In this post I am going to break down how I go about planning a thru hiking route. This includes: my goals, resources, resupplying, mapping, and travel plans. Below you find out how I went about planning my thru hike of the Colorado Trail. I think when you sit down to plan any kind of trip or adventure, it should begin with identifying what your goals are.
Let’s start with what my overall hiking goals are for 2018. I set out this year to hike what is known as the “mini triple”, this includes hiking the Colorado Trail, the John Muir Trail, and the Long Trail. This particular blog post will focus on the first of those hikes, The Colorado Trail (CT).
Colorado Trail Goals:
When I first sat down to think about this particular hike a few things stood out. The biggest being the fact that I had already hiked over 300 miles of this trail already. Last year I hiked the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), and the CDT and CT overlap for roughly 314 miles. My thoughts turned to how I could make my hike of the CT a bit more interesting and different since I had done most of the miles already. A lot of this hike would cover same tread I had just hiked last year.
I decided early on that I wanted to take my time on my hikes this year. I didn’t want to just blaze through landscapes and miss out on some of the awesome sights along the way. So I’m making it a goal to see all the noteworthy sights that coincide with this trail. These include features that are on and off trail, such as: waterfalls, monuments, towns, hot springs, and 14,000 foot peaks.
Speaking of 14ers, I thought I’d challenge myself along this hike. If you don’t already know, Colorado is known for its 54 or so 14,000 foot peaks. As a side goal I’d love to summit them all someday. It just happens that along the route of the CT there happen to be more than a dozen 14ers that are possible to do as side trips. One of my CT goals is to summit 13 14ers along my thru hike.
Will a clear set of goals drawn out, I could then begin to plan my route. But I would need some oh so helpful recsources in order to do this.
Using my experience from previous hikes and trip planning, I had a good idea of what resources I needed to gather in order to properly plan this hike. Below is what those resources are and how each contributed to helping me draw up my plan:
Guthook Guides App:
I used the Guthook CDT app a lot when planning, and when on the trail last season. It is an enormously helpful tool when planning your hike. It’s also very helpful when on trail, as it will work in airplane mode. But I do not recommend using the app as your sole source of navigation, have paper maps and a compass as well. What I find this app to be super helpful with is getting accurate milages. This app will tell you where towns are accessible from, and when using the ‘new route’ feature, you are able to drop pins on the route and it will calculate the mileage between them. This is mega helpful for finding out the mileages between resupplies!
The other helpful feature of this app is the crowd-sourced information about the trail that it gathers. Users of the app are allowed to make comments on waypoint markers. This is super helpful for water sources. Water source markers are on the route, and hikers can leave a comment about the status of that water source. Be sure to pay attention to the date of the comment. For example, water could have been flowing nice back in early summer 2016, but might not be in the fall of 2018.
CT Data Book:
This resource is put out by the Colorado Mountain Club, and The Colorado Trail Foundation. It’s a pocket guide with mileage markers for each segment of the trail. It is meant to be carried with you as you hike, and is a resource that goes hand in hand with your maps. This data book helped me confirm my mileages, and also made me aware of some cool side trips to see along the way. It is super helpful in letting you know what each trail town has to offer, in terms of resupply, postal services, and lodging. Just another awesome tool to have when looking at your options on and off trail.
Colorado Trail Facebook Groups:
A fabulous use of social media in my opinion. These groups are great for getting some up to date intel on the trail, as well as a way for hikers to connect and support each other. From my experience these groups are full of friendly, like minded individuals all looking to help each other out. I used one of these groups to post a question about what points of interest I should be sure to check out along the way. The groups are made up of section hikers, past thru hikers, and future hikers, so tons of great knowledge!
This I find, is one of most peoples biggest concerns. In fact, it was one of my biggest worries when I started off on my first thru hike. Turns out though, that it really is fairly simple and easy these days to resupply along your thru hike.
I basically break down my resupply by towns. Looking at the route, I can see and select trail towns that are along the way. I try to find ones that are no more than 150 or so miles apart. This is because I don’t really wish to carry the weight of more than 7 or so days worth of food. Another factor to consider is how many miles you expect to hike in a full day. For me its roughly 25 miles per day, therefore if the next town is 100 miles down the trail, I will need 4 days worth of food before I am able to resupply.
(Note: I always carry an extra days worth of food for emergency reasons)
By mapping out the mileage between towns using the Guthook app or the CT data book, you can calculate and plan where each town stop will be. As well as how many miles in between each town, and therefore know how much food you will need to carry during each stretch. Luckily all the towns along the CT have ample options for a full resupply, if you wanted you wouldn’t need to have to mail yourself food.
Resupplying water is a different story, you would not want to carry 4 days worth of water trust me! Water is heavy! Therefore you need to find water along the way. Again this is where the Guthook app can come in handy, it has water points listed along the trail. By looking at the comments and using the tools in the app, you can calculate the mileage between water sources as well. Your paper maps will also have water sources shown on them. Be careful though, some creeks on maps are only seasonal, and may not be flowing at the time of year you hike through.
For a lot of well know trails out there you can go online and find a map set for download or purchase. There is also the option to map your own route, and that is what I have done for my version of the Colorado Trail. By using the CT Data Book and the Guthook app I was able to put my route together on a piece of free online software called, Caltopo.
This program allows you to draw your own, on trail and off trail routes on top of topographic maps. A lot of the trails are marked on these maps which makes it super easy. From start to finish I was able to lay down my route on the topo software including, my side trips, and my routes up all the 14ers I plan to hike along the way. Caltopo even will calculate mileage and elevation gain based on the route you drew. I can’t state enough how awesome this resource is!
As of writing this I have yet to print off these maps yet. However, using Caltopo you can save PDF files of the route and print them at home. I intend to save the files to a thumb drive, bring it to a Kinkos, and have them print my maps on 11×17 waterproof paper.
Finally there are travel plans to be made since this is a thru hike. The definition implies that I will finish in a different location than where I started from. The CT starts at Waterton Canyon near Denver, CO and ends at a trail head outside of Durango, CO. Google says these two cites by road are about 337 miles, or a 6 hour drive apart.
Luckily for me I don’t live too far from the Waterton Canyon Terminus. My roommate has agreed to drop me off there when I start my hike. As for what I’ll do when I reach Durango? As of writing this I don’t have definite arrangements. I have talked to a few friends who may be willing to meet me, hangout, do some hiking, and drive me back to the Denver area. However I do know about a ride sharing program and a bus that I could also take back. Another great use of the facebook group could be used to coordinate possible rides!
One item I haven’t had time to talk about it is how I chose the dates of the hike. I plan to hike the trail from June 21st till about July 18th or so. There were several factors I considered that lead me to these dates. I hope to add that information to this post shortly.
Want to learn more about Thru Hiking? Check out my Thru Hiking Common Questions post.
I’d love to hear your questions! Please comment below or email me. If you think this information would be helpful to someone you know please feel free to share it via facebook, etc.