Pets allowed
Not Allowed
Elevation Gain
4,411.00 ft (1,344.47 m)
Trail type
28.30 mi (45.54 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 36.

Much of Colorado Section 36 is an optional loop through Rocky Mountain National Park. Thru hikers may choose to take the Rocky Mountain Alternate which skips the loop and saves essentially a day of hiking. However, the loop is well worth the extra effort and should be on every thru hiker’s itinerary (in my opinion). Most thru hikers will complete it in a day, thus avoiding the need to obtain a camping permit or carry a bear canister.

Section 36 begins by meandering through the town of Grand Lake. The downtown area is quite nice with lots of shops and restaurants, not to mention fancy wooden sidewalks. Follow the CDT markers out of town and to the North Inlet Trailhead. From here you’ll follow the North Inlet Trail as it follows (you guessed it) the North Inlet upstream. Sadly this area has been badly damaged due to recent forest fires.

Continue along, climbing gradually. There are two main sets of switchbacks during the ascent. The first one before Hallett Creek, and the second set just after the creek. This second set of switchbacks finally breaks out of the forest into the high alpine terrain that we’ve been waiting for.

You’ll stay up high as you pass near Flattop Mountain and Ptarmigan Pass. The views up here are incredible! The trail then begins the big descent. You’ll soon leave the high alpine behind and be back into the forest on the Tonahutu Creek Trail. Again the trail passes through a bad burn area, then skirts around a massive meadow.

The trail finally descends to the Green Mountain Trailhead. Most thru hikers who are doing the loop in one day will then hitch back to Grand Lake to spend the night in town. Otherwise, Section 36 follows the paved road for a distance before veering off onto singletrack, then ultimately crossing the road again before ending at Bowen Gulch.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)




Parking Pass


Open Year-round



Rocky Mountain National Park. Wildlife.


Passes through some badly burned areas.

Trailhead Elevation

8,396.00 ft (2,559.10 m)

Highest point

12,209.00 ft (3,721.30 m)


Near lake or river
Backcountry camping
Big vistas
Big Game Watching

Typically multi-day


Permit required



Nearby Adventures

Nearby Lodging + Camping


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