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The Continental Divide Trail

Experience the Continental Divide Trail, section by section, with this comprehensive guidebook of one of North America’s most iconic thru-hikes.

Hiking Moderate, Difficult, Severe

Also in Alberta, CanadaChihuahua, MexicoColorado, United States of AmericaMontana, United States of AmericaNew Mexico, United States of AmericaWyoming, United States of America

Photo: Shutterstock


Totaling nearly 3,100 miles between the Mexican and Canadian borders, the Continental Divide Trail is one of the most epic undertakings a thru-hiker can tackle in the United States. In fact, it’s part of the renowned Triple Crown of Hiking that requires hikers to also complete the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail. As the longest of the three trails, the CDT tours the high desert, ancient lava flows, then climbs its way into the Rocky Mountains on its epic journey through mountainous terrain bound for its finale in Glacier National Park. Whether you’re looking for a day hike on the trail or are planning your thru-hike and looking for the need-to-know facts, this guidebook breaks down the trail into bite-sized pieces, beginning at the Crazy Cook Monument in New Mexico, and ending at its northern terminus at the US/Canada Border.

While thru-hiking the entire trail is a life-long goal for some, the Continental Divide Trail includes plenty of highlights in each state. New Mexico is known for long high-desert traverses where water is minimal, yet it finishes in the high mountains after passing through ancient lava flows. Colorado offers the highest points along the entire trail. Here, the route runs alongside many of its infamous 14,000-foot peaks, which are coveted by adventurers across North America. Wyoming begins with an unsuspecting passage through vast oil and mining lands but quickly transitions into the wild Wind River Range, considered one of the most remote mountain ranges in the lower 48. And finally, the Idaho and Montana segments highlight the beauty of the beloved Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, while intermittently touring vast wilderness areas that haven’t been explored since the mining boom of the 1800s.

Tthe flora and fauna vary drastically along the trail's incredible length. Chihuahuan desert scrub dominates the southern end of the trail, while moose, elk, and even grizzly bears can be seen alongside the many glacial lakes on the trail’s northern end. Bear-proof canisters are highly recommended no matter where you hike along the trail, and wildlife sightings are quite common – though interactions are typically benign. Water sources also vary drastically, and optional caches are even placed along the trail where sources are limited. That said, certain sections require water crossings that could be thigh-deep after recent rain. Thankfully, the CDT Water Report is available and details the most up-to-date information on freshwater along the trail. A water filter and filtration tabs are still mandatory along most portions of the trail.

If you’re thru-hiking and want to experience the trail to its fullest, the CDT Coalition notes numerous gateway communities along the trail that one should consider stopping for. While there are even more towns along the way to refuel and resupply in, these hand-picked towns offer a glimpse to a nearly-forgotten era of ranching, mining, logging, and sometimes even back to the Native American cultures. Forgotten ghost towns host saloons, mining exhibits, and more, while others highlight the importance of early expeditions such as the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition of the early 1800s.

Now whether you want to plan a thru-hike of the entire trail, section hike, or hit a popular spot on the trail, is up to you. The logistics and planning required to complete the entire trail are rather daunting for most, and are sometimes restricted by finances for others. Oftentimes, fees for shuttling and campsites can add up, and the pre-arrangement of mailing yourself supplies can add up quickly. In particular, the Benchmark Wilderness Ranch in Montana is the only resupply point along a 175+ mile stretch and hikers can choose to mail themselves a one cubic-foot package in advance for a small fee. Pitching a tent on-site and showering adds even more - but don’t let that bring you down. There are countless ways to hike the trail, from tent camping and hitchhiking your way into town – to staying in cabins and hotels as often as possible.

No matter what you’re into, the CDT is the ultimate Rocky Mountain experience for anyone looking for an adventure.

Sources: CDT Coalition

Routes included

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