Frequently Asked Questions

1. How do I get to the CDT’s southern terminus?

The BLM amended the location of the trail in 2005 in order to reach the Mexico border without having to cross private lands in New Mexico’s boot heel. Since that time, ground- truthing and finessing locations has occurred, working off the amendment document which allows adjustments to the route in order to mitigate for historic or sensitive areas. The signs along the roads have been removed as preferred routing, more suitable to the criteria of a National Scenic Trail (P.L. 90-543), has occurred across open ground, including the point from the Crazy Cook Monument. The trail now commences north of there several hundred feet, off the national boundary fenceline inside of the 60 ft. Roosevelt Easement.

Directions to the Southern Terminus: (mileages are approximate)

Southern terminus travel: Traveling to the Southernmost Trailhead requires high-clearance 4×4 and takes two hours, one-way once you leave the paved roads.

1. Take Interstate 10 east from Lordsburg or West from Deming to Exit 49

2. Take NM 146 South to Hachita

3. Turn East on NM 9

4. Turn South on NM 81

5. Go south about 11 miles. Just before the curve in the highway, turn left onto the graded dirt road. All roads beyond this point are dirt.

6. Go 3 miles and turn right.

7. Go another 3 miles and turn left.

8. Follow this road around the base of the Big Hatchet Mountains for about 20 miles to a windmill (Mangas Well, named for Apache Chief Mangas Colorado).

9. From the windmill, go east 2 miles. You will be at the international boundary fence. At the cattle guard, there is a concrete monument commemorating the Crazy Cook who murdered someone at the site.

10. The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail goes west, back along the road to the windmill, then proceeds northwest through the Big Hatchet Mountains.

FYI: signs are placed at critical intersections along the drive.

CDTC also runs a shuttle to the southern terminus on scheduled dates between early March and mid-May, and on-demand in the fall. Click here for more information on the Southern Terminus Shuttle.

2. Where do I get maps and which ones should I use?

The CDTC does not publish a map suitable for hiking purposes. For general information and planning our interactive map is a great resource and a fun way to discover the trail.

For hiking purposes there are several great options:

Bear Creek Survey Maps

Developed by the former CDT organization and Jerry Brown of Bear Creek Survey, these map guides reflect the most current line data for the CDNST available. These guides will give you the most accurate way point data for the “official” CDNST route, including water sources, critical intersections and general know where you are or need to be information.  We highly recommend you combine these with Yogi’s CDT Handbook and Planning guides for the best adventure possible on the CDNST!

A great free (print at home) resource are maps put together by Johnathan Ley.

Many hikers use the smartphone app “Continental Divide Trail” by Atlas Guides (also known as “Guthook”). This app is best used in conjunction with paper maps. Never rely solely on electronics for your navigation as they can fail.

3. What is the Continental Divide?

A Continental Divide is a physical land formation that parts the main waterways of a continent. The North American Continental Divide begins in Northern Alaska continuing south through the Canadian Rockies. In the United States the Divide follows the Rocky Mountains through Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico. The southern portion of the Divide peaks along Mexico’s Sierra Madre Occidental. In South America, the Continental Divide lies along the Andes. In the United States the Divide parts all precipitation and waterways to the west of the Divide into the Pacific Ocean and eastwardly to the Mississippi River drainage and Atlantic Ocean.

4. How long does it take to do a thru-hike?

Most thru-hikers complete the trail in four to five months. Most northbound hikers begin in late April to early May at the Mexican border, and arrive at the Canadian border in September. Most southbound hikers start in Glacier in mid-June to early July, and finish the trail at the Mexican border in October.

5. Should I go North to South or South to North on a thru-hike?

There are advantages and challenges to hiking the CDT in either direction.

Northbound hikers start at Crazy Cook in the spring, between mid-April and mid-May, and should aim to finish in Glacier by mid-September. A northbound hike means experiencing the desert in the springtime, alpine wildflowers in Colorado, and a scenic finish to the hike in Glacier National Park. However, in high snow years a northbound hike may be too challenging for many hikers, due to the terrain in southern Colorado. Northbound hikers who start too early may experience dangerous avalanche conditions, while northbound hikers who start too late may get snowed off the trail in Montana if winter comes early. Most CDT hikers choose to hike northbound, so a northbound hike may be a more social experience than a southbound hike.

Southbound hikers start in Glacier in early summer, between mid-June to mid-July depending on the snowpack. Southbounders should try to be south of Mt. Taylor before the snow flies in the fall. SoBos start right off with challenging terrain in Montana, with a lot of valley-to-pass travel, and traversing snowfields on the passes. Early SoBos may have difficult stream crossings in Glacier if bridges have not been installed for the season yet, and late SoBos may encounter sleet and snow on the exposed, high-elevation trails in Colorado. Southbounders will get to experience Colorado as the aspens turn gold, and the desert of New Mexico in the fall when the weather is cool. Fewer hikers go southbound, so this hike may be a more solitary experience than a northbound hike.

7. Is water an issue on the CDT and do I need to treat it?

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 upon the year’s snow pack and the month of the year. Plan where you can get water and be prepared if none is there when you arrive.

