Itineraries > North America itineraries > Continental Divide Trail
The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (in short Continental Divide Trail) is a United States National Scenic Trail running 3,100 miles between Mexico and Canada. It follows the Continental Divide of the Americas along the Rocky Mountains and traverses five U.S. states; Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico. In Montana it crosses Triple Divide Peak which separates the Hudson Bay, Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Ocean drainages. It crosses 25 National Forests, 21 Wilderness Areas, 3 National Parks, 1 National Monument, 8 BLM Resource Areas and is considered one of the most significant Trail Systems in the world.
The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail provides for high quality, scenic, primitive hiking and horseback-riding recreational experiences, while conserving natural, historic, and cultural resources along the Continental Divide. Extending 3100 miles between Mexico and Canada, the trail traverses landscapes primarily on public lands within 50 miles of the geographic feature. This National Scenic Trail was established in 1978 through the authority of the National Trails System Act (P.L. 90-543) and is one of the outstanding resources of the National Landscape Conservation System. The trail is a combination of dedicated trails and small roads and considered 70% complete. Portions designated as uncompleted must be traveled roadwalking on dirt or paved roads.
Thru hiking is a term used in referring to hikers who complete long distance trails from end-to-end in a single trip. The Pacific Crest Trail, Appalachian Trail, and Continental Divide Trail were the first three long-distance trails in the U.S. Successfully thru-hiking all of these three trails is known as the Triple Crown of Hiking. Thru-hiking is a long commitment, usually taking between four and six months, that requires thorough preparation and dedication. Only about two dozen people a year attempt to hike the entire trail, taking about six months to complete it. As of 2008, no equestrians have managed to ride the entire trail in a single year, although several "long riders" have tried. German long distance rider Günter Wamser (on his way from Tierra del Fuego to Alaska), and Austrian Sonja Endlweber (who joined him for the rest of the journey from Mexico) managed to complete the tour with four Bureau of Land Management mustangs in three summers 2007–2009.
- The Continental Divide Trail Coalition, P.O. Box 552 Pine, CO 80470, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. a 501 (c) (3) national non-profit organization that seeks to create a community committed to construct, promote, and protect in perpetuity the CDNST. They have a variety of newsletters, forums, events and updates on recent trail conditions.
The most common cause of failure to complete the CDT is lack of preparedness. It is important to begin regular walks in the months and weeks leading up to the thru-hike, beginning with low-impact day-hikes in easy terrain while carrying a minimum of weight. When these day-hikes become nearly effortless, increase the distance and include several multi-day hikes that require a full backpack with food, water and gear. In addition, hilly terrain should be incorporated as soon as possible in order to build up strength in the muscles required for climbs and descents. Performing regular hikes that continually push the body's current limits will not only toughen the body but will also go a long way toward mentally preparing oneself for the constant strain on body and mind.
Trail users are responsible for their own water. Do not expect to find potable water along the trail. Do not rely on hearsay for potential water locations. Stashing water is strongly encouraged, especially in desert areas. Water stash boxes have been installed in discreet locations for your use. Click Here for a PDF of water stash box locations. Many wells and water facilities are owned by ranchers and they are responsible for maintenance of all of the facilities, regardless of ownership. They are under no obligation to supply water to trail users. Be twice as prepared as you think you should be. Many experienced hikers have run dry.
Preparing financially and logistically are also essential to a successful thru-hike. The cost of a hike will range from several hundred dollars a month on the low end to upwards of a thousand dollars a month for the high end. Each person has a different minimum level of comfort and nourishment; it is vital to discover what one's own level is as early as possible and to make supply arrangements accordingly. Study the route and identify towns that will serve as likely resupply centers and map out distances between post offices. An experienced thru-hiker resupplies his or her dry goods every 10-14 days, either through the post offices' general delivery drop-box system or through local purchases. The average thru-hiker plans for six to eight months before the actual hike. In a few cases, the CDT passes through or near towns and resorts where supplies can be purchased. In other cases the trail users may need to get off the trail and travel to a town.
Much of this info is available in the Wilderness backpacking travel section, but generally equipment should be purchased well in advance of the CDT start date and should be used as many times as possible to both allow the hiker to become familiar with the gear (backpacks adjusted properly, boots broken in, etc.) and to identify any broken, impractical or unsatisfactory items. Prospective thru-hikers should get in contact with local hiking clubs and solicit advice on what pieces of equipment are completely unnecessary, which are luxury items and which are essential. Different hikers have different philosophies on how much gear should be taken, from those in the "lean and fast" school of thought which advocates a minimum of everything - no stove, no tent, hiking sandals instead of boots and little else - to the "slow and comfortable" school which sacrifices speed and low weight for comfort. One should get as many opinions as possible and attempt hikes with various levels of gear until an acceptable amount of weight and speed has been achieved.
Fire permits are needed in many areas, and fire closures may exist during extremely dry times of year. Above certain elevations or in some areas fires are not permitted. Please check ahead of your trip to determine if a fire permit is needed and where it can be obtained.
Many of the wilderness areas, National Parks and other special management areas require an overnight use permit. Please check with the local area to determine if a permit is needed and where it can be obtained.
- The Continental Divide Trail Society, 3704 N. Charles St. (#601), Baltimore MD 21218. offers a wide variety of travel guides, DVD's, maps and even patches pertaining to the trail and can be either ordered online or through the mail.
This portion of the CDT is almost entirely in the mountains and represents the northern end of the trail, the lowest elevation point is at Waterton Lake in Glacier National Park in Montana ( 4,200 feet).
