Colorado Thru-hiking: 500 Miles Every Hiker Must Do

 Hiking Colorado Trail South Park County San Isabel National Forest

If you are a Colorado loving, freeze dried food eating hiker – this is your challenge. If you are an ultralight thru-hiker aimed at racking up miles – this is your next trek. Completing the Colorado Trail should be on your bucket list. Spanning 500 miles and 28 segments this trail traverses the Rocky Mountains from Denver to Durango. Reaching altitude gains of 5,196 ft., this trail embodies the spirit and beauty of Colorado.

Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting that everyone complete this challenge in one long, arduous trip. This trail can be tackled in segments. I started in June of 2015. It was early for such high altitude. The majority of the trail looked like winter was merely taking a siesta. I chose to begin my Colorado Trail Challenge at Kenosha Pass West, segment 6. With friends, dogs, and a husband along we set out for a cool early season backpacking overnight-er.

On July 14, 2016, Gudy Gaskill, commonly known as the mother of the Colorado Trail, died at age 89. She spent more than three decades nurturing the trail from idea to reality. As executive director of the Colorado Trail Foundation, she negotiated with a variety of Forest Service district rangers, sketching routes along old mining paths, scraping up donations and cajoling the support of a host of bureaucrats. Read full Denver Post article.

Kenosha Pass, Colorado Trail - Section 6, Park County, Colorado

Location: North of Jefferson, Colorado
Distance: 32.9 miles (We only did 4.2 miles)
Difficulty: Moderate/Difficult
Point of Interest: View of South Park

My fitness was that of a greenhorn, I struggled from the first step up the trail. My stubborn nature beat back at the doubt caused by my pounding heart. A few more pack free hikes around Green Mountain would have been a good idea before this trip.

This section of the Colorado Trail climbs up to a ridge that looks down and across South Park. You can see the city of Jefferson not too far off and the Mosquito Range, which holds Mount Lincoln at an elevation of 14,286 ft. Only a little more than 15 miles west, as the crow flies, is Breckenridge, Colo.

Kenosha Pass View of South Park Colorado

After a mile of climbing up, you begin a gentle downhill hike as the trail skirts the edge of the mountains and stays within San Isabel National Forest (be careful not to stray on to the private property of the ranch below). The sky is vast here. The treed landscape opens up to sagebrush fields and grassy meadows. Even in the brown hangover of winter's brutality, the beauty of this place is calming.  

Colorado Trail Marker signGetting lost would be difficult here. If you do find yourself worried that you may be on a game trail, look for the markers of the Colorado Trial.  These little mountain shaped white and green tags are fixed to trees, posts, and signs guiding you along all 500 miles of the trail system. Usually, when one trail intersects the Colorado Trail, this marker will be there to let you know which path to take.

After several stops to look at the map, and many promises to my companions that we had "only half a mile more" till our campsite, we arrived at our pad for the night. Located approximately 4.2 miles from the trail head, the clearing has been occupied many times before. It had room for several tents and an established fire pit. We made camp, ate dinner, drank a little booze, and hit the hay before the sun set. I find that happens a lot when I'm backpacking. The essentials become that much more important and the distractions of daily life (TV, Internet) don't matter.

Every year approximately 150 people complete the 500 miles of Colorado Trail. Some taking mere months, some taking several season. When will you join the list of those who've completed the trail? 

Colorado Trail Hiking Resources

To start planning your Colorado Trail Challenge, use these resources.

The Colorado Trail Foundation

The Colorado Trail on Google Earth

South Platte Ranger District

19316 Goddard Ranch Court
Morrison, CO 80465

The Colorado Trail Guidebook, 9th Edition

This book covers the entire Colorado Trail, all 567 miles between Denver and Durango, including Segments 1-28 plus CW01-CW05. This is the first edition that covers both the CT Collegiate East and CT Collegiate West. It helps you plan your CT excursions, can guide you on the trail, and is particularly well-suited to have either in an automobile or at home. It is your official resource for hiking, backpacking, horseback riding and bicycling The Colorado Trail. Buy through The Colorado Trail Foundation

All photos used in this post are credited to Derek Perry. Thanks for being my husband, backpacking buddy, and photographer.