Familiarize yourself with the water report before you head out on your hike. The water report uses crowd-sourced information from hikers. CDTC is not responsible for the content of the water report.

Trail users should treat all water along the trail, especially in areas where livestock is prevalent. Waterborne illnesses such as giardiasis can be dangerous on the trail as they can cause severe dehydration. There are many lightweight, easy-to-use water treatment options on the market. Some of the more popular systems used by long-distance hikers include AquaMira drops, the Sawyer Squeeze and Katadyn BeFree filters, and the SteriPen.

8. Do I need a permit?

There is no single trail-wide or interagency permit for the CDT. CDT travelers are required to obtain permits for camping in Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, the Blackfeet Reservation, and the Indian Peaks Wilderness in Colorado. Some Wilderness areas require self-service permits, which are free and can be filled out at the trailhead.

For more information on permits, please see the “Permits” tab on our Trip Planning page.

9. How many miles per day can I expect to travel?

Your expected mileage depends on your base level of fitness, as well as previous experience thru-hiking or backpacking. Other factors that can affect planned daily mileage include elevation, water availability, trail hazards such as blowdowns, significant amounts of snow on the trail, weather, elevation gain/loss, and how often you take breaks. Most experienced thru-hikers will hike between 20-30 miles per day after getting their “trail legs.” It is recommended that hikers who are just starting out on the trail start with lower-mileage days and work up to that mileage, to prevent overuse injuries.

10. How much of the CDT is complete, navigable for thru-hikers?

Although America’s most challenging trail is not complete, with good maps, a compass and thorough planning, a person can travel from Mexico to Canada following close to the geographic Continental Divide. Signs and markings identifying the CDT vary. Some segments are on well-marked trail, while others require cross-country travel or lead to unclear, poorly marked and unmaintained trails. In some areas, the Trail temporarily follows roads to avoid trespassing on private lands or until a better, non-motorized route is built. Currently, 76% of the Trail is complete, located on non-motorized areas along low-impact routes.

11. What do I need to know about wildlife safety/precautions?

The CDT is home to various types of wildlife, from the javelinas of New Mexico to the majestic and daunting grizzly bear of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. As travelers along the CDT, it is important to be aware of the various wildlife and the precautions necessary to avoid dangerous encounters.

In all cases of varying wildlife, it is essential to remember that you are traveling through their habitat and should avoid all contact with wildlife by abstaining from any conduct that encourages wildlife to become habituated to human contact; such as deliberately or inadvertently feeding wildlife.

For additional Wildlife Tips visit our Challenges & Risks page.

12. What is the Great Divide Basin?

The Great Divide Basin is a unique area along Wyoming’s portion of the Continental Divide, where the Divide splits in two and rejoins to create a 2.5 million acre desert basin. There are no water channels leaving the Basin and minimal precipitation entering this ecosystem. Any precipitation within Great Divide Basin is absorbed or evaporates through a series of alkali flats or salt lakes. The Continental Divide Trail follows the northern portion of the Great Divide Basin, beginning from the south at Rawlins and exiting the Basin at South Pass City to the north.

13. Does the Trail currently travel on Private Land?

Since the Trail is not complete, you will have to contend with private land issues. Please respect the traditions and lifestyles of the people living along the Trail by never crossing private lands without permission. In many cases they need the land to survive and are good stewards of the land. Their traditions are embedded into the history of these lands and the character of the Continental Divide Trail. Where private lands block the continuation of the CDT, and you are unable to get permission to cross these lands, utilize other trail or road routes. The 1:100,000 scale land status maps, which can be obtained from the U.S. Geological Survey, provide good information on land ownership.

14. What type of weather conditions can I expect?

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 weather. Temperatures on the CDT range from below freezing to over 100 degrees depending on where you are and when you travel. Be prepared with layered clothing, proper gear and lots of water. Consider traveling in the morning when it is cooler and to avoid afternoon storms.

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, re-place the rocks in order to preserve the rustic CDT.

15. What is Altitude sickness and what precautions should I take?

Altitude sickness, or Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) typically occurs in individuals traveling above 5,000 ft. At higher elevations the air becomes less dense and each breath contains less oxygen. Because the entire CDT is at elevations greater than 5,000 ft it is important for CDT users to be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of AMS.

Symptoms of AMS include headache, nausea, and fatigue. AMS can strike anyone, even the most fit hikers. If you live at sea level, give yourself time to acclimate in town before starting your hike. Make sure to stay hydrated, and if possible camp at lower elevations. If you are feeling unwell, descend to lower elevations as soon as possible. The prescription drug acetazolamide (diamox) can help prevent altitude sickness.

AMS can progress into High-Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) and/or High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE). Symptoms of HAPE include breathlessness when resting and coughing up froth. Symptoms of HACE include confusion, clumsiness, out-of-character behavior, and loss of consciousness. HAPE and HACE are life-threatening medical emergencies. If someone in your party is experiencing symptoms of HAPE or HACE, help them descend to lower elevations immediately, and call 911 or SAR as soon as possible.

16. Are dogs permitted on the CDT?

Dogs are permitted along most of the CDT, except in Rocky Mountain National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and Glacier National Park. Make plans to board your dog while you hike these sections, or plan to skip them altogether. Some Wilderness areas require dogs to be on-leash.