Backpacking Colorado | Hiking the Colorado Trail | Segments 1-4

Indian Creek Trailhead

The Colorado Trail is unlike anything we had ever done before. The trail is nearly 500 miles long and goes from the outskirts of Denver to Durango. We’ve spent a lot of time in Colorado, but spending 40 days out in the backcountry and hitchhiking into the small Colorado mountain towns along the way is, in our opinion, by far the best way to experience the state.

Colorado Trail

The trail is split into 28 segments, each of which are completely different. Just like any other long distance hike the beauty is that it brings all kinds of people of all different backgrounds for all kinds of reasons.

We started the Colorado Trail on June 26th, 2022 going south and finished on August 4th. It was an experience we will never forget and one we want to share with you.

These were our experiences of the first three segments of the Colorado Trail.

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Segment 1

Most hikers begin their hike from Denver headed SOBO (southbound). We later found out that the reason for this is because starting from the North end allows you to start earlier in the season (End of June). If you start too early in the season going NOBO (northbound), there’s a good chance you will run into snow in the San Juan mountain range.

Indian Creek Trailhead
Indian Creek Trailhead Starting Point

For most hikers, you will begin at the Waterton Canyon Trailhead just outside of Denver. If you are accompanied by your dog like us you will need to start from Indian Creek Trailhead as there are restrictions for dogs. The Waterton Canyon section is the only section of the trail that you cannot take your dog.

Right out of the gate we felt great and it was awesome to be out on the trail with nothing to worry about for the next month besides hiking. Nemo, our dog, was super excited to put her pack on and we couldn’t believe that the day had finally come to start the hike!

The first three miles went great and then something unexpected happened. We had done a marathon in Estes Park the week prior and I had tweaked my knee. After a few days of rest following the marathon I thought it had healed and didn’t think there was anything to worry about. Mile four came and with a steep downhill descent my knee became super agitated.

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It was hurting me so badly that I thought I might have to call it quits. After a lot of crying and thinking out the best solution we decided that Grace was going to continue the trail by herself and I was going to find a way back to our bus and be her support vehicle. I hadn’t committed to hanging up the boots just yet but I also didn’t have much hope in my pain going away.

We ended up making our connection point with the Colorado Trail and had decided to continue hiking down the trail until we found a place to camp. I was putting all of my weight on my hiking poles and without them I would have probably been crawling down the trail.

After making it to Bear Creek (Mile 8.7) we decided to find a place to set up the tent. The creek was the first spot we found to fill up our waters and there was only one other tent in the area.

Camping on the Colorado Trail
Our little camping community

We set up our tent and started making some food. Our spirits weren’t high but they also weren’t lost. We cried, prayed, and then waited for an answer.

Minutes later our prayers were answered. From inside of the tent next to us came a giant brown lab named Fecteau and his owner Hugs. I told him about the problems I was having and he handed me some KT tape and helped me put it on my knee. I had seen KT tape before but I had never used it. Boy did it make a difference!

Hugs also gave me some Dual Action Advil which he swore by and said to give it a few minutes before it kicked in. I shit you not, 15 minutes later I was walking down to the creek to fill up our waters and my leg felt amazing! I began to tear up at the thought that Grace and I might actually be able to finish this trail together after all.

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The next day we woke up, grabbed a gomacro bar, and began to hike. With the dual action advil and the KT tape my leg definitely felt better, but it was still causing me some pain. I figured if we could make it to the beginning of segment four (mile 40) we could hitch into Bailey and I could get a knee brace to help give my knee even more support.

Segment 1 Colorado Trail

The start of segment two was just 7.8 miles away and if we could make it there we would consider it a win for day two.

After making it to Bear Creek your next water source won’t be until the South Platte River (Segment 2). From Bear Creek up to the high point, the views of the surrounding mountains finally start to appear and it makes you wonder what the rest of the trail will be like. Most people will tell you that all the most incredible views start showing up later on into your hike, if you’re headed SOBO, but it’s hard to complain about views like this!

