General CDT Trip PlanningPlan ahead and prepare for your trip on the CDT! The tabs below are a good place to start.
“The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (CDNST) is one of the most significant trail systems in the world. Established by Congress in 1978, it spans 3,100 miles between Mexico and Canada, traverses five states and connects countless communities along its spine.”
Over the past 30 years it has gradually assumed a marked physical shape; and preserves and celebrates an opportunity for adventure and history with one of the most significant features on our planet.
Picture yourself on one of the CDT’s longest roadless sections, right in the middle of the half-million acre Weminuche Wilderness in Colorado, where the Trail tracks through high glacial valleys and offers views of the craggy Needle Mountains…or out on the Trail in central New Mexico, where the desert meets the mountains. The span of one day’s hike offers an immense diversity of landscapes. Extending 3,100 miles from Canada to Mexico, the CDT encounters a multitude of ecosystems from tundra to desert, hosts a rich variety of wildlife, and preserves nearly two thousand natural, cultural, and historical treasures.
Considered one of the greatest long-distance trails in the world, it is the highest, most challenging, and most remote of our National Scenic Trails. Ranging from 4,000 to 14,000 feet, the completed sections of the CDT provide a variety of recreational activities to many hundreds of thousands of people each year, including hiking, horseback riding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, wildlife viewing, fishing, hunting, and sight-seeing. For the long-distance hiking community, the CDT is one-third of the “Triple Crown,” and annually, while the number is growing, approximately 150 ambitious travelers attempt to complete an end-to-end trek.
- Continental Divide National Scenic Trail Facts:
- Congress designated the CDT on November 10, 1978
- Congress recognized the valuable contributions that volunteer and private, non-profit trail groups have made to the development and maintenance of the Nation’s trails. In recognition of those contributions, Congress further recognized that it was critical to encourage and assist volunteer citizen involvement in the planning, development and management, where appropriate, of these Trails.
- National Scenic Trails are created to provide for maximum outdoor recreation potential and for the conservation and enjoyment of the nationally significant scenic, historic, natural, or cultural qualities of the areas through which such Trails may pass.
- The Vision of the Interagency Leadership Council for the CDT is to complete the Trail to connect people and communities to the Continental Divide by providing scenic, high-quality, primitive hiking and horseback riding experiences, while preserving the significant natural, historic, and cultural resources along the Trail.
- The CDT is one of the most significant Trail Systems in the world. It stretches 3,100 miles along the spine of the Great Continental Divide from Canada to Mexico and provides access to some of the most wild and scenic places left in the world while promoting conservation of the environment and physical health and well being.
- CDTC estimates that as of December 2015, 85 % of the Trail is completed. The official route starts at the Canadian Border in Glacier National Park and ends in the Big Hatchets Wilderness Study Area on the Mexican Border, and is mapped and useable.
- Estimated Miles in each state and miles to “complete”:
- Montana/Idaho – 980 estimated miles, 250 miles to be completed
- Wyoming – 550 estimated miles, 55 miles to be completed
- Colorado – 800 estimated miles, 75 miles to be completed
- New Mexico – 775 estimated miles, 80 miles to be completed
- Travels from Canada to Mexico through 25 National Forests, 21 Wilderness Areas, 3 National Parks, 1 National Monument, 8 BLM Resource Areas and through Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico
- Some segments of the CDT remain open to motorized use, many of these segments make up some of the Trail locations we seek to relocate.
- The Lead federal agency responsible for completing the CDT is the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). They work with the National Park Service (NPS), Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the nonprofit partners to complete, maintain and manage the CDT.
- The Highest point on the CDT is Grays Peak in Colorado (14,270 feet) and the lowest is along Waterton Lake in Glacier National Park in Montana (4,200 feet).
The Mountaineers, an outings club located in Seattle, first circulated a Ten Essentials list in the 1930’s. Since then it has become a kind of gospel among hikers and an essential teaching tool in outdoor education programs.
Even if you are positive about where you’re headed and how to get there, it is always a good idea to bring a map with you on the trail. A good topographical map, or “topo” is indispensable. Know how to read your map and consult it often.
A compass can help you find your way through unfamiliar terrain – especially in bad weather where you can’t see the landmarks. With a map and compass you can accurately determine your position, travel cross-country and avoid cliffs and other dangerous features in the landscape. Global Positioning Systems are great, but beware of their limitations. Batteries go dead, and, in canyons and beneath heavy forest canopy, GPS units may be unable to receive a signal. Speaking of signals, a compass with a sighting mirror will double as a signaling device to alert passing planes or distant hikers in an emergency.
Without enough water, your body can’t perform as well. Drink plenty of it and don’t drink untreated water. Many hikers assume the water is pure and about 48 hours later wonder why they have a queasy feeling. Even clear-looking water can contain the organism Giardia Lamblia, one of the causes of “travelers diarrhea”. If you are not carrying the water in yourself, treat all backcountry drinking water with purification tablets and/or a quality filter.
