The Continental Divide Trail follows the sinuous spine of the Rocky Mountains from Mexico to Canada for 3,100 miles through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. The CDT is one of three great trails that constitute the coveted “Triple Crown” of long-distance hiking, the others being the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail and the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail.

With thru-hikes on the AT and PCT in the can (in 2015 and 2021, respectively), this hiker is gearing up to tackle the entire CDT this year. I’ve reserved a shuttle to the Mexican border on March 30, and from there I plan to slow-roll it northbound through New Mexico for the first couple months while the snowpack melts in the high elevations of Colorado, the hike’s crux.

Although the official CDT mileage is 3,100 per the Continental Divide Trail Coalition, the organization responsible for the trail’s stewardship, the indispensable Far Out GPS navigation app has the redline tally at 2,980 miles. A dozen or more accepted alternate route segments are possible, and by my figuring, I expect the hike to total just over 2,800 miles.

The logistics of the CDT are complex and variable. If there’s too much snow in early June in the San Juans of southern Colorado, for example, then I may need to flip north to Montana, which is forecasted to have a below average winter snowfall, and then hike southbound to connect the dots. Of course, less snow means drier conditions and an increased risk of wildfires, another trek-altering possibility. And so it goes.

All a CDT hiker can do, really, is make the best plans possible, go and have fun, hope for the best, and remain flexible throughout. A steady pace – albeit a reasonable one – is necessary. Six months should, or better, suffice. Factoring in rest days and the inevitable schedule blips, I’ll need to average 18 miles per day. That’s entirely doable. In theory anyway.

So, the Rockies. The high desert of New Mexico will be a nice introduction. Colorado will be amazing, with the trail above 10,000 feet for hundreds of miles (topping out at 14,278 feet on Grays Peak). The spectacular Wind River Range and Yellowstone National Park are highlights of wonderful Wyoming. And finally, there’s remote and rugged Idaho and Montana, with a monumental finish through the Bob Marshall Wilderness and Glacier National Park.


The total elevation gain on the CDT is a mind-boggling 457,000 feet. That’s roughly equivalent to climbing Katahdin every day and a half for six months. With a full backpack. Water will be an issue in some stretches. There will be black bears, and in the northern sections, grizzlies. Bear spray, bear-proof food storage and smart cooking and camping practices will be essential. Lightning, altitude, exposure and snakes are among the other potential dangers.

Unlike the thousands of hikers on the AT and the PCT, only about 400 people attempt the CDT each year. Most hike northbound, so I’m sure to find at least some company en route. My wife, Fran, will be hopscotching along with our truck and camper for a good chunk of the hike, enjoying a big adventure of her own and meeting me every week or so with a resupply box. Now that’s trail magic like nobody’s business.

My “big three” items are an Osprey Atmos AG LT 65 pack, a Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 2 tent and an REI Co-op Magma 10 sleeping bag. Three pairs of Lowa Renegade GTX Mid boots should last the trek. And I’ll be packing a Garmin inReach Mini 2 GPS satellite communicator. I’m aiming for a base weight of 18 pounds, so with water, fuel and a week’s food, I should be able to keep the pack to around 35 pounds or less.

The CDT was never high on my radar, but after completing the AT and PCT, it percolated to the top. And suddenly the journey is right here in front me. My gear is tested and ready, food is purchased and organized, and details have been sorted through. There’s not much left to do but walk. I’m looking forward to the solitude, the scenery, the simplicity and the challenge of it all.

I’ll be reporting periodically from the trail, so please stay tuned here. As an official 2024 CDTC trail ambassador, I’ll be guest blogging occasionally at as well. You can also follow me on Facebook and Instagram, and my Garmin tracks at Ciao for now.

Carey Kish of Mount Desert Island is soon to discover why the motto for thru-hiking the Continental Divide Trail is “Embrace the Brutality.”

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