Hiking Quandary Peak: 14er Route Info, Map & Advice
The Quandary Peak Trailhead is probably the most accessible of all 14ers. The gentle, Class 1 Mt Bierstadt route is a good choice for a first fourteener. However don’t let the ease trick you – many hikers are rescued every year while hiking Quandary Peak’s slopes. To avoid the crowd, I strongly recommend you visit during the week in the summer, or during the fall months. It’s also a great 14er to climb in the winter, so long as you are properly prepared. Here’s what you need to know for hiking Quandary Peak in my Route Guide below.
NEW TO 14ERS? CHECK OUT MY BEGINNERS GUIDE FOR A SAFE FIRST SUMMIT!
Hiking Quandary Peak | Fast Facts
Hiking Quandary Peak | Route Guide
Before you start hiking Quandary Peak… consider picking a different peak. Seriously – this is a very busy mountain, with hundreds of people climbing it on most summer days, so it’s often better to visit another 14er. If you are set on climbing Quandary Peak, however, read on.
The trail starts just past the main Quandary Parking lot – look for the sign marking the start. You begin below tree-line, working your way up a series of gentle switchbacks through the forest. You’ll pass several old mining roads as you go – be sure you follow the signs along the way to stay on route. Eventually you’ll pass above tree-line, and see this view of the route ahead.
Continue hiking until the trail leads to the south side of the East Ridge. In winter, you should skip this section, and head straight up the ridge to avoid avalanche risk. In summer, continue along the side of the slope until you return to the ridge proper through a series of switchbacks. You’ll now approach a flat section I like to call the Catwalk.
RELATED READ: BEGINNERS GUIDE TO HIKING 14ERS
This next section is flat, but often sees strong winds that can significantly move you around. Avoid the steep drop-offs to your left and cornices if you’re climbing early in the year. Once through the Catwalk you’ll start to climb the final crux to reach the summit ridge. Be wary of false summits – what appears to be the top is actually the beginning of a long summit ridge. Don’t be disapointed!
Finish your hike by walking along the relatively flat summit ridge to the top, marked by a cairn of rocks. Take a few photos, have a snack, and enjoy your accomplishment! Be sure to watch for weather so you can descend quickly if lightning threatens you. If you need more information, check out the route guide on 14ers.com and summitpost.com. I hope you enjoyed my Quandary Peak Route Guide! Good luck hiking Quandary Peak!
RELATED READ: WE SCREWED UP SO YOU DON’T HAVE TO – 10 TIPS FROM 14ER VETERANS
All route guides require a good topographical route map. I recommend downloading this map on your phone so you have a digital copy, and also printing out a paper copy so you have a backup spare if anything goes wrong. Keep them both with you while hiking Quandary Peak.
You should check the weather forecast multiple times, from multiple sources, before hiking Quandary Peak. Here are several good sources for the Quandary Peak Route:
Mountain Forecast for Quandary Peak Route
The Quandary Peak Traihead is experiencing overcrowded conditions that prevent Search and Rescue vehicles from reaching the trail.
To address the situation, the county is now requiring parking reservations to park at the trailhead from June 1 – September 30. The fee is $50 for a full weekend day and $25 for a full weekday.
Alternatively, you can park in Breckenridge and pay $15 to take a shuttle to and from the trailhead.
Directions: From Breckenridge head south along CO-9 S for approximately 9.2 miles. Take a right onto McCullough Gulch Road. The lower trailhead is direct to your right. The much smaller upper trailhead is further up along the road about 200 feet where the trail itself begins.
Bringing the right gear you will make your hike safer and more likely you reach the summit successfully. Here is what. I recommend bringing with you while hiking Quandary Peak.
Hiking Boots: Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GORE-TEX Boots
Power through uphills and descents in any weather with Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GORE-TEX men’s hiking boots. They give you the stability and grip you need, plus a higher cut for extra ankle support.
Backpack: Osprey Talon 22 Pack
The Osprey Talon 22 is the perfect size for those hiking Quandary Peak. With trek pole clasps to secure them to your pack, a pocket for your hydration bladder, and great comfort, you cannot beat this backpack.
