherman Squirt for me
- (2) 48-oz. Water bottles apiece
- 3-liter water bladder for extra capacity for the long, dry stretch
- (1) PUR Hiker water filter
- (1) 12-pack of Aquamira purification tablets (carried by the one who isn't carrying the filter)
- Nylon water tote (for carrying extra water from the source back to camp)
- Cat hole trowel (shared)
- Biodegradable TP (each person)
- Toothbrush (each person ... duh!)
- Toothpaste (shared)
- Wet wipes (shared pkg.)
- Dental floss (long section, each person; has other uses besides teeth cleaning)
- Comb (share, because Steve doesn't have cooties)
Miscellaneous & Emergency Gear:
- Trekking poles
- Sunblock towelettes
- Extra batteries (6 each person)
- Windstorm whistles (1 each)
- All Weather space blanket with grommets (just me)
- Nylon cord, 50 ft., carried by me for use with the emergency blanket (as a tarp) if necessary ... or to bear bag food or whatever else
- Stuff sacks (for clothing, food, etc.)
- (2) small carabiners
- Hothands (2 each)
- Pen, pencil
- (2) Heavy-duty trash bags
- Duct tape (wrapped around a trekking pole)
- Cell phone (1 each, turned off! and fully charged before the trip)
2 People, 7 Days, A Lotta Food!
Colorado Trail Trip Expenses
Updated after the trip:
- Train from Durango to Silverton: $79 each
- Motel in Durango: $42 including tax (Spanish Trails Inn)
- Molas Lake Campground (2 nights, hiker site): $28.31 incl. tax
- Colorado Trail Guidebook: $16.47 (free shipping)
- Colorado Trail Data Book:$9.95 (free shipping)
- Colorado Trail Map Book: $58.55 with shipping (the book is $49)
- Gasoline: $80
I'm not counting our food, because most of it will be groceries eaten on the trail. And we'd have to eat whether at home or on a hike, and we eat out sometimes anyway, so this isn't extra to me.
We already have our backpacking gear, so I'm not including that either.
Overall, this is a pretty inexpensive way to spend a vacation.
From the trail....
We stopped for a break and the view at Gudy's Rest four miles before Durango.
Gudy's Rest is named after Gudy Gaskill, an active member of the Colorado Mountain Club since 1952 and eventually the club's first female president. Gudy attended the first focus meeting about a trail from Denver to Durango in 1974 and never missed a meeting in those early days of the CT.
In 1986, Gudy began the Colorado Trail Foundation, whose mission was to complete and maintain the trail, and educate the public about the project. It was her vision that with volunteer help, the CT could be constructed for approximately $500 per mile. Compare that with the estimated Forest Service cost of $25,000 per mile!
Gudy Gaskill is known as the "Mother of the Colorado Trail."
Steve was glad he brought his travel watercolor set. He spent many happy hours painting next to the campfire or in the tent as it rained and snowed.
Colorado Trail Online Reading & Resources
Rain, snow and more rain. And thunder and lightning and hail. It was an unusually wet and cold June on the Colorado Trail in 2009.
The CT often takes its hikers well above treeline and far from roads, so go prepared for any kind of weather at any time of year. What may be t-shirt temps in the valleys can turn into numbing wind and a whiteout at the passes.
Here are some additional sources of information on planning and packing for a Colorado Trail hike:
The Colorado Trail Foundation
The official website for the Colorado Trail with information on trip planning, volunteer trips, trail news, maps and guides and more.
The Colorado Trail on Trails.com
Click on the map for information by section.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: Are there level areas to camp along section 25? I'm planning a Molas Lake to Coal Bank Pass hike (CT segment 25 to Engineer Mountain Trail then down to Hwy 550) this summer. Hoping there are enough level areas along the way for some options to stop for a night along the way.
Answer: I'm sorry, I don't recall that in enough detail to answer your question. You might want to contact ColoradoTrail.org to ask about camping spots in that section.
© 2009 Deb Kingsbury
Comments, Advice Or Questions About The CT? Have you hiked any or all of it?
Dawn from Maryland, USA on August 14, 2014:
Wonderful, wonderful lens. I've driven through those areas in CO twice and would love to see it more intimately. Thank you for sharing this helpful information.
nan-k-huff on March 09, 2014:
@Ramkitten2000: how much did your backpack (with supplies) weigh? My sister and I are doing this hike in late June. Have printed out your supply list! Thanks.
