The Northern New Mexico Continental Divide Trail, or CDT for short, is a popular route for bicycle touring. Singletrack and overgrown double-track compose most of this true-to-form high-country route, where beautiful campsites and natural water sources abound. Yet, it can be a challenge to pick up the route’s thread season after season, as deadfall and weather-related changes obstruct wayfinding. John and a group of six friends recently rode the 93-mile section, and he documented the scenery with his 35mm rangefinder camera and a 35mm focal length lens.
Find the most current, mostly singletrack route of the Northern NM CDT below, along with route notes and a wonderful gallery that captures the vibe of this stunning section of bike-legal trail below.
Continental Divide Trail–CDT–A Dream Touring Route
There are few places in the USA like Northern New Mexico. With a low population density, ease of access to remote areas, and primitive singletrack, it’s a dirt-oriented cyclotourist’s delight. No trail makes this statement more true than the CDT. The NM segment of the CDT stretches over 800 miles from south of Cumbres Pass in Colorado down to the Southern Border.
It traverses mountainous topography, arid terrain, and Southwestern desertscapes, all while snaking its way down the length of the state. One stretch along the divide’s spine, that hovers around 10,000′ in elevation, offers specific refuge for those looking to escape the heat of the summer months.
The CDT from Cumbres Pass, CO, to Martinez Canyon, NM, is completely bike-legal, offers ample water sources, and challenges visitors with remote, burly singletrack. Having just finished up a four-day romp on the trail, I’ve updated our official route with a few more notes below, including logistics for how to do this ride with a group of our size (seven in total). But first, let me offer some anecdotal points…
Our Plan… Changed
Having ridden this before, in 2020 with Bailey Newbrey, I knew what the deadfall situation could look like. Back in October 2020, we rode every bit of singletrack just south of Canjilon Lakes before taking forest roads down to El Rito. We lucked out, as sawyers had cleared lots of deadfall that year, making it a relatively smooth-sailing ride.
This year, however, was a different story altogether. Intel from a thru-hiker came in a few days before we left, and the reports didn’t sound good: hundreds of fallen trees on the first ten miles of the trail! Our winter was ferocious last year, and with the deep snowpack, many beetle-kill trees had fallen.
This changed our plan of a mostly singletrack tour, so we opted to drop in on the fire road (FR117) below Cumbres and ride (FR87) to Brazos Ridge, where we picked up the CDT for good. Twelve miles of fire road versus hefting your loaded bike (with four days’ worth of food) over 100 downed trees sounded like a good compromise.
This minor inconvenience worked out in our favor, with prominent monsoon activity happening at these higher elevations. We shaved some time and some heartache (and backache!) and got to camp on the Rio San Antonio in time for some afternoon fishing. Over the next three days, we encountered a lot of deadfall, so future riders be advised to pack light!
I’ll spare you the trip report, the minutiae, and the lengthy wax poetic on why bike touring is literally the best thing ever. Instead, follow along in the Gallery for some quick quips and commentary, and keep reading for route notes and logistics…
The Blue Bus (Santa Fe 200 transfer to the Chama 190 in Espanola) leaves Santa Fe and drives to Chama, New Mexico, five days a week. It is equipped with a four-bike rack on the front. You can take this bus to Chama, NM, and climb to the top of Cumbres Pass. Be warned: this is a two-lane, paved, mountainous highway that spans 12 miles from Chama to Cumbres Pass with an elevation gain of 2,139′. We recommend getting an early start and loading up in Chama.
Shuttling this route is easy. We drove three vehicles for a large group (plus bikes) like ours. Two cars had racks with all the bikes, and our shuttle drivers used one car. We left Santa Fe in a convoy en route to the Martinez Canyon trailhead—park the shuttle driver’s car at this trailhead. Load up the bike shuttle cars with the shuttle drivers. Drive to Cumbres Pass, and unload the bikes and riders. Then, the shuttle drivers return to Martinez Canyon Trailhead, park the two bike shuttle cars, and return to Santa Fe with the shuttle driver’s car. When you finish the route, the cars are waiting for you. Just make sure you bring the extra set of keys. ;-) It is a 2-hour, 15-minute drive each way.
Keep your eyes peeled for trail blazes… this is how you navigate the trail in its entirety.
A Few Route Notes:
- To minimize impact, please use existing campsites and observe the Leave No Trace principals.
- Check with the Carson National Forest’s burn bans before making a fire on this route.
- You could ride a gravel or drop bar touring bike but there are a lot of sections of trail that are very rocky, so be warned! I’d say a minimum of a 2.2″ tire would be needed to still have fun.
- Backcountry wayfinding is essential for this route, particularly following the CDT between miles 65 through 75; route following can be difficult due to excessive cattle grazing and a number of crisscrossing cattle trails.
- Be prepared for lots of deadfall. This 90-mile section can contain upwards of 100s of dead trees.
- Download the entire area map so you can skip sections of singletrack in lieu of fire roads to avoid deadfall if needed. We hit some sections with a lot but still opted to stick to the singletrack.
- Weather can change dramatically in the high country. Be prepared for monsoons, early or late snowfall, and temperature fluctuations. We saw temps in the high 30s at night through upper 80s in the day as we neared the end of the trail.
- It’s best to ride this mid-to-late summer or early fall–October is ideal–as most of the fallen trees will have been cleared by then, and you’ll miss monsoon season. In the summer months it can be warm, even at higher elevations, so be prepared to consume more water.
- Water exists in various forms on this route from rivers, creeks, ponds, lakes, and cattle tanks. Use a filter that works well with silt, though, as many of the streams and rivers are silty and will clog filters. We recommend a backflushing filter.
- The water at Hopewell Lake is currently turned off due to a busted pipe. We filtered the lake water. It’s gross.
- There is no water at the Canjilon Lakes campground. Filter the lake water. Again, gross.
- Be very cautious riding during hunting season, especially rifle. We have ridden this during archery week and rifle week and saw plenty of hunters out and about. Bright colors are strongly encouraged during hunting season.
- PLEASE close all gates. This keeps cattle where they’re supposed to be and out of areas where they do irreparable damage.
- The trail is well marked, and new sections are being cut every year; as such many GPS files and even paper maps are not all that helpful when wayfinding. This map showcases the current, official route as of 08.05.2023, including the new singletrack routes out of the Rio San Antonio Valley and up the climb to Canjilon Lakes.
Current CDT 2023 Route
Got questions? Planning on doing this route soon? Need to add route conditions? Drop them in the comments.