Hiking the Colorado Trail

By Forrest Smith - Drempd.com

I was missing the trail. It had only been a couple years since our Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) hike, but I feared that the days of big adventures were forever behind me. 

This one would be a little different though. We had re-integrated ourselves back into the real world once again, and for most people, quitting jobs, selling a house, and hiking for six months is at most a once-every-ten-year occurrence (looks like I’m due for another one!). This trip would have to work into normal life.

As an independent web designer and developer, I can take my work with me — an art that I somewhat mastered while hiking the PCT. My wife’s work was a little different, but with a mix of vacation and sick time, plus some unpaid time off (frowned upon, but allowed), we managed to secure a four week window to recapture some of the bliss that we felt while hiking the PCT, and with four weeks, the Colorado Trail stood out as a fantastic option.

Running from Denver to Durango, the 486 mile trail samples incredible mountain scenery, runs through some interesting mountain towns, and offers the opportunity to detach from the real world for a month or so.

Section One – Denver to Frisco

I remember the excitement of starting another long thru-hike, and especially our first evening out on the trail. After eating dinner, I fondly remember looking down the trail, as it wound out of view, and imagining what the next day would bring–imagining the views and experiences we would encounter as we continued on our trek.

The first section was also our welcome into the wild world of Colorado weather. On our second or third day, the storm clouds built and we experienced what would be a common afternoon experience–thunderstorms. However, that first thunderstorm was definitely the most memorable. We were absolutely soaked as we crested a small pass and descended the other side. The trail was more of a stream in places as the torrential rain continued to saturate the landscape. Then, just down the trail and off to our left, a full-sized pine tee just crashed to the ground. Its roots could no longer hold the mass in the upright in the saturated soil. It will likely be the only time in my life that I will witness such an event.

Stormy weather over the Rockies
Aspen Trees - Colorado Trail

Section Two – Frisco to Mt. Princeton Hot Springs

We had more memorable thunderstorm fun on our second section of trail. While we are experienced backpackers, we weren’t prepared for the regular thunderstorms we experienced nearly every afternoon on our hike. We tried our best to time our afternoons to be on lower sections of trail, but there were several occasions where we found ourselves high on a ridge or pass, racing the clouds before we were caught by the weather.

We had a very memorable, impromptu stop at a small lodge near Twin Lakes – a wonderful dinner, a feather bed, and of course showers. Even with the unexpected bed, we were definitely ready to take a longer break once we hit the end of our second section at Mt. Princeton Hot Springs Resort.

Section Three – Mt. Princeton to Silverton

Our third section was the longest, and most daunting. The daily thunderstorms continued to wear us down, and we had another ridge top situation that rattled us a little. We had some great scenery as well though, especially the La Garita Wilderness, which was a bit of a return to the real mountains after quite a bit of hiking through smaller hills and forests which characterized much of the beginning of the third section.

The thunderstorms finally won as we neared Bent Peak. We had been hiking a long ridge, under booming clouds, and we just kind of had enough. We sat at the pass for a while where a rough offroad truck trail intersected our path. Knowing this road led into the valley where it met up with another 4-wheel drive road that went all the way to Silverton was more than a little enticing. We didn’t know how long it was and we only had the beginning and the end of the road on our maps. It could have been a shorter route than the trail or it could add additional mileage, but we didn’t really care, we just wanted out of the high country. As we descended, we started feeling better – even quite giddy. We would walk all the way to Silverton, and then end our trip there. Perhaps take the touristy scenic train to Durango for a final bit of fun to conclude our trip.

We reached the valley bottom and found a nice spot with green grass and aspens to set up our tent and relax for the night. The next day was a great hike up the road. It was quite nice to be in a valley looking up at the peaks, instead of up in the clouds. We eventually crossed Cinnamon Pass and made it into Silverton by the evening. It wasn’t the original plan, but it was actually a great walk.

Section 4 – Silverton to Durango

We spent a couple nights in Silverton and eventually decided against ending our trip there. We got a lift up to the trail so we could continue with the hike. We missed a decent section of the official trail where we opted for the road walk instead, and would have a five mile gap in a “continuous hike” (the distance we hitched), but we were fine with it and actually just happy to be back on the trail again.

The weather improved for our last several days on the trail, which we enjoyed greatly. We wandered into Durango, and enjoyed a nice drive back to Denver to catch our flight back home.