Onion's CDT Yo-Yo Alternates
The following is a list of the alternate routes
that I took when yo-yoing the Continental Divide Trail in 2007.
I've included some simple alternates that are pretty short and clearly
described on Jonathan Ley's
maps, but I've paid the most attention to the routes where it felt
like I was
leaving the beaten path. Most of the simpler ones can be done
with just the
standard stuff--Jonathan Ley maps, DeLorme maps, and the CDTS
guidebooks, but some require a few Forest Service or TI maps, all
which I picked up without too much trouble in towns along the
trail. The longest alternate, what I call "the Butte Super
Cutoff" requires a handful of extra maps, and I hope to
eventually do my own Ley-like topo-mapping of the route in case anyone
wants to do anything similar.
I really enjoyed making up my own
routes on the CDT, so I'm providing this information as a source to
help others do the same. I don't think this information will be
very interesting to many people, and it will be almost meaningless
without a good set of CDT maps or a ridiculously good knowledge of the
trail in certain areas, but Montana, where I did big alternates in
Glacier, the Bob, and from Butte to Yellowstone, might be a little less
I found that I was much more happy with bushwhacking, rough climbs, and
cross-country hiking when I chose to inflict these things on myself;
when Jonathan Ley or Jim Wolf inflicted this on me, I usually got
pretty upset. So I would advise against doing many of these
alternates in the exact same way I did them, just use them as a second
or third opinion and hike your own hike.
Information is organized in a northbound fashion, with relevant 2007
Ley map numbers.
Columbus Route (Nobo)
NM 43--Got lost and trespassed on the
very first day in the Tres Hermanes section, so I decided against the
Florida Mountains route, walked HWY 11 north to what is Espejo Ave. on
NM DeLorme 53, walked that (mostly dirt) road all the way to Deming.
Antelope Wells Route (Sobo)
NM 30l--Went down Water Canyon instead of McKnight Canyon to get to HWY
35. There is no water in Water Canyon.
NM 40--Tried to avoid private
property by cutting east and going around the north side of "the
Saltys" instead of continuing south on the more westerly route.
NM 34-37--Sobo I walked HWY 15 from the Cliff Dwelling VC to Silver
City. Nobo I did the main stem of the Gila, but there really
isn't much in the way of trail south of Doc Campbell's, so I didn't
feel like doing it again.
NM 34--Nobo I took the alternate from the Cliff Dwellings. Nice
views when you top out before dropping down into the Middle Fork.
Sobo I stayed on the Middle Fork all the way from Snow Lake to the VC.
No regrets either way.
NM 29--Did the Govina Canyon route both ways. Good decision.
NM 25--Took the purple route (Wild Horse Canyon Road). It was
straightforward, but I thought I was somewhere else on the map.
So I ended up missing Bonine Canyon, going by Cedar Windmill (off), and
meeting the trail in Armijo Canyon. Terrain not going to be great
no matter what you do here.
NM 23--Took the rim trail Nobo, walked the road Sobo. Honestly, I
think walking the road below the sheer cliffs was more interesting.
NM 22-20, 20a--Did Bonita/Zuni Canyon/El Malpais route both ways.
Boring, but probably unavoidable.
NM 17-19--Unimportant differences in my routes here, roads on ground
don't match with roads on map. Climbed Mt. Taylor both ways.
NM 15--Nobo took official purple route. Boring and
circuitous. Sobo took red road route. Boring.
NM 14, 14a--Nobo took the red route. Sobo, took the red route for
most of map 14, but cut over on the connector at the south end of the
map to the purple route. Dirt road made for easier night
hiking. Maybe fewer burrs in socks and got to cross muddy/arroyo
river thing on a bridge, but no big deal.
NM 13--Sobo took the southern of the two purple routes--water spigot on
the red route is dead, so I didn't bother.
NM 10--Nobo I took westerly route according to Circle A owner's
recommendation. Nice little badlands formation near the southern
end of it, less road walking.
