10 Fascinating Continental Divide Trail Facts

Hiker on the Continental Divide Trail in Colorado Rocky Mountains

MaryAnne Nelson / Getty Images

The Continental Divide Trail is a hiking path that closely follows the Continental Divide from Waterton Lakes National Park, about four miles past the U.S. border in Alberta, Canada, to Crazy Cook Monument in Hachita, New Mexico, near the Mexican state of Chihuahua. About 100 people successfully complete the 3,000-mile trail each year.

Continental Divide Trail map

Continental Divide Trail Coalition

The Continental Divide Trail (CDT) is younger than the famed Appalachian Trail (AT) and the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), but the three are together known as the Triple Crown of hiking. Possibly due to its adolescence, the CDT is known for being more remote and rugged than its elders. It's also decidedly longer and more diverse, ecologically speaking.

Here are 10 intriguing facts you may not know about the Continental Divide Trail. 

1. The Continental Divide Trail Is Officially 3,100 Miles Long

The CDT is actually a network of small roads and hiking routes rather than one unbroken trail, which isn't the case for the AT and PCT. Only about 70% of the trail is complete, leaving parts up for interpretation. While there are hundreds of possible variations that can get you from the trailhead to the terminus—over as few as 2,600 miles—the official length, according to the Continental Divide Trail Coalition (CDTC), is 3,100 miles.

2. It Takes About Five Months to Hike the CDT

A 2019 Halfway Anywhere survey completed by 176 CDT hikers revealed that the average number of days it took to hike the entire trail was 147—that's about five months, although it's normal to stay on the trail for six. According to the survey, hikers took about 17 rest days on average and hiked roughly 24 miles per day. The most miles done in a day was 42.

3. It Cuts Through Five Western States

Hiker looking out over Colorado mountains from a viewpoint

PatrickPoendl / Getty Images

The CDT snakes through the Western states of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico, and the northernmost four miles spill over into Alberta, Canada. It follows the U.S. portion of the Continental Divide through the Rocky Mountains and down into the dry desert of New Mexico, where it terminates. New Mexico is the least developed section of the trail; here, hikers must often walk on roads.

4. It's Quiet Compared to the AT and PCT

Being longer and less developed than its fellow Triple Crown routes, the CDT sees less foot traffic. While a reported 4,000 people attempt to thru-hike the AT and 700 to 800 attempt the full PCT every year, the CDT sees significantly fewer attempts. There is no data showing exactly how many aim for the feat annually—because the route doesn't require a permit—but estimates range from 150 to a few hundred. Completion rates from 2015 to 2020 showed that 50 to 100-plus succeed each year.

5. Only 20% of People Hike Southbound

Greenbelly Meals, a company that sells ready-to-eat backpacking meals, estimates that only 20% hike southbound, even though completion rates proved to be much lower for northbound hikers (67.9% compared with 91.2%) in the 2019 Halfway Anywhere survey. The weather conditions are similar going in either direction, but southbounders may encounter more freezing temperatures in New Mexico toward the end of the season. Northbounders typically hike between April and October and southbounders between June and November.

6. It's One of the Most Remote National Scenic Trails

Lone hiker on a mountain summit meadow in Rocky Mountains

Jonathan Mauer / Getty Images

The PCT has more than 70 resupply stations on the trail. The AT has more than 40 "designated communities" along the way. The CDT, though it's the longest Triple Crown hike, has only 18 CDTC-recognized "gateway communities." It is said to be the most remote of the U.S.'s 11 National Scenic Trails. Also unlike the PCT and AT, the CDT has no shelters, so hikers are quite isolated and must sleep exclusively in tents. 

7. The CDT Travels Through Many Ecosystems

It may be the most remote, but the CDT is also one of the country's most ecologically diverse long trail. It travels from Glacier National Park, home to ice fields and dense ancient forests, through the alpine tundra of the Rocky Mountains, and into the Chihuahuan Desert before terminating at the border of Mexico. 

8. It's Home to Many Elusive Wildlife Species

Because of the CDT's ecological diversity, hikers get the chance to cross paths with a vast array of species—many of which are endangered or at least rarely seen. The trail passes through Yellowstone National Park, for instance, which is home to wolves, bison, grizzly bears, and pronghorns. To the north, there are moose; to the south, rattlesnakes. Other wildlife seen on the trail include mountain lions, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, elk, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and black bears.

9. It's the Highest National Scenic Trail

View of Grays Peak, highest point of the CDT

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The CDT has the highest elevation of any other National Scenic Trail. Its highest point is Colorado's Gray's Peak (14,270 feet). The trail traverses 800 miles through the Rocky Mountains and, according to the U.S. Forest Service, its average elevation in Colorado is 10,000 feet above sea level. The lowest point of the trail is at the northern terminus, Waterton Lake (4,200 feet above sea level) in Alberta, Canada.

10. About 95% of the Trail Is Located on Public Land

All but about 150 miles of the CDT is located on public land managed by the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, or the Bureau of Land Management. The trail passes through three national parks—Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone, and Glacier—plus several national forests and wilderness areas. About 5% of it is located on private land, less than the PCT's 10% and more than the AT's less than 1%.

View Article Sources
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  2. "About the CDT." Continental Divide Trail Coalition.

  3. "The Continental Divide Trail Thru-Hiker Survey (2019)." Halfway Anywhere.

  4. "PCT visitor use statistics." Pacific Crest Trail Association.

  5. "CDTC Official List of 3,000 milers." Continental Divide Trail Coalition.

  6. "Continental Divide Trail | How to Plan Your Thru-Hike 101." Greenbelly Meals.

  7. "PCT resupply towns and locations." Pacific Crest Trail Association.

  8. "A.T. Communities." Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

  9. "Gateway Communities." Continental Divide Trail Coalition.

  10. "Explore the Trail by Region." U.S. Forest Service.

  11. "A Historic Victory for Public Lands as the Great American Outdoors Act Becomes Law." Continental Divide Trail Coalition. 2020.

  12. "Five threats to the Pacific Crest Trail, and how we're fighting back." The Trust for Public Land.

  13. "Appalachian National Scenic Trail." National Park Foundation.