A Guide to Hiking the Continental Divide

Continental Divide Hiking Guide: Guide Books and Trail Maps

Because it's still unfinished, there isn't one single route that all hikers follow; instead, each thru-hiker on the Continental Divide Trail tends to choose his or her own way. It should come as no surprise, then, that navigation is one of the most important skills required to hike the CDT. In other words, if you're planning to hike the CDT, you're definitely going to need to dust up your compass and map-reading skills, because unlike many shorter and more established trails, you won't be able rely on tree blazes to get from Mexico to Canada.

Guidebooks are a good place to start when planning your CDT hike, but they aren't the only thing you'll need. The official CDT guidebooks are the published by Westcliffe Publishers. Westcliffe's books follow the official CDT route, but because weather and unfinished trails can require some improvisation, the guides might not be useful for large portions of the hike.

The most popular unofficial set of guidebooks for the CDT are those written by Jim Wolf, director of the Continental Divide Trail Society, which are commonly known as the "the CDTS guides" or the "Wolf guides." Wolf's books are generally more detailed than Westcliffe's series of official guidebooks, and many hikers have reported them to be more accurate. However, because trail conditions are constantly changing, the best way to know what to expect is to subscribe to newsletters and other Web forums that are updated more frequently than printed guidebooks [source: Continental Divide Trail Society].

In addition to offering Wolf's guidebooks, the Continental Divide Trail Society also sells a complete set of waterproof National Geographic topographic maps for several portions of the CDT. Many hikers also recommend stocking up on regional maps produced by the U.S. Geological Survey and the Bureau of Land Management. And it's also a good idea to bring along roadmaps for the areas where you expect to leave the trail.

Like any tool, a map is only as good as the person using it, so you should make sure you know how to properly read both a trail map and a topographic map before heading out on the trail. And whether you're planning a weekend hike or a six-month thru-hike, it's always a good idea to trace your route and plan your rest and resupply points in advance.