Trek Poles: REI Co-op Traverse Trekking Poles
Trek poles provide stability while hiking and help you use your upper body strength while moving to give your legs a break. These award-winning poles from REI are lightweight, strong, and adjustable for rugged terrain.
Always Pack the Ten Essentials
The ten essentials are the most important pieces of gear you need to survive in an emergency in the backcountry. They empower you to actively respond to a crisis instead of passively waiting for search and rescue to respond. You should tweak the specific equipment you bring on each hike according to conditions, but you should always have something for each of these ten categories.
1. Navigation Gear
I recommend bringing a map and compass. If you want to use GPS, get a dedicated unit. Phone batteries die quickly in the cold on a 14er. This 14er map pack works well for climbing Quandary Peak.
2. Headlamp and Batteries
Even if you don’t plan to be out until dark, you can’t plan for everything. If you’re running behind, having the ability to see – and be seen – is everything. I recommend this headlamp from Black Diamond.
3. Emergency Shelter
When bad weather strikes without warning or someone falls and is injured, a shelter to get out of the elements can save your life. This emergency bivy works well for an easier peak like Quandary Peak.
4. Extra Water
Bring 2 liters of water per person on your hike – if not more. You also want to bring a purification system to get more if you get stuck outside. That could be purification pills like these, or a lifestraw like this.
5. Extra Food
I recommend packing 1,000-2,000 extra calories while hiking Quandary Peak If you do get stuck out there longer than expected, some extra power gel or energy bars will make a big difference.
6. Knife or Multi-tool
The benefits of having this around in an emergency are self-evident: You can prepare firewood, create a shelter, fix gear, and solve other problems. I recommend a leatherman multitool, which is so much more helpful than just a knife.
7. Sunglasses and Sunscreen
The solar radiation is powerful when you are above the tree line. Bringing strong sunscren (60+ SPF) is recommended to avoid sunburn. Bring a pair of polarized sunglasses to protect your eyes too.
8. Fire-Starting Kit
If you get stuck outdoors in the mountains, the cold is one of the biggest immediate threats to your life. Being able to start a fire can keep you alive through a cold night. Bring a small kit that includes matches and tinder for starting an emergency fire.
9. First Aid Kit
To hike Quandary Peak you don’t need to go overboard. Some bandages, moleskin, and pain relief medication is more than enough to deal with falls and scrapes, blisters, and altitude sickness.
10. Extra Layers
Bring one layer beyond what you expect to wear. In summer, that usually means bringing an extra coat or jacket you keep packed away in your bag. If you end up stuck outside overnight with a broken ankle, you will very happy you brought it with. These nanopuff jackets from Patagonia are lightweight but provide a ton of warmth.
Satellite Messenger: InReach Mini 2
When something goes wrong out on the trail, it is immensely helpful to be able to contact search and rescue teams quickly. Most areas of Quandary Peak do not have dependable cell service. A satellite messenger or personal locator beacon allows you to call for help in an emergency in almost any location. They are expensive and require a subscription, but they have saved many lives on peaks like Quandary Peak.
I recommend the Garmin InReach Mini 2, with also offers premium GPS mapping in addition to text and SOS features.
Q: How long does it take to climb Quandary Peak?
A: The exact time it takes to climb Quandary Peak varies based on your level of physical fitness, the conditions on the mountain, and how hard you push yourself. In general, for those in reasonably good shape, expect to take 5-6 hours to climb to the summit and get back to the trailhead. Those in worse shape may require 7-8 hours, while those in great shape might only need 4 hours.
Q: Can kids hike Quandary Peak?
A: Yes, kids can and do hike up Quandary Peak. They need to be prepared and have enough water and snacks to make it up, and they will have a better time if you take a night to acclimate beforehand. Make sure you take your time and stop for breaks to give them the greatest chance of success.
Q: Do you have to pay to hike Quandary Peak?
