Where's the Trail?
Trail sign, with official CDT symbol
The Continental Divide -- also known as the Backbone of the Continent -- separates the rivers and streams that flow eastward into the Atlantic Ocean from those that flow westward to the Pacific Ocean.
The portion of the Continental Divide in the United States is about 3000 miles long -- from Glacier National Park in Montana, south through the Rocky Mountains, to the Mexican boundary in southwest New Mexico.
The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail follows the course of the Divide, but may deviate as much as 50 miles east or west in order to take in scenic or historic points of special interest, to avoid private land, or otherwise to offer a more enjoyable hiking experience.
When the Trail was established in 1978, many sections were already in place in national forests and national parks along the way. Following the completion of an overall CDNST management plan in 1985, the public agencies began to build new hiking trails. Some of the new trails open up lands that previously could only be traveled with bushwhacking and cross-country travel. In other cases, these trails provide nonmotorized footpaths that replace routes along roads and highways.
Formal site selection began in the late 1980's. Although this process has largely been completed, some sections require further review, to consider either an initial location or a possible realignment. CDTS will continue its long-standing practice of reviewing and commenting on route selection proposals as they come along.
The "Continental Divide Trail" actually refers to two different experiences and routes:
- The Designated Route. This is the CDT official route that has been selected by the Forest Service, the Park Service, and the Bureau of Land Management. As a general rule, it follows the geographic Continental Divide as closely as feasible. The Designated Route is a national scenic trail and is to be managed under the special provisions of the National Trails System Act.
- The CDTS Route. This is the location that is described in the Guide to the Continental Divide Trail series of guidebooks published by the Society. While most of the route north of New Mexico follows the designated route, the CDTS route often goes its own way in order to:
- Take a route with greater scenic, wildlife, or historic interest.
- Avoid roads, especially high-standard ones.
- Provide better access to water.
- Eliminate sections that are unnecessarily circuitous.
- Use reasonable grades and avoid pointless ups-and-downs.
As new improved trail is constructed on the designated route, some of these portions may be selected for the CDTS route as well.
A Forest Service one-page map of the designated trail (2007) is available here.
Use the links below for description of the Trail in individual States.
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