Continental Divide Trail

The Continental Divide Trail near Keg Springs in Island Park runs mostly on the Idaho side of the line but reaches a saddle about two miles from the trailhead where you can see Blair Lake, Montana. Follow the signs as the trail is often hard to see.

Three major hiking trails run the width of the United States. The oldest and most famous is the Appalachian Trail that runs from Georgia to Maine. The Pacific Crest Trail leads hikers from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon and Washington. The acknowledged toughest and newest challenge though, is the Continental Divide Scenic Trail, or CDT for short. This 3,100-mile trail starts on the New Mexico/Mexico border and ends, five states later, at the union of Canada’s Waterton National Park and Glacier National Park, Montana.

The Continental Divide, is far larger than the continental United States. It stretches from Alaska’s northwestern coast to the tip of Cape Horn, almost a canoe paddle from Antarctica. This divide rules whether water will gather and drain into the Pacific Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico/Atlantic Ocean, or the Pacific and Arctic oceans at the northern extreme.

With such a noble purpose as dividing the waters of two continents, it might be expected that the divide is high and rugged. In many places that is the case. The highest point along the entire divide (in the continental US) is Gray’s Peak, Colorado, at 14, 278 feet, but the lowest point is at Columbus, New Mexico, the southern starting point of the CDT at 3,900 feet and looks little like the sharply divided mountains to the north.

In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared: “…I am requesting…a cooperative program to encourage a national system of trails, building up the…trails in our national forests and Parks. In the backcountry we need to copy the great Appalachian Trail in all parts of our country.” In 1978 the Continental Divide Trail became a reality.

The Continental Divide Trail is different from the other two super-trails in that it is only about 70 percent complete. There are many unmarked miles where you must choose your own route, travel on gravel or even paved roads and just plain wing-it. Much of the trail is marked with the distinctive CDT logo on sign posts even where a trail isn’t visible.

Hiking through, meaning traversing the trail from bottom to top or vice versa, is not a casual endeavor. The hike can take six months and cost eight pairs of shoes (experts recommend replacing shoes on the trail every 400 miles, requiring some fancy planning on the hiker’s part).

A northbound hiker enters Idaho from Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and follows the divide, which is also the state line between Idaho and Montana, for several hundred very rugged miles. These must be frustrating miles for a through-hiker as there is little northward gain. The trail follows the Centennial Mountains and then the Lemhi Mountains west before turning north near Salmon, leaving Idaho at Lost Trail Pass for the final run through Montana—where it first swings back east to Butte, MT, before heading north again.

Getting to the CDT isn’t hard. Many roads cross the divide and the CDT including I-15 at Monida Pass, Highway 20 at Targhee Pass, Highway 87 at Reynolds Pass, the top of Medicine Lodge, Lemhi Pass east of Leadore and Lost Trail Pass on Highway 93.

Through-hiking the entire trail is beyond my capabilities, but I have hiked segments of the CDT at Red Rock Pass, on the Sawtell Peak road (trail to Lake Marie), from Keg Springs (all in Island Park), Divide Lake trail in Medicine Lodge and the trail to Aldous and Hancock Lakes above Kilgore. The Lemhi Pass area is next on my list.   

Help Idaho Wildlife

When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.

C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles! 

See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live. 

And tell them that you heard about it from!

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho