Looking for a Thru Hike? Consider the Colorado Trail
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Every few years or so a book or movie will come out about an intrepid thru hiker who learns about themselves through the transformative experiences of thru hiking. In fact thru hiking has become such a “thing” that many of us who would never step foot on a trail are familiar with the Pacific Crest Trail or PCT, the John Muir Trail and the Appalachian Trail.
About 10 years ago I discovered that there is another thru hike equally as majestic that seems to get a lot less press-the Colorado Trail. What’s embarrassing about this discovery is that I grew up in Colorado. You’re probably wondering how I discovered this thru hike? Well, I’m a lifelong lover of staying in bougie hostels. I had discovered a particularly wonderful hostel called The Bivvi, located in Breckenridge, Colorado.
During one of my summer visits I noticed a large number of older backpacking guests. Unbeknownst to me, the Bivvi had become a popular stop as people made their way slowly across Colorado by foot. I loved hearing the hiker’s stories about how much food they carried, how long it took them to prepare for the journey and what their trail names were.
I was also incredibly inspired by their mental and physical toughness. Many of the hikers I met were in their 60’s and had come into thru hiking after having a lifelong love of hiking and looking for a new challenge. But, as an African-American woman I wasn’t sure that hiking was accessible to me given the impact of comfortable access to outdoor spaces for people of color.
What is Thru Hiking?
Put simply, a thru hike is typically referred to hiking along a designated trail such as the Colorado Trail, Continental Divide Trail or Pacific Crest Trail from beginning to end. These trails are located all over the world and have unique features that attract hikers to them. Some have even made it into the movies such as the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) made famous in recent years by the movie and book “Wild” that showed the true life transformative experience of a young woman hiking the trail during a pivotal moment in her life. Thru hikes vary in link and serious thru hikers may have the goal of earning “The Triple Crown” by conquering the three longest hikes in the United States.
There are different types of hikers ranging from folks who embrace ultralight backpacking-these folks carry as little as possible during their journey. Or people like me who carry a lot more while on the trail while looking to refuel at each of the towns that dot the trail.
About the Colorado Trail
For folks looking to hike the Colorado Trail there are a number of resources that can be used to guide you through the entire process of planning your experience. The Colorado Trail Foundation website shares all of the need to know information necessary for planning your thru hike. Before attempting the Colorado Trail there are some important details that you need to know. The Colorado Trail is 567 miles broken into 33 segments. Some hikers opt to do specific segments versus traversing the entire trail because of time constraints or they just are excited about experiencing the scenery, towns or unique features of specific segments on the trail. The Colorado Trail is a high altitude hike with a short window of accessibility due to the risk of lightning towards the end of summer and snow late spring and late summer/early fall. Hikers must do their due diligence and understand the impact of high altitude on their hike.
In addition to the Colorado Trail website, there is The Official Guidebook of the Colorado Trail that provides unique insight and information needed for planning a successful hike. One of the unique features of this trail are the incredible mountain towns that are adjacent to the trail. If you’re looking to explore Durango, Breckenridge, Leadville, Salida and Gunnison are some of the notable towns that dot the trail.
It often surprises me that the Colorado Trail doesn’t get as much publicity as other well-known trails across the United States.
Thru Hiking the Colorado Trail While Black
As African-American woman writing about thru hiking and enjoying the outdoors it’s important that I discuss accessibility and access to this type of activity. In 2020, a woman that I know actually ended up becoming the first African-American woman to solo hike the Colorado Trail. She’s a Coloradan like myself and actually someone that I know. Patricia Cameron became a proud member of the 2020 Colorado Trail “Class” completing the journey with an incredible amount of positive television and writing coverage about her journey.
Her hike highlighted her personal mission to broaden access to outdoor spaces for Black Coloradans through her non-profit “Blackpackers” which designs unique typically free outdoors experiences for Black Coloradans and allies. As Patricia made her way across the state we would watch her twitter feed to hear about her adventures, make sure that she was ok and to fuel our own dreams of becoming a thru hiker.
She highlighted the fact that thru hiking could be inaccessible in a couple of ways ranging from cost to the time to actually attempt one. In fact, in order to afford her hike she had sponsorships that helped cover the cost of food, accommodation for rest days and equipment.
While Patricia had a pretty positive overall experience with her hike, it was enlightening to read comments from folks who didn’t understand that the outdoors isn’t always accessible to everyone. I’m pleased to share that she is currently doing the Pacific Crest Trail, a significantly longer trail that is 2650 miles from start to finish. She’s doing a long segment of the trail and I love living vicariously through her adventures.
If you’re thinking about doing the Colorado Trail do! Experiencing Colorado isn’t just about going to Denver Broncos football games and skiing. The Colorado Trail is a well-maintained, well-traversed outdoors experience for thru hikers looking to experience Colorado differently.
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Michelle Jackson is passionate about getting outdoors and normalizing POC faces in outdoor spaces. She grew up in Colorado and jokes that she’s a Colorado cliche. With a love of hiking, biking, camping, walking, and snowboarding you can find her doing one of those things throughout the year. She shares her love of Colorado via her blog and podcast Square State.