CDT: more on the Big Sky alternative. —is where I am starting on links and resources for this post.

Why hike the Big Sky variant?

Well, we did it primarily for a bit of fun and adventure away from the CDT and to explore different ground. Southbound we thought the CDT in mid-Montana a bit dull with lots of lodgepole pine and the alternative provided some varied scenery.

Includes several maps. October, 2009, but not much change.

Best quote from that thread:

There are some positives though, two big ones for me:

  1. ⁠Variety, this was a big one for me. You cut through a few different regions on the big sky cutoff that have some distinct views. Like the Tobacco Root Mountains and the Gallatin Petrified Forest.
  2. ⁠Logistics are easier. More frequent resupply options and some better towns. the MT/ID section has one of the longest carries of the trail.

A couple more minor points were:

• ⁠Saving time, I’m a slow hiker so it helped.
• ⁠More time in Yellowstone, and in a more rugged, less travelled area. Though you do miss the “quintessential” Yellowstone geysers.


Our first few days in the park were pretty low key. We were solidly in the backcountry and therefore didn’t see many people. Running into clean hikers, people who are out for a day hike or maybe a weekend, is one of the most reliable map-free ways you know as a thru hiker that you’re getting closer to a trailhead. Catching a whiff of soap or detergent when you pass someone on trail is almost a promise of town food within a day or two, and a sure way to put a little extra energy into your hiking.

GPX file with annotation.

In total, this GPX file contains 489.75 miles of original trail. Pit toilets, bear hangs, and bear boxes were marked along the way. The majority of trails are maintained and bushwhacking is at a minimum. Backcountry permits are not necessary for any of the miles except the 2-3 days inside Yellowstone Park – of which the hike is so remote, the chances of running into a ranger is lower than seeing a grizzly bear. If you’re looking for an original hike, this Big Sky Variant is for you.

Digital map bundle. Pricy.

Finally, this Reddit plan:

As you probably already know, there is no single “Big Sky Cutoff” (aka “Butte Super Cutoff”) as everyone inevitably takes a different variation, but I think the general route described in is a good place to start. I planned a variation of this for my wife and I’s CDT hike last year (2020) and I would recommend it if you want a Big Sky Cutoff with minimal logistics.

The benefits of this route are that you do not need to send a single box ahead, as all resupplies are done at real grocery stores in towns. Also, you can do this hike with only 2-3 campsite reservations in Yellowstone NP, yet you get to spend around a week’s worth of time in the park. It’s a nice compromise of a lot of time in the park without a lot of permits. Without further ado, I’ll give an overview with mileage of my own Big Sky Cutoff, presented in SOBO order because that’s what the OP asked for:

— Mileage / Resupply —

Butte, MT (via ~15 mile hitch from northernmost I-15 crossing on the CDT)

< 38.6 miles >

Whitehall, MT (on route, Jefferson’s Fresh Food resupply)

< 63.2 miles >

Ennis, MT (via ~7 mile hitch from Hwy-287 crossing at McAllister)

< 41.0 miles >

Big Sky, MT (on route, Roxy’s Market resupply… or take bus into Bozeman)

< 61.0 miles > (this includes 6.2 mi of road walking from Big Sky to Porcupine Creek TH and 6.0 mi of road walking from Mammoth Springs in Yellowstone to Gardiner)

Gardner, MT (on route, Gardiner Market resupply)

< 80.0 miles >

Cody, WY (via ~45 mile hitch from Eagle Creek CG on Hwy-14)

< 79.2 miles >

Dubois, WY (via ~26 mile hitch from Hwy-26 crossing on the old CDT)

— Maps —

Printable maps for most of this route can be downloaded at

High quality waterproof maps (and digital versions) of almost the entire route can be purchased from Beartooth Publishing. Specifically, you will want the following maps:

Tobacco Root Mountains, Bozeman / Big Sky / West Yellowstone, Yellowstone North, Yellowstone South

You could just buy the single Yellowstone National Park map for the Yellowstone stretch, but that version doesn’t have the specific backcountry campsites marked, so it is useless for trying to plan out campsite reservations while knowing mileage in between the sites. For that reason I’d suggest buying both the North and the South maps for Yellowstone, as linked above. You can try and plan out your campsite reservations using the official Yellowstone Trails & Campsites map, but without mileages in between the sites, it’s not very useful. I found just buying the Beartooth maps to be worth it, plus Beartooth Publishing is local company in Montana and they answered all of my email questions really kindly and were super informative and helpful, so I think it’s worth supporting this local business.

— Yellowstone NP Backcountry Camping Permits —

For more info on getting your backcountry permits for Yellowstone, check our the Camp in the Backcountry page on the YNP website.

