In 1978, the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) was added as one of America’s scenic long-distance trails. It, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Appalachian Trail are the three most prominent national scenic trails. The CDT’s roughly 3,000 miles of trail are open to day hikers, backpackers, and thru-hikers, with unique sections also open to equestrian use. Anywhere from 150 to 200 hikers attempt the full distance each year but only a third will complete the full distance. To officially count as a thru-hike of the CDT, the hiker must stay within 100 miles of the Continental Divide itself. This is complicated by the fact that only 85% of the trail is officially completed and marked. In order to finish their hike within the five to six months of good weather, hikers need to average about 22 to 25 miles a day. This aggressive pace requires consistently consuming about 6,000 calories each day.
The CDT started as the Blue Can Trail, named for the painted tuna cans used by the Colorado Mountain Club to mark the trail in 1964. The first individual to hike the Continental Divide is disputed, although there is documented evidence through journals and photographs that it may have been by Peter Parsons in 1924. The trail was first proposed to the National Park Service in the 1960s, but it did not become official until 1978. Still, individuals explored the Continental Divide in the years in between. In 1972, Erik Ryback became the first individual to complete the “Triple Crown” of the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail.
Waterton Lake serves as the Northern Terminus for the CDT and marks either the end or the beginning of a thru-hike between the U.S.–Mexico and U.S.–Canada borders. Approximately 20% of CDT thru-hikers begin there as “South Bounders,” and 80% end there as “North Bounders,” all passing through the Goat Haunt Ranger Station located just above Waterton Lake and the international border. The Ranger Station works as a customs station to allow hikers to pass between the two countries and also showcases the international agreement that combined Glacier National Park in the United States with Waterton National Park in Canada to become the first International Peace Park. Ultimately, the Goat Haunt Ranger Station represents both international peace and the start or end of an incredible adventure along the Continental Divide. Those finishing their thru-hikes there will have crossed five states, three national parks, seven different ecoregions, and fourteen native tribal land regions.