#4. Extra Food
You’ll need all your strength, especially on those steep grades. Don’t be shy about bringing more food than you think you can eat. You can survive days without eating, but you think more clearly and react more quickly when you’re fueled up. Carry more food than you think you need, even if it’s just a bag of raisins or nuts.
#5. Extra Clothes
It almost doesn’t matter when you are hiking, the weather often changes quickly and with little warning. The key is to be prepared. Wet clothes can be a recipe for hypothermia. Remember to layer for insulation and carry raingear even when the threat of precipitation seems remote. A lightweight emergency shelter such as a tarp or space blanket is also advisable.
#6. First-Aid Kit
It’s important to be prepared for a range of mishaps: blisters, cuts, scrapes, sprained ankles, among other things. Always carry medical supplies adequate for minor injuries and blisters, including sterile bandages and antibiotic ointments.
#7. Pocket Knife
From slicing salami or opening a can to cutting an ace bandage to rigging an emergency shelter, a simple knife is the most useful tool you can carry on any hike. Better still are compact multi-tools like Swiss Army knives. Whatever you carry, keep the blade sharp and rust-free.
#8. Sun Protection
No matter where you live, or what season it is, hikers need to be aware of the hazards of the sun’s rays. Overexposure to the sun can leave you fatigued, dehydrated, and painfully burned. Remember the higher the elevation, the greater the intensity of the sun. A combination of a hat, sunglasses, sun block and the proper clothing can keep you protected.
It is good to carry a flashlight or headlamp with you every time you head out for a hike. Although you may have no intention of being on your hike past dusk, it’s easy to underestimate just how long a particular hike may take. A light can be inexpensive, lightweight, and along with an extra set of batteries, pretty reliable. Headlamps have the extra benefit of being hands-free. Whichever you choose, be sure to find one that’s waterproof. While you may never to expect to get caught in the dark in the rain, it’s worth the extra expense.
#10. Matches and Firestarter
Carry matches that have been waterproofed or wind and waterproofed, or else carry extra strike anywhere matches—along with something to strike them on—in a waterproof container. Keep these matches separate from your regular match or butane lighter supply. Keep them available for emergency situations. Fire starters are useful for quickly starting a fire, especially in emergency situations. They are also useful for igniting wet wood. There are several commercial fire starters available: magnesium blocks w/striking flint; chemically-treated fire sticks, etc.
Beyond the 10 Essentials
More recommendations and information for longer trips on the CDT.
Food must be lightweight, nutritious and high in energy. On average, backcountry travelers need to consume 2,500 to 3,500 calories per day in the summer and 4,500 to 6,000 calories in the winter. Expect to carry about 2 pounds of food for each day of travel. Meals should be easy to prepare with consideration for fuel consumption. Baking and other gourmet techniques add to the character and quality of food but also take more time, weight, effort, and fuel.
Eating nutritionally balanced meals is most critical. Refer to fitness training or nutrition books to obtain your daily requirements for protein, carbohydrates and fats. Remember, cold temperatures and high altitude make your body burn more calories. This is one time in your life that you shouldn’t worry about consuming too much fat or carbohydrates as your body will quickly consume and use these substances.
Backcountry travel places a great deal of stress on your body. Be sure to get enough protein so that your body can repair itself. Include a daily multi-vitamin; limited access to fruits and vegetables will lower your intake of required mineral and vitamins.
The human body loses between 8 to 16 liters of water per day during strenuous exercise. Add to that altitude, temperature and humidity level, and the amount rises. In addition, if you lose fluids from diarrhea or other illness, your body can lose up to 24 liters of liquid per day. Therefore, it is generally recommended that you drink at least one gallon of water per day on the Trail.
Water can be scarce along the CDT, particularly in Wyoming’s Great Divide Basin and throughout New Mexico. Windmills and stock ponds are potential sources, although they are not entirely reliable and may be on private land. Windmills on federal lands are called Section 4 projects and the rancher who has a federal permit to graze livestock on those lands often has the water right. Streams may be dry or overflowing depending on the year’s snow pack and the month of the year.
Water quality is also an issue. Consider every water source to potentially carry Giardia and should be treated, unless it’s from an approved municipal system. This microscopic parasite known as Giardia Lamblia, is transmitted via mammal feces. Giardia exists in the coldest mountain streams and its entrance into one’s gastrointestinal tract will likely cause more than mild irritation within a few weeks. The constant occurrence of Giardia in mountain and desert ecosystems makes carrying a water filter a must. Most filters are lightweight and easy to use if you follow the manufacturer’s directions. Make sure you ship compatible replacement cartridges along with your other resupply items. Boiling and iodine are other purification alternatives; however boiling increases the amount of fuel one must carry. Iodine tablets, while very lightweight, have an aftertaste and can be harmful to those with thyroid conditions.
If you are planning a long trek on the CDT, you may need to develop a mail drop schedule for resupplying your food rations and other supplies. Many people who plan long distance trips on the CDT are capable of carrying and are required to carry enough food and water for one week. Remember to always have a little extra in case of an emergency.