NM 9--Nobo took purple official route. However, it dies out in
the middle of nowhere, so (a) you can't find it sobo, and (b) you'll
just have to cut over to HWY 96 eventually. There is no good way, just
NM 8--The official route on top of Mesa del Camino is in bad
shape. Nobo I ended up on the road on top of the mesa and had to
randomly cut down the slope, Sobo I ended up on FR468 below the mesa.
NM 4--Took the easterly routes here in both directions. It's all
roads, just go.
NM 2--Nobo I went down to the Rio San Antonio, Sobo I followed the
fenceline. No big difference.
CO 42--Nobo cut straight down the slope to Alberta Park
Reservoir from just west of Railroad Pass, walked out on ski resort
gravel road to HWY, walked HWY west one mile to pass.
CO 40--Nobo stayed on the literal divide near Knife Edge and Palomino
Mountain for less postholing.
CO 38--Nobo stayed on the literal divide from near Mount Nebo to
CO 37--Nobo dropped from Hunchback Pass down to Beartown, walked dirt
road (formerly Colorado Trail) across Rio Grande (watch out in early
season!) Took Pole Creek Trail (820), crossed Pole Creek and
reconnected with (now former) CDT. Crossing Pole Creek nearly
swept me away in
early season. Weigh the pros and cons: likely less snow, but a
lot sketchier river crossings. Trails Illustrated maps 140 and
141 show the appropriate trails.
CO 33--Sobo tried to climb San Luis Peak, got my rear end handed to me
by 70mph winds once I got to the ridge between Organ Mountain and San
Luis Peak. There's remnants of an old trail from this saddle down
to the official trail just east of where the CDT crosses Cochetopa
creek. Trail shown on TI map 139.
CO 29--Nobo cut from Sargents Mesa down to Sargents via the Big Bend
Trail and Marshall Pass Road (dirt). Then walked HWY 50 maybe 12
or 13 miles up to Monarch Pass. Shown on TI map 139, North
Side. If you're going to do this, it has to be quicker to drop
from further west near Baldy Lake, and you definitely don't have to
walk the highway very much--just use CO DeLorme 59 to find some route
back to the divide (FR 888 to Hancock Pass, for example).
CO 27--Nobo walked HWY 50 down from Monarch Pass past the quarry and
into Garfield. Took the dirt road near the snowmobile shop across
the street from the lodge, after a couple miles the road becomes the
CDT. Saved a lot of postholing.
CO 26-25--I didn't go this way, but if it's early season, the snow may
be bad from the Alpine Tunnel to the road below Tincup Pass (North Fork
Chalk Creek). Avoid it by taking FR295 down from Hancock to St.
Elmo, and hang a left on FR 267, which becomes the CDT on its way up to
Tincup Pass. This is on CO DeLorme 59. If you do this,
you'll pass a cool old mine building hanging on the hill at a funny
CO 22--I forded the Twin Lakes inlet in early season, and I'm just a
little guy. Did it sobo as well.
CO 18-17--Nobo I took the bike path from Copper Mountain to
Silverthorne. Sobo I did the red route. I have the
feeling that the north facing slope above North Tenmile Creek holds a
crapload of snow until pretty late, but it was a very cool route sobo.
CO 15-13--Nobo I did the red route via Berthoud Pass, Parry Peak,
Rollins Pass, then Devils Thumb Park. Extremely windy. Sobo
I made up a route from Devils Thumb Park west using TI map
103. Basically I took FR 128/county 81 down to Winter Park, then
walked to Mary Jane ski resort and took the Icarus trail up to the
Mount Nystrom Trail and eventually contoured around to Vasquez
Pass. The Mount Nystrom trail certainly doesn't exist, but it's
all open high country, so it was pretty nice. The road walking
and the ski resort stuff sucked though. Sobo I then took the
Henderson Spur and walked the Jones Pass road to the pass, which was
CO 11--Nobo I did the inland trail at the southern end of Shadow
Mountain Lake, sobo I did the shoreline version, which I think is
CO 10a--Did not do RMNP either way. I shall return.
CO 9--Nobo I stayed on literal divide where the trail splits off
Cascade Mountain and Ruby Mountain. It's downhill to Illinois
Pass, and I think trail is being constructed in here, but still, it was
gnarly and a half. Sobo I did the low route that goes by Bowen
Lake, which is pretty.
