I finished bikepacking the Colorado Trail in the fall of 2016, and quickly became interested in the average trip length of other trail users. I originally intended to analyze bikepacker trip length, but I created an online survey and 91% of the responses came from thru-hikers (59 out of 65 responses). While the rest of this online series was written to be specific to bikepackers, this article will pertain to hikers. That being said, here are the other articles in the series if you’re interested in reading about my trip, learning about bikepacking logistics, or just viewing some pictures of the Colorado Trail!
- A Basic Guide to Bikepacking the Colorado Trail
- Logistics and Planning Advice for Bikepacking the Colorado Trail
- Gear Recommendations and Packing List for Bikepacking the Colorado Trail
- 28 Beautiful Photographs of the Colorado Trail in Fall
Survey Demographic Information
Note: all numbers are rounded to the nearest whole number, except where a decimal has been used. Bored of lots of numbers? Scroll to the bottom for a summary of the survey results.
Before we dive into the survey results, here are some characteristics of the survey population. Females made up roughly 42% of the survey population with 25 females entering their hike data. The average age of the responding female was 36 years. On the flipside 58% of results were from males with 34 responding to the survey. The male population in the survey had an average age of 43 years.
Overall Trip Length
Now that survey population characteristics are out of the way, how long did these people take to hike the Colorado Trail? Overall the average trip length reported in the survey was 33 days. This number represents total reported trip length including both rest days and hiking days. The Colorado Trail Foundation states that the average thru hike typically takes 4-6 weeks so 33 days falls almost squarely in the middle of that range. The shortest hikes in the survey were in the mid 20 day range (see note below) while 52 days was the top end. Obviously hiking speed is a very personal thing, so that accounts for the wide range of trip lengths. Females tended to spend more time on the Colorado Trail, with an average trip length of 34.6 days while males averaged 32.4 days in trip length. Additionally, the female respondents reported wanting an average of 2.1 extra days on the trail while males reported an average of 1.8 days.
A note on fast hikes: one 54 year old hiker reported doing an 18 day thru-hike in the survey. This is theoretically possible so I didn’t remove that data point, but it does skew the average trip length slightly lower. Aside from that 18 day hike the next fastest three trips were 24 to 26 days long.
Frequency of Colorado Trail Thru Hiker Trip Length
Did They Want More Time?
Lots of factors play into trip length including work, money, weather, and other constraints. I finished mountain biking the Colorado Trail in early October and definitely pushed hard on some days to stay ahead of winter weather. In a perfect world I would have taken more time if weather wasn’t a concern. I posed this as a simple question on the survey: “Would you have wanted more days?” By no means does this mean the trip was a poor length, but in hindsight someone might have wanted an extra day to take pictures or have a rest day at a beautiful campsite.
For respondents that chose 10+ extra days I edited that to 10 days to make taking an average easier. As a whole the survey population reported wanting an average of 2 extra days on the trail. This would bring the total desired trip length to roughly 35 days.
When to Start?
Start dates vary yearly according to snowpack and seasonal temperatures. I added a question to the survey asking what their start date was, and received 37 responses. Out of the 2016 group of hikers the earliest start date was a June 20th hiker with a 36 day trip and the latest start was a hiker who started September 1st with a 35 day trip. Neither respondent mentioned anything about excessive snow in their comments. Of course conditions change each year, but a trip start date somewhere in that time range should be a fairly safe bet.
Advice from Previous Hikers
There were quite a few comments in the survey, and a few of them might prove useful to others planning a thru hike on the Colorado Trail:
In general I found it more helpful to plan the number of hiking hours per day based on elevation gain rather than a constant mileage per day. (Hiker with a 35 day trip).
Go CT!!! Hike your own hike, not a race, take rest days. Figure 10 miles a day in the beginning increasing to around 20 by the end. (Hiker with a 37 day trip)
I loved the trail. I put down 5 (extra) days just so I could have taken it a bit slower and been able to stay at some nice campsites that I hiked past. To be honest I would have been happy to just keep on hiking instead of finishing in Durango. My first thru hike but definitely not my last. (Hiker with a 36 day trip).
In a vacuum, meaning that pack weight, finances, and work and all those-type factors wouldn't be an issue, I would prefer to do about 10 miles a day (or even less). Doing about 20, like I did, meant that time decided many things like wakeup time, campsite selection, how long I could linger in neat areas, and how nasty weather was dealt with - rather than personal preference. (Hiker with a 30 day trip).
I only took one zero day and two half days but overall happy with my pace and time out there. I did pick up the pace at the end so that I could get out of Waterton Canyon (I was a NOBO hiker) on a weekend (as it was closed during the week in September). (Hiker with a 27 day trip).
If I did it again I think I would actually take less time. When planning for this trip I didn't want to carry more than 5 days supply and I planned 15 miles per day. Once I got going I realized 20 miles per day was a better average for me. I also stopped in too many towns. I like the idea of hiking more, and camping less. (Hiker with a 29 day trip).
Number of thru hiker respondents: 59
Average age of female hiker: 36 years
Average female trip length: 34.6 days
Average age of male hiker: 43 years
Average male trip length: 32.4 days
Combined average trip length: 33.3 days
Average number of extra days wanted: 2
Overall average trip length (with extra days included): 35 days or 5 weeks
Range of start dates in survey: June 20th - September 1st
Want to have a look at the raw data from the survey? Download the Excel document below!
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Obviously every hiker has varying motivations and a different pace of backcountry travel, which is illustrated in the hiker quotes from the survey. This data was collected out of curiosity to see how much variation there is in trip length, and is intended only as a rough starting point to go from as you start planning your own thru hike of the Colorado Trail (now get the Colorado Trail Guide and start planning)! You know yourself best, so if you enjoy a leisurely pace with lots of time to soak in the view then add days to the average trip length (35 days). I had a great time looking through all the responses from hikers, and I hope it’s helpful to you as well!
Any questions or opinions? I'd love to hear from you, just leave a comment below.
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