The Continental Divide in Colorado

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When traveling through Colorado you cannot avoid hearing about the beauty of the Continental Divide. Continental Divide points of interests are great spots to stop and take pictures while soaking in the scenery on a Rocky Mountain road trip.

When checking with locals and visitors, we discovered a lot of confusion regarding what the Continental Divide actually is.

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False Theories regarding the Continental Divide

  1. When you flush the toilet or turn on the water in the sink, the water goes down the drain clockwise. There is a theory that the direction changes at the Continental Divide.
    -> False, the direction in which the water goes down the drains actually changes along the equator!

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2. The Continental Divide is one continuous line through the United States!?
-> False, there are several Continental Divides in the United States.

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3. Wind direction changes from east to west at the Continental Divide!?

-> False, wind direction is not determined by the Continental Divide.

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What the Continental Divide actually is

continental divide is a drainage divide on a continent such that the drainage basin on one side of the divide feeds into one ocean or sea and the basin on the other side feeds into a different ocean or sea.

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North America’s Continental Divides – The Great Divide

The most famous Continental Divide of the Americas is also called the Great Divide. It separates the watersheds of the Pacific Ocean from those of the Atlantic Ocean.

It runs from Alaska, through western Canada along the crest of the Rocky Mountains to New Mexico. From there, it follows the crest of Mexico’s Sierra Madre Occidental and extends to the tip of South America.

However, this isn’t North America’s only continental divide, there is also the Northern Continental Divide, the Eastern Continental Divide, the Saint Lawrence River Divide, the Great Basin and the Laurentian River Divide.

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See the map below to learn more about America’s Continental Divides.

map-continental-divides-north-america
Source: Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:NorthAmerica-WaterDivides.png

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Continental Divides of the World

Depending on your definition of ocean, Eurasia, Africa, Australia and Antarctica have multiple divides. The map below shows drainage of the major oceans and seas of the world.

Ocean Drainage World Map
Source: Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:NorthAmerica-WaterDivides.png

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Where to visit the Great Continental Divide?

These are our favorite spots to visit Great Continental Divide landmarks in Colorado:

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1. Hike the Continental Divide Scenic Trail

The entire Continental Divide Scenic Trail is 3,100 Miles long and is one of the most significant trail systems in the world.

However, you can also explore parts of it.
Learn all about the trails HERE.

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2. Drive on Trail Ridge Road, one of the most popular scenic drives in Estes Park and cross the Continental Divide.

This route is the highest continuous auto road in the country and holds the highest byway distinction!

Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park
Source: Wikimedia Commons
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Trail_Ridge_Road_above_Treeline,_Rocky_Mountain_National_Park.jpg

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3. Drive over Loveland Pass and stop at the the Great Continental Divide.

This is a scenic and clever way to avoid the traffic at Eisenhower Tunnel on I-70. This beautiful photo location is at an elevation of 11,990 feet above sea level.

Loveland Pass Continental Dedvide

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4. Visit the Continental Divide on Cottonwood Pass

This drive is fairly close to Buena Vista. The road is paved on the Buena Vista side and is dirt on the other side towards Crested Butte. Enjoy the fantastic views from the top! Cottonwood pass is definitely the prettiest and best way to drive to Crested Butte and experience the Great Divide.

Cottonwood Pass Bueana Vista
Source:
Scenicbuenavista.com

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5. Independence Pass is another very scenic drive with spectacular mountain views from Buena Vista to Aspen.

Drive over Independence Pass to visit Aspen and you won’t regret it!

Independence Pass Continental Devide
Source: Wikimedia Commons
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Independence_Pass_scenic_overlook.jpg