I had the pleasure of hitting the 486-mile long Colorado Trail late this season—the end of August— and was perhaps the last thru-hiker to walk the trail end-to-end this year. The trail rarely ventures below 10,000 feet as it travels over Colorado’s most mountainous regions between Durango and Denver. For much of the journey, the trail soars above timberline up to 13,270 feet, which means that hikers are occasionally exposed to lightening, snow and hail, and high winds—but at least they are always exposed to awesome views.
I adventured past old mining shafts, abandoned homesteaders’ cabins, and historic railroads. Below me, the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge railroad—a heritage railway used to bring ore from the mountains—twists around the colorful Animas River valley.
This late in season, the trail can get pretty cold, especially in San Juan National Forest, a section of 50 miles almost entirely above 12,000 feet. I started in Durango instead of Denver, where most end-to-end hikers start, so that I would hit the higher altitude mountains first. On a few cold mornings, it was necessary to wear all my clothes—including my rain skirt—to stay warm.
Because the trail is often high on ridges, springs and creeks originate lower than where hikers walk. In other parts of the trail, such as Saguache Park cow country, water sources can be few and far between. Sometimes, even the smallest trickle is worth filling bottles up at.
Many of the trails I’ve walked before are foot traffic only, so learning to share the trail with mountain bikers was a valuable lesson on the CT. It certainly paid off. A bike race held in the middle of my longest haul between food resupply points welcomed me to snack at their aid station!
My absolutely favorite part about walking the Colorado Trail was seeing the aspens change color in the early fall. The tree-lined path was surrounded by white-barked trees turning yellow, red, and orange as their leaves fluttered to the ground like fire-colored snow onto me. As I set up my camp at night, I heard elk bugling for mates as autumn swept into the mountains. The fall hiking season is not very long—leaves stay on trees only a week or two before dropping—and I feel infinitely lucky to have woken each morning to their bright colors and walked among them.