Mail drop schedules are used to send other essential supplies, such as new hiking boots, replacement parts for stoves or water filters, socks, ice axe, snowshoes and special treats to be eaten during your trail break. It is a good idea to contact your mail drop locations prior to finalizing your schedule in case they are no longer in business or have decided not to accept general delivery packages.
Having the right kind and amount of equipment is crucial. The sample equipment list below will help you select the appropriate gear for the CDT’s rugged and remote backcountry. Check, use and field-test all of your gear prior to getting on the Trail. Make sure clothes fit and are in good repair and that all of your gear works well. Your trip may be quickly shortened if you take out an unchecked stove or never/barely wore boots only to find the stove doesn’t work and the boots don’t fit. Also, make sure you have the necessary repair parts with you. As with all equipment for backpacking, cycling or packing, weight is a constant issue. Avoid cotton in all clothing items and use layers to regulate your body’s temperature.
- Proper fitting backpack w/ rain cover
- Lightweight, backpacking tent with rain fly and stakes
- Ground cloth (for tent & emergency shelter)
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping Pad
- Stove w/ repair kit
- Food bags and rope for hanging
- Cook pots
- Eating and cooking utensils
- Garbage bags
- Kitchen kit with spices, biodegradable soap, pot scrubber, can opener, screen for straining dishwater
Food and Water
- 3 to 4, 1-qt. water bottles or hydration system
- Water filter w/ repair and cleaning parts
- Iodine tablets for backup
- Approximately 2 pounds of food per day
- High-energy drinks
- Compass and applicable maps
- Flashlight w/ extra bulb and batteries
- Comprehensive first aid kit w/ separate blister kit
- Wind/water proof matches & fire starter in waterproof container
- Trowel for proper waste disposal
- Extra/backup high-energy food
- Lip Balm
- Extra backup clothing
- Bear resistant storage containers
- Duct tape
- Critical gear replacement parts
- Rip-stop nylon repair tape
- Safety pins
- Tent pole splint
- 2-3 sewing needles
- Heavy-duty thread
- 1 pair boot laces
Personal hygiene items
- Toothbrush and paste
- Biodegradable soap or waterless hand sanitizer
- Toilet paper
- Nail clippers
- Feminine hygiene supplies
Clothing and Footwear
- Pants and shorts
- Long and short sleeve shirts
- 1-2 pair(s) long underwear top(s) and bottom(s)
- Lightweight camp shoes
- 2-3 pairs of liner socks
- 2-3 pairs of synthetic or wool blend socks
- Liner gloves
- Synthetic or wool gloves or mittens
- Warm hat (covers the ears)
- Ball cap or hat
- Warm jacket (fleece, down or synthetic fill)
- Fleece pants
- Rain parka and pants
- River crossing booties or thermal neoprene socks
- Walking staff
- Backpack chair
- Camera and film
- Fishing Gear
Map and Compass Skills
Map and Compass skills are crucial on the CDT. You must be well versed in reading a topographic map and using a compass. In areas where the trail doesn’t exist or is difficult to follow, a map and compass are essential to ensure safe passage.
Snow Travel Skills
Snow is a common occurrence along the CDT, particularly in the high mountain elevations. It can and will snow anytime of the year, even in New Mexico. Snow travel skills involving an ice axe are critical to safe passage on the CDT as map and compass. Be prepared for winter conditions and consider taking a training course if you don’t know how to do a self-arrest on a snowfield (to stop sliding on a steep snowfield by dragging the pick of an ice axe through the snow).
Preparing for Emergencies
As you finalize your itinerary, make sure you leave detailed information with at least one person and stay in regular contact to update them on your itinerary. Have them contact your family and friends on your progress. We suggest you leave this information with someone you know and trust:
- Specific outline of your route on the Trail and any possible contingencies
- Specific outline of routes you will travel while going to and from the Trail
- Medical history (current medications, allergies, past and current illnesses and injuries)
- Your vehicle license plate number and vehicle description
Sign in at trailheads if there is a registration box. Prior to your trip, collect the names and phone numbers of all county sheriff offices, search and rescue teams and land management agency offices along your route in case you need to find rescue help. 911 does not apply to all areas along the CDT. Get backcountry-oriented first aid training. This training will teach you how to improvise and use the resources available.
Altitude is a constant issue along the CDT. Much of the Trail is above 8,000 feet in elevation, the highest point in Colorado at 14,270 feet at Grays Peak. Our bodies take in less oxygen as we move to higher elevations. It does not matter how long or how often you are at high altitude or how good your physical condition is. Moving too high too fast does not allow the body enough time to acclimate; this can result in altitude sickness. This can occur at elevations as low as 8,000 feet. There are prescription drugs available to help with the effects of altitude. These medications are not alternatives for good judgment.
Altitude Mountain Sickness (AMS) is the most common altitude-related illness. Signs and symptoms include headache, nausea, sleeplessness and fatigue. Some experience a decrease in their ability to think clearly. Others may have a slight problem with slurred speech or walking straight.
