Continental Divide Trail Town Guide Advice
Here is a list of the towns along the way and how I would plan my thru hike if I was to do it again. Every town that has no information means there is a supermarket, restaurant, and places to stay. I included an asterisk* for places you should send a mail drop.
Navigation tip- Guthook’s App is well worth the money. You should also download Ley’s maps on the PDF App. First, download the PDF app then go the shopping cart and type in CDT Ley. These maps will explain all of the alternates and gives you valuable information. He does not charge anything to download them, but does encourage donations for the time and effort he puts into his maps. They are a wonderful and essential for bail options during bad weather. You can also order hard copies of the maps online.
* Doc Campbell’s- USPS Priority Mail send a week early to be sure it gets there on time. You can buy some food items here and things to microwave, but it is pricy. Highly recommend their homemade ice cream! I also recommend spending a night at the campground with the hot springs for the few dollars they charge it is well worth it.
– At this point, you can choose to visit the Gila Cliff Dwellings or get back onto the trail. I walked to the dwellings and spent part of the day there exploring. You can spend two hours and see everything including the small educational building. From here, we took an alternate route which was one of my favorite adventures through a slot canyon that connected us back to the Gila River at a perfect campsite. (see Ley’s map)
* Pie Town- General Delivery to USPS
– I recommend a zero day here at Nita’s Toaster House. The town only has two restaurants and the famous Pie-oneer that only serves pie! Yum! So send yourself a few extra town snacks even though the Toaster House has plenty of food around that you could cook up. This stop was one of my favorites because both hikers and divide bikers congregate here.
– There are two routes into Pie Town (see Ley). I followed the official route which is a bit longer, but passes a general store on a paved road walk. The general store is a log building with a beautiful front porch where we relaxed for hours and you could resupply, but it would be expensive. Many of my friends took the dirt road instead of the paved highway right to Nita’s and enjoyed it.
– Maildrop- double check how they prefer mail sent to them. I sent mine USPS General Delivery with plenty of time in advance and had no problem. Others got stuck waiting a few days. You can buy a few snacks and drinks at their store, but it’s pricy. If you are lucky, you might be able to hitch a ride to the nearest gas station to resupply. It’s over a 20 minute ride through beautiful country.
-They have buffet style meals three times a day. In 2016, they had issues with hikers thinking it is an AYCE buffet which was my understanding at arrival. I worry they may not welcome hikers in the future due to multiple hikers not paying for a meal and loading their plates when other visitors were waiting for their first serving. My advice is to get a full plate not loaded to the top then go back for seconds when everyone has got their meal. I really enjoyed their meals and for the price it is well worth it.
-This being said everyone at the facility was welcoming to me and I enjoyed my two days spent here. The best place to visit is the library across from the dining hall. There is free wifi that works well in here and comfortable seating to relax. They offer tours for a small price during the day and the dinosaur museum is free and fun. Spend some time just walking the grounds and exploring.
-No maildrop needed, but this is where I picked up my ice axe, microspikes (if I was to do it again I would spend the extra money and invest in crampons), gaiters, and snow shoes. Be very careful if using Amazon to send packages. Many problems here in 2016 with Amazon. Call the post office and ask the best advice for how to address your package. They are wonderful there, but many of us got stuck waiting on lost packages. Or send your packages to the Y Motel.
I did not take the Creede Cutoff so I will not give any information on the towns of Creede or Silverthorn. I did not go into Buena Vista or Leadville so I can’t share any information on these towns. I do not think it is necessary to resupply in either of them, but Leadville would allow you to carry less food out of Lake City especially if you are planning to summit Mt. Elbert, the highest mountain in Colorado. I’m also told that the Leadville Hostel is amazing.
Pagosa Springs or South Fork
-I would choose South Fork after visiting Pagosa Springs, but it all depends on your interests. South Fork has a hiker friendly hotel which is the best hotel I stayed in along the trail, they offer free bikes to ride around town to do laundry, go shopping, and out to eat, the ice cream shop gives away a free shake or ice cream to thru hikers, and the Mexican restaurant gives away free desert to thru hikers with a meal. Pagosa Springs is full of tourists and lots of people! It was too much for me, but lots of other hikers enjoyed their experience here.
-Hostel is great, but the grocery store is very pricy. I did not send a mail drop here, but I likely would send one to the hostel if I was to thru hike this trail again. Check out Poker Alice’s Restaurant and go for the pizza and pitcher of beer deal. I took a zero here and loved it!
Monarch Pass Store or Salida
-You have options! You can send a box to the Monarch Crest Store then continue hiking or hitch into Salida. I’d recommend Salida since the next trail town does not have cheap hotel rooms, laundry, cheap meals, or a large store.
