Hiking Quandary Peak Colorado 14er

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.

Hiking Quandary Peak | Fast Facts

TAKE CARE & STAY SAFE!

You are responsible for your own safety in the backcountry.

These peaks can be unpredictable and dangerous. Help is often hours or days away: your safety is primarily your responsibility. Prepare for your trek, understand your limits, be aware of the risks, and equip yourself with the necessary skills and gear. 

Hiking Quandary Peak | East Ridge Route

First time planning a 14er hike or climb? Start by reading the route description and reviewing the route map. You should use the weather forecasts to plan, along with my gear recommendations. Check the Trailhead info to ensure you know how to get there and have an appropriate vehicle. Stay nearby at one of the camping or lodging options below to acclimatize before your climb and reduce your risk of altitude sickness. Lastly, refresh your Leave No Trace and mountain safety knowledge to protect the peaks and yourself.

There is additional information about the peak, local regulations, plus additional resources and a frequently asked question section. Have a question? Leave a comment at the bottom of the route guide and we’ll reply ASAP with an answer. Cheers!

Quandary Peak Route Description

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 disappointed! 

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 the 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. Good luck hiking Quandary Peak!

RELATED READ: WE SCREWED UP SO YOU DON’T HAVE TO – 10 TIPS FROM 14ER VETERANS

Quandary Peak Topographic Maps

Quandary Peak Route Map

I recommend downloading a copy of this map on your phone and printing out a backup paper copy to bring with you as well. Phones break and batteries die – never depend entirely on your smartphone for navigation and communication.

I also recommend these map options:

Quandary Peak Route Photos

Here are some photos of the east ridge route to the summit of Quandary Peak. I recommend downloading them on your phone to use during your ascent as an additional source of route information.

Quandary Peak Current Conditions

Conditions are constantly changing on 14ers like Quandary Peak. It is critically important to research current conditions regarding snow, weather, and rockfall before your hike. Here are some sources below.

In the world of climbing, current condition information is called “Beta.”

Where to Find Condition Reports (Beta)

Each of these websites allows users to post condition or trip reports with photos and descriptions of what they experienced while hiking Quandary Peak. Check them all before you start making posts asking about conditions or you may get scolded on accident.

Where to Ask About Recent Conditions (Beta)

If you cannot find any recent condition or trip reports for Mt Bierstadt using any of the website above, you can try posting on one of the social media groups or forums below to ask if anyone has been near the peak recently and can share some beta.

Quandary Peak Weather Forecast

The National Weather Service forecast below for Quandary Peak provides everything you need to know to plan ahead for your climb.

Additional weather forecast resources include Open Summit and Mountain Forecast.

Quandary Peak Trailhead

The Quandary Peak Traihead is experiencing overcrowded conditions that prevent Search and Rescue vehicles from reaching the trail. Below is info on reserving parking spots or taking a shuttle from Breckenridge.

PARKING DETAILS:
  • Parking reservations are required to park at the Quandary Peak Trailhead from June 17 to September 17.
  • Reservations can be made up to two weeks in advance beginning June 1 at www.hikequandary.com.
  • Parking after 3:00pm will be free and first-come, first-served.
  • Parking tickets are $100 both in the Quandary parking lot and along McCullough Gulch and Blue Lakes Road.
  • Overnight parking is not allowed (12:00am – 4:00am) in the Quandary Peak Trailhead.
  • Parking is prohibited on McCullough Gulch Road, Blue Lakes Road, and Highway 9.

PARKING FEES:
Full day (5:00am – 3:00pm)
  • $30 non-peak (Monday-Thursday, excluding Holidays), $55 peak (Friday-Sunday, plus Holidays).
  • Full day reservations are encouraged for Quandary hikers, as the average hike time is 6 hours.

Short-term (4-hour time slots)
  • $10 non-peak (Monday-Thursday), $20 peak (Friday-Sunday).
  • Short-term reservations are well suited for McCullough Gulch hikers.

SHUTTLE INFO
  • The shuttle will operate June 17 to September 17 seven days a week from 5:00am to 5:00pm.
  • Shuttle tickets can be purchased up to two weeks in advance, starting June 1, at www.hikequandary.com.
  • Shuttles will operate on a first come, first serve basis. Passengers simply need to book the appropriate date and can board at any time on that date.
  • Pickup/drop off will occur at the Breckenridge South Gondola parking garage.
  • The last shuttle back to Breckenridge will board at 4:30pm at Quandary Peak.
  • It is free to park in the South Gondola parking garage all day using a code issued by SP Plus (shuttle operator) that visitors will receive in their shuttle email confirmation.
  • For a carless option, passengers are encouraged to walk, bike, or take the Town bus.
  • Dogs can ride the shuttle free of charge.

SHUTTLE FARES
  • Round trip shuttle fares are $7 per person and $0 for Summit County residents.
  • Residents must email hikequandary@spplus.com with proof of residency a minimum of 48 hours in advance of their trip. SP Plus will then validate local status and will send a code to apply during check out.
  • Acceptable documentation includes, but is not limited to, a Driver’s License, Utility Bill, or Lease Agreement with the customer’s name and a Summit County address.


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.

Learn more about parking permits and the shuttle system.