Staying hydrated, nibbling on high-energy trail snacks and ascending slowly will help prevent AMS. Most people are chronically dehydrated in their everyday lives then head to the backcountry with a hydration deficit in their system. Get hydrated before you go on your trip and then stay hydrated. Drink water even though you are not thirsty. Yellow urine is not normal – it means you are not hydrated enough. Ample hydration means your urine is clear and you need to urinate frequently.
High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) takes place when fluid collects in the lungs. It is difficult to breathe and sleep. The patient will have crackling sounds coming from their lungs as they try to breathe. They may cough up pink, frothy sputum. HAPE will require evacuating the patient by rescue personnel.
High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE ) is fluid or swelling in the brain. These patients present the signs and symptoms of a head injury that includes extreme irritability and irrationality. Cerebral fluid may drain from the ears and nose. Both HAPE and HACE quickly lead to unconsciousness and death. Both are preventable by going slowly, keeping energy and fluids replaced and taking action to descend before AMS can progress to HAPE or HACE. HACE will also require evacuating the patient by rescue personnel.
All CDT travelers need to be prepared for any type of weather. It can snow, hail, lightning, rain and beam with beautiful sunshine all in one day on the Trail. Learn what weather signs to look for. Know the different types of cloud formations and other natural phenomena and how they can help you forecast the weather. Temperatures on the CDT range from below freezing to over 100 degrees depending upon where you are and when you travel. Be prepared with layered clothing, proper gear and lots of water. Consider traveling in the early morning when it is cooler and to avoid the afternoon storms.
At any time of the year, the weather will turn rapidly. Cold showers, snow (from flurries to a white-out), fog, wind, heat and bright sun play constant rounds of tag on the CDT. This means your gear, mind, and map-reading skills need to be prepared for the worst.
In open areas of the CDT (either high or dry), wind is either blowing or it’s about to, so plan for it. Select campsites that are below the ridgeline, behind boulders, or snuggled into whatever vegetation exists. Use all of your shelter’s tie-down lines. Avoid building rock shelters, or if your stove requires one, replace the rocks in order to preserve the rustic CDT.
Ultraviolet radiation is more intense at high elevations. It is much easier to get severely sunburned at high elevation than at sea level. Protect skin with long sleeves and pants, a hat, and frequent applications of sun block. Keep a watchful eye on infants and children as even slight redness can indicate potential sunburn.
Snow Blindness/Sun Blindness
The eyes are especially sensitive to the brilliance of sunshine, especially that which is reflected from snow fields. If unprotected, the eyes can be burned and/or permanently damaged. The burns are so excruciatingly painful that, once a backcountry user has suffered and recovered from this malady, he may never again remove his sunglasses even while sleeping.
The only way to prevent snow/sun blindness is to wear polarized sun glasses, whether you feel you need them or not (radioactive light penetrates even clouds and/or fog). Snow blindness can occur in as little as one half hour. There may be no sensation other than brightness to warn the victim. The pain does not occur until well after the damage has been done.
Hypothermia is the lowering of the body’s core temperature to a level, which impairs normal muscle and brain activities. It is a serious and sometimes fatal condition. Hypothermia is generally brought on by exposure to cold. The windy, often wet, conditions of high elevations can produce hypothermia at temperatures as warm as 50 degrees F (10 degrees C). Preparation is the best prevention for hypothermia. Carry adequate equipment for rapid weather changes. Always include rain gear, extra clothing for layering, a hat and gloves.
Watch for these signs of hypothermia in yourself and other in your party:
- Loss of judgment or coordination
- Reduced dexterity
- Slurred speech
- Uncontrolled shivering
If these signs appear, begin immediate treatment. Eliminate exposure to cold and wet conditions, move out of the wind, add layers of warm, dry clothing and begin to rewarm the individual by administering warm, non-alcoholic liquids.
Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke
Cramping, dizziness and profuse sweating are some of the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion. If you feel any of these signs/symptoms quit what you are doing, get shade and drink water or preferably some sort of electrolyte replacement such as oral hydration salts or Gatorade type drinks. Left unchecked, heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke, which can be fatal.
Giardiasis is a debilitating intestinal disorder caused by drinking contaminated water. Symptoms, including diarrhea, gas, appetite loss, bloating and cramps, may not develop for several weeks. Do not assume that stream and lake waters are safe to drink. Boiling is the best purification method. Bring water to a full rolling boil for 5 minutes. Water filters are also a good choice if effective against giardiasis. Chemical disinfectants are not as reliable, but can be used in an emergency.
The CDT crosses 3,100 miles of forest, peaks, valleys, and deserts. On virtually any portion of the trail, a single objective hazard (one that’s visible and understandable, but not always predictable) awaits all hikers – lightning.
Hiking the CDT generally means long days in high places and that’s a recipe for encountering lightning. According to the National Weather Service’s Denver office, it’s the greatest weather threat to outdoor travelers in the Rocky Mountains.
Lightning really isn’t a mystery. It’s caused by the intense up and down drafts inside cumulonimbus clouds. These violent currents polarize the cloud and induce a positive charge in the ground and connected objects (e.g. hikers). When the polarization is strong enough to overcome air’s natural insulative properties, lightning erupts. Lightning is a serious threat. Watch the weather as if your life depends on it, because it does. In general, thunderstorms build throughout the day, so make an early start and cross open areas and passes early. Be conscious of when you are the highpoint on a ridge, pass or open area. Scope your fallback routes constantly. Where are the nearest trees? How soon will I get off this ridge?
