Continental Divide National Scenic Trail

The Continental Divide Trail

From the deserts of New Mexico to the alpine peaks of the northern Rockies, the Continental Divide Trail winds its way through the stunning and diverse landscapes of the central United States, a ribbon that ties together many of the defining moments and movements in our nation’s history.

The trail stretches across the United States some 3,100 miles between the borders of Mexico and Canada, twisting and turning to follow the spine of the continent. The dry, sandy deserts of New Mexico slowly rise into the breathless peaks of Colorado, descending into Wyoming’s grassy plains and the mystical landscape of Yellowstone. The trail then moves along the forested mountains of Idaho and Montana before ascending the tall, sharp, rocky peaks of Glacier National Park, with the Canadian border on the horizon.

The Continental Divide Trail blazes a path through some of the nation’s most treasured scenic terrain. Some people attempt to travel the entire 3,100 miles in a single season, while others enjoy the trail a few miles at a time. Some experience the trail from afar through books, pictures, and film.

A map of the Continental Divide Trail's route through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana.
 

What is the Continental Divide?

The headwaters of our nation spring from the Continental Divide. Imagine a line running the entire length of North and South America, from the icy northern reaches of Canada to the Strait of Magellan at the southernmost tip of Chile. This line runs north to south along the very highest elevations of these continents, connecting the peaks of the Rocky Mountains with the Andes in South America.

Rain or snow that falls on these peaks will flow either to the east or to the west down the slopes of these mountain ranges. This flow begins as small trickles that join up to form streams, then swell into roaring rivers that provide nourishment to the land, plants, and animals.

An image of a small waterfall flowing down a rocky cliff in the forest

Those first trickles of water that flow to the west of the Continental Divide eventually end up in the Pacific Ocean. The water flowing eastward will someday reach the Atlantic Ocean. In this way, the waters of the continent are divided.

The Continental Divide Trail follows the length of the Continental Divide within the United States. To walk along the trail is to have one foot in the watershed of the Atlantic Ocean and the other in the watershed of the Pacific.

 

A picture with the National Trails System 50 years (1968 to 2018) logo and with high elevation lake and mountains in the background.
National Scenic Trails 50th Anniversary, 2018

 

What is a National Scenic Trail?

“Each National Scenic Trail should stand out in its own right as a recreation resource of superlative quality and of physical challenge.” -Trails for America Report, 1966

Our nation’s 11 National Scenic Trails travel through the country’s most beautiful landscapes. They are long-distance trails (more than 100 miles long), that have been specially designated by Congress to provide all of us with access to the great outdoors and a window into America’s history and cultural diversity.

As a National Scenic Trail, the Continental Divide Trail helps to ensure that the scenic beauty and the cultural significance of the land it crosses will be conserved for generations to come.