CO 3-2--Nobo I did the Three Island Lake/Beaver Lake route and enjoyed
it. Sobo I walked up the road along the Middle Fork Elk River to
Slavonia and took the rest of the Gold Creek Lake route. Jim Wolf
says there's a large waterfall along this route; I couldn't find it.
44--Both directions I walked along FR 550 and 809. There's water
in culverts under the road in a couple places.
WY 41--This area is totally complicated thanks to two different routes
still being partially marked as the official route. I think both
directions I took the purple road route at the southern end because
there's no tread on the "trail" at that point, then took the red route
at the northern end.
WY 40-- From Hartt Creek nobo I tried to follow one the jeep roads that
cut straight north towards the red "30" on the map. The roads
totally don't exist anymore, and it's totally trespassing. Sobo I
took what Jim Wolf described as the interim route in this area, but
it's still marked on the ground as official CDT.
WY39-35--Both directions I walked the road straight into Rawlins.
There's 20+ miles of pavement, so it's not that great.
WY 34-28--Both directions I walked along the jeep roads to the west of
HWY 287. Supposedly this had recently become legal when I did it,
but there was nothing on the ground to show that.
WY 28a-d--Did the official (non-Ferris Mountains) route both ways.
WY 25-24--Nobo did the Sweetwater route from the start to Wilson Bar on
map 24. (The horse flies were horrendous, so I left it at Wilson
Bar and headed back up to road route). Sobo I did the entire
"official" road route.
WY23--Nobo I did the purple route south of Willow Creek, sobo I did the
northern, red route. I took the "official" cross-country route
from the Sweetwater bridge to the road near Atlantic City neither time.
WY 22--Red unofficial route nobo, did the unofficial southern purple
route sobo. No big difference.
WY 20--Nobo I did the route down Rapid Creek, Sobo I went by Clear Lake.
WY 19--Nobo went over Texas and Jackass passes. Highly
Recommended. Sobo through Fish Creek Park and by V Lake.
WY 16--Nobo weather was bad, so I went to the west of Mount Baldy on
the Bell Lakes Trail by Chain Lakes and Pole Creek Lakes. Sobo I
did the route east of Mount Baldy.
WY 15--Nobo I stayed on the purple trail to Island Lake, then followed
the outlet down to Fremont Crossing (sort of what Jim Wolf describes,
but I'm not sure any real route exists.) Sobo I went over
Knapsack Col. The Titcomb Basin is the most beautiful place in
WY 14-12--Nobo I did the red route by the Green River Lakes and over
Gunsight Pass. From the Lakes, the route is boring all the way to
Dubois. Sobo, I got on the high glacier route at Union
Pass. You're on a 4WD trail all the way up to the Wilderness
Boundary. I came down via Tourist Creek. This route is the
greatest thing ever. It's extremely slow boulder hopping, but
WY 11--Nobo, I took the red Leeds Creek route. Sobo I started on
the purple route, but somehow ended up on the red route where it
crosses Leeds Creek. (That's actually what I'd recommend, since
it avoids the treadless route up Leeds Creek).
WY 10, 10a, 9--Both directions I headed east from Sheridan Pass down
Sheridan Trail (probably the official route), but kept going down and
instead of going north I hit the road and walked it north all the way
to Brooks Lake. (I was trying to beat PO hours, and the road
takes forever to get a hitch on, so you can hike with your thumb out to
make progress and try to get a ride to Dubois at the same time.)
Sobo I didn't want to do this, but there was a fire blocking the FR 537
route and it seriously took me hours to get a ride, so I did it
NOBO, WY6-MT 36
Nobo I did a pretty standard Yellowstone-Mack's Inn-Anaconda route,
described first. Sobo, I did the "Butte Super Cut-Off," described
MT 63--From the WY10 maps to here, I did Yellowstone and Mack's Inn
exactly like the maps. On MT 63, from just after the switchbacks
west of the cool Buffalo bone-hole, I dropped down Pine Creek and hit
the road that goes over Bannack (Two Medicine) Pass. It's either
FR 951.2 or BLM Road 328. I took that to Road 302, which is a
gravel BLM Scenic Byway, and part of the Great Divide bicycle
route. I took that up to Morrison Lake and reconnected the CDT
there, on the very end of MT 60. MT DeLorme page 20 is helpful.