If you watch the clouds and the weather, you’re less likely to run into those pesky million watt bolts. Study your map. Study the heels of your partner’s hiking boots, but also keep track of the sky. It takes clouds to make lightning so know if they are moving, forming or piling up around the pass where you’re headed. When cannot see the horizons, plan conservatively.
Also, watch the time. In many sections of the CDT you can practically set your timepiece by the consistent afternoon thunderstorms that punctuate summer days. All morning, the air heats out in the flats and by afternoon thunder boomers are forced over the Divide.
Exactly where lightning will strike cannot be predicted, nor can lightning be prevented. Listen for thunder. Sound travels more slowly than light, so watch the flash and count the seconds until you hear thunder. Every five seconds if equal to about a mile of distance. In many ways lightning acts like water – it flows along the path of least resistance between the negatively charged cloud and the positively charged earth.
Besides the clouds, thunder and the flash, you may also be warned by a buildup of static electricity (hair standing on end), the buzzing of metal objects, a glow on metal items (St. Elmo’s Fire), or an electrical smell of ozone as the air becomes ionized. If you notice any of these signs, real danger is upon you.
If caught in the middle of an afternoon thunderstorm, a hiker can take substantial measures to eliminate the dangers. Follow these simple guidelines:
- If on a ridge, get off it, or at least the crest. Don’t be the high point on peaks, ridges and passes.
- Avoid sheltering near solitary high points like an isolated tree or clump of trees. If anywhere in the open, seek the lowest ground, any sort of depression. But stay away from lakes and streams.
- Shallow caves and overhangs can be the home of the “sparking effect” where the current from a strike flows along the ground and “sparks” across the shelter opening and potentially through you. Shallow caves are not safe places during lightning storms.
- Spread your group thirty feet or more apart so that if direct or ground current hits someone, the others can provide appropriate first aid.
- Insulate yourself from the ground and other conductors (like water) by placing your sleeping bag or climbing rope between you and the ground.
- If the flash and bang are simultaneous, meaning you’re right in the middle of the action, do not lie flat on the ground: this places the body in maximum contact with the electrical flow. Instead drop to your knees and bend forward, putting hands on knees so that current either runs down your limbs or passes beneath you foot to foot without passing through your vital internal organs.
- If in an open meadow, do not seek shelter from the downpour under a lone tree or in an isolated clump of trees; the number one scene of lightning fatalities is the shelter of lone trees or isolated clumps. Also in an open meadow get away from your tent, which in the absence of trees may be the best available lightning rod.
Moving water carries a great deal of force and can sweep you away in an instant. Take precautions even when crossing small streams. Moving water carries a great deal of force and can sweep you away in an instant. When crossing, make sure someone on land watches you. Face upstream at an angle while moving your feet side to side (for example, moving from river right to river left you would move your left foot, set it down firmly, then move your right foot next to your left). Use a long sturdy stick or a hiking staff to balance in front of you (always have two points of contact at a time). Do not cross one leg over the other or you may lose your balance. Keep your footwear on. Cold mountain-fed streams numb your feet and carry rocks and debris. River crossing sandals/shoes are an option as well as neoprene liner socks that keep your feet dry inside your hiking boots. Undo hip belts on large backpacks so you can discard them if you get swept away.
If you do get swept downstream, take off your backpack and position yourself so that your feet are pointed down stream. This way, you can push off rocks or other debris and avoid hitting your head.
Snow and Rock Fields
At times you may cross rocky slopes with steep talus or scree fields (large boulders and small, ball-bearing type rocks). Natural rock falls are common. In these situations, set up a spotter as you travel one by one across the rock field. If you do slip, the spotter can watch for falling rocks and locate you if you fall. Some areas have year-round snowfields. Although beautiful, they can be dangerous. If new snow falls, they are apt to slide.
An avalanche can occur anytime of the year, not just in the peak winter season. Springtime in the Rockies is a particularly active time for avalanches due to heavy wet snow deposited on top of deeper, unconsolidated layers. Backcountry travelers should have specific training in avalanche awareness. Take a course that gets you into the field for hands-on practice with snow pits and avalanche beacons.
Deer, moose, elk, bear and mountain lions are just a few of the animals that live along the CDT. Be wary of the unpredictable behavior these animals may exhibit should you encounter them. Pack out all food scraps and store all food and items with flavor or fragrance in a “bear safe” manner.
The CDT passes through the Northern Continental Divide and Greater Yellowstone grizzly bear ecosystems. Forests and Parks within these areas have food storage requirements. For example, in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex and the Teton Wilderness, all food, garbage, livestock and pet food (except hay and water), and scented or flavored toiletries (i.e. toothpaste and chap stick) must be made unavailable to bears when your camp is unattended. Hang attractants at least 10 feet off the ground and 4 feet away from any vertical support, like a tree, or utilize bear resistant storage containers.
