Colorado is full of seemingly countless trails. Though finding the right adventure at the right time can sometimes feel overwhelming, a new app called COTREX (short for Colorado Trail Explorer) puts nearly 40,000 miles of local trails in the palm of your hand.
The free mobile app, which launched in late 2018 after years of development, harnesses a comprehensive, statewide database of more than 2,350 trailheads. COTREX was created by Colorado Parks and Wildlife in partnership with 230-plus land managers and organizations as part of Department of Natural Resources’ Colorado the Beautiful initiative—an effort launched in 2015 by then-Gov. John Hickenlooper to ensure every Coloradan lives within 10 minutes of a park, trail, or open space—and is an evolution of the online COTREX platform, an initiative to map every trail in the state.
While the breadth of what COTREX covers is quite impressive, the search function alone makes this app worth a download. Although Colorado’s mountains and open spaces are covered in trails, not all explorers are going on foot or bike. Likewise, not all trails will accommodate motorized vehicles. In the COTREX app, you can select from a menu of activities—hiking, biking, equestrian, motorcycle, all terrain vehicles, and off-highway vehicles—so you can be prepared to hit the trail running, so to speak.
COTREX’s platform provides stats like trail length and difficulty, outlines closures, and notes what facilities are available. You can also easily search within specific parameters, such as for dog-friendly or wheelchair-accessible trails.
COTREX is so robust that it took me some time to get comfortable with its interface. Before you head out into the wilderness, spend time familiarizing yourself with the app’s features. To start, create an account online (you don’t necessarily need one to use the site or the app, but it is helpful if you want to favorite a trail to find later). Another tip: The key to the map in the app can be found by clicking on the “i” next to the Natural Atlas name at the bottom of the screen and scrolling down the popup window to “Trail Colors.”
Whether you have a specific place in mind or you’re simply looking for a new area to explore, it’s easier to see details and maintain a sense of where you are in the map on a larger screen. Don’t forget to filter your search as needed, whether by activity, location, difficulty, length, and features—like waterfalls, kid-friendly, history, lakes, and more.
Once you narrow your search to a specific area, you can zoom in and out to see various levels of detail. From here, you can click on a trail, which opens a drop-down menu that provides information such as length, elevation, allowed uses, and more. Hit the “star” button to add the trail to your saved list. You can also use the measuring tool to click on trails and create custom routes. If you’ve created an account, these routes will appear under your profile in the app when you’re logged in after you’ve synced your phone.
To find your saved routes from within the app, click on the profile button at the bottom of your screen and choose one of your starred or custom routes. You’ll have the option to share it with others, get directions to the trailhead, and more.
Of course, many of the most exploration-worthy places in Colorado are out of internet range, and COTREX has prepared for this. Like other tracking apps, you can access the maps and record your activity offline. Once you return to civilization, simply sync the app and any details saved during your trip—such as field notes, photos, and markers—will appear in your profile.
There are hundreds of preset field notes for everything from surface conditions and obstacles to plants, animals, rocks, and minerals. Or, you can create your own field note and add up to three photos. The app also offers some challenges where you can earn badges while exploring the state, and opportunities to create groups and interact with other community members.
Whether you’re hoping to conquer some of Colorado’s most famed peaks on foot or to explore backcountry roads on four wheels, the COTREX app will help you get there.