Hi! I hope your week is going so well so far. My schedule is finally getting back to normal, and I feel like I’m starting to get my head above water. Plus, it appears as though cool fall temperatures are heading our way in the next few days, and you know that always makes me happy!
A few months ago, I started a series discussing the pros and cons of thru-hiking each of the long distance trails in America. Honestly, if I had my way, I would do all three of them! However, if you’re like me and thru-hiking a long distance trail probably won’t happen until retirement, you may find yourself having to pick between the Pacific Crest Trail, the Appalachian Trail, or the Continental Divide Trail.
I’ve already given you my reasons for and against both the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, and I’ve saved the very best for last. It’s no secret that my heart lies in the Rocky Mountains so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Continental Divide Trail is the one I dream about. This particular trail runs from the Mexican border up through the Rocky Mountains all the way to the Canadian border for a total of 3,100 miles, and crosses some of the most rugged terrain this country has to offer. While the CDT has my heart, it’s not without some drawbacks to consider before making your choice.
1. Intense, awe-inspiring beauty
Perhaps I’m a little biased, but I can’t imagine anything more beautiful. To be fair I’ve never been to the Alps or even seen the mountains of the West Coast, but I would bet that these views at the very least give those places some serious competition.
I realize that this would not be a pro for everybody, but isolation from the problems of the world (and, yes, people in general!) remains one of the reasons why I love getting into the backcountry so much. There is an abundance of this on the CDT. Because of the extreme terrain and underdeveloped trail, significantly fewer people attempt the CDT every year than the other two long distance trails. I can only imagine that this would create a “last person on earth” kind of feeling which I think would be kind of cool.
3. Physically Challenging
This is not a trail for the faint of heart. While embarking on any long-distance thru-hike is daunting, the CDT presents a whole host of challenges to overcome. Between extreme weather, rugged terrain, high altitude, and the higher number of miles, it’s no wonder that so few people finish this trail each season.
The CDT will provide water challenges for the first several hundred miles of your trip. Like the Pacific Crest, the CDT passes through desert and very dry conditions which means you’ll have to carry quite a bit more weight so that you can pack in the water that you’ll need. More weight=no bueno. At certain points, you’ll be able to cache (set out ahead of time) water, but, at the very least, logistics will become a bit of a headache.
2. Unmarked Trail
According to the Continental Divide Trail Coalition, only 76% of the trail is permanently fixed as of this point. This will required more planning as you prep for your trip, and not a small amount of bushwhacking once you’re out. You will definitely have to know your way around a map, and it wouldn’t hurt to be familiar with a compass either. If you’d rather just jump on a trail and start walking, the AT would probably be a much better option.
3. Extreme Isolation
Yep, this is one is both a pro and a con. For me, isolation is a great thing for all the reasons I listed above, but it’s not without its challenges. The CDT is very, very remote. It passes through or close to very few hamlets, and, of the ones it does, they tend to be what you might call a “one horse town”. Resupply will be an interesting logistical problem to overcome. Also, remember how I thought it would be a pro to run into very few people? Well, really consider that. If you’re a people person, you might prefer more camaraderie!
Despite a few cons, there’s no question for me which one I’d like to attempt. The CDT is not without its problems, but the physical and mental challenges will lead to so many benefits at the end. I, for one, think it’s more than a fair trade-off!