Continental Divide Trail
Key information: Continental Divide Trail
- A fabulous trail through five US states, following the line of the continental divide (watershed) from the border with Canada to the border with Mexico (or vice versa).
- Visit the forest-swathed mountains, prairies, deep lakes and streams of Montana and Idaho, seeing the (yes) glaciers and agile mountain goats of Glacier National Park, the sharp peaks of the Bitterroot Range and the impressive Chinese Wall along the way.
- In Wyoming, cross the pioneer trails followed by thousands on their quest for new life in the west, marvel at the geysers and hot springs of Yellowstone and the lakes and glaciers of the Wind River Range, and descend into the impressive Great Divide Basin.
- The Rocky Mountains of Colorado are a tribute to the power of the Continental plates, and the trail traverses 800 miles of their grandiose peaks. Numerous abandoned gold and silver mining 'ghost towns' dot the beautiful alpine tundra.
- Visions of the Wild West are conjured up as you pass through New Mexico's many wildernesses, seeing on your way wildlife including the roadrunner and turkey vultures, and walking through cottonwood, aspen and prickly pear.
- This is a tough walk: there are areas throughout in high, remote mountains and bears can cause big problems in the north. The trail is still not cleared in places, and badly marked in others. Research thoroughly, and come fully prepared.
- Walkopedia rating82
- Natural interest16
- Human interest0
- Negative points2
- Total rating82
- Note: Negs: altitude, heavy loads to carry, water often difficult to obtain
- Length: 5,000km (ish)
- 4-6 months
- Maximum Altitude: 4,081m (Colorado)
- Level of Difficulty: Variable
To summarise 5,000km and 6 months of hiking seems almost as difficult a task as the undertaking itself: one of the world's premier long distance trails, the CDT spans five states - beginning in the snowy peaks of Montana, following the continental divide through Idaho, Wyoming and Colorado, and finally ending in the arid deserts of New Mexico.
Scenery and wildlife is stunning and varied, and the human history of the trail encompasses thousand-year old trade routes, inscriptions carved by 15th century Spanish explorers, and tracks followed by some of the first American pioneers.
Below are some of the best sections of the trail, including links to our more detailed individual pages; see the Routes section for details on the full route.
Despite the increasing impact of climate change on the glaciers which gave this park its name, the stunning panoramic landscape of Glacier NP still possesses the power to awe and inspire. With dangers around every corner, whether the grizzly bears or the freezing temperatures and deep lakes, the 700 miles of trails provide a supreme wilderness adventure.
Rising abruptly more than 300m from the ground, the 35km long escarpment of the Chinese Wall runs through the beautiful landscape of the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana. Hike through alpine meadows, past craggy peaks and tumbling waterfalls.
Lying on the border of Montana and Idaho, the Bitterroot Mountains are the most famous section of the larger Bitterroot Range. Named after Montana's state flower, and often referred to as the 'Montana Alps', these jagged granite peaks encompass cascading waterfalls, freezing lakes and miles of wilderness. With the highest peak at 10,157ft, there are some amazing summit hikes.
Yellowstone, the first and perhaps the most famous of America's stunning national parks, is a landscape of staggering scale. Bears, wolves and elk roam the steep slopes, deep canyons and thick forests, whilst the thermal areas and their fabulous geysers attract more than two million visitors each year. This deserved popularity, however, has not impinged on the timeless isolation of Yellowstone's backcountry wildernesses.
Although the Continental Divide itself passes through the Teton Wilderness, a detour is well worth contemplating. Yellowstone's neighbouring Grand Teton NP is dominated by the dramatic, jagged peaks of the Grand Tetons themselves, and their reflection in the spectacularly still waters of the lakes in Jackson Hole. Wilderness wildlife wanders through the park, and the beautiful Cascade Canyon area provides an ideal base for both day walks and longer hikes, taking in the gorgeous lakes, desolate peaks and richly carpeted canyons of the Tetons.
In New Mexico, the human history of the area has left behind more evidence, and the results are fascinating. With a slight variation from the main route, the Continental Divide Trail can go via the Gila cliff dwellings in Gila National Forest, whilst the El Morro National Monument has inscriptions dating back to the Spanish visitors of the 1500s.
Many people walk the most famous sections of the trail, but few people undertake this very tough walk in its entirety, which is usually completed in around six months (covering around 17 miles a day). There are areas in high, remote mountains, on which you will have to be self-sufficient and where altitude can cause problems, and there are areas where the trail is not clearly marked or even cleared. In some places, water is very difficult to come by. Research thoroughly and come fully prepared.
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We have a lot of helpful practical information and tips about this walk, covering everything from the best books and maps, to timing and weather, geting there, possible problems, whether you need a guide and where to find them, and useful websites. This section is only open to members.
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Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.
Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.
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