- Glacier National Park
- Bob Marshall Wilderness
- Scapegoat Wilderness.
- Helena (Montana) Segment.
- Butte Segment.
- Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness.
- Big Hole Segment.
- Dillon Segment.
- Centennial Mountains
The trail skirts along the Montana and Idaho border and briefly enters Targee National Forest in Idaho before passing into Yellowstone National Park
- Old Faithful Segment in Yellowstone National Park
- Teton Wilderness Segment partially in Grand Teton National Park
- Gros Ventre Segment.
- Bridger Wilderness Segment
- Sweetwater River Segment
- Great Divide Basin Segment
- Ferris Mountains Segment
- Sierra Madre Segment partially in the Huston Park Wilderness
The highest point along the trail is Grays Peak in Colorado at 14,270 feet.
- Mount Zirkel Wilderness Segment partially in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness.
- Rabbit Ears Range Segment
- Never Summer Range Segment
- Front Range Segment partially in Rocky Mountain National Park and the Indian Peaks Wilderness. A backcountry permit is required in Rocky Mountain National Park for any overnight trips. The permits can be obtained by writing to Rocky Mountain National Park, Backcountry Office, Estes Park, Colorado 80517-8397 or call 970-586-1242.
- Vasquez-Gore Segment through Silverthorne and Copper Mountain. Portions are in the Vasquez Peak, Ptarmigan Peak, and Eagles Nest Wilderness Areas
- Sawatch Range Segment partially in the Holy Cross, Mount Massive, and Collegiate Peaks Wilderness Areas
- Cochetopa Hills Segment partially in the La Garita Wilderness Area.
- San Juan Mountains Segment partially in Rio Grande and the Weminuche Wilderness Areas
- South San Juan Segment partially in the South San Juan Wilderness Area
- Animas Valley and Playas Valley's
- Carson National Forest
- Chama River Canyon Wilderness
- Cibola National Forest
- Cumbres Pass
- El Malpaís National Monument
- Gila National Forest
- Pie Town
- San Pedro Parks Wilderness
The trail traverses through some of the most extreme wilderness in the continental USA. Trail users should be prepared for any emergency and accordingly plan ahead. It is best to be familiar with outdoor travel by reading about the area you may be traveling in and learn about potential hazards. Basic understanding of how to prevent hypothermia and heat exhaustion or how to avoid and treat poisonous plants and animals among other potentially life threatening situations can help to ensure that your time on the CDT will be rewarding. Trail users are cautioned to expect encounters with rattlesnakes, and be mindful of the presence of wolves and bears. Always letting others know where you are going and when you plan to return is a basic premise when traveling in remote areas. More detailed general safety tips can be found in the Wilderness backpacking section.
There's no reason to fear the mountains, as long as you approach them with proper respect and preparation. As with anywhere else, recklessness and a lack of forethought can get you into trouble, especially in areas with vast and remote back country.
- Altitude sickness - Can lead to dizziness, headaches, nausea, even blackouts and pulmonary edema. Give your body a few days to adjust to the high altitudes before going full throttle with your hiking.
- Dehydration - When you engage in strenuous outdoor activities, be sure to replenish your fluids as you go. You may be losing moisture through your mouth and nose and through sweating, but be completely unaware due to the arid mountain air. May result in dizziness, intense thirst and elevated heart and breath rates.
- Giardia - Drinking untreated water from regional streams is not a good idea owing to Giardia parasites, but tap water is not a problem.
- Hypothermia - Prolonged exposure to the cold can result in confusion, a slowed heart rate, lethargy, even death. Dress warmly in non cotton clothing to allow any sweat to wick away from your body and evaporate. Otherwise, it may thoroughly chill you later in the day when temperatures drop.
- Frostbite - During periods of severe cold, your circulatory system pulls all your warming blood into the core of your body to protect your vital organs. This makes your extremities such as your ears, fingers and nose especially vulnerable. Wear a face mask, insulated gloves and other heavy gear on the worst winter days.
- Sunburn - Lather up with sunscreen, even if there's cloud cover. The high mountain elevations means you have less protection to the sun's powerful ultra violet rays. The rays are reflected off the snow and hits the underside of your jaw. Don't forget to wear UV-rated goggles or sunglasses, as well.
- Know your 10 essentials when going on a hike, because cell phones won't always work in many rural areas, and may not be depended on in an emergency situation.
1. Navigation 2. Hydration & Nutrition 3. Pocket Knife 4. Sun Protection 5. Insulation 6. Fire! 7. Lighting 8. First Aid 9. Shelter 10. Whistle
In the southern segments especially there is a possibility of encounters with undocumented aliens and drug runners. While the US Border Patrol is familiar with the Trail route and water cache locations, Trail users should be prepared to provide identification.
- Do not leave vehicles at the Mexican border.
- Lock your vehicle, storing valuables and WATER out of sight.
- For safety reasons especially, please sign in and out at trailhead registers.
Shared use of these public lands includes ranching and mining.
Water is life and blood in this area. Do not adjust or tamper with water facilities. Do not trespass on private property by approaching ranch houses. Avoid land indicated in white on the land status maps unless trail signs lead you there (indicating an approved easement). While the Trail has been located to avoid open mine shafts, these hazards exist regionally and are not always apparent.
The vast majority of hikers use only parts of this trail, for example to travel between Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area in Montana. Many back country hikers may have even been on this trail and not realized it since it utilizes many different types of trails in different areas.