Segment 1 Colorado Trail

While we stopped right in the middle of segment one (Bear Creek), a lot of people make a 16 mile push their first day to the beginning of segment two. This will be your last water source before a long ten mile stretch of unshaded trail to the fire house.

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The way up the hill to the high point had us feeling very optimistic. We enjoyed the views and felt blessed to have another day out in the mountain. Once we hit the high point and began to make our way down the hill however, the knee began to give me problems once again. It seemed that any downhill descent was going to be our main issue.

Once again I was so thankful for the hiking poles which we originally thought were overrated and unnecessary. They saved me!

We made it down the hill before the heat of the day set in and were relieved when we saw the South Platte River and the start of segment two.

South Platte River Trailhead
South Platte River Trailhead

We ended up running into Hugs and Fecteau again and the dogs enjoyed playing in the water while we enjoyed soaking our feet in the cold water and grubbing down some dehydrated food.

The area ended up getting pretty crowded by the end of the day but we managed to find a pretty good tent spot on the river bank. After reading a sign near the pit toilet saying “no camping” we felt a bit exposed on the river bank and decided to move our tent just up the shore next to Hugs.

Segment 2

Segment two, also referred to as the burn area, will be one of you most exposed areas. A lot of fellow hikers had concerns about this stretch as there is no shade cover and the next water source isn’t for another 10 miles at the fire station.

If you begin your day early in the morning around five or six you shouldn’t have any problems with the heat and you’ll have plenty of time to get to your next water before the heat sets in. Don’t forget to use the pit toilet before you head out!

Nemo Tent

We woke up on day three to the sound of our alarm and the running river beside us. Our plan was to make it at least twelve miles to the beginning of segment three and if we felt good we would continue walking. Making it to the start of segment three would give us a twelve mile day the following day to get us a hitch into Bailey.

It became routine for us to start as early in the morning as we could. Nemo did not perform well once the sun started to beat down, so starting early in the morning gave us more time to knock out a majority of our mileage for the day.

We were one of the first people to wake up and get out on the trail which made the hiking that much more enjoyable. The knee wasn’t giving me any problems and with no downhill sections on segment two we were cruising.

Segment Two scenery

Around mile three into the day we ran into a man from Chicago who seemed to be pretty disoriented. He said that he was hiking with his son, but that him and his son had ended up camping in separate spots the night prior. He told us that he did not fill up on water at the river and ran out of his last drops the night before making his dinner. Luckily we had some extra water and topped off his bottle!

The shade cover began to disappear and we could now see the burn area from years ago. There was something beautiful about seeing the openness of the mountain side that once used to be filled with trees. We actually really enjoyed the burn area and continued our hike to the fire station.

Colorado Trail Segment 2
Shop this look by clicking on Nemo!

We arrived to the Fire Station before noon and decided to hangout for a few hours. This was the first time on the trail where we were able to really socialize with other people and find out why everyone had decided to hike the trail.

The sense of community we found was important to us and we felt very grateful to be able to have this experience. We were also happy to find the son of the man we had given water to earlier in the day and told him that his dad wasn’t doing too well. We think he took that as his cue to slow down a bit.

After topping off our waters and getting some rest we decided to keep on keeping on and see where the day would take us. Leaving the fire station we had our first car pull over and ask if we needed anything. The man said people in the area would get us whatever we needed and that they love to help out hikers. We said we had everything we needed and thanked him for his generosity.

Fire House on the Colorado Trail
Fresh water, a little shade, and great conversation!

Just a few more miles and we would be starting yet another segment of the Colorado Trail!

Segment 3

Mile 28.2 to Mile 40.7 you will start seeing more bicycle riders, more water sources and even more beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. The terrain is subtle with very little up or down, perhaps the last segment you’ll see like this before you really start climbing mountains.

Little Scraggy Trailhead
Little Scraggy Trailhead

As we made our way down the trail we were surprised at how flat it was! There was no complaints coming from us, especially since I was still nursing my knee, but we figured we would have seen more uphill stretches by now.