Deb Kingsbury (author) from Flagstaff, Arizona on September 16, 2013:
@anonymous: Awesome! Have a great time!
anonymous on September 16, 2013:
planning a hike this summer (2014) from Silverton to Durango! So glad to see your article! Thanks for the info!
mariacarbonara on May 26, 2013:
@KathyMcGraw2: Same here, im really enjoying reading about these trips
pvanvuren on February 24, 2013:
I ran sag wagon for a good friend of mine who did the complete Colorado Trail a couple years ago by herself. She had a blast! Your mentioning of getting off the Silverton - Durango train reminded me of my backpacking trips up into Chicago Basin. One of my all time favorite back packs for sure.
Kathy McGraw from California on January 20, 2013:
I think if I read enough of these, at different time, some of this hiking stuff will sink in. I love reading about your hikes, and this one was no different.
anonymous on December 20, 2012:
Great, very specific overview. Thanks for sharing! This is now on my list of bucket list hikes (perhaps in prep to thru-hike the whole CT in the next 5 years or so).
aquarian_insight on September 02, 2012:
This is an amazing lens and I would love to go on a trail like this. You've given all the information one could need. Brilliant. *blessed*
Nancy Tate Hellams from Pendleton, SC on September 01, 2012:
I was looking for a great Trail lens for the quest and I sure found one. It didn't surprise me at all when I realized it was yours. I love reading about your adventures.
Elsie Hagley from New Zealand on August 31, 2012:
Nice lens, if I was 30 years younger I would go for this. My kind of life. Thanks for sharing a great lens. Blessed.
RestlessKnights on August 31, 2012:
Nice lens. This looks like the kind of hike I would love to do.
Dallas81 on August 31, 2012:
Thank you for sharing. I live in Denver and we are always looking for a good spot to go hiking. Great Lens..
IntoMars LM on July 06, 2012:
I've been to Colorado a couple of times and it is always beautiful up there. Thank you for sharing this lense.
Zebedee32 on June 23, 2012:
Very nice looking lens. Thanks for the read!
Sherry Venegas from La Verne, CA on June 21, 2012:
Looking good after the photo rearrangement. It took me over an hour to do one lenses this morning. I not doing another till tomorrow. It is tedious work.
Hagglecoins on March 09, 2012:
Might be in the area this year, there is bound to be some good geocaches out there!
getmoreinfo on February 08, 2012:
I have heard so many good things about colorado, what a interesting experience. Thanks for sharing.
VillaDejaBlue on January 06, 2012:
LuvColorado on August 01, 2011:
I am originally from Durango and this brings back many memories. Thanks for the great information.
Cynthia Sylvestermouse from United States on July 28, 2011:
I love Colorado and I love taking mini hikes, but something tells me this would be beyond my current abilities. It would certainly take me the 40 days :) The train would no doubt be awesome and likely my favorite part. Someday ..............
anonymous on July 04, 2011:
Hi! I can't search Squidoo about GPS and hiking without encountering your rare articles. I just want to let you know that I admire your passion for the outdoors and I appreciate your effort in sharing it with us.
Blackspaniel1 on July 03, 2011:
efriedman on June 10, 2011:
I've seen both towns (my first view of mountains as a child) and done the train but not the walk. Lucky you!!
efriedman on June 10, 2011:
I've seen both towns (my first view of mountains as a child) and done the train but not the walk. Lucky you!!
Renaissance Woman from Colorado on May 25, 2011:
Very comprehensive. Thanks for providing such extensive and useful information. Living here in Colorado, there is a good possibility of hiking this trail. Always appreciate your totally thorough approach to trip planning. The debriefing style is a nice touch. SquidAngel blessed.
Mary Beth Granger from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA on May 02, 2011:
Great information. Blessed
bujanan on April 26, 2011:
Beautiful!!! Think I'll add this one
anonymous on December 31, 2010:
This looks like a great trail for both hiking and mountain bike riding. Hopefully I can get out on some trails when I visit the US later this year!
OurHomeatBreck on December 08, 2010:
Loved your write up - as a Colorado native I was impressed of your review of one of my favorite places.
Kiwisoutback from Massachusetts on September 13, 2010:
I would love to hike the Colorado Trail someday. The campgrounds look incredible, as do the small towns. I visited Boulder and Mount Estes Park, which were easy to get to by car. Unfortunately we only had half a day to spend there, so it was rushed. I'd like to get back there and hike some of this trail. Outstanding work once again!
anonymous on September 12, 2010:
This is exactly what I was looking for! Thank you so much for taking the time to do this. There is so much valuable information on here for for a novice hiker such as myself. Thanks again!