A: Technically you do not have to pay to hike Quandary Peak. However, you need to pay to reserve a parking spot at the Quandary Peak trailhead or pay to take a shuttle from Breckenridge. That means unless you get a ride to and from the trailhead or ride your bike there, you will need to pay something to hike Quandary Peak.
Q: How difficult is Quandary Peak Trail?
A: The Quandary Peak trail is difficult, but compared to other 14ers it is one of the easiest in the states. There are 3,500 feet of elevation gain, so it is not by any means easy. However, given enough time, most people can accomplish it if they are committed to reaching the summit.
Q: How long is the Quandary Peak Trail?
A: The route along the east ridge of Quandary Peak is a 6.75 mile round-trip. It takes about 3.6 miles to reach the summit and another 3.6 miles to come back down the same way. During winter the route is about .25 miles longer – just a slightly longer hike than in summer.
Camping near Quandary Peak:
There are also many dispersed camping opportunities along forest roads leading past the trailhead ideal for those hiking Quandary Peak. Learn more about dispersed camping near 14ers here.
Lodging near Quandary Peak:
There are many cabins available via Airbnb and other services in Breckenridge, Frisco, and the surrounding area, ideal for those hiking Quandary Peak
Quandary Peak is one of the five busiest mountains in Colorado, and it keeps getting busier every year. It is very important that you follow Leave No Trace ethics on your trip hiking Quandary Peak, including the following specific tips:
- Plan ahead, review the route and pick a weekday or day in September to hike.
- Stay on the trail, and keep dogs leashed on and off-trail to reduce trampling of alpine grass.
- Leave your Bluetooth speaker at home and let nature’s sound reign.
- Urinate off-trail, and pack out your waste – a cathole won’t work at high altitude.
- Give wildlife a wide berth – 100 meters if possible. If they approach, back up to keep space.
- Take nothing but pictures, and leave nothing but footprints.
Safe travels, and good luck hiking Quandary Peak! Learn more about LNT on 14ers here.
Quandary Peak’s name comes from early miners in the area who found themselves in a quandary – unable to identify a mineral specimen found on the mountain’s slopes. In earlier times, Quandary Peak was called McCullough’s Peak, Ute Peak, or Hoosier Peak.
Quandary Peak is one of the state’s busiest 14ers due to its proximity to the large Front Range ski resorts and its ease of access just off the highway. The East Ridge is a popular winter route due to its year-round accessibility and limited avalanche risk.
Those looking for a more adventurous ascent can climb Quandary Peak’s class 3 west ridge, or enjoy a 2,500-foot snow climb up the south face Christo Couloir. This mountain has something for everyone, whether you are a complete beginner or a peak-bagging master. Safe travels hiking Quandary Peak!
Hiking Quandary Peak is an inherently high-risk activity – do so at your own risk, and use the following best practices to help keep yourself safe.
- Research your route and bring a compass & topographic map.
- Check the weather forecast and stay home during inclement weather.
- Bring the Ten Essentials and the knowledge/skill to use them.
- Leave your plans with someone back home along with a detailed itinerary.
- Start early, and end early: Be back at tree line by noon to avoid lightning.
- Bring a buddy on your first ascent, preferably someone experienced.
NEW TO 14ERS? CHECK OUT MY BEGINNERS GUIDE FOR A SAFE FIRST SUMMIT!
Hiking Quandary Peak is an inherently high-risk, dangerous activity. There is a significant risk of injury or death, even with proper planning and experience. Those using my guide accept all risks associated with climbing 14ers and do not hold this website or any information they obtain from it liable for any accidents or injuries that occur while engaging in these activities on Colorado’s high peaks. It is each hiker or climber’s responsibility to research their route carefully, bring the ten essentials, and practice other safe practices, though even these precautions do not eliminate risk and danger. Visit these summits at your own risk.
Alex Derr, Creator of The Next Summit
Alex is an Eagle Scout, climber, and environmental policy expert located in Denver, Colorado. He created The Next Summit to help others stay safe exploring the mountains and advocate to preserve the peaks for the future. Follow him on Linkedin or Twitter or click here to contact him.