When we went through Yellowstone (northbound, in our case), we only needed to get 2 nights worth of backcountry permits, because we did some very careful planning to camp right outside of the YNP border for multiple nights. It can be done.

Importantly, when you call ahead to reserve permits, it can be done no earlier than 3 days prior to the start of your trip, so you kind of need to call in when you are quite close to entering the park. With this in mind, I would recommend the following:

For SOBO hikers, you will want call in to get permits once you are in Big Sky, MT. It you can’t get permits there, it’s still possible to squeeze by and camp just outside the YNP boundary near Shelf Lake, then hike into Mammoth Hot Springs (where there is a campground) in one 29 mile day. You can walk 6 miles (or hitch) from Mammoth Hot Springs to Gardiner to resupply at the grocery store there. From Mammoth Hot Springs or from Gardiner, you could also call in to get your permits.

For NOBO hikers, you will want to call in to get your permits once you are in Cody, WY. Yes, you can hike through the park for multiple days before that without having to actually camp in it overnight. I would suggest the following schedule when entering the park from the south: camp at Bridger Lake, just south of the YNP boundary, hike 20 miles from Bridger Lake to just past Eagle Pass (where you get out of the park again) and camp around there, then hike another 15 miles from Eagle Pass to the Eagle Creek Campground at Hwy-14 (where you can hitch into Cody).

— Navigation —

Lastly, the OP asked about navigation… I found navigation relatively simple on the cutoff. The trails along the way are mostly very good and oftentimes marked, so a compass, a physical map, and a brain is mostly sufficient for navigation. If you get the digital versions of the Beartooth maps on the Avenza apps, then you can geolocate on the maps themselves. I would actually suggest the electronic maps for this reason. I actually purchased both for redundancy, but only really used the digital maps on trail. The physical maps were helpful to layout on the floor and plan the whole route though, and I liked being able to write directly on them too with notes.

Good luck!
What is really on my mind these days.

Gear: “biodegradable” wet wipes

There are three types of biodegradable wet wipes:

  • As defined by the marketing department. These degrade somewhere between 20 and a hundred years from when they are buried and are usually made of rayon.
  • “Flushable” wipes. A new category. Properly they should be 100% cellulose, short fibers and degrade within weeks. See above for long fiber part plastic labeled by marketing.
  • “Real” biodegradable wipes. Often found in hiker boxes. These start falling apart as soon as the seal is broken (which is why they are often dropped off in hiker boxes).

How can you tell which is which and not just a come on for affiliate marketing links or otherwise selling you a bill of goods?

There is a UK standard, “fine to flush” that is a good indicator. EDANA & INDA standards of compostability are also good indicators.

Note that all of these standards get abused by marketing departments. Also, what is appropriate for a cat hole (defined as biodegrading as fast or faster than toilet paper) is not always good to flush.

We still need a better standard out there.

CDT: Permits

Compared to the PCT there are a lot fewer permits you need to get and they are much easier to get. The only expensive/need to plan before you start permit, the New Mexico permit, you no longer need to get.

There is no master permit such as the one for the Pacific Crest Trail. A backpacker needs to have a permit for each of the National Parks and certain wilderness areas.

Permits are required for Glacier National Park,  the Blackfeet Nation land near East Glacier, Yellowstone National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park (if you choose that route), Indian Peaks Wilderness (if you choose the older CDTS route) and a self-signed permit for various wilderness areas.

It appears that the New Mexico permit is no longer required.

  • Glacier National Park:  permit as a walk-up or on the phone the day before 40-6-888-7801
  • Yellowstone National Park Backcountry Permit: obtain in person at the ranger station or visitor center by walk-up.
  • Blackfeet Nation on-line:
  • But the big change, as of February 2023 “The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) New Mexico Office has acquired a right-of-way from the New Mexico State Land Office (NMSLO) to improve recreational access along the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (CDNST), the agencies announced today. The right-of-way will authorize and facilitate hiking through segments of state land located along the CDNST and will enable federal funds to be used for the administration, operation, and maintenance of the CDNST where it crosses state land. Today’s announcement follows years of collaboration between BLM New Mexico, the State Land Office, and nonprofit organization the Continental Divide Trail Coalition (CDTC).”

That is really neat, all in all. Makes planning and hiking easier. Basically you get walk-up permits as needed, except for the Blackfeet Nation and that one you get online using your phone once you get about twenty-five hundred miles into your hike.

CDT: Alternative Routes: The Big Sky Alternative Route

The “big” alternative is the Big Sky/Super Butte Alternative. Big as in it saves a couple-three hundred miles and big as it is the biggest one. Taking the route is about three weeks rather than 5-6 weeks.

