Hiking Trails

Six tips for hiking the first quarter of the Colorado Trail

One aspect of life on the trails that I love so much is that the learning curve is so steep. You hop on a trail and a week later you’ve already learned so much! This is true for the Colorado Trail, which I am currently hiking. So I wanted to share some handy tips I’ve learned so far, in case you’re planning your own Colorado Trail hike. For reference, I started the trail at Waterton Canyon and hiked south to Durango, and these tips are based on my experience in the first 120 or so miles of the trail. Here is!

  1. Start at Waterton Canyon in the morning or early evening, not midday. While absolutely stunning (and full of wildlife, in my experience!), this canyon is pretty damn exposed. I would recommend avoiding the hottest part of the day to make it a more pleasant experience. And, if you’re hoping to see wildlife, many animals are most active around dawn and dusk, so this will increase your chances of seeing them! (I saw a bear, bighorn sheep, beaver and tarantula and tarantula hawk in the canyon!). Just note that you cannot sleep in Waterton Canyon; you must travel at least 6.7 miles to the trailhead before camping is allowed.
  2. Bring sun protection! Colorado is an extremely sunny state (Denver gets 300 days of sunshine a year!), the altitude can make its rays stronger, and some of the early sections of the trail are quite exposed. So bring a hat and sunscreen, but maybe also consider a parasol and sun gloves if you have more sensitive skin.
  3. Speaking of exposed sections, CT segment two is exposed, dry, hot, and lacking in water for about 10 miles. (This 10 mile section would be even longer if the local fire department didn’t generously allow outdoor enthusiasts to fill their water bottles from a tap on the side of their building. Thank you, firefighters !!). Much like Waterton Canyon, I recommend starting this section early in the morning or evening to avoid the heat of the day.
  4. Speaking of segment two, this section is extremely popular with mountain bikers, who share the trail with hikers. If you don’t want to have to swerve out of the way every five minutes or so, don’t drive this segment over the weekend! (These bikers were all very friendly and aware, in my experience, and of course they have as much right to be there as hikers, so no hate towards bikers. It can be frustrating to have to constantly move around when you’re trying to do miles).
  5. Late afternoon thunderstorms are very common in Colorado. Plan accordingly. First, you might want to start early in the morning so you can get settled into camp before the thunderstorms arrive. More importantly, you do NOT want to be above the treeline during a thunderstorm. Obviously, lightning can be a problem anywhere. But people die from lightning strikes in Colorado every year, and being above the tree line, aka being the tallest thing during a storm, is a great way to increase your chances of being hit.
  6. Do you like slackpacking? Me too! If you decide to stay overnight in Frisco or Breckenridge, you can easily hike (hiked without most of your hiking gear) the section between the bus stop at mile 103.7 and Copper Mountain at mile 119. There is a bus that runs between Breckenridge and Frisco every hour, and another that runs from Frisco to Copper Mountain. Leave your heavy equipment at your hotel or hostel, take the bus to Copper and travel the 15.3 miles to the bus stop at mile 103.7. It’s a tough (but amazingly beautiful) section so I was really grateful that I didn’t have to lug all my gear around for it! Bonus: I have to go back to stretching in the hot tub at my hotel afterwards. Well worth the stop in town and the hotel bill!

I hope you found these tips useful! If you’ve hiked the Colorado Trail and have anything to add for the first quarter of the trail, please post them in the comments below! If you want to follow my journey along the Colorado Trail, you can find me on Instagram and YouTube, and I will continue to post on The Trek as well!

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