Prep Time: Two months
Time Off Work: One week
When to Go: June–September
Established in 1978 and rivaling the Appalachian and Pacific Crest trails, the Continental Divide Trail winds 3,100 miles through the Rockies from Canada to Mexico. And because a third of the route is unfinished (even more of it is unmapped), the high-altitude CDT sees only a fraction of the foot traffic. The La Garita Wilderness area in southwest Colorado is the route's best stretch of pristine backcountry terrain, and a five-day, 27-mile traverse offers all the challenge and solitude you could ask for. "The whole Colorado section of the CDT is beautiful, with ridgetop walking, endless views, and good trails," says "Flyin'" Brian Robinson, the first person to through-hike the Appalachian and Pacific Crest and Continental Divide in a single year. "But La Garita earns top billing as one of the wildest, emptiest sections of all." From the Eddiesville trailhead you'll pass through alpine meadows, enormous basins, and old-growth stands. The relatively tame mileage leaves ample time for acclimating – you'll be above 12,000 feet for most of the route – and a stunning two-mile detour to the bald summit of 14,014-foot San Luis Peak. If you feel ambitious, double back the way you came; otherwise, set up for the two-car shuttle.
Start Today: Run trails. It'll get you into the right kind of shape and let you break in the Montrail Vitesse lightweight trail sneaks you'll be wearing instead of those burly boots that just slow you down. We recommend you put some weight on your back during workouts. Study the maps. The La Garita section of the CDT is well-marked, but before you go, it's worth studying the National Geographic/Trails Illustrated and USGS maps.
Don't Leave Home Without: Trekking poles. The Leki Ultralite Carbon Ergometrics (leki.com) will spare your knees thousands of pounds of pressure over the long haul and double as tent poles in a jam. "I didn't know how much they helped till I forgot them," says CDT guidebook author Tom Jones.
More Info: Pick up Jones's "Colorado's Continental Divide Trail: The Official Guide." For maps try the National Geographic/Trails Illustrated La Garita Wilderness, #139, and USGS quadrangles for San Luis Peak, Baldy Cinco, Slumgullion Pass, and Halfmoon Pass. For information, visit cdtrail.org.
MJ Insider: Backpacking's golden rule still stands: Light is right. Your pack – minus food and water – should weigh no more than 15 pounds in mild months. Bring only the clothes you're wearing, a light Gore-Tex shell, and a midweight jacket for cold nights.