To quote about it.

by from discussion

There are several different starting points for the Alternative route. This map of the Ocean Pass start is useful because it shows the highways and the cities. Most Big Sky Alternatives take off about 45 miles later at the top of the peak north of the [20] on the following map.

For comparison, this map shows shows all the cities:

Then this map shows the “best” route using a topo map.

This is a close up of where you start that route:

Then you head west. This is also a resupply. You hitch about six miles to Ennis for a resupply. Ennis also has a good restaraunt.

Continuing on:

Close up:

Then you turn north again.

Now headed further in on the green line..

Notice that the scale is down to a mile a virtual inch.

And into town:

That is the route. From here you can follow FarOut north and onward.

This is the complete route:

And one more overall map that focuses on the roads and doesn’t show the cut-off I expect to use. On the other hand, this approach goes through Big Sky rather than waiting until Ennis for resupply:

Links (note that a number or sources are no longer live links):

There is not a uniform or complete approach to this yet. I’ve talked with FarOut and they’ve debated adding it, but have not done so up to now.

While I’m hopeful they will, I’m not counting on it.

Resupply advice from the CDT Survey

Average CDT Resupply Plan

Based on survey responses we can piece together what an “average” Continental Divide Trail hiker’s resupply looked like for a 2022 thru-hike. Below is a list of all the CDT resupply stops where hikers stopped this year accompanied by the percentage of hikers who stopped at each location.

Resupply stops are listed in geographical order from Mexico to Canada (that’s south to north in case you’re unsure) and, again, I use the following colors to indicate each resupply stop’s popularity: over 75%, 50-75%, 25-50%, under 25%.

New Mexico Resupply

  • Hachita – 1.2%
  • ⛺ Lordsburg – 97.1%
  • Deming – 0.6%
  • ⛺ Silver City – 97.7%
  • ⛺ Doc Campbell’s – 90.2%*
  • Reserve – 14.9%
  • Davila Ranch – 1.2%
  • ⛺ Pie Town – 86.8%*
  • Quemado – 3.5%
  • ⛺ Grants – 90.8%
  • Albuquerque – 5.8%
  • Thoreau – 0.6%
  • Crownpoint – 0.6%
  • ⛺ Cuba – 78.7%
  • Española – 0.6%
  • Santa Fe – 10.3%
  • ⛺ Ghost Ranch – 33.3%*
  • Taos – 0.6%
  • Chama via Cumbres Pass – 78.2%

Colorado Resupply

  • Pagosa Springs via Wolf Creek Pass – 84.1%
  • South Fork via Wolf Creek Pass – 6.1%
  • Platoro – 4.9%
  • Del Norte – 3.7%
  • Creede – 21.5%
  • Silverton via Stony Pass – 26.4%
  • Durango – 3.9%
  • Lake City via Spring Creek Pass – 69.3%
  • Sargents – 0.6%
  • ⛺ Monarch Mountain Lodge – 13.5%
  • Monarch Spur RV Park – 1.2%
  • Salida via Monarch Pass – 85.9%
  • Gunnison – 1.2%
  • Buena Vista – 9.2%
  • ⛺ Twin Lakes – 68.7%
  • Leadville – 72.4%
  • ⛺ Copper Mountain – 6.8%
  • Breckenridge – 44.8%
  • Frisco – 16.6%
  • Silverthorne – 27.6%
  • Dillon – 13.5%
  • Winter Park – 45.4%
  • Fraser – 4.9%
  • Denver – 11.7%
  • ⛺ Grand Lake – 92.6%
  • Steamboat Springs via Rabbit Ears Pass – 95.7%

Wyoming Resupply

  • Encampment via Battle Pass – 59.3%*
  • Riverside via Battle Pass – 22.7%
  • ⛺ Rawlins – 98.3%
  • ⛺ Big Sandy Lodge – 5.3%
  • ⛺ South Pass City – 20.9%*
  • Atlantic City – 11.1%
  • Lander – 70.9%
  • Pinedale – 68.6%
  • Lava Mountain Lodge via Togwotee Pass – 7.0%
  • Dubois via Togwotee Pass – 71.5%
  • Jackson – 14.5%
  • Togwotee Mountain Lodge – 1.2%
  • ⛺ Brooks Lake Lodge – 4.7%
  • ⛺ Grant Village in Yellowstone – 36.6%
  • ⛺ Old Faithful Village in Yellowstone – 69.8%
  • Mammoth Village in Yellowstone – 1.6%

