In an effort to bring you some new voices on Ottsworld, here is a guest post from an Ottsworld reader Michelle Parsons. I met Michelle when I moved to Colorado; she was a kindred spirit who had just left her IT project management job to travel, blog, and become a musician. When she told me about the 500 mile Colorado Trail thru-hike I knew that I wanted to learn more! I convinced her to write a piece for me about the basics of the trail and her experiences! All opinions and experiences expressed here are hers. –Sherry
The Colorado Trail Was Calling To Me
Hiking is a relatively new sport for me. I grew up in Texas; horses and dance halls were on my radar, not hiking. I fell in love with hiking in the last ten years while living in Colorado. Somewhere along the way, I heard about the Colorado Trail, the thru-hike to do in Colorado. I didn’t know much about it, and yet it stayed on my mind for years, calling my name. When I went through a heart wrenching divorce, the time was right to pursue my bucket list, to find out who I was in my new solo mode. The Colorado Trail was at the top of the list.
Tell Me More About the Colorado Trail!
The Colorado Trail is nearly 500 miles of awe-inspiring terrain through the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Traveling through 6 wilderness areas and 8 mountain ranges, the trail offers the full spectrum of Colorado lakes, peaks, creeks, and ecosystem diversity. Divided into 28 segments, the trail end points are Denver and Durango. With an average elevation of over 10,300 feet, the highest elevation of the trail is at 13,271 feet.
The trail is challenging with demanding terrain and fickle weather. With the right physical and mental training, and the right gear, you can do it! It helps if you have a particular goal, a reason, for doing the trail. You could be recovering from a personal life change, pushing yourself to get healthier, or reconnecting with nature.
How To Plan a Colorado Trail Hike
Step 1: Get Trail References and Maps.
You’ll need Colorado Trail references both while planning your trip and on the trail. My key references were the The Colorado Trail Foundation website, the Colorado Trail Databook (pocket-sized, lightweight, and a must-have for planning and as an on-trail reference), and the Colorado Trail Hiker app (as another on-trail reference).
Step 2: Join Colorado Trail Facebook Groups.
Search for “colorado trail” on Facebook and you’ll find several groups who share real-time information about the current trail conditions, weather, wildlife encounters, ride sharing, and much more. Group members are happy to answer any questions you have.
Step 3: Decide if You’re Going Solo or With a Friend.
There are pros and cons to both hiking solo or with a friend or group. Hiking solo gives you more freedom but can be scarier and lonelier. Hiking with friends feels safer but requires more coordination and patience.
Step 4: Pick Your Dates and Build Your Itinerary.
Not everyone has the time (and the budget) to hike the Colorado Trail all at once. It takes roughly 6 weeks to hike 500 miles, at around 12 miles a day. You could instead do “segment travel” and complete the trail over several seasons. Day hikes work, too. Consider the time of year when you start (July to August are the ideal months) and which end of the Colorado Trail you want to start from. Other important planning points are water sources, access to trail heads, and resupply points.
Step 5: Pick Your Gear and Train.
Gear selection is a key factor to planning your hike. Even more important is going on many training hikes with your full pack weight before attempting a Colorado Trail hike. Test your gear, train, and train some more. Go as light as possible with your weight. Question every choice in your pack. Is the weight of that cute camp chair really worth it?
See my Essential Hiking Gear List
Now that you’ve chosen a hike, you need to know what gear to take with you! Don’t leave on your hike without these hiking gear essentials.!
Step 6: Buy Food and Create a Resupply Plan.
Probably the most time-consuming and complicated step before starting a thru-hike is creating your food strategy. If you are planning a short thru-hike (several days to a week), you can carry all of the food you need for that timeframe. But if you are doing a longer thru-hike, you’ll need to resupply.
Step 7: Share Your Plan With Family and Friends.
Plan on having little or no cell service while on the trail. For safety, share your hiking itinerary with family and friends before you go. Even better, invest in a backcountry communication device, like a satellite GPS messenger.
Step 8: Check Water Availability.
The Colorado Trail Databook indicates water sources along the trail, including whether the water source is reliable or intermittent.
Step 9: Check the Weather.
Even if you are hiking in optimal months, it’s still best to check the weather forecast before you start out. Make sure you carry the right gear for any weather you might encounter on the trail!
How Did My Colorado Trail Experience Go?
I hiked 40.7 miles of the trail in 4 days. It was a fantastic learning experience and challenged me in every way imaginable. Will I do things differently next time I backpack? Sure. Would I change how my trek went? Hell no. I tried and I learned, made great friends, and proved to myself that I could do it. I’ll take that as a win.
Colorado Trail, I’m coming back for you!
Lessons Learned on the Colorado Trail:
- Going on one practice hike with less than your full backpack weight does not count as sufficient training for a thru-hike.
- When you start to attract flies and your trail buddy can’t tolerate walking behind you, it might be time to find a shower.
- Take care of hot spots on your feet right away. Otherwise, you’ll get a giant blister and risk getting dubbed Blister Toe as your trail name.
- Hikers on the Colorado Trail are super nice and very helpful. It’s OK to ask for help.
- Expect the unexpected. You can plan the hell out of something, and you’ll still get surprised. That just makes the experience even more fun.
- Get out of your tent or stick your head out, whatever you have to do, to look at the night sky. Crawling out of your nest is so worth it, every time, no matter the temperature.
- Falling asleep to the night sounds of the mountains is good for the soul.
- Sometimes the last 2 miles of the day feel like 20.
- Go all out for that bucket list item. It’ll be worth it!
And Now, Hit the Trail!
Bottom line, make it your trip and have fun, whatever that looks like for you! It might not go exactly as planned, but it’s all worth it when you wake up to a clear blue sky in the mountains. Let go, connect with nature, and enjoy.
Check out Michelle’s Colorado Trail Planning Guide for many more details about the thru hike and tips for planning your own trip! And check out my Best Hikes in the World I’ve completed!
Meet the Author
Michelle Parsons is passionate about pursuing the passions that call her and encouraging others to fearlessly do the same. You’ll usually find her doing something outside (hiking, backpacking) or on stage (singing honky tonk and playing guitar), and sharing the experience with you.