GOLDEN, Colo. (Jun. 2, 2020) – A vital part of CDTC’s mission is to protect the Continental Divide Trail, something we usually think of in terms of trail maintenance or land conservation. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it means doing what we can to protect the communities that live along the CDT and the community of people who enjoy and value the trail.
First and foremost, if you are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 or may have been exposed, please STAY HOME. If you are healthy and want to recreate on the Continental Divide Trail, please follow all guidance from local, state, and federal health officials, which we will continue to post on our Closures and Alerts page.
If you plan to visit the CDT this summer, we recommend that you take the following steps, whether you’re out for an afternoon or a few nights (additional guidance is below for those considering longer-distance trips on the CDT). These are the same steps (among others) that CDTC is taking to navigate our hope to carry out staff and volunteer projects on the trail this summer:
- Follow proper sanitation and physical distancing practices. In addition to your usual gear, bring a mask and enough hand sanitizer to keep yourself and others safe if you cannot maintain physical distance on the trail. If you stop somewhere before or after your trip, wash your hands, be respectful and mindful of any local restrictions or recommendations, and wear your mask in public.
- Pick the right route. Check our Closures and Alerts page before deciding where to hike in case of closures or other restrictions, and have a Plan B in case you arrive to a full parking lot or otherwise crowded area. Observe all local and state travel restrictions and recommendations.
- As always, be prepared so you can leave no trace. Trash cans, trailhead restrooms, and other facilities may be closed. Bring a trowel to bury #2s and bring a trash bag or ziploc to pack out ALL of your trash! Download or print our free maps for the area you’ll be traveling in and bring a first aid kit that you are prepared to use. Search and rescue may have limited resources.
Additionally, we know that some people are considering spending extended time on the CDT this summer. While we can’t predict the future or make your decision for you, we caution that such an experience will be vastly different than in other years. We urge you to follow the above recommendations, and below, we’ve listed some considerations we encourage you to take into account:
- Long-distance travel presents a unique opportunity to become a vector from community to community. If you do contract COVID-19 while on the CDT, you may easily spread it unknowingly in the next town you visit or with other people on the trail.
- If you are exposed to the virus, you may not be able to travel home to safely quarantine without potentially endangering everyone along your route. You need to be prepared, financially and mentally, to stay in a private hotel room for 14 days if you are exposed, and have a plan for how you will get food delivered to you (many small towns have limited, if any, delivery services), or to have a trusted loved one willing to be exposed come and pick you up by car to transport you home.
- If you become ill enough to require medical attention, you may likely find yourself in a community with limited medical facilities. Medical transports are extremely expensive.
- The CDT is a remote trail, and in many places the “easy” access points to popular resupply towns are 15-30 miles down busy high-speed highways. Locals may be significantly less willing than usual to pick up hitchhikers, and you may not feel comfortable riding in a car with someone whose exposure history is unknown to you. Unless you have support willing to meet you at trailheads, a long-distance trip on the CDT this summer is likely to include some long and dangerous roadwalks.
- In the event that “hot-spots” of infections occur, individual states, counties, or public lands may have to shut down again. It would be very wise to carry overview maps so that you can find your way off the CDT if a section is closed or a county announces a no-visitors policy. For example, if Yellowstone National Park were to announce they’re closing to visitors when you’re 40 miles away, how will you get around the park? Think through what, if any, travel arrangements might be available to you if you have to come off trail in a remote area, potentially with no cell service, and get back on trail in a different remote area tens or hundreds of miles away.
- If part of your desired CDT experience is making friends, this is probably not the year for you. In normal years, thru-hike attempts on the CDT are at most about 1/10 of those on the AT or PCT, and we have heard from many thru-hikers that they were surprised by how “lonely” the CDT felt for much of their journey. We anticipate even fewer long-distance travelers on trail this year. If you do find folks to travel with, you will probably want to camp, eat, or split hotel rooms with them. Be honest with yourself about how vigilant you can be about not sharing food, not asking someone to pass you something from their backpack without hand sanitizing first, etc.
- Normally wonderful and hospitable communities may be different this year for a myriad of reasons. Many towns along the CDT are very small, some with less than 500 residents and one small grocery store, if any. While grocery store shelves seem to be getting back to normal in urban areas, stores in some small towns are still having trouble keeping their shelves stocked, particularly with the shelf-stable items backpackers prefer. Hostels, restaurants, and breweries may be closed or severely restricted in their ability to serve the public. Moreover, many folks who love welcoming CDT travelers into their communities have already contacted us with heavy hearts to let us know they won’t be able to do so this year. Please be prepared to be completely self sufficient and see resupply in towns as a luxury and privilege versus an expectation. This includes ensuring you have all your necessary prescriptions and other specialty items that may not be available in small rural towns along the CDT, even when there isn’t a health pandemic.
- Some areas along the CDT have seen record amounts of visitation this spring. As the snow melts and many normal activities remain closed or canceled, this trend may continue and even intensify. Already crowded day-hiking areas along the CDT may be significantly more crowded than before, forcing you to plan your trip around avoiding those areas during high-traffic days and times. Physical distancing may not be possible, in which case you will need to wear a mask on the trail.
If you do choose to take a long-distance journey on the CDT this summer, please keep in mind that you represent the long-distance hiking community. Whether you like it or not, the number of CDT thru-hikers is still small enough that the actions of one reflect on the actions of all in the minds of many residents of trailside communities.
Above all, we urge you to follow all public health recommendations, orders, and closures along any journey you take on the CDT, no matter how big or small. No vacation is worth compromising the safety of others. And remember – the trail is not going anywhere. The CDT will be waiting for you when life returns to some semblance of normal.
Local updates can be found on our Closures and Alerts page. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact us at email@example.com.
About the Continental Divide Trail
The CDT is one of the world’s premiere long-distance trails, stretching 3,100 miles from Mexico to Canada along the Continental Divide. Designated by Congress in 1978, the CDT is the highest, most challenging and most remote of the 11 National Scenic Trails. It provides recreational opportunities ranging from hiking to horseback riding to hunting for thousands of visitors each year. While 95% of the CDT is located on public land, approximately 150 miles are still in need of protection.
About the Continental Divide Trail Coalition
The CDTC was founded in 2012 by volunteers and recreationists hoping to provide a unified voice for the Trail. Working hand-in-hand with the U.S. Forest Service and other federal land management agencies, the CDTC is a non-profit partner supporting stewardship of the CDT. The mission of the CDTC is to complete, promote and protect the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, a world-class national resource. For more information, please visit continentaldividetrail.org.