THE CONTINENTAL DIVIDE – COLORADO OVERLANDER EDITION
The Continental Divide is an invisible line of staggering importance. Running through the center of the Rocky Mountains, from Canada to Mexico, the Continental Divide separates the watersheds of the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. In Colorado, most of that dividing happens well above treeline with some of the most expansive views in the state. Colorado Overlander vehicles allow you to follow the rough Forest Service roads that wind up towards these beautiful ridgelines, camp by a mountain stream that was snow only the day before, and hike or explore your way along the Continental Divide Trail.
The actual Continental Divide Trail, which traces the crest of our continent, is 3,100 miles long and frequently tops out above 13,000 ft in elevation. While thru-hiking any part of this trail can require months of planning and is often subjected to dangerous weather conditions like afternoon lightning storms above treeline, there are many ways to enjoy sections of the trails by accessing it from various points. Rent your choice of Toyota Tundra, Tacoma or 4runner from Colorado Overlander, then make a plan to camp low, and hike high for the day.
Many of the campgrounds in this section of the high country in Colorado and Wyoming tend to be quite primitive, so having the built-in comfort and preparedness of a Colorado Overlander vehicle is a good thing.
HELPFUL INFORMATION & RESOURCES
The Continental Divide Hiking Coalition has great resources for trip planning, and we at Colorado Overlander are also available to help answer questions and plan your trip.
Below are six of the best ‘gateway communities’ to access portions of the trail.
In the northern section of Colorado, Steamboat Springs still holds tightly to its old west style and history. Getting to the Continental Divide from Steamboat can mean driving up Rabbit Ears Pass on Highway 40. In the surrounding Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests, you will find hundreds of primitive campsites available, as well as Dumont Lake Campground which is the perfect basecamp for hiking the section of the trail back up to Rabbit Ears Pass. The Divide Trail can also be accessed by rugged Buffalo Pass, requiring the 4×4 and high clearance, all of which come standard in a Colorado Overlander vehicle. While you are staying in the area around Steamboat Springs, be sure to check out Strawberry Park Hot Springs for a beautiful soak in a natural hot spring.
The small town of Grand Lake is a gateway to many things. Located near the southern entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, it is also the headwaters of the Colorado River and gains its name from the adjacent largest natural body of water in the state. To get to the Continental Divide from Grand Lake, you can simply park your Colorado Overlander Vehicle downtown because part of the Divide actually runs right through the town. You can also head north into the Park itself. There is a popular 28-mile loop in Rocky Mountain National Park for those interested in a backpacking excursion during their overlanding trip from North Inlet Trailhead and Tonahutu Trail. A three mile section can also be hiked from the North Inlet Trailhead.
LEADVILLE & TWIN LAKES
As the highest incorporated township in America at 10,151 feet, Leadville offers expansive views of Colorado’s highest peaks. Hiking Mt Elbert (14,433 ft), or the more challenging Mt. Massive (14,429 ft) allows overlanders a way to meet the Continental Divide for a day, while checking off one of Colorado’s most sought-after 14ers. Camping near the tiny town of Twin Lakes just outside of Leadville is a great way to start the trail up Mt. Elbert. Or you could drive your overlanding vehicle to the northern side of the mountain to start from Half-Moon Campground. Check for reservations as early as possible, as these access points have become extremely popular over the past few years.
If you want to add some whitewater adventure to your Continental Divide Overlanding trip, then the town of Salida, on the Arkansas River is the perfect stop. Whitewater is the lifeblood of the town in the summer, although Monarch Pass and the Continental Divide are just a short drive away. Downtown is lively during these warm months with live music and a vibrant art community. Visit in the fall for spectacular Fall colors over the pass.
Known for its world-class hot springs and proximity to the San Juan River, Pagosa Springs is an unlikely gateway community for the Continental Divide. Despite only being at 7,126 feet in elevation itself, Pagosa Springs is just a short drive from Wolf Creek Pass where visitors can take a hike into the San Juan Mountains up to Rock Lake as a perfect 4-mile day hike along the Divide. For a more rugged access point, drive out of town to Williams Creek road, and take a Forest Service road for over twenty miles, soaking in the volcanic peaks and jagged edged wilderness visible in all directions.
Just across the Colorado border with New Mexico, the tiny town of Chama offers something new. The Cumbres and Toltect Scenic Railroad provides a ride with a steam locomotive for visitors who made be tired of driving. Take your hands off the wheel and enjoy views of Wolf Creek and the Chama Valley on the way up to the top of Chama Pass at just over 10,000 ft. Thru hikers beginning a section of the Continental Divide trail will often buy a one-way pass on this railroad to start their journey.