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Colorado Trail advise
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brandon reynolds

Locale: Rocky Mountains
Colorado Trail advise on 05/09/2012 17:37:15 MDT Print View

My wife and I are planning a CT thru hike starting mid June. We are planning on taking 6 weeks to do the entire trail. I have the guidebooks, maps and gear; I just thought I'd ask anyone who had done the trail for any advise, tips, or any unforeseen problems they encountered along the way! Thanks guys.

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Re Colorado Trail advise on 05/09/2012 18:14:14 MDT Print View

If you have the guides and the gear I don't think there will be too many surprises, here are a few thoughts.

1. All the areas above timberline in the Southwest are a bit scary because its hard to get across them before afternoon thunderstorms hit. However there are some bail out options which I'm listing.

La Garita Wilderness Area -There is quiet a bit above timerline here. The good thing is the trail dips down to the edge of timerline occassionally. I think the most exposed was the ridge hiking after San Louis Pass. I'd stay off that unless I had a good hour of safe hiking (in other words nothing blowing in).

Snow Messa - There is really no place to hide here, except to get as low as possible. I'd try to do this early in the morning (or after dark like I did).

Spring Creek Pass to Carson Saddle - This is another pretty exposed area. Near the CT Yurt there is a low saddle with some trees. Its the last real cover you'll have for a long, long time. If I went again I'd probably camp here and leave early the next morning.

Carson Saddle to Wimenuche Wilderness Boundary - This area is pretty much all above treeline and often on a ridge. Shortly after Carson Saddle you pass a valley and there are a few willows about head high on either side of the trail. I didn't see an established campsite but we found some flat spots to pitch tents up on the right side of the trail. The willows give you some protection from the wind and if there was a thunderstorm you'd be safer.
After that the next trees I remember are on the northern border of the Wimenuche Wilderness Area.

2. Water - I found the data book pretty reliable as far as water sources go. Some of the marginal sources were extremely marginal in September and that was after a wet year. Several times I tanked up with 4.5 liters of water and barely made the next water. If I did it again with the exact same water sources I'd probably do the same thing again. There were a few times I could have carried a bit less but not many. With the water sources so minimal I didn't want to push my luck.

3. Resupply - Twin Lakes is an easy place to mail packages to yourself but there is not much in town but a general store/post office. Don't expect to buy a burger here because you probably can't. There was a small general store in Princeton Hot Springs right off the route through town. I don't think the guide mentioned it but its there. I would avoid going into Lake City if possible because its a pretty quiet road to hitch from. If you do have to go into town however there is an outdoor store that has some basic backpacking gear, a burger place and a bigger grocery store.

4. Mountain Bikers - The trail over Monarch Pass is very, very popular with Mountain Bikers. Ideally I'd hit it during the week but realistically you'll be dodding some bikes. On the bright side its a very scenic area.

Thats all I can think of. I'm seperate from my maps, notes and books at the moment so there is some information I'd can't access. Its a nice trail, have fun.

brandon reynolds

Locale: Rocky Mountains
Re: Re Colorado Trail advise on 05/09/2012 21:59:30 MDT Print View

yeah thanks, thats exactly what i was looking for!

Susan Papuga
(veganaloha) - M

Locale: USA
Re: Colorado Trail advise on 05/10/2012 04:17:08 MDT Print View


I did the CT last year in July and August. The data book for water sources was almost 100% accurate. With the high snow year, most streams and seasonal trickles were quite good. The longest dry sections were the burn out in section 2 from the South Platte river to the firehouse and the last part of segment 16 until Baldy Lake in Segment 17. This year may be different.

Get an early start each day, because the afternoon thunderstorms and rain starts as early as 2:00 pm. Monitor your pace and plan to avoid high areas above treeline late in the day.

You probably don't need to carry anything except the data book for route finding and informaiton for getting to and from town. I downloaded Paul Mags resupply list and copied the summary pages from the guide book. That was sufficient.

I stayed in Breck (Fireside Inn), picked up a resupply box I mailed to the PO in Twin Lakes - the only place you really need to do this since all other towns along the way have proper groceries, etc, Salida (Simple Hostel), The Wunderlust Hostel in Gunnison (make sure you meet up with the trail angel Apple, just before the end of Segment 17) and the Silverton Hostel in Silverton. Finish in Durango, i just found a motel since the hostel was so far out of town.

A few things about Durango. You get a free CT brown ale at the local pub, Coasters, for completing the thru-hike. A ride on the train to Silverton and back is really cool. The piano bar at the Strater Hotel is awesome, and their black beer rocks! And there is no public transportation between Durango and the airport , which is 15 miles out of town. Luckily, the same good samaritan who gave me a ride from the trail to town offered to give me a ride to the airport as well.

Have fun!

Edited by veganaloha on 05/10/2012 04:19:57 MDT.

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Re Re Colorado Trail Advise on 05/10/2012 08:16:58 MDT Print View

Well normally you can do the trail with just a guidebook but there are a few sections where I was happy to have a map.

1. The trail into Breckenridge - There were a lot of downed trees and apparently this took out some confidence markers. At any rate there were a number of unmarkered trail intersections.

2. The north end of the Wimenuche wilderness. You were on a ridge but there was a long internval between actual trail markers. The cairns help but the CT is not the only place there are cairns so its good to pay attention.

If you want to compromise the guidebook by "Eric the Black" has basic topo maps and its about the same size as the CT data book. Eric was more optimistic about water sources though. He listed a couple as "reliabel" that the data book considered marginal. I'd just go with the pessimistic opinion in order to be on the safe side. He also listed a few places you could get cell reception (hint not many).

