Up the Great Divide

Stretching between the Canadian and Mexican borders, the Continental Divide Trail connects five states, 25 national forests, 21 wilderness areas, three national parks, eight Bureau of Land Management resource areas, and a national monument. Its many miles are maintained through the collaboration of every land management agency and by an army of volunteers — including long distance hiker Dan Fenn, who would start coming back to Montana to volunteer on trail projects in the years following his 2010 hike.

The majority of Continental Divide Trail hikers travel northbound to the Canadian border, kicking up dust in the warming springtime Southwest, smelling Colorado’s alpine wildflowers at high bloom, and then welcoming autumn in Idaho and Northwest Montana. After a few thousand hard miles, Glacier National Park is the victory lap.

“Once you get to the Bob [Marshall Wilderness], you’re almost there,” Fenn said. “You go through Glacier, which is just spectacular. You look back at where you started, at the Mexican border, flat as a pancake and dry … Boy, I tell you, there’s not much to compare [Glacier] to. You go out on a big note.”

Fenn says the Continental Divide Trail “has a reputation of being the wildest, most out-there, and the ruggedest” of what’s known as the “Triple Crown.” Fewer than 300 hikers have officially completed this trifecta, which represents the best of American long-distance hiking. It includes the East Coast Appalachian Trail, the West Coast Pacific Crest Trail, and the Rocky Mountain Continental Divide Trail. Totaling approximately 7,900 miles altogether, these trails also share protections by the National Trails System Act, which was written into law in 50 years ago in 1968.

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