Planning a trip on the Colorado Trail can be daunting, particularly if you are new to backpacking like I was. I spent weeks learning about the Colorado Trail; figuring out how much of the trail to tackle at once; and testing options for food and gear. Now that I’ve done part of the trail, and backpacked for the first time, I’ve learned a ton! Here’s a step-by-step Colorado Trail planning guide for your own trip.
About the Colorado Trail
The Colorado Trail is nearly 500 miles of awe-inspiring terrain through the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Traveling through 6 wilderness areas and 8 mountain ranges, the trail offers the full spectrum of Colorado lakes, peaks, creeks, and ecosystem diversity. Divided into 28 segments, the trail end points are Denver and Durango. With an average elevation of over 10,300 feet, the highest elevation of the trail is at 13,271 feet.
Be prepared for a challenging hike on the Colorado Trail. In addition to steep climbs and descents, and demanding terrain, the weather can change in a matter of minutes. You’ll encounter rain and even snow storms on the Rocky Mountains in mid-summer. The keys to enjoying a thru-hike on the Colorado Trail are:
- Training, both physically and mentally
- Getting the right Colorado Trail backpacking gear (lightweight, supports different weather conditions)
- Testing your gear and full backpack weight before hitting the trail
- And then train and test some more!
Bottom line is, you can definitely tackle the Colorado Trail with the right training and preparation. Then you can relax and thoroughly enjoy your time on the trail! Also know that you don’t have to complete all 486 miles of the Colorado Trail at once. You can split up your consumption of the trail as you like, for example, doing day hikes or hiking one segment at a time. It’s your hike!
Step 1: Get Colorado Trail References and Maps
Volunteers from the Colorado Trail Foundation (CTF), a non-profit organization, maintain the Colorado Trail. The CTF has several excellent resources about the trail:
- The Colorado Trail Foundation website is a great place to learn about the Colorado Trail and dig in for the details. Check out the Frequently Asked Questions page as a starting place.
- The Colorado Trail: The Official Guidebook has a narrative description of each mile for all 28 segments with maps and much more. I borrowed this book from a friend and it is a great resource for planning. But if you plan to buy only one book for the Colorado Trail, buy the Databook.
- Colorado Trail Databook is pocket-sized, lightweight, and a must-have for planning and as an on-trail reference. The Databook includes critical information for each segment such as water sources, camp spots, road access to trailheads, elevation, and resupply points, all cross-referenced with easy-to-read maps. I carried the Databook in my backpack.
Check out the CTF Planning page for additional resources like topo maps and free waypoints.
I used the Colorado Trail Hiker app as another on-trail reference. This app includes all of the information in the Colorado Trail Databook, and uses your phone’s GPS and offline maps to pinpoint your exact location on the trail. No cell service required.