Continental Divide Trail Length: How Long Does It Take to Hike the Continental Divide Trail?

Colorado fourteen thousand foot peaks, with wildflowers
© Images by Dr. Alan Lipkin/Shutterstock.com

Written by Oak Simmons

Updated: September 9, 2023

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The Continental Divide Trail (CDT) is one of the eleven United States National Scenic Trails. These incredible paths were created for recreation and conservation purposes. The CDT is also one of the three Triple Crown of Hiking trails. The Triple Crown of Hiking award is given by the American Long Distance Hiking Association to hikers who successfully hike all three Triple Crown trails. The Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail are the other two. Hiking even one of these trails, never mind all three, is a huge undertaking and accomplishment. The CDT is the longest of the Triple Crown trails; about 600 miles longer than the Pacific Crest Trail. How long does it take to hike the CDT? This article explores this famous trail, including how long it takes to hike and the new record for fastest completion time.

How Long Does It Take to Hike the Continental Divide Trail?

The Continental Divide Trail is a long and challenging trail through the stunning Rocky Mountains of the United States. Completing the trail usually takes several months, and the time can vary greatly depending on several factors. Let’s explore how long the Continental Divide Trail is, how long it takes to complete on average, and the fastest successful hike.

How Long Is the Continental Divide Trail?

Wooden Hiking Trail Sign on Continental Divide Trail

The Continental Divide Trail was officially established in 1978.

©Eric Poulin/Shutterstock.com

The Continental Divide Trail, officially the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, is 3,028 miles (4,873 kilometers) long. It runs along the continental divide between the northern and southern borders of the United States. Its official endpoints are in southern New Mexico, on the border of Mexico, and in northern Montana, on the border of Canada. In addition to New Mexico and Montana, the trail also runs through Colorado, Wyoming, and Idaho.

How Long Does It Take to Hike the Continental Divide Trail on Average?

How long it takes to hike the Continental Divide Trail is different for every person and every attempt. The three main factors that affect how long it takes to hike are weather, the hiker’s physical capabilities, and the desired pace. Due to these variations, how long it takes to hike the CDT can vary greatly. However, it is possible to calculate the length of time it takes to hike at an average pace. According to the United States Forest Service, at a pace of 20 miles per day, it takes about five and a half months to complete the Continental Divide Trail.

Fastest Successful Hikes of the Continental Divide Trail

According to Fastest Known Time, the fastest successful hike of the Continental Divide Trail was completed on August 29, 2023, by Brendan Hickman. His hike took a total of 76 days, 10 hours, and 52 minutes. That’s an average of around 40 miles per day! Brendan’s hike was self-supported, meaning he did not have another person assisting him. This is in contrast to supported hiking, where long-distance hikers attempting to break speed records have other people helping. Supporters help with tasks such as cooking or restocking supplies. Brendan completed his hike alone and mailed or ordered his own supplies for restocking along his journey.

Continental Divide Trail Route

Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada. It borders Glacier National Park in Montana in the United States.

One of the two official northern endpoints of the CDT is at Waterton Lake in Glacier National Park.

©Steve Allen/Shutterstock.com

Let’s explore options for hiking the Continental Divide Trail, including whether to hike northbound or southbound, the best time to hike, and how to stay informed about trail conditions.

Hiking the CDT: Northbound or Southbound?

There are two possible directions to hike the CDT: northbound and southbound. The southern endpoint is the Crazy Cook Monument in southern New Mexico, outside the small town of Hachita. Two northern endpoints exist. One is in Glacier National Park at Waterton Lake, the other is at the Chief Mountain border crossing station.

Ultimately, which direction to hike the CDT is a matter of preference, and the answer is different for everyone. However, the one clear advantage of hiking northbound is that the southernmost parts of the trail have less elevation gain than more northern parts. This allows the hiker to warm up and gradually adapt to the physical challenges of the trail.

When to Hike the CDT

The two biggest factors affecting when to begin hiking the CDT are which direction you are traveling and the weather. Avoiding heavy snow is important for safely and successfully completing the hike. Most northbound hikers begin in April, while most southbound hikers begin in June or July.

Staying Informed About Closures and Restrictions

Regardless of how or when one chooses to hike the CDT, the Continental Divide Trail Coalition is an excellent resource for planning a hike. Their closures and notices page lets potential hikers know when a portion of the trail is closed or when other restrictions are in effect such as fire bans. As of September 2023, a 7.5-mile-long section of the trail in Glacier National Park is closed due to bear activity, and hikers must take an alternate route.


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About the Author

Oak Simmons is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering North American wildlife and geography. They graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 2018 with a Bachelor of Science in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. A resident of Washington state, Oak enjoys tracking mammals and watching birds.

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