The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (CDNST) is a 3,100-mile pathway established by Congress in 1978, that runs all the way along the spine of the United States from Mexico to Canada. The trail sweeps across the country, beginning from the rugged desert landscapes of New Mexico and ending at the alpine snow-capped peaks of the northern Rockies.
In New Mexico, the trail winds its way through sandy deserts, canyons, desert grasslands, and red rock cliffs. In Colorado, steep hills and peaks greet hikers, and as you get to Wyoming, the trail descends along grassy rolling hills. The trail then flattens out near Yellowstone, Idaho, and Montana; only to start rising up again towards Glacier National Park, which overlooks the Canadian border.
This majestic and extensive trail system offers more than just diverse topography. It also has significant cultural and historic value. A hike along this trail means having one foot on what was once the seabed of the Atlantic Ocean and the other leg on the seabed of the Pacific.
There are a total of eleven United States National Scenic Trails, yet the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail is reputed to be the longest, most isolated, and the most challenging trail of them all. Hence, its nickname the “King of Trails.” In New Mexico, the trail crosses BLM lands that offer the public the chance to enjoy the beginnings of this long and breathtaking journey.
Some daring hikers attempt to hike the trail in one session, a truly challenging and arduous feat. Others like to finish the trail in breaks allowing them to treasure every moment and every location.
Planning your trip to Continental Divide National Scenic Trail takes more time than planning for a casual weekend trip. Your route to the Trail depends entirely on the state you are approaching from. When in doubt, do not hesitate to call the nearest pertinent office to help figure out the best route.
When starting out from New Mexico, a four-wheel-drive or high-clearance vehicle will be your best companion. The roads are mostly narrow and can be a mixture of paved, dirt and gravel. Steep inclines and declines in elevations, as well as the ruggedness and remoteness of some of the regions, will have you heavily relying on your ride to reach the more developed trailheads.
The map of the National Trail is divided into sections based on each of the five states it crosses. Print out all of these maps if you are planning to do the long-distance end-to-end hike of the trail.
One of the best campgrounds to enjoy a luxurious and highly entertaining camping holiday is at the Silver City KOA campground located not far from the Gila National Forest and the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. This KOA campground offers the most modern amenities and facilities and can accommodate RVs and trailers of up to 90 ft.
Electric hook-ups, Wi-Fi, and even a dog park can be found in this cozy and comfortable campground in Silver City, New Mexico.
Cherry Creek Campground, situated in the Gila National Forest, is one of the nearest campgrounds to the start of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail found in New Mexico. The campground is open to tent and trailer camping and hosts a total of twelve well-developed campsites. The campground offers picnic tables, vault toilets, fire grills, and drinking water. The maximum RV length at this public campground is 17 ft, and the maximum stay limit is 14 days at a stretch.
Continental Divide National Scenic Trail is every nature hiking enthusiast’s dream challenge. It allows the best chance to experience adventure and the wonders of nature all on a single trail.
The entire trail transverses BLM managed lands in five states and takes long-distance hikers several months to complete. Hikers can decide to hitch-hike some of the way on paved roads in the more developed regions of the trail system.
The trail passes wilderness regions in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico, allowing hikers to take in the diverse landscape and ecosystems of each state. This mammoth trail system passes through National Forests, Wilderness Areas, National Parks, a National Monument, and several Bureau of Land Management Resource Areas along the way.
The highest peak along the trail is found at Colorado’s section of the trail. Grays Peak is 14,270 feet high, and the ninth highest peak of Colorado. The trail to the summit is actually very well-developed and well-defined. The trail is approximately nine miles long and takes between five to seven hours to complete.
Mountain goats can be spotted all around this region. At the top of the peak is a glacier-carved cirque with Grays Peak on top of it. The climb is described as strenuous and pets are welcome to join you in the ascent. However, wilderness areas along the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail do not permit pets of any kind.
While hunting is prohibited anywhere on the trail system, fishing is allowed. A popular activity among backpackers and outdoor recreationists, fishing is a great way to spend some peaceful and alone time amid nature’s bounty. Every now and then, you can also enjoy seafood as one of your outdoor meals. There are numerous creeks, rivers, and springs along the way where anglers can test their skills at catching bass, walleye, pike and plenty of other freshwater species.
The trail runs deep into the wilderness regions of five different states, allowing hikers to come across plenty of wildlife. In Montana and Idaho, grizzly bear, gray wolf, and mountain goats are abundant. In New Mexico, you are most likely to come across pronghorn antelope, javelina, and Gila monsters. In Colorado, elk, mule deer, moose, white-tailed deer, bighorn sheep, coyote, Canada Lynx, pronghorn, and mountain goat are in great numbers, among other wildlife.
The Continental Divide Scenic National Trail runs past mountains, valleys, rivers, and forests, with all kinds of ecosystems and topography. This means a large number of bird species can be spotted along the trail.
Montana and Idaho are home to bald eagle and osprey, whereas New Mexico is home to turkey vultures and road runners. Birdwatchers braving this challenging trail are likely to spot hundreds of different bird species by the journey's end.
Horseback riding is just as common on the National Trails as hiking. As a matter of fact, about 34% of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail is reserved for hiking and horseback riding.
Riding on horseback does not damage or disturb the surrounding landscape unlike the use of OHVs and ATVs. In fact, riding on horseback helps preserve the natural, historic, and cultural resources along the Trail’s corridor and is one of the best ways to enjoy this beautiful trail system.