* Twin Lakes
-USPS priority maildrop. They store all of the boxes outside in a locked container that you have access to during their store hours. It involves some digging to find your box and you will meet Colorado Trail hikers here as well. The store has enough to resupply, but it is pricy and limited options depending on when you visit. I ate lunch at the hotel and it was expensive, but delicious. There dinner prices are ridiculous. They had a food truck in town, but they were not serving that day.
-Wonderful free bus transport very close to the trailhead. I spent the night in Frisco, but either town is fine to resupply in. In Brekenridge, where the bus station is has a free ski lift you can ride in the summer.
-The small grocery store will do, but it can be pretty picked over. The hostel is a beautiful, but books up quickly. If you plan to hike the Rocky Mountain National Park loop, I would suggest it as a day hike and return to the hostel for the night. The RMNP is considered part of the official trail and you need to pay to stay at the campsites there or do the 26 mile loop in one day. I did the loop starting early in the morning and made it back to town with plenty of time to enjoy a second night in town. Many people skip this loop and if you are worried about your mileage I would skip it. It is beautiful, but not even on my top ten favorite parts of the trail. I did it because I had never been to RMNP before and you are in peak shape by this point.
Encampment/ Riverside (about a mile from Encampment PO)
-Most hikers skip this town. There is not much here, but the Lazy Acres RV Park in Riverside was a nice rest spot for the night and the restaurant across the street was delicious.
-All you can eat Thai buffet for lunch!!
Atlantic City and South Pass City or hitch into Lander to resupply
– Go to Atlantic City for the stuffed burger at the Grubstake! Best meal of the trail! You can then walk back out of town to connect to the offical CDT or follow a dirt road into South Pass City. I choose to pick up a mail drop at South Pass City and tour the old mining community for half a day. It was worth it. Other hikers choose to skip over Atlantic City which is off trail, walk past South Pass City, then hitch into Lander to resupply, shower, and do laundry before entering the Wind River Range.
-Begin deciding your campsites for Yellowstone National Park. I waited until Dubois to do this and had to change plans due to the sites already being booked.
– I choose to skip over Pinedale and spent 6 full days in the Wind River Range! Many hikers loved Pinedale, but I wanted to experience a long wilderness section and the weather was beautiful. Yes my pack was heavy the first few days, but I wouldn’t have changed a thing.
Dubois or Brooks Lake Lodge (free package hold as of 2016) or Togwotee Mountain Lodge ($10 fee)
– You can choose to send packages to various lodges instead of going into Dubois. I loved Dubois and even though it took a little while to get a hitch in and out I would visit this town again just to go to the Cowboy Grill! It is illegal to hitch in the city limitDubois. You can walk out of the town limits about a mile and throw out your thumb, or just pay attention that you aren’t sticking out your thumbs to a cop.
-Last chance to get your permit for Yellowstone National Park. I did get asked for my permit by a ranger which is sent in an email then saved to your phone.
Old Faithful Village
– You can resupply here and I did, but it was expensive. I sent a box here, but it was not addressed correctly and ended up on the other side of the park. Hit up the AYCE buffet for breakfast then hike out of the park that afternoon to avoid sending too much money here.
At this point, you enter Idaho and have two options. You can hike the Henry Lake Route or Mack’s Inn Cutoff. I choose the cutoff which meant I did not have to buy much food at Old Faithful Village.
Mack’s Inn/ Sawtelle Resort
– I sent a package to the post office in Mack’s Inn since I needed new shoes. You can resupply at Sawtelle Resort fairly cheaply. The resort offers showers and laundry to hikers at a good price as well without an overnight stay. We were able to relax on their back porch while doing laundry and resupplying. Check out the Chinese Restaurant across the street it is delicious!
-USPS general delivery to the PO or the one hotel in town. The hotel was for sale last year so confirm they are accepting packages and offering rides. The owner of the hotel will pick you up and drop you off from the Interstate so you do not have to hitch hike. Lovely owners! You could resupply at the gas station, but it is so expensive with few options for dinners.
-USPS general delivery to the PO or the hotel in town. The hotel books up quickly especially during hunting season starting in September. They only have 4 rooms, but you can also camp across the street at an RV park for a fee. The store has few options, but possible to resupply.
Sula Country Store or Darby to resupply
-I choose the country store to avoid a bigger town. You can rent cabins at the country store and simply relax on the porch swing for hours. Many hikers loved their time spent in Darby it just includes a much longer hitch and you pass the country store anyway.
If you are not planning to do the Anaconda Cutoff, you will not walk thru town of Anaconda. So investigate the town Butte or Elliston. Everyone I know took the Anaconda Cutoff besides one SOBO I met. I heard Butte is a lovely town and the section is beautiful, but it will take many more days and if you in a rush you will need to do the cutoff.
-Figure out your reservations for campsites in Glacier National Park!
– Send your package USPS over a week in advance and make sure they receive your $25 check before your box. The ranch offers a nice place to relax a bit before getting back on the trail. It is very expensive to spend the night there and not worth it in my opinion.
Many Glacier- It closes down in mid-September