Through-Hiking the Colorado Trail: A Journey of Beauty and Resilience
For those who long for the solitude and majesty of the great outdoors, few experiences rival through-hiking the Colorado Trail. Stretching approximately 486 miles from Denver to Durango, the Colorado Trail (CT) is a mesmerizing blend of wilderness, camaraderie, and self-discovery.
The Trail Unveiled
Winding its way through eight mountain ranges, six National Forests, and six wilderness areas, the CT is nothing short of awe-inspiring. The trail’s highest point reaches an elevation of 13,271 feet, while the average sits at a respectable 10,300 feet.
The CT is marked every half-mile with a recognizable Colorado Trail sign, making navigation relatively straightforward. Maps and guides are available through the Colorado Trail Foundation, offering invaluable resources for both novices and experienced hikers.
The Trekking Season
While it’s technically possible to hike the trail year-round, the most popular time is from late June to early October. This period typically offers the most favorable weather, avoiding the heavy snows and high river levels of spring and the potential for early snowfall in fall.
To complete the trail, it typically takes hikers 4-6 weeks, depending on pace and weather. Carrying a light pack is crucial, as is having the right gear – especially a reliable pair of hiking boots. Resupplying is possible in towns along the way, where hikers can access post offices for mail drops or purchase provisions.
Biodiversity and Wildlife
Hikers should keep an eye out for the diverse wildlife that call the CT home. From mule deer and black bears to pikas and marmots, the trail offers a unique opportunity to observe animals in their natural habitats.
Unusual Facts and History
- Volunteer-Built: The CT was built almost entirely by volunteers through the Colorado Trail Foundation. This monumental effort took over a decade, from 1974 to 1987.
- CT Completers: According to the Colorado Trail Foundation, only about 150 people report completing the trail each year, a number that’s dwarfed by the more popular Appalachian and Pacific Crest trails.
- Ghost Towns: Along the CT, hikers pass through the remnants of several mining towns from Colorado’s gold and silver booms, like the ghost town of Winfield.
- The Collegiate Peaks: A unique section of the CT, the Collegiate Peaks, was named after Ivy League colleges by early miners and settlers. Here you’ll find mounts Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and more.
- CT and CDT Intersection: A significant portion of the CT, about 235 miles, coincides with the Continental Divide Trail, one of the significant triple crown hiking trails in the United States.
The Colorado Trail is more than a hiking trail – it’s a journey into the heart of the Rocky Mountains, an exploration of the self, and a testament to the power of nature. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or a curious adventurer, the CT offers an unforgettable experience. Just remember – respect the trail, leave no trace, and relish every moment on this beautiful trek.
Durango, Colorado: A Haven for Rest and Recreation
Nestled in the Animas River Valley and surrounded by the San Juan Mountains, Durango, Colorado, serves as a picturesque conclusion (or beginning) for hikers on the Colorado Trail. Beyond its stunning natural beauty, Durango offers an array of accommodations, restaurants, and attractions that make it an ideal spot for weary hikers to recharge and explore. Here’s our comprehensive review of this charming mountain town.
From quaint bed and breakfasts to luxury resorts, Durango offers accommodations to suit a variety of budgets and preferences:
- The Rochester Hotel: This historic hotel dating back to 1892 offers comfortable rooms with western-themed decor. Its proximity to downtown Durango makes it an excellent choice for explorers. Website
- Durango Riverside Resort & RV Park: If you’re looking for a more rustic experience without fully returning to the wilderness, this resort and RV park provides cabins along the Animas River. Website
- Pine River Lodge: Situated on Vallecito Lake about 30 minutes from Durango, this location offers cabins and vacation homes ideal for relaxation after long hiking days. Website
Durango is a haven for food lovers, offering everything from hearty breakfasts to delectable dinners:
- Carver Brewing Co.: As Colorado’s second-oldest brewery, Carver Brewing Co. provides a cozy atmosphere with a variety of craft beers and delicious food. Website
- Gazpacho Restaurant: Offering New Mexican cuisine, Gazpacho’s is famous for its green and red chili dishes. Website
- The Ore House: An iconic steakhouse in Durango since 1972, The Ore House serves up excellent steak and seafood options. Website
Durango’s attractions aren’t limited to natural beauty. Here are some must-see spots:
- Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad: This historic steam train ride offers an unforgettable journey through canyons, by waterfalls, and past some of Colorado’s most impressive peaks. Website
- Powerhouse Science Center: Ideal for families or those with a keen interest in science, this interactive museum explores everything from local geology to renewable energy. Website
- Historic Downtown Durango: Simply strolling through Durango’s historic downtown is an experience in itself, with its preserved 19th-century architecture, boutique shopping, and a plethora of restaurants.
- Animas River Trail: This 7-mile trail along the Animas River is perfect for a gentle walk or bike ride, offering scenic views without the intensity of a mountain hike.
In summary, Durango, with its blend of natural beauty, historic charm, and modern amenities, is a perfect rest stop for Colorado Trail hikers. It provides the comfort, culinary delights, and entertainment options needed for a few days of well-deserved relaxation.
Winfield, Colorado: A Ghost Town Along The Colorado Trail
Winfield, located in Chaffee County, Colorado, is one of the many old mining towns—now often referred to as ghost towns—that sprung up during the Colorado Silver Boom in the late 19th century. It’s nestled in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, near the midpoint of the Colorado Trail, and is an interesting stop for hikers interested in Colorado’s mining history.
History of Winfield
Founded in 1881 after the discovery of silver, Winfield quickly grew to be a bustling town. At its peak in the late 1890s, Winfield had a population of around 1,500 and was home to two hotels, a school, a general store, and several saloons. The town’s decline started with the Silver Panic of 1893, when the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act caused silver prices to plummet. By the early 20th century, Winfield was largely abandoned.
Exploring Winfield Today
Today, Winfield is part of the San Isabel National Forest and is maintained by the Forest Service and the Clear Creek Canyon Historical Society. Visitors can explore a few well-preserved structures, including two log cabins, the Ball cabin and the Scheid cabin, both of which serve as a small museum. The old schoolhouse and several other structures also remain.
While Winfield is accessible by a dirt road, the remoteness and tranquility of the town give a glimpse into life in the late 19th century. Visitors are asked to respect the historic nature of the town and leave artifacts as they are found.
Winfield is surrounded by natural beauty and offers opportunities for outdoor activities. Just west of the town is the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness, which boasts several of Colorado’s famous fourteeners, including Mount Huron, Mount Belford, and Mount Oxford. The area is great for hiking, camping, and wildlife viewing.
Getting to Winfield
If you’re hiking the Colorado Trail, Winfield falls between segments 11 and 12. If you’re driving, the town is accessible via the dirt County Road 390 (Clear Creek Canyon Road), which is generally passable by regular passenger cars during the summer months. However, it’s always a good idea to check road conditions before you go.
Remember, while Winfield offers a fascinating look into the past, it’s important to respect the historical significance of the area. Always follow the principles of Leave No Trace to ensure that this historic site can be enjoyed by future generations.