Never approach wildlife! This is their home and we are the visitors. Know current practices should you encounter animals such as bear, mountain lion or moose. Smaller wildlife such as marmots, pikas, squirrels and beavers need to be respected as well.
Poisonous reptiles and insects live along the CDT too. Be aware of where you walk and place your hands. Rattlesnakes can be found anywhere along theCDT. If you are allergic to insects or certain foods, see your physician to get a bee sting kit prescription prior to your trip.
Wildlife is abundant along the Continental Divide Trail. In most situations, people and wildlife can coexist. The key is to respect the wildness of wildlife. “Wildlife” is just that – wild. Most dangerous and potentially harmful encounters occur because people fail to leave the animals alone. Wildlife should not be harassed, captured, domesticated or—in most cases—fed. Intentional or inadvertent feeding is the major cause of most wildlife problems. In some states It is illegal to feed certain wildlife.
Here are some safety tips for a few of the wild animals you may encounter along the Trail.
All bears are dangerous. Never approach or feed any bear, even a seemingly “tame” one. Bears will fiercely defend cubs and food.
If you encounter a bear at close range, stay calm and slowly leave the area by backing away. Don’t run or scream; this may provoke a chase.
Bear attacks are exceptionally rare. When they do occur, it’s usually because the bear perceives a person as a threat. If an attack should occur, act submissive and protect yourself by rolling up on the ground with your fingers interlocked behind your neck and your knees pulled to your chest. Leaving your pack on may provide extra protection for your back and neck. When the bear no longer feels threatened, it will usually leave the area. Do not move or make noise until you are sure the bear is gone.
Follow these safety precautions:
- Never Approach a bear. Even if they are placid and seem to be ignoring you, be aware that their reactions are unpredictable.
- Learn to recognize bear signs. Signs to watch for include scat, track, overturned logs, an area that looks as if it’s been dug up, and parallel scrapes on tree.
- Make noise when walking. Talk or sing softly, drag a stick across the ground, or swat it against trees or underbrush occasionally.
- Larger groups make more noise and therefore are less likely to surprise a bear on the trail. A bear is also less likely to approach a large group.
- Use extra precaution in areas where visibility and hearing is limited: for instance, when walking through dense brush, topping a hill, or rounding a blind bend in a trail.
- Set camp at least 100 feet from any lake or stream. All wildlife needs to approach water every day. Leave a corridor for them to travel through.
- Anticipate problems. Stay Away. Identify escape routes in camp and make sure everyone knows them. Locate climbable trees for quick escape methods in sleeping areas.
- If you have a bear problem, identify the attractant and rectify the situation. If that is not possible, move the camp. If a grizzly was involved or suspected, move the camp.
- Don’t camp where there is fresh bear signs. Look for tracks, scat, overturned logs, and animal carcasses.
- Don’t camp on game or hiking trails. In dense forest, wildlife will choose to follow the beaten path. If you camp along the trail, you may find a very large, very surprised animal on top of you in the middle of the night.
Mountain Lions or Cougars
Encounters with cougars are rare. But if you live, work or recreate in cougar habitat, there are things you can do to enhance your safety and that of friends and family.
Follow these safety precautions:
- When it comes to personal safety, always be aware of your surroundings, wherever you are; conduct yourself and attend to children and dependents accordingly.
- Don’t feed wildlife. Don’t leave pet food outside. It may attract cougars by attracting their natural prey.
- Keep pets secure. Roaming pets are easy prey for cougars.
- Confine and secure any livestock (especially at night) in pens, sheds, and barns.
- Don’t approach a cougar. Most cougars want to avoid humans. Give a cougar the time and space to steer clear of you.
- Supervise children, especially outdoors between dusk and dawn. Educate them about cougars and other wildlife they might encounter.
- Always hike, backpack, and camp with a companion.
- Never run past or from a cougar. This may trigger their instinct to chase. Make eye contact. Stand your ground. Pick up small children without, if possible, turning away or bending over.
- Never bend over or crouch down. Doing so causes humans to resemble four legged animals. Crouching down and bending over also makes the neck and back of the head vulnerable.
- If you encounter a cougar, make yourself appear larger, more aggressive. Open your jacket. Raise your arms, throw stones, branches, etc.., without turning away. Wave raised arms slowly, and speak slowly, firmly loudly, to disrupt and discourage predatory behavior.
- Try to remain standing to protect head and neck and, if attacked, fight back with whatever is at hand (without turning your back) – people have utilized rocks, jackets, garden tools, tree branches and even bare hands to turn away cougars.
Follow these safety precautions:
- Never feed a moose.
- Never get between a cow and a calf. Don’t walk toward a moose if you can avoid it; try to remain at least 50 feet away.
- Always keep your dogs under control or leave them at home in moose country.
- Avoid moose that are in a fenced area or between houses: they may feel cornered.
- Try to get behind a tree if a moose charges. You can run around the tree better than it can.
- If a moose attacks you, get down on the ground, cover your head as well as you can, and stay very still. Don’t wave your arms after you are on the ground.