MT 53--I took the cross-country route from before Cowbone Lake, then
walked the purple route that stays along the Big Hole River.
MT 48--After coming out at Chief Joseph Pass, I walked the road down to
Lost Trail Pass, hitched in & out to resupply, then walked the
gravel road from near Lost Pass to where it connects to the trail.
MT 43--Took the Storm Lake version of the Anaconda Cutoff.
MT 31b--It seemed obvious that the Perkins Gulch finish to the Anaconda
cutoff was indeed private property, so I went further north on the road
to the signed FR 85 that has a public right-of-way. Then I went north
towards FR 9411 and Sand Hollow, just south of Orofino Mountain, by the
Champion mine, and back to the trail. The Champion mine part is
private property, so in that aspect, it's pretty much a wash. MT
DeLorme 39 is all you need for this route, but if you have the
Beaverhead-Dearlodge National Forest Dearlodge Forest Area Forest
Visitor/Travel Map (1996 Revision), then it makes everything
super-obvious, and shows that a clearly legal route exists, it just
involves a mile or two extra dirt road walking north around the
Champion mine property.
Another option is to stay on the road up Dry Creek as opposed to
breaking away towards Sand Hollow. That's a straightforward
public right-of-way all the way to the top at Four Corners.
The Butte Super Cut-Off
MT 36--From near Delmoe Lake, I stayed on
the gravel road 222 to start the "Butte Super Cut-Off." The first
map for this is the "Southwest Montana Ineragency Visitor/Travel Map,
East Half (1996)," available at many Montana ranger stations or
Apparently the 1996 maps were revised
in 2008. I also used
NF map (West Half), the Lee
and West Yellowstone Vicinity map, the Yellowstone Trails
Illustrated Map (201), the Yellowstone Lake (305) and
(305) TI maps that have more detail of Yellowstone, the MT
my father went way above and beyond the call of duty and bought the MT
Topo! CD and printed a suggested route through Montana.
Dad!) But don't worry, you definitely
don't need all of these. I just
really like maps. The route is completely covered with just the SW MT
Interagency, Gallatin, and
Yellowstone maps. Also, I finally got my act together and mapped
the route from Delmoe Lake to Yellowstone. Download the 51
file of 23 jpegs for printing here. View 1, 2 of the maps individually to see what they're like.
I like to think that I made this route up, but I didn't come up with
the basic idea myself; I have to thank Jim Wolf for that. He sent
me a short paragraph with landmarks along the way which I used to
string together the first half, and I also received a few helpful
suggestions from Ginny
and Jim Owen, but I doubt that anybody's done it exactly like I did it, and that's
why it was fun. Skittles and Recess did this route in '08 and
posted a text description for most of the route on TrailJournals.
To start, I took 222 down to I-90 at Pipestone. I walked east for
miles of pavement on Highway 2 (it's just south of, and parallel to,
I-90) into Whitehall, MT. There's a big IGA grocery directly on
route on the west end of town. I headed south out of town on
Division Street, left on Kountz Road, right on Parrot Dr, and headed
up towards Bone Basin and finally got on public land again. This
road stretch is pretty roundabout because you have to take the Kountz
bridge over the Jefferson River. Eventually I was on road 1009,
trail 155, Coalpit Creek, Mill Canyon Trailhead, trail 89 down to road
107, the road all the way south up Boulder River and right over the
Nicholson Mine, down Willow Creek, by the Sureshot Lakes, on the road
down Meadow Creek, and into the non-town of McAllister. (There's a PO
and a bar right here, you can hitch south to Ennis, MT for groceries.)
I crossed HWY 287, walked along the north shore of Ennis Lake, crossed
the outlet (the Madison River) and headed north to the trailhead for
trail 315. Took 315 up to 413, 413 to 342, and 354 down Mill
Creek to road 166. Took road 166 east to the 317 trailhead.
