Backyard Backpacking Adventure: Hiking the Colorado Trail

“I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute Freedom and Wildness, as contrasted with a Freedom and Culture merely civil – to regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of Nature, rather than a member of society.” – Henry David Thoreau, “Walking”

Each season in the Rocky Mountain West has its own magic. As Spring and Summer arrive, wildflowers take the place of snowy fields, waterfalls melt into gushing rivers, and the animals come out of hibernation. If you’re sick of just longingly staring out of your office window, if you are an experienced backpacker and looking for a challenging summer adventure that will get you far away from your desk, check out the Colorado Trail.

Almost 500 miles of high alpine terrain between Denver and Durango takes you over eight mountain ranges, along five river systems, through six national forests and six wilderness areas. The average elevation throughout the trek is over 10,000 feet, topping out at 13,271 feet just below Coney Summit. Since 1987, the Colorado Trail Foundation has maintained the 28-segment trail system for day hikers, backpackers, and mountain bikers alike.

If you’re excited by a 4-6 week thru-hike adventure, it is crucial to plan ahead. Consult the official Colorado Trail Guidebook for detailed planning and trekking information.

WHEN: Summer PROS:

- More Daylight
- Warmer Weather
- Wildflowers
- High Water Flow


- More People
- Lightning Danger
- Snow at High Altitude
- Insects
- Monsoon Season (Mis-July to Mid-August)

Fall PROS:

- Cooler Weather
- Less People
- Fall Aspen Trees
- Low Lightning Danger


- Less Daylight
- Variable Weather
- Cold Nights
- Low Water Flow

WHERE: Starting in Denver, heading southwest to Durango:Starting in Denver will ease you into the higher elevations later in the trek and more options to bail out for some rest and relaxation. Ideal for hikers from outside of Colorado.

Starting in Durango, heading northeast to Denver:You begin with the toughest terrain in the rugged San Juan Mountains and gradually ease your way down to Waterton Canyon near Denver. If you start late in the season, this route may extend your trip by 1-2 weeks, weather dependent.

If you’re a less experienced backpacker and/or a 4-6 week trek sounds like too much to take on, you can always hike individual segments! Here are some favorites:

Segment #1: Waterton Canyon to South Platte River This first segment is a moderate hike with incredible scenery just outside of Denver. 16.5 miles with a 2,346-foot elevation gain. Watch out for elk, big horn sheep, and deer!

Segment #13: North Cottonwood Creek to Chalk Creek Road This segment is nestled amongst the Collegiate Peaks near Buena Vista and Salida. The route takes you just below the 14er, Mt. Yale, which you can choose to add to your hike. Relax in the nearby Cottonwood Hot Springs or Mount Princeton Hot Springs after your hike! 22.28 miles, 4,084-foot elevation gain.

Segment #25: Molas Pass to Bolam Pass Road The San Juan Mountains are the most scenic mountains in the state of Colorado. This segment begins above the town of Silverton and takes you between two mountain passes. Summer wildflowers, aspen trees, views of Engineer Mountain, and waterfalls… This one has it all! 20.91 miles, 2,889-foot elevation gain.

So shut down your computer, pack your backpack, and get outside. Spring has arrived and Summer is on its way. It’s time to indulge that Wanderlust and go explore. See you out there!

By AI Blog contributor: Sophie Goodman