- If a moose charges, another option is to raise your hands over your head and spread out your fingers. Hold your arms still, don’t wave them. Sometimes the moose will think that you are another animal bigger than he is.
- Remember – if you see its ears laid back and/or the hair on its “hump” stand up, it’s angry or afraid and may charge.
- If you see someone about to be charged by a moose, making a loud noise might distract the animal long enough for the victim to take evasive action. Don’t run up to the moose.
- Remember moose kick with their front feet and well as their hind feet.
Rattlesnakes are common throughout all areas the CDT covers. Rattlesnakes can cause serious injury to humans, on rare occasions even death. Generally not aggressive, rattlesnakes strike when threatened or deliberately provoked, but given room they will retreat. Most snakebites occur when a rattlesnake is handled or accidentally touched by someone walking or climbing.
Rattlesnakes live from sea level to the inland prairies and desert areas to the mountains at elevations of more than 10,000 feet. The potential of running into a rattlesnake should not deter anyone from venturing outdoors, but there are several precautions that can be taken to lessen the chance of being bitten when out in snake country.
Follow these safety precautions:
- When hiking, stick to well-used trails.
- Wear over the ankle boots and loose fitting long pants.
- Do not step or put your hands where you cannot see, and avoid wandering around in the dark.
- Step on logs and rocks, never over them, and be especially careful when climbing rocks or gathering firewood.
- Always avoid walking through dense brush or willow thickets.
If a rattlesnake bites you or someone in your group, do not panic. First, take a deep breath. Let your adrenaline rush subside a little before you act. A rattlesnake bite will leave two well-defined puncture marks and there will be an immediate, lasting pain. If you have been bitten by a rattlesnake, it is important to get help as soon as possible. Call 911 for medical assistance. The best treatment for a rattlesnake bite is to seek medical treatment immediately. Get to a hospital emergency room as soon as possible.
Keep in mind the following
- Do not apply a tight, constricting tourniquet.
- Do not cut the bite area.
- Do not ice the bite area.
- Do not attempt to suck out the venom with your mouth.
- Do not give alcohol to the bitten person.
- Seek medical attention immediately.
The Human Factor
Even in remote backcountry locations one must give some thought to personal safety on the Trail. This is one time where staying constantly alert to danger may keep you out of trouble. Be aware of strangers and decide carefully who you tell where you are camped and the details of your itinerary. Keep your gear safe, particularly when in towns and at trailheads.
Some of the best times to be on the CDT also coincide with hunting season. Check with the state’s Department of Wildlife, and find out the dates for all of the seasons. During hunting season, wear at least 400-500 square inches of florescent orange, including a hat. Avoid wearing white – a hunter may think you are a deer’s tail. Stay on the Trail and avoid bushwhacking. Avoid being on the Trail at dawn or dusk when it is hardest for you and the hunter to see.
Solo traveling has its rewards but must be carefully weighed when deciding to hike the CDT. A companion can help make your trip more interesting and safe. Of course, choose a companion who fits your temperament and philosophy. For example, slow and easy pace vs. fast packing.
Physical and Mental Training
Anyone contemplating an extended journey on the CDT should plan on implementing a rigorous training program for the mind and body. As with any exercise program, a good place to start is a visit with your physician.
Choose a good training program that includes regular mind and body exercises for the whole person. Build up to progressively longer, more challenging trips using the mode of travel you intend to use on the Trail. Start your program at least a year in advance and select activities you enjoy, this will help keep you motivated. Focus on activities that not only build strength but also aerobic capacity. It is important to do what you know works for you. All the guide books, maps and chat rooms alone will never prepare you for the physical and mental stamina required for an extended journey on the CDT.
You should be keenly aware of your abilities and limitations prior to departing for the Trail. This includes knowing your physical, mental/emotional, and technical strengths and weaknesses. It isn’t enough to just get daily exercise; you must prepare your whole being for the trip.
Ego can be a huge detriment to proper preparation. Never underestimate the challenges you will encounter along the CDT. A trip along the CDT could be the most physically and emotionally demanding challenge of your life. Learn how to pace yourself and how to combine your pace with that of your traveling companions.
What to do if you get lost
- STOP (Sit, Think, Observe and Plan)
- Don’t panic.
- Stay on an established trail.
- Wait to be found.
- Don’t throw anything away as you may need it later.
- Stay in a nearby open space during the day, and watch for aircraft.
- Make noise or blow whistle often.
- Make a basic camp with a primitive shelter before night.
- Make a small, smoky fire.
Knowing how to travel over snow is an essential skill for your adventure along the CDT. There are many considerations to weigh as you travel cross country. Whether its a small snow field, or large escarpment on an exposed ridge, know how and when to travel across these areas is critical to ensuring safe passage. If traveling with pack or stock, the danger is increased exponentially. Here you will find general information about snow pack conditions for the CDT as well as links to other resources to help you prepare for your journey. CDTC strongly suggests taking a course in self arrest, avalanche safety or other winter skills to ensure you are prepared. This is by no means an exhaustive list but rather a place to start your knowledge gathering.
