• Photo of park visitors enjoying sunset from the Alpine Ridge Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park.

    Rocky Mountain

    National Park Colorado

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Continental Divide National Scenic Trail

On November 10,1978, the President signed the "National Parks and Recreation Act" amending the "National Trails Act of 1968." The amended legislation addressed the proposed Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (CDNST). Congress directed the Forest Service to prepare and submit a comprehensive plan for the management and use of the scenic trail. This plan was completed in cooperation with other federal agencies, the public and interested private landowners in November 1985. The plan was adopted after public comment.

The entire Continental Divide National Scenic Trail corridor is approximately 3,100 miles (4,988 kilometers) long, extending from the Canadian border in Montana to the border of Mexico in New Mexico. About 1,900 miles (3,211 km) of the corridor contains existing trails or primitive routes. Considerable trip planning will be necessary to determine your specific route. The corridor varies from 4,000 feet (1,219 m) to over 13,000 feet (3,962m) elevation above sea level. Existing and proposed trails along the route traverse a variety of privately and publicly owned lands. The variety of situations encountered in the 3,100-mile corridor necessitate different land use and travel regulations and conditions.

The CDNST Through Rocky Mountain National Park

In 1997 the route through Rocky Mountain National Park was adjusted and now consists of approximately 30 miles of spectacular scenery. In the park, the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail route does not entirely travel the actual Divide, however the most breathtaking section is above treeline, consisting of high peaks and fragile alpine tundra. Travel is through the montane and sub-alpine life systems at elevations of 8,000 (2,438 m) to 11,500 feet (3,505 m).

In north to south direction, the route enters the park from the Never Summer Wilderness on the USFS Bowen Pass Spur Trail (#119.1). The route then follows the CDNST Bowen Gulch Connector Trail to its junction with the Onahu Creek Trail. At this point the route heads south (right) down the Onahu Creek Trail to the Onahu Creek Trailhead, and then the route continues south along another segment of the CDNST Bowen Gulch Connector Trail to the Green Mountain Trailhead. At this point the route follows the Green Mountain Trail east to the Tonahutu Creek Trail where it heads north and east to the junction of the North Inlet Trail. Here the route touches the actual continental divide at an elevation of 12,324. The North Inlet Trail is followed south and west to the North Inlet Trailhead and the Town of Grand Lake. Once the hiker(s) travel through Grand Lake, the CDNST heads south from the East Shore Trailhead along the East Shore Trail and exits the park at the south boundary, continuing southward on the USFS Knight Ridge Trail (# 102). The route is entirely along existing, well-maintained trails.

For a map of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, click here.

Things to Think About

Should you decide to travel the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail through the park for a few hours or several days, here are a few considerations: The air is thin at these high altitudes between 10,500 feet (3,200 km) and 13,000 feet (3,962 km). Travel is slow and strenuous. Lightning danger accompanies early afternoon thunderstorms. Travel above treeline should be accomplished early in the day. Winter lasts about nine months on the Divide, from September through May. Arctic conditions prevail making travel extremely hazardous, if not impossible, during this season. Always practice Leave No Trace hiking and camping skills.

Camping Permits

A backcountry permit is required in Rocky Mountain National Park for any overnight trips. The permits can be obtained by writing to Rocky Mountain National Park, Backcountry Office, Estes Park, Colorado 80517-8397 or call 970-586-1242.

Water and Fire

Water sources are from lakes and streams and should be treated or boiled before drinking. Self-contained stoves are required at most backcountry campsites. Wood fires are allowed only at a few specific designated campsites. Where permitted, all campfires must be in metal grates provided.

Pets

Pets are prohibited on all trails and in backcountry areas of Rocky Mountain National Park. If you bring a pet on the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, an alternate route to bypass the park (north to south) is to travel along County Road 491 and U.S. Highway 34 past Grand Lake to the Arapaho Bay Road rejoining the actual route south of the park. Pets are allowed along park roads and must be on a leash and under physical control at all times.

Fishing and Hunting

Fishing in Rocky Mountain National Park requires a license from the State of Colorado. Specific park regulations list open and closed waters. Fish populations in high elevation lakes and streams are spotty. The park does not stock, except to reintroduce native species. Hunting is prohibited in Rocky Mountain National Park. Firearms or any projectile weapons are prohibited in the park.

Did You Know?

male Western Tanager with red head and yellow body

The male Western Tanager, with red head and yellow body, stands out brightly in the dark conifer forest.