I apologize for my long break between posting. I’ve actually been working, and doing some writing over at The Trek. But I have a lot more CDT content and gear reviews to get up and hopefully help those planning their hikes for 2019 and beyond!
Contrary to what you may have heard, resupply on the CDT isn’t that different to or much more difficult than the PCT. Many of the alternates (and virtually all of New Mexico) even allow for on-trail resupply. You can pull it off without mailing anything at all, but a small number of well-planned resupply boxes is strongly recommended.
I also recommend making and sending your boxes from the trail, rather than far in advance from home. You’ll save money and waste less food. All you need to do before hitting the trail is make and send a few boxes for New Mexico if you’re NOBO, or Montana if SOBO. Since we went NOBO, I’m listing my recommendations in that order. Reverse the order for SOBO.
Lastly, plan on taking alternates on the CDT. Quite a few of them are superior to the official trail. Some of them just allow for easier resupply. While being a purist on the AT or PCT meant Paul and I pretty much always stuck to the official trail, on the CDT we took tons of alternates! We kept it “pure” with an unbroken footpath and enjoyed having so many options to choose from. It’s part of what makes the experience of the CDT different and a little more adventurous and personal. Read your Ley maps, they convey a lot more information and many more routes than Guthook.
Prep and Mail From Home Before Leaving
If you take the Gila River alternate (as most do), you’ll want to send yourself a box to Doc Campbell’s. There is a store with limited supplies here as well.
There is a gas station on the official CDT a few miles before Pie Town, but other than that there is no grocery store in this town. Most hikers send themselves a box to the Toaster House or the Gathering Place. Keep in mind that the hiker/biker box at the Toaster House is massive. Ramen, oats, powdered potatoes, couscous, and rice are all abundant here. In other words, pack less food than you think you’ll need. You might want to send yourself some “town food” to prepare in the toaster house kitchen or at the very least some food to snack on while here. Don’t forget to leave a donation so the Toaster House stays open to hikers and bikers in the future. And eat some New Mexico apple pie at one of the restaurants in town.
Most people take the Ghost Ranch alternate for the ease of resupply. The hike in was boring but the hike out was quite pretty. There’s not much for purchase here but you can send yourself a package and use the microwave. They also serve meals but we heard they were not really worth the price.
Chama has a grocery store, so there is no need to send yourself food here. However, if you’re NOBO, you’ll want to send yourself your ice axe and microspikes here before you enter the San Juans. Also, ignore the Guthook mileage for Chama. You’ll get here from Cumbres Pass, just over the Colorado border. If you’re SOBO, Chama is a good place to prep and mail your boxes for Ghost Ranch and Pie Town.
No Need for Boxes, Resupply in Towns
You can easily skip resupply in Twin Lakes with a little planning and instead going to Leadville or Breckenridge a day or two later. Twin Lakes is EXPENSIVE and I do not recommend it for more than a nice place to take a rest, maybe grab a couple snacks, and have a bite to eat before moving on. This is probably the most expensive spot on the entire trail.
With a Wal-Mart and a regular grocery store, Rawlins is a good place to prep and mail some boxes ahead. Lander or Dubois would work as well. It’s also quite possible to do Wyoming without sending any boxes.
South Pass City/Atlantic City/Lander
The trail goes right through South Pass City, an old mining town turned park/tourist attraction. The general Store will hold hiker packages and has a small hiker box. There is no resupply here, no fuel, and no bear spray.
If you don’t want to send yourself a box, you can hitch into Lander to resupply. I hear it’s a cool town, and I think most hikers stop there. You could also hitch into Atlantic City for a restaurant and lodging. To save time and money, we sent a package to South Pass City from Rawlins, camped in the parking lot and charged our devices in the public restroom. From here, headed North, the trail heads into the Winds. Mileage is slower in the Winds, particularly if you take the alternates, and you should definitely take the alternates. My point is: have a little extra food for the Winds.
We hitched into Dubois (“due-boys”) to resupply in town. If you want to avoid heading into town, you could send a package to the nearby resort Lava Mountain Lodge. However, Dubois is a good place to rest up after (or before) the Winds, get your Yellowstone permits taken care of (for NOBOs), and mail ahead some boxes to Lima and Leadore if you haven’t done that yet. It’s also a good spot to get bear spray if you haven’t picked any up yet.
Old Faithful Village/West Yellowstone/Mack’s Inn
It sounds like the Post Office at Old Faithful Village might not hold hiker packages anymore, unfortunately. You can definitely resupply here, it’ll just be a little expensive. You can also probably get a free shower at the Old Faithful Lodge if you make nice with some employees.
Despite being out of the park, West Yellowstone is equally as expensive, if not moreso. We stayed on the official route through this area, but I realize now why people do the Mack’s Inn alternate instead of West Yellowstone – cheaper and easier resupply. If I were to do it over, I’d send a box to Mack’s Inn and take that alternate.
The tiny towns along the Idaho/Montana border make resupply options limited to gas station-type markets. It’s helpful to send a box or two through this area. It is also helpful to try and arrange your rides in advance if you are able, though service is limited. Having or knowing someone with a Garmin is a real benefit, because they can arrange rides via text when there is no cell service.
Lima is tiny, although there is a restaurant and gas station, post office, and motel. Send a box to the motel, you can stay or just have a shower and laundry, and eat a meal at the restaurant across the street. You’ll probably be getting a ride from the motel owner, because the “road” into town is the interstate. He runs a shuttle several times per day. You have to climb under the barbed wire fence and up onto the freeway shoulder to get your shuttle – there is no exit onto the frontage road the trail follows. Please give him a tip so he continues to offer this service to hikers.
Even tinier than Lima, Leadore has lodging, a market, a restaurant, and even a library. We resupplied at the market, but options were somewhat limited so a box would have been nice. Most hikers stayed in town but we just cleaned up, got a ride back to the trail in the evening and camped near the road, eating sandwiches from the market. As in Lima, the owner of the inn will probably be giving you a ride. Please give him a tip so he continues to offer his services to hikers. There are not a lot of cars on the road near the trail.
The trail goes through some larger cities in Montana, and even the smaller town such as Lincoln and Augusta have decent enough markets to resupply in town. The only reason to send boxes through this section is to save some time or money. If you’re SOBO, you’ll want to stop in either Butte or Augusta depending which alternate you choose and mail your boxes for the Idaho/Montana border and Mack’s Inn/Yellowstone.
I wouldn’t bother sending a box here unless I was in a rush and trying to avoid going to town. Aside from the regulations and fees associated with sending a box here, I heard unconfirmed rumors that hiker’s boxes were not kept secure. I can’t speak from experience as we just went in to town to resupply at the market. It might be tricky to get a ride into Augusta, but we made it in and out on the same day without issue with a group of 4. Signs can be very helpful when hitching on the CDT.
You can resupply here just fine, but if you want to save a few bucks, send a box. This is your last real stop before the end, although you will have the chance to spend some more money in the park at Two Medicine and Many Glacier if you are feeling tempted. If you’re going SOBO and passing through East Glacier before starting your hike, you might be able to get the hostel or a local motel to hold onto a resupply box for you and save some money on shipping.