(From here on the road is the private property of the Moonlight Ranch,
and there is a very large gate just beyond the trailhead. I heard
nothing nice about this resort while in town, so I'd try and avoid it.
Maps show trail 316 coming down to the road further uphill, but I don't
know how you could get to or from that trailhead.) I took trail
317 up the Jack Creek and the South Fork by Lost Lake and Shadow
Lake. From 317 to trail 8 by Yellow Mule, to trail 6 down Buck
Creek and by Cinnamon Mountain. Walked a mile down HWY 191, then
took trail 161, to trail 100 where I entered Yellowstone on the Sky Rim
Trail between Tepee and Daly Passes.
In Yellowstone: Sky Rim Trail, Crescent Lake High Lake Trail, and
Sportsman Lake Trail down to Mammoth Hot Springs. (Resupply
available.) Then took the Lava Creek Trail and went down
Blacktail Deer Creek to the Yellowstone River Trail through the Black
Canyon of the Yellowstone. Up Elk Creek and by Yancey's to Tower
Junction (resupply available.) Then walked the Northeast Entrance
Road to Yellowstone River Picnic Area (2K7), connected with the
Specimen Ridge Trail, took that to the Lamar River, took the Lamar
River Trail south to the Mist Creek Trail, took that to the Turbid Lake
Trail, that down to Nine Mile Trailhead (5K5), the Thorofare Trail
south along Yellowstone Lake. Exited the park near Thorofare
Ranger Station via the Hawk's Rest TH (6K5), crossed the Yellowstone
(on a bridge, but up this far it'd be doable regardless) and took
Atlantic-Pacific Creek Trail up to Two Ocean Pass where I rejoined the
This route is significantly shorter than the official CDT. My
estimate is that it saved me 3 days, but it 's possible that it was as
many as five. Why did I take such a big short cut?
Northbound I was disappointed with both the official route through
Yellowstone and the ID/MT border section. Everyone always says
that Yellowstone is the greatest place, so I wanted to explore it more,
because the official route was so un-praiseworthy. Coming
directly from Butte set it up so that I could enter the park wherever I
wanted and walk from one end of the park to the other. Basically,
I spent 5 full days walking all the way across the northern
boundary of the park, and then all the way across the eastern boundary
of the park. To be perfectly honest, I still think Yellowstone
has nothing on Glacier, the High Sierra, the Winds, or the Grand
Canyon, but it was still fun to explore so much of the park.
Also, some part of me did want to save time. I was getting more
and more concerned about beating Old Man Winter in Colorado, and I was
absolutely set on doing every inch of the high route through the San
Juans. I don't think this was really the case, but if I had to
choose between a week hiking in the San Juans (plus getting to explore
a new route through Yellowstone) or a week hiking on the ID/MT border,
the choice was obvious.
MT 29--Nobo I did the Little Blackfoot River route and thought the
densely packed trees were pretty cool. Sobo I did the Thunderbolt
mountain route and thought the climb wasn't bad and the views were OK,
but Cottonwood Lake was disappointingly vegetation-choked.
MT 28--Did the Bryan and Sally Ann Creek route to the east of Jericho
mountain both ways. Didn't see a single posted notice or any real
evidence of private property.
MT 27-26--Both directions I did the 571/1852 route that goes by certain
water. It's supremely boring.
MT 24--Nobo I dropped off before Stemple Pass down the South Fork of
Poorman Creek, met up with the Stemple Pass road and walked the gravel
road all the way into Lincoln because I was told I'd have to go all the
way to the west of the entire Bob Marshall Wilderness thanks to
fires. That wasn't quite true.
North of Lincoln I used the Helena NF Map to walk out of town on FR
1800 (Sucker Creek) to FR 330 (Copper Creek) to FR 1882 and the Indian
Meadows trailhead. From there I took trail 481, 424, 478, and 438
past Heart Lake, Landers, and Bighorn Creeks. That put me on the
western half of the completely asinine bit of official trail that
nobody in their right mind would opt to take on MT 20.
Sobo I did the standard route on MT 20-24.
