Pets allowed
Elevation Gain
4,300.00 ft (1,310.64 m)
Trail type
16.10 mi (25.91 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail spans nearly 3,100 miles across 5 states from Mexico to Canada, exploring a vast array of different environments and landscapes along the way. The CDT can be completed as a single thru-hike that will take 4 to 6 months, or by section-hiking smaller segments. The Colorado portion of the CDT features 800 miles of stunning and challenging high altitude hiking. Highlights include the South San Juans, Collegiate Peaks, 14,270 foot Grays Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park, and the Mount Zirkel Wilderness. In this guide we’ll take a closer look at Colorado Section 21.

Colorado Section 21 begins at Tin Cup Pass Road. This rough 4x4 road is actually a frequently traveled route, so expect to see some traffic here. These is also the option to take the Mirror Lake Alternate, which begins from this point. This alternate misses much of the high alpine terrain that Section 21 hits, but it does provide a nice alternate if the weather is looking particularly awful.

Section 21 begins by making its way up a set of massive switchbacks. You’ll ascend about 1,500 feet before cresting a ridge and finally entering the “good stuff.” For the remainder of this section the CDT stays above treeline, offering spectacular views. The only downsides is that there is nowhere to hide from inclement weather, and camping is very limited.

This section seems to repeat a pattern of skirting around mountains, climbing a high ridge/pass, and then descending a bit toward a new valley. You’ll pass through the shadows of a few impressive peaks, including 13,533’ Emma Burr Mountain.

As you near Cottonwood Pass you’ll likely notice a few more day hikers. The views are still spectacular. Eventually you’ll come to one last small summit, then descend to the road. Cottonwood Pass Road marks the end of Section 21. Hikers can hitch east into Buena Vista if needed.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)




Parking Pass


Open Year-round



Stunning high alpine terrain.


Very exposed to the elements, limited camping.

Trailhead Elevation

11,092.00 ft (3,380.84 m)

Highest point

12,839.00 ft (3,913.33 m)


Big vistas

Typically multi-day


Permit required



Nearby Lodging + Camping

Grand Mesa Uncompahgre + Gunnison National Forests
Sawatch Range + Elk Mountains, Colorado
Sawatch Range + Elk Mountains, Colorado


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