A few miles from the Little Scraggy Trailhead we stumbled upon a lookout point with an incredible view. We spent a few moments there and when we made our way back to the trail we were met by our friends Hugs and Fecteau! With us still feeling good and with plenty of daylight left we all decided to keep hiking together until we found a camp spot.

Nemo and Fecteau had spent time with each other on each of the previous days now and it was clear to see they were developing a special friendship.

  • Segment three Colorado Trail
  • Bikes Segment Three Colorado Trail

We passed several different streams and camping areas before setting up shop at Tramway Creek (Mile 33.5) which had a spot for both Hugs and us to set up our tents. It was nice being with someone else and it made us really happy to see Nemo having so much fun on the trail with her new friend.

We all agreed that we would do our best to stick as a unit for the remainder of the trail.

Because we covered so much ground the day before we now only had about seven miles of hiking until we would be looking for a ride into Bailey. We all agreed that starting early in the morning was best for the dogs so the next day we packed up and got on our way before sunrise.

Colorado Trail Camp Spot
Camping Spot at Tramway Creek

The morning hike went smoothly and reassured us that we made the right choice in deciding to hike with Hugs and his dog. Nothing against them (We love you guys!) but sometimes adding to the group, especially when everyone has certain ways of doing things, can create some frustrations.

We heard that there was a shuttle into Bailey from the segment four trailhead, but after hearing it was $20 per person we decided we would hitchhike instead. On the way down to the main road we passed a woman named Joey who camped next to us on night one and she said the shuttle would be coming to pick her up in about an hour.

As we made it down to the dirt road we could tell why previous people had told us they had a hard time hitching into town. There was really nothing near us and with it being early in the morning on a weekday we could be waiting around all day and still not get a ride into town.

Colorado Trail Segment 4
Crew Photo

A bit later Joey came down the hill and at the same time the shuttle to take her to the hostel showed up. We all looked at each other and decided this was our sign to bite the bullet and just pay the price for a ride. The driver was the Hostel owner’s daughter who was very nice and cut us all a deal. She said because there was so many of us in a group she would do it for $10 a person! We were a twenty minute ride from food, fresh laundry, a shower, a resupply, and most importantly, a knee brace!!

Bailey Colorado
Catching our 20 minute ride into Bailey.

Bailey, Colorado

Bailey was our first town stop off the trail and we were pleasantly surprised with the hostel. It was under new ownership and they were still getting everything set up but it was everything we could have asked for and more! The hostel has both indoor and outdoor sleeping, showers, a fishing pond, river access, laundry, wifi, and plenty of spots to hangout and meet other hikers!

The Hostel at Two Rivers Lodge offered outdoor covered tent pads (first-come first-serve) which we couldn’t pass up, and to make it even better the spots were directly next to the river. There’s nothing quite like falling asleep to the sound of the river.

Two Bridges Lodge
Grace showing off our deluxe sleeping spot

Bailey is a small town with just a couple of restaurants, a post office, and an outdoor store. There aren’t a lot of food options if you have food allergies but we did find Aspen Peak Cellars which is probably the best spot in town.

We had tried shipping a variety of things to the post office from Amazon and learned the hard way that they will be sent back. If you decided to ship resupply boxes along your route they must be USPS. Thankfully our food resupply boxes showed up, otherwise we would have been in some big trouble!

There was a storm coming the next day which made us consider staying an extra night, but with little to do and almost no food options in town we decided to stay just for the night.

The Hostel at Two Bridges Lodge
Grace, Sarah, Joey, and Fectau

Segments 1-4 gave us our difficulties but in the grand scheme of the trail, these were some of the easiest hiking sections. Once we made it to Bailey and were able to get to checkpoint “knee brace” we felt ready to continue tackling the trail. With our new team and high spirits we packed our bags as we got ready for segment 4 of the Colorado Trail.

If you enjoyed reading about our experiences on the first three segments of the trail, make sure to put your email in below so you can get all of the rest of our Colorado Trail adventure! Click here for the next section of segments!

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One response to “Backpacking Colorado | Hiking the Colorado Trail | Segments 1-4”

  1. Love reading your adventures…The way you write and your videos makes me feel that I am traveling with you…continued success on your journeys!

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