Colorectal cancer stem cells (CSCs) express Lgr5 and display extensive stem cell-like multipotency and self-renewal and are thought to seed metastatic disease. Here, we used a mouse model of colorectal cancer (CRC) and human tumor xenografts to investigate the cell of origin of metastases. We found that most disseminated CRC cells in circulation were Lgr5− and formed distant metastases in which Lgr5+ CSCs appeared. This plasticity occurred independently of stemness-inducing microenvironmental factors and was indispensable for outgrowth, but not establishment, of metastases. Together, these findings show that most colorectal cancer metastases are seeded by Lgr5− cells, which display intrinsic capacity to become CSCs in a niche-independent manner and can restore epithelial hierarchies in metastatic tumors.