Snow Pack Conditions:
- NRCS Snow Depth Map:The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service maintains snow depth maps hat may help you in planning your next hike along the CDT.
- NOAA Snowfall Maps
- Colorado Avalanche Information Center: Avalanche Danger may remain high through Colorado year around depending on the snow year. CAIC’s site helps you see the avalanche forecast for the area you may be visiting.
- SNOTEL– NRCSS also provides depth readings based on observation. CLick on the state of interest then find the site closest to the trail segment of interest.
Eight Tips for Beginners Traveling on Snow (By Mike Zawaski, author of Snow Travel . Interested in learning more about kicking steps, using crampons, and using an ice ax for going up, traversing, resting, and descending snow? Then checkout Snow Travel: Climbing, Hiking, and Crossing Over Snowby Mike Zawaski.)
1. Kicking steps with your feet is more complex than most books make it seem. The two tips I commonly offer are to choose the step that gets the most of your boot’s sole in contact with the snow (if you’re worried about falling) and to kick hard-firm snow is not a place for tiptoeing around.
2. Kicking steps is your primary tool for staying secure while moving on snow so practicing this skill is essential to increasing your proficiency.
3. The technique you use for your feet or for your ice ax, or if you need to wear crampons depends upon considering both the probability of falling as well as the consequences if you should fall. For example, on a low angle slope, choose a technique that requires the least energy. This may mean the probability of slipping is higher, but if the consequences of slipping are minimal, you will move more quickly.
4. Late spring and early summer is a great time to climb (and ski/ snowboard) snowy routes on peaks, but avalanches are still a hazard. Reduce your chances of getting caught in an avalanche by climbing and descending your route while the snow is still firm. For East facing routes, this may mean completing much of your ascent before sunrise.
5. Glissading (to slide down snow in a seated or standing position while using your feet, ice ax, or both to control your speed) can be a great way to lose elevation, but it is also a common place where people get injured. Avoid choosing to glissade, instead of walking down, because you are tired and you think it will require less energy. Glissading can be hard work!
6. A common place where falls occur are transition zones. These are places or zones where the terrain or characteristics of the snow changes and climbers fall because they fail to adjust their equipment or technique. Avoid these hazards by looking ahead and preparing for changes before you encounter them. For example it may be much easier to put on your crampons on a low angle section instead of waiting until you are starting to slip because the snow is too steep or too firm.
7. Crampons are an amazing tool that give your feet traction, but they should only be used on very firm snow and ice. The danger on soft snow is that snow will build up under your boot so that your points fail to stick which may cause you to fall. Never glissade while wearing crampons; if the points catch while you are sliding quickly you can break your leg faster than you can catch yourself.
8. A common error made by climbing groups has been to create a rope team, where members tie into the rope at even intervals and ascend/descend in a straight line. History has shown that a rope team that includes inexperienced climbers is likely to end in disaster if any members (especially the highest climber) fall and fail to self-arrest. If you want to climb a steep slope with an inexperienced climber, it is much safer to belay them through a steep section than travel in a rope team.
Permits are needed for the CDT in Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, and the Indian Peaks Wilderness. There is no trail-wide or interagency permit for the CDT.
When making permit reservations, have multiple itineraries in case one or more of your desired campsites is full. Be prepared to hike very short and/or very long mileage days in the National Parks. It is possible to get walk-up permits, especially for early- or late-season hikers, but we suggest calling in advance for a reservation. When requesting a permit, please be flexible with your itinerary and remember to be courteous to the rangers!
Glacier National Park, MT
Northbound thru-hikers should call Glacier NP for permit reservations in Lincoln, MT.
Permit cost: $7 per person per night
Phone number: 406-888-7857
Click here to make advance reservations for backcountry camping in Glacier.
Click here for a map of backcountry campsites in Glacier.
Blackfeet Tribal Lands near East Glacier- permit required, contact Blackfeet Fish & Wildlife (406) 338-7207
Yellowstone National Park, WY
Northbound thru-hikers should call Yellowstone for permits from Dubois. Southbound thru-hikers should call in Lima.
Permit cost: $3 per person per night. $5 per person per night for stock parties.
Phone number: 307-344-7311
Click here for more information on backcountry travel in Yellowstone.
Rocky Mountain National Park, CO
The CDT in RMNP is a 25-mile loop. Overnight camping in RMNP requires a bear canister.
Permit cost: $26 per person per night
Permits must be booked online. Click here for more info and to book permits.
Indian Peaks Wilderness, CO
The Indian Peaks Wilderness is an extremely high-use Wilderness Area. Permits are required for overnight camping. The CDT dips into the IPW in three places: 1.6 miles from south of the RMNP boundary to Knight Ridge; 2.6 miles from Monarch Lake to near Lonesome Peak; and 5.1 miles from below Devil’s Thumb Pass to Rollins Pass.
Permit cost: $5 per permit
Sulphur Ranger District: 970-887-4100
Click here for more info on the Indian Peaks Wilderness.
For a map of the Indian Peaks Wilderness Backcountry Zones, click here.