Idaho/Montana Resupply

  • West Yellowstone – 46.3%
  • ⛺ Island Park / Mack’s Inn – 48.3%
  • Big Sky – 5.4%
  • Ennis – 1.3%
  • Lima – 89.3%*
  • Leadore via Bannock Pass – 91.3%*
  • Salmon – 3.4%
  • Jackson – 4.0%
  • Darby via Chief Joseph Pass – 76.5%
  • Hamilton via Chief Joseph Pass – 2.0%
  • Camp Sula – 6.7%
  • Wisdom – 5.4%
  • Wise River – 1.1%
  • ⛺ Anaconda – 72.2%
  • Whitehall – 3.4%
  • Butte – 21.6%
  • Bozeman – 6.3%
  • Helena – 88.6%
  • Elliston – 2.3%
  • ⛺ High Divide Outfitters – 7.4%
  • ⛺ Lincoln – 32.4%
  • ⛺ Benchmark Wilderness Ranch – 10.2%
  • Augusta – 80.7%
  • ⛺ East Glacier Village – 94.3%*
  • Kalispell – 2%
  • ⛺ Two Medicine – 9.6%
  • Saint Mary – 2.3%
  • ⛺ Many Glacier – 23.3%

*Stops where this year’s class suggests sending resupply boxes
⛺ Stops that can be reached without hitchhiking or road walking 


Based on this information, how would our average Continental Divide Trail thru-hiker resupply? It would resemble the following. Note: names in bold indicate locations where hikers suggest mailing a resupply box.

New Mexico

  • Mile 84: Lordsburg
  • Mile 158: Silver City
  • Mile 38 of Gila Alternate: Doc Campbell’s
  • Mile 415: Pie Town
  • Mile 525: Grants
  • Mile 629: Cuba
  • Mile 689: Chama via Cumbres Pass


  • Mile 847: Pagosa Springs via Wolf Creek Pass
  • Mile 961: Lake City via Spring Creek Pass
  • Mile 1061: Salida via Monarch Pass
  • Mile 1144: Twin Lakes
  • Mile 1181: Leadville
  • Mile 1216: Breckenridge
  • Mile 1290: Winter Park
  • Mile 1343: Grand Lake
  • Mile 1436: Steamboat Springs via Rabbit Ears Pass


  • Mile 1520: Encampment via Battle Pass
  • Mile 1602: Rawlins
  • Mile 1722: Lander
  • Mile 1799: Pinedale
  • Mile 16.1 of Old CDT Alt: Dubois via Togwotee Pass
  • Mile 1988: Old Faithful Village in Yellowstone


  • Mile 15 of Macks Inn Alternate: Island Park / Mack’s Inn
  • Mile 2134: Lima
  • Mile 2236: Leadore via Bannock Pass
  • Mile 2358: Darby via Chief Joseph Pass
  • Mile 27 of Anaconda Cutoff: Anaconda
  • Mile 2618: Helena
  • Mile 2686: Lincoln
  • Mile 2744: Augusta
  • Mile 2877: East Glacier Village

NOTE: This is for educational purposes only and is not necessarily a good (or even decent) resupply strategy. Please do not blindly follow this; instead, use it as a guide.

Off topic. Pecan Cobbler


  • 1 box refrigerated pie crusts (Pillsbury 14.1 oz.)
  • 2 and 1/2 cups light corn syrup
  • 2 and 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 4 tsp. vanilla
  • 6 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 cups chopped pecans
  • cooking spray
  • 2 cups pecan halves


  1. Heat oven to 425º F. Lightly grease a 13″ x 9″ glass baking dish. Remove one pie crust from package and roll out to fit the baking dish. Trim edges.
  2. In a large bowl, combine corn syrup, brown sugar, butter, vanilla, and eggs. Whisk until well combined. Stir in chopped pecans.
  3. Spoon half of filling into crust.
  4. Remove the second crust from the package, and roll out to fit baking dish. Place the crust on top of the filling. Lightly spray with cooking spray.
  5. Bake 14-16 minutes or until browned. Remove from oven.
  6. Reduce oven temp. to 350º and carefully spoon remaining pecan filling over crust. Arrange the pecan halves over the top and bake 30 minutes or until the center is set. Let cool for 15-20 minutes. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Gear. Misc neat stuff

The above is a picture, not a link. But it is a neat thermometer.

Hiking umbrellas (should have gotten one out of the last hiker box):

I’m only looking at one for shade while hiking exposed, not for rain protection. That skews my perspective.

I’m probably going to stick with a baseball cap and a sun hoodie. But I’ve looked at umbrellas for 5-6 years. 😄

Found some neat tent stakes.

These are stakes I bought for $2.00 or less each from Etowah.

Dyneema wallet

A nano puff which is ~750 to 800 loft down in warmth for weight.

The Merino blend is 11% merino. Similar to Patagonia Capilene.

Alpha Direct hoodie summary—all the current brands.

Finally. The real waterproof gloves are now available in a “normal” color.