Colorado Trail: From Denver to Durango

Colorado, known for its outdoor lifestyle, has an extensive trail system, not the least of which includes the Colorado Trail, which ranks as one of the state’s top treks. This nearly-500-mile path winds from Durango to Denver, intermingling through valleys, fields and peaks in the Colorado Rockies.

The Colorado Trail was the brainchild of Bill Lucas of the U.S. Forest Service and Merrill Hastings of Colorado Magazine. Back in 1973, when the project was conceived, those who wanted to enjoy public lands without back-country extremes had few options. The idea was to create a trail that anyone could enjoy.

The Colorado Trail winds through 500 miles of undisturbed Colorado nature.

However, the trail never would have been completed if it weren’t for Gudy Gaskill, who took it upon herself to see the project through after management and government problems depleted the funding raised to launch the trail. “The Mother of the Colorado Trail,” as Gaskill is known, worked tirelessly, persuading directors and recruiting volunteers from throughout the world.

The Colorado Trail was officially completed in 1987, and originally included miles of forest roads and existing trails that were in disrepair. Today’s Colorado Trail follows few roads and almost every mile is in good condition.

The CT, as it’s often called, is a premier long-distance trail, but don’t let that scare you away. With about 40 access points along the trail, casual hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders of all skill levels can enjoy a long journey, or an easy 2-3-hour trip through the majesty of the Rocky Mountains.

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Many people who through-hike the entire trail take from four to six weeks to complete it. Hikers on one of the 28 segments will likely encounter at least one of the eight mountain ranges, six national forests, six wilderness areas or five river systems that the trail passes through. The lowest point is 5,520 feet at Waterton Canyon, while the highest point is 13,334 feet at Coney Summit. The average elevation of the Colorado Trail is 10,000 feet, so bring gear for all sorts of weather, even during July.

The best part about the Colorado Trail is that it was started by volunteers, and is maintained and improved year after year, thanks to volunteer efforts.

The Colorado Trail Foundation oversees every aspect of the Colorado Trail. Each spring, the foundation ensures the trail’s continued usability through its Adopt-A-Trail members and volunteers who work on the trail.

Volunteers can sign up for a trail crew, taking either a week-long or weekend trip where they will help make improvements to the Colorado Trail. It’s a wonderful way to enjoy the trail while making friends, eating meals with good company and learning about the trail and the outdoors.

With 40 access points, the trail provides for day-hikers and the more adventurous who want to tackle the entire trail.

Those who want to hike multiple days, but not lug all their gear, may want to try one of the Colorado Trail Foundation’s supported treks. The hikes are 4-5 days long with a guide leading the way as you carry only your light daypack. Hikers arrive into camp to enjoy a cooked meal, lounging chairs and an energizing back-country shower. These supported treks are a fun way to see some beautiful scenery. Limited space means spots fill fast.

If You Go

Colorado Trail Foundation
710 10th St., # 210
Golden, Colo. 80401
Office, 303-384-3729; store, 866-279-6962; coloradotrail.org

Colorado Trail Foundation’s supported treks cost $925. For information, go to coloradotrailhiking.com.

Be sure to pack the right gear. Even on short hikes, the weather can change rapidly. Also be sure to bring food and water. Information on what to bring before you head out is available at coloradotrail.org.

Recommended resources: “The Colorado Trail” Guidebook (Includes maps useful for trip planning) A map of the Colorado Trail

Benjamin Rader is director of photography/producer for Go World Productions.