History, Heritage, and Culture
The Niitsitapi (Blackfeet) people have referred to the Continental Divide as the “Backbone of the World”. For nearly 1,000 miles the rugged Great Divide twists from Yellowstone north to the Canadian border in Glacier National Park. Along the northern section, you can still see ancient travois trails, walk in the steps of Lewis and Clark or follow fresh tracks of grizzly, wolverine, and mountain goat.
In 1968, the National Trails Act passed, creating the Appalachian National Scenic Trail and the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. These trails were recognized as wild, remote and unique quiet recreation opportunities that highlighted our nation’s heritage, culture and natural treasures. The Continental Divide Trail (CDT) was proposed in 1966 by Benton MacKaye, a friend of wilderness advocate Bob Marshall and co-founder of The Wilderness Society. MacKaye hand-delivered a plan to the Secretary of Interior, Stewart Udall, calling for creation of a great trail linking wilderness areas, parks and public lands along the Rocky Mountains.
In 1978, Congress designated the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (CDNST) for hiking, horseback riding, quiet recreation and conservation of natural, cultural and historic resources. The goal is to connect a 3,100-mile trail from Mexico to Canada along the spine of the Rocky Mountains. The CDT navigates dramatically diverse ecosystems through mountain meadows, granite peaks and high-desert surroundings. These are special landscapes that host the starting point for our water systems to the Pacific and Atlantic, are uniquely critical for wildlife, and equally important to preserve the western heritage of the people who live here.
Unlike the Appalachian National Scenic Trail or the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, the Continental Divide Trail is not yet complete. Yes, one can travel the entire distance from Canda to Mexico; however, in many places there is no trail. Instead, there is motorized road. In other places, legal rights of ways and land acquisitions are necessary for proper access through private, state and tribal lands.
Considering these gaps, the CDT is currently only 75% complete. While the trail grows closer to the completion status, the final pieces are the most difficut to connect. The toughest, most challenging hurdles are left to overcome.
Completion status for each state:
- New Mexico 80% (770 miles)
- Colorado 75% (800 miles)
- Wyoming 88% (550 miles)
- Montana and Idaho 58% (980 miles).
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