The Bob Marshall Wilderness Fire
MT 19--This is where my big fire detour started and ended. The
Bob Marshall, Great Bear, and Scapegoat Wilderness Complex FS map is an
absolute must. (They sell it at the Lincoln Ranger Station and at The
Base Camp in Helena.) Basically, nobo I stayed east of the trail,
and sobo I stayed west of the divide.
NOBO, from the Welcome Creek Ranger Station, I went east over Welcome
Pass on trail 214, took 244 to Double Falls on the Benchmark Road
(235), went east on the road, then north on 258 to Scoutana Ranch,
north on road 233 to trail 267 up Lime Gulch, trail 271 down Cutreef
Creek and Norwegian Gulch, road 108 west to Blacktail trail 223 north
to South Fork Teton trail 168. (Actually, here, the map is
labeled differently on the North and South halves. Regardless, I
took trail 127 north to road 3307, crossed road 109, and took the
unlabeled trail north and then east to Middle Fork Teton
trailhead. I walked road 144 north to trail 107 to West Fork
Teton trailhead. There I finally got in the Bob, taking 107 north
to 105 up past the Swift Reservoir. Then I took 121 and 122 to
near Heart Butte, 101 down to Badger Creek, then 172 by Kiyo Crag down
to the non-existent Little Badger Ranger Station and the Palookaville
trailhead. I walked the road out to the Heart Butte Cutoff Road,
which is the road that forms the border of the map. At the very
beginning a local told me about a short cutoff, but other than that, I
just walked the Reservation road the rest of the way into East
SOBO, I exited Glacier NP at the Walton Ranger Station, and walked
highway 2 to the trailhead for trail 155, which I took up the Middle
Fork of the Flathead to trail 166 up Long Creek, then trail 385 down to
road 38. Hiked that south past the ranger station to trail 80,
which I took all the way to Big Prairie Ranger Station. (From
here to Welcome Creek RS was closed for fires, but I was fine.
And the ranger I met at Welcome Creek was totally gorgeous, but I
digress.) From there I took trail 126 up the Danaher to trail 139 over
Observation Pass, then trails 246, 248, and 212 back to the Welcome
Creek Ranger Station. From there I did the standard route over
Caribou Peak, Lewis & Clark Pass, and Cadotte Pass to Rogers
Pass. I took the new route that avoids the asinine bit on Bighorn
MT 7,6--Took the Dawson Pass Route. Highly recommended.
MT 4,3--Nobo I took the Piegan Pass, Many Glacier, Swiftcurrent Pass
route. I very, very strongly encourage you to take this route,
and not the road-walk/Logan Pass/Garden Wall route. Sobo I hiked
the Highline Trail past the Garden Wall to Logan Pass, but that's only
because I was starting off on my crazy made up partly off-trail
route. See below.
I did a westerly route through Glacier to set myself up to be west of
the Divide in the Bob, since it was on fire. I used only the
Glacier/Waterton Lakes Trails Illustrated Map (#215), plus I took a
photo of the Glacier climbing book that they sell in all the stores in
Glacier so I could know how to do the off-trail Floral Park Traverse by
reading the directions off my camera's LCD. I left the official
trail at Fifty Mountain campsite and took the Flattop Mountain
Trail. (This part isn't necessary, but Flattop campsite is in a
burn, so there's plenty of solitude.) I took the Granite Park
Trail back up past Granite Park Chalet, the Highline Trail past the
Garden Wall to Logan Pass, went up to Hidden Lake Pass, took the trail
down to Hidden Lake, and began the Floral
Park Traverse--I circled
around the west shore of the lake, scrambled up to the top of the
ridge, dropped straight down to the tiny Floral Park, climbed up to the
foot of Sperry Glacier, crossed the glacier and found Observation Point
and got back on trail. Then I went down to Sprague Creek campsite
to the Lincoln Lake Trail, then the Lincoln Creek Trail, then the South
Boundary Trail. (A lot of the trails on the western half of the park
are in crummy shape.) Some old maps show the South Boundary Trail
continuing all the way down the border, but it no longer does. I
went up the Coal Creek Trail, up and over on the Fielding Creek Trail,
then down to the Walton Ranger Station. From here, see my Sobo
route through the Bob.
MT 1--Halfway done. Turned around at 10AM on August 6 at the