KimGiancaterino on September 09, 2010:
Your lenses are always so informative and inspirational. I'm impressed with the train track too! That must have taken a long time to build.
Obscure_Treasures on July 09, 2010:
I found lots of useful information, great lens, Thanks!
anonymous on May 09, 2010:
This is amazing. I grew up in Durango, left for college and now live in Montana. I've been wanting to go back and hike the trail from the time they started talking about building it.
I think it will be my 50th b-day present to myself.
Indigo Janson from UK on April 22, 2010:
Thank you for this fantastic guide to planning a Colorado Trail. Your lenses always impress, and it is a delight to find one as informative, attractive and complete as this in the Sports category. Leaving a well-deserved *~*~ Angel Blessing ~*~*.
southshoretees on April 12, 2010:
Outstanding! I haven't been on a good hike in a long time. I'd imagine Colorado has some of the best hiking in the country. Thanks for this great information.
DeborahLynne on January 20, 2010:
Hi, My name is Debbie. I am new to Squidoo. I love your lens. It brings back memories of our trips to Colorado. My husband has family in Black Hawk. On our last trip, we rode the cog railway to the summit of Pikes Peak and had lunch at the restaurant at the top. My husband is a train enthusiast and someday we hope to ride the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway train.
I wish we had your stamina to be able to do all the backpacking you do. We stick mostly to day hikes, an occasional camping trip and train rides, which we thoroughly enjoy. We are looking forward to our next trip to Colorado, which is enhanced even more so by your lens.
anonymous on December 29, 2009:
I just came across this. Great info. My wife and I did nearly the same thing about 2 weeks after you were there. We were in Molas Lake Campgrounds on July 5th.
A couple of differences. We took the train from Durango to Elk Park. Left our car at the B&B we stayed out. We did opt for the B&B to pamper ourselves before and after the hike.
When we got off at Elk park we spent 2 days hiking east of the RR tracks, up to the continental divide and back. Total of 9 days on the trail. We had planned on 10.
We hiked the 3 miles from Junction Creek into town. Probably the hottest we got on the entire trip. We took the trolley/bus at the first opportunity into downtown.
9 days hiking (1 a day hike to the CD). A bit over 100 miles. Longest day was around 16. Shortest was the last at around 8.
Trail was in very good shape except for one 5 mile section that had about 50 down trees. We met one of the trail volunteers later. He said that section was targeted for work later in the summer.
We spent an extra day in Durango after. Lots of good restaurants. Rented bikes and cruised around town and did laundry. Great trip.
RinchenChodron on August 09, 2009:
Yes, this is a beautiful part of our lovely state! You are young and healthy. I have a friend who has done some of these trails (Kathryn Greeson) every encounter her on the trail?
I have a couple of Colorado sites as well. Five Stars and a Fav. I loved the narrow gage train - what spectacular views! We have had a very wet spring you are right.
Michey LM on July 04, 2009:
Excellent, the lens is so well done, I can walk on your steps.
Thanks a lot
A mountains lover - Michey
Ruth Coffee from Zionsville, Indiana on June 22, 2009:
Very nice lens. Looks like heaven on earth to me! Thanks for all of the useful info as well as the stunning photos!
ElizabethJeanAl on June 04, 2009:
Welcome to the Nature and the Outdoors Group.
Evelyn Saenz from Royalton on June 03, 2009:
Thank you for joining us on A Walk in the Woods and don't forget to add your lens to the appropriate plexo.
Sherry Venegas from La Verne, CA on June 02, 2009:
This area is spectacular. I have done the train. Hiking is not for me. No stamina. But I used to do day hikes. Enjoy your hike. That sounds like so much fun.
Ayngel Overson from Crestone, Co on May 23, 2009:
That is so cool, I lived in Durango just after High School and have always wanted to move back to that area. It is so beautiful. I'm a few hours away from Durango these days, but still hoping. Hope you enjoy your visit to my neck of the woods and if you happen through Naturita stop in and say hi!!!
Laniann on May 22, 2009:
Very well done and lots of detail. Perfect for the first time hiker or anyone - they can take your information and not have to do much planning of their own. The Colorado Trail looks beautiful. 5*s
ctavias0ffering1 on May 21, 2009:
Excellent checklist and advice 5* and a sprinkling of Angel Dust for a most useful lens
anonymous on May 20, 2009:
Thanks for doing all this planning for us. It's going to be an awesome trip!