Tim Drescher
(timdcy) - M

Locale: Gore Range
Re: Colorado Trail advise on 05/10/2012 09:32:12 MDT Print View

Hey Brandon,

I wrote a blog documenting my journal entries/photos from my CT thru hike last summer.

It’s a very long read, but I personally always found it interesting to read prior trip reports of the CT before I hit the trail.

Have a good trip!

Dean F.
(acrosome) - MLife

Locale: Back in the Front Range
Another guidebook option on 05/11/2012 14:34:26 MDT Print View

Caveat: I have not thru-hiked the CT. But I DREAM of thru-hiking the CT.

I recently found another option for a CT guidebook:

It's more of a map-book that a guidebook. It is much smaller and lighter than the "official" guidebook, and certainly lighter than the maps book the CTA sells. That said, the maps are rather large-scale. I suspect that on a trail as well-marked as the CT (so I've heard) that wouldn't be a problem. But what I really like about it is all the detail it goes into about potential resupply-towns near the trail. I think the book is worth considering for that alone.

I know nothing about Erik the Black- perhaps he frequents here and I know him by another name? He seems to be a lightweight guy...

Edited by acrosome on 05/11/2012 14:35:38 MDT.

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Re Another Guidebook Option on 05/11/2012 16:42:51 MDT Print View

My friend Bill used Eric's guide on the CT. When we hiked together we shared it. If I went again I would get my own copy. It has info on resupply towns and also marks campsites and areas of cell reception. It has mileages and date in a similar format to the databook but it also has large scale topo maps on the same page. This is very convient when you want to quickly check where you are.

The only caution I would add is that Eric is a bit more optimistic than the official databook in listing water sources. The databook might say a source is "marginal" while Eric lists it as "reliable." If I was going I might compare the two and make a note of water sources that might not be reliable.

Inaki Diaz de Etura
(inaki) - MLife

Locale: Iberia highlands
Re: Colorado Trail advise on 05/12/2012 07:00:58 MDT Print View

The one thing I'd contribute that hasn't been mentioned is I'd highly recommend leaving the CT proper after Twin Lakes and taking the old CT route over Hope Pass, then Elkhead Pass. The present CT in this section just goes along the slopes of the Sawatch Range and hikers usually "complain" about the lack of views and splendor (I don't know the stretch myself) but that'd be indeed a pity given the spectacular country along the alternate. The trails are good, almost CT quality on the alternate, the distance is similar and the only "drawback" would be the topography, with those two big climbs to Hope and Elkhead passes but there's no ridge walking so the terrain is not too exposed and the scenery is amazing.

If you haven't yet, be sure to check, Mags has got a great CT info source there. I went through Hope and Elkhead following his advise. For an insider's point of view, you can check my own account at

Susan Papuga
(veganaloha) - M

Locale: USA
Re: Another guidebook option on 05/12/2012 17:19:19 MDT Print View

+1 on checking out ETB's small trail atlas book.

I didn't use his guide for the CT, again the Colorado Trail Association's (CTA) data book is sufficient, but I recently purchased Eric's guide for my upcoming JMT trip. It is very nice, but slightly bigger and heavier than the CTA data book. It doesn't fit in my pocket the way the CTA data book did.

Eric's guide has town information that is also available for free, and in more detail, from Paul Mags' online site. Other than that it provides the same information as the CTA data book, only in a different format. At that point is a matter of price difference between the two and the format you personally like better. ETB's trail atlas is $47.00 and the CTA's data book is $11.99.

So, if you like color topos and want trail town info in the book (rather than downloaded from Paul) and have big pockets, I'm sure Eric's guide will work nicely for you.

Whatever you choose, you'll be fine WRT route finding.

brandon reynolds

Locale: Rocky Mountains
Re: Re: Colorado Trail advise on 05/17/2012 17:02:06 MDT Print View

yea im going to check those reroutes out! that sounds amazing, how much harder is it compared to the rest of the trail? was there another part of the trail before that that compared difficulty wise? I'm trying to see if my wife will be up for it

David T
(DaveT) - F
CT advice on 05/17/2012 17:09:09 MDT Print View


Edited by DaveT on 05/17/2012 17:27:20 MDT.

Randy Martin
(randalmartin) - F

Locale: Colorado
Re: CT advice on 05/17/2012 17:19:24 MDT Print View

Sorry, I not familiar with bikepacking. If you bikepack, what do you do with your bike while your backpacking?

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: CT advice on 05/17/2012 17:20:09 MDT Print View


Edited by greg23 on 05/17/2012 17:28:22 MDT.

Inaki Diaz de Etura
(inaki) - MLife

Locale: Iberia highlands
Re: Re: Re: Colorado Trail advise on 05/18/2012 02:29:33 MDT Print View

As of 2008, the trails over Hope pass and Elkhead pass were in good shape. The tread is maybe a bit narrower than CT standards but they were easy to follow. The first part of the climb towards Elkhead is a bit steeper than, again, CT standards but nothing unusual on a mountain trail. There are a couple fourteeners (Oxford and Belford) accessible from that trail so I guess it's a well used one.

Elkhead pass and the surrounding areas are particularly beautiful. The high flats just south of the pass are breathtaking.

brandon reynolds

Locale: Rocky Mountains
Re: Re: Re: Re: Colorado Trail advise on 05/18/2012 07:15:45 MDT Print View

yea, i dont think i can pass that up. thanks for the heads up.