February 10, 2020

By Kathryn Montana Perkinson

In Wind River Country, we are the proud home to one of the most stunning sections of the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). Over 3,100 miles long, the CDT runs south to north from Mexico to Canada. In the US, it travels through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. Regarded as one of the most scenic trails in the world, the CDT is the most remote thru-hike in the United States. Around 150 hikers complete the journey from end to end annually. But the Continental Divide is wonderful because it’s not only accessible to the burly thru hiker. Everyone can enjoy its magic! Discover the three ways you can enjoy this national treasure year round. 

Woman hiking in Wyoming
High-mountain views. Photo: Zach Snavely

Hiking

For over 100 miles, the Continental Divide Trail runs through the Wind River Range. Hikers hustling from Mexico to Canada (or vice versa) often complete the Winds portion in a speedy five-day period. This section begins near Atlantic City and stretches to Union Pass near Dubois. However, you can certainly enjoy a shorter and slower trip, starting with a step back in time, and ending with the best burger in miles and miles.

You’ll start in South Pass City Historic Site, home to over 40 original buildings from when this was the site of a gold boom. From here, you’re not far from the Continental Divide Trail; in fact, many thru hikers detour from the long route here for a hot meal and some conversation. Find directions on the Continental Divide Trail Coalition, and pick up a detailed map in town in Lander at Wild Iris Mountain Sports. After exploring South Pass City State Historic Site a bit, head out to hike the trail for as far as your legs are willing. Soak up the history of this stretch of trail, as it intersects with the Oregon Trail, California Trail, Mormon Trail, and Pony Express here. Turn around when you’re half tired, and then take the advice of thru-hikers and spend some time in Atlantic City, just a three-mile departure from the trail. Enjoy a massive, well-earned burger at Miner’s GrubSteak and check out the decor at the Atlantic City Mercantile next door.

Gold and continental divide trail hiking in Atlantic City, Wyoming
Historical views. Photo: Jennie Hutchinson

Some safety tips to keep in mind: Navigation can be challenging. In recent years, the Forest Service has been adding signage to make navigating easier in high-traffic areas. But in general, the CDT is not a consistent, defined trail. Be sure to have your topographic map skills honed before heading into the wilderness. The travel can also be challenging through thick brush and over boulder fields. The views are worth it if your skills are up to the task! Additionally, make sure that you understand how to manage your food appropriately and use bear spray. There are both black and grizzly bears in the Winds.

Snowobiling

Eager to explore the Continental Divide in the winter? Backpacking not really your thing? Good news! The CDT is also one of the premier snowmobiling locations in the world. You can enjoy the serenity of “North America’s Backbone” as you play on snow machines in deep powder. 

Togwotee Pass climbs up between Dubois and Moran Junction, Wyoming. On the pass, the Continental Divide Snowmobile Trail offers more than 600 miles of groomed trail as well as thousands of acres of off trail powder. There are several guide and rental operations in Dubois and on the pass to set you up for a day or week of fun!

Snowmobiling on the Continental Divide Snowmobile Trail
Wintery views. Photo: Jeff Shanor

The CDST offers unreal views of the Teton, Wind River and Absaroka mountains. You’ll enjoy the views from above 9,000 feet in elevation, where the skies are clear and the powder is deep. If you do venture out without a guide, be sure to stay vigilant about navigation and managing avalanche risk.

On the Road

Last but not least, you can circle the Continental Divide, crossing it twice, on a driving tour through and beyond Wind River Country, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, and more. This driving tour offers a stunning tour of the landscape and the rich culture of Wyoming.

Red Canyon on Circle the Continental Divide Trail
Highway views. Photo: Jennie Hutchinson

You’ll likely start in Jackson or drive north from Salt Lake City, and you can pick up this route anywhere on the loop. Be sure to experience the entire route so you can cross the Continental Divide twice, witnessing Wyoming from above in two very different locations: South Pass and Togwotee Pass.Not only do the monuments—historically and geographically—of these passes deserve stops, so do so many attractions along the way, including cultural experiences on the state’s only Indian Reservation, unique wildlife watching opportunities, access to the world’s first national park, and many, many outdoor recreation opportunities.


KATHRYN MONTANA PERKINSON is a writer living in Lander, Wyoming. Find more at kathrynmontana.com and @kathrynmontana.

Posted in Notes From the Field