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Tuesday marks the Continental Divide Trail’s 42nd birthday; 800 miles of trail runs through Colorado

CDT sign on Hope Pass_Photo by Stephanie Butzer.jpg
Posted at 6:50 AM, Nov 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-10 17:22:01-05

One of the most prestigious and longest trails in the United States, which winds for about 800 miles through Colorado, turns 42 years old on Tuesday.

The Continental Divide Trail is about 3,100 miles long in total, and extends from the Mexico border in New Mexico up to the Canada border in Glacier National Park, Montana. It passes through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. Congress officially designated the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail on Nov. 10, 1978.

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 National Parks and Recreational Land Act of 1978 amended the National Trails System Act to add five trails to the system, including the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail.

Continental Divide Trail_going up Grays Peak from parking lot_Stephanie Butzer
This is the view from Grays/Torreys trailhead looking up toward Grays Peak, the highest point on the Continental Divide Trail.

The Continental Divide Trail Coalition says the CDT is "much more than just a line on a map: it is 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.” It encompasses a multitude of different ecosystems, terrain and wildlife.

About 800 miles of the CDT winds through Colorado, and shows off some of the state's most stunning landscapes.

Continental Divide Trail_going up Hope Pass from south side_Stephane Butzer
The CDT includes Hope Pass, which is covered in aspens along much of its southern side.

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
  • Never Summer Wilderness
  • Mount Zirkel Wilderness
Continental Divide rail_going up James Peak
The CDT includes James Peak, a 13er northwest of St. Mary's Glacier.

While communities along the trail have traditionally held celebrations on the trail's birthday, those have, for the most part, been canceled due to COVID-19.

To stay up-to-date with Continental Divide Trail Coalition news and events, visit its website here.