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Today marks the Continental Divide Trail’s 44th birthday

Sign for Continental Divide Trail_Aug 2021_SButzer
Posted at 3:45 AM, Nov 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-10 13:31:31-05

If you enjoy hiking on Colorado's trails, you've likely found yourself — at some point — walking along the Continental Divide Trail, which turns 44 years old on Thursday.

Congress officially designated the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail on Nov. 10, 1978.

The Continental Divide Trail Coalition, a Golden-based nonprofit that works to complete, promote and protect the trail, is in its 10th year.

The Continental Divide Trail, also called the CDT, is about 3,100 miles long in total, with about 800 of those miles in Colorado. It is one of the longest singular trails in the United States and its highest point is Grays Peak, which straddles Summit County and Clear Creek County.

The CDT extends from the Mexico border in New Mexico up to the Canada border in Glacier National Park, Montana, passing through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. It encompasses a multitude of different ecosystems, terrain and wildlife.

Let's take a look at the trail in Colorado.

Continental Divide rail_going up James Peak
The CDT includes James Peak, a 13er northwest of St. Mary's Glacier.

It enters the southern edge of the state just south of Cumbres Pass on CO Highway 17 and snakes to Wolf Creek Ski Area, curves east of Silverton up to Twin Lakes and Leadville to Breckenridge, and then Grand Lake to east of Steamboat Springs, before continuing into Wyoming. Click here for an interactive map of the CDT to find a trailhead near you.

According to the Continental Divide Trail Coalition, hikers in Colorado will experience the following along the trail:

  • Alpine tundra of the South San Juan, Weminuche, and La Garita Wildernesses (where the trail remains above 11,000 feet for 70 miles)
  • Remnants of Hancock, the late 1800s ghost town that served the Alpine Tunnel
  • Collegiate Peaks near Leadville, the highest city in America
  • Geologic oddities like The Window, Knife Edge, and Devil’s Thumb
  • 14,270-foot Grays Peak, the highest point on the CDT
  • Rocky Mountain National Park (parts remain closed in this section due to the 2020 East Troublesome Fire)
  • Never Summer Wilderness
  • Mount Zirkel Wilderness
CDT sign on Hope Pass_Photo by Stephanie Butzer.jpg
The Continental Divide Trail runs over Hope Pass in Colorado, just south of Twin Lakes.

In a study of the viability of the trail by the Department of the Interior, which was released in March 1977, the department said users would "wind their way through some of the most spectacular scenery in the United States" and would have the chance to "enjoy a greater diversity of physical and natural qualities than found on any other extended trail,” according to the Continental Divide Trail Coalition.

The Continental Divide Trail Coalition described the CDT as "a living museum of the American West, a place to reconnect with nature, and a unifying force bringing people of all walks of life together.”