Quandary Peak Gear List

Climbing any of Colorado’s 14ers requires careful preparation and the right gear to ensure safety and enjoyment. Here’s a comprehensive gear list for hiking Quandary Peak:

Essentials:
Optional Gear:
Winter Gear:
Clothing:
Footwear:
Communication:

Where To Stay Near Mt Bierstadt

You have dozens of options for camping and lodging near the Quandary Peak Trailhead. Here are some of my favorite recommendations for staying nearby before or after hiking Quandary Peak.

Where to Camp Near Quandary Peak

These are some of the campgrounds closest to the Quandary Peak Trailhead. 

There are additional dispersed campsites along the forest service roads in the area. Be advised: There is no camping allowed along the road leading to McCullough Gulch.

Learn more about dispersed camping near 14ers here.

Hotels and Lodging Near Quandary Peak

Quandary Peak is situated between Breckenridge to the North and Fairplay to the south. Both towns provide a number of motels and hotels.

Here are several specific options I recommend.

 
There are also a lot of airbnb and vrbo options in both towns if you prefer to rent a room or cabin for your stay. There’s something here for every taste!
 
Do you have a favorite place to camp or stay near Quandary Peak? Leave a comment below to share it with our readers across the outdoor recreation community.

Leave No Trace Tips for Quandary Peak

When planning your hike up Quandary Peak, it’s essential to incorporate Leave No Trace (LNT) principles to protect the fragile alpine ecosystem of this popular Colorado 14er.

Below is advice on how to reduce your environmental footprint while experiencing the beauty of the outdoors:

Plan Ahead and Prepare

  • Understand the regulations and special concerns for the area you’ll visit.
  • Check the weather forecast, and be aware of the terrain challenges you might face on Quandary Peak.
  • Preparation reduces the likelihood of resource damage and contributes to your safety.

Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

  • Stay on established trails and avoid cutting switchbacks, which can lead to erosion.
  • In the alpine tundra, plants take years to grow and mere seconds to be destroyed by trampling.
  • If camping is part of your trip, use designated campsites at lower elevations to minimize impact.

Dispose of Waste Properly

  • Pack out all your trash, leftover food, and litter.
  • It’s essential to carry a bag for collecting waste.
  • For human waste, dig a cat hole 6-8 inches deep at least 200 feet from water, trails, and camp. Cover and disguise it when finished.
  • Pack out all toilet paper and hygiene products.

Leave What You Find

  • Preserve the past; examine, but do not touch, cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
  • Leave rocks, plants, and other natural objects as you find them.
  • Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species by cleaning gear and boots before and after your hike.

Minimize Campfire Impacts

  • Campfires can cause lasting impacts in the alpine environment.
  • Use a lightweight stove for cooking and a lantern for light.
  • If fires are permitted, use established fire rings, keep fires small, and burn all wood to ash.
  • Put out fires completely and scatter cool ashes.

Respect Wildlife

  • Observe wildlife from a distance and never feed them. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
  • Control pets on a leash at all times, or leave them at home.

Be Courteous to Others Outdoors

  • Respect other trail users and protect the quality of their experience.
  • Use headphones, not bluetooth speakers, and keep your noise down.
  • Give uphill hikers the right of way.
  • Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.
  • If stopping, move off the trail to allow others to pass.

Remembering these LNT principles while hiking Quandary Peak will help you demonstrate your commitment to conserving the mountain for future generations to experience and enjoy. By acting as stewards of the land, we can all contribute to the sustainability of the natural beauty that draws us to these heights.

Learn more by reviewing our complete Leave No Trace Guide for 14ers.

Safety Tips for Hiking Quandary

Quandary Peak, standing tall at over 14,000 feet, offers a majestic experience but also poses unique challenges. It is one of the most difficult class 2 peaks in the state, and people have been seriously injured or killed there in recent years. Prioritize your safety with these essential tips:

  • Acclimate to Altitude: Spend a day or two at a lower elevation near Quandary Peak to get your body used to the altitude. Altitude sickness can be a serious concern and can strike regardless of fitness level.

  • Check the Weather: Mountain weather is notoriously unpredictable. Before you set out, check the local weather forecast and be prepared for sudden changes. Start early to avoid afternoon thunderstorms common in the Rockies.

  • Stay Hydrated: At high altitudes, your body dehydrates faster. Carry plenty of water — a minimum of 2 to 3 liters per person — and drink regularly throughout your hike.

  • Research Your Route: Take time to review trip reports, route descriptions, maps, and photos to help you navigate in the field and know if you are on the right track.

  • Dress Appropriately: Layer your clothing to adapt to the variable conditions. Include a moisture-wicking base layer, an insulating layer, and a waterproof and windproof outer layer. Don’t forget a hat and gloves, even in summer.

  • Stay on the Trail: For your safety and the environment’s protection, stick to designated trails. Shortcuts can lead to erosion and habitat destruction and can also put you at risk of getting lost or injured.

  • Know Your Limits: Quandary Peak’s terrain can be challenging, with loose rocks and steep sections. If you’re not an experienced hiker or if you’re feeling unsure, consider hiring a guide or joining a group.

  • Emergency Plan: Have a plan in case of an emergency. Inform someone of your route and expected return time. Carry a whistle, a mirror, and a small first aid kit. A satellite messenger or personal locator beacon (PLB) is advised for remote areas where cell service is not reliable.

  • Bring a Buddy: Never hike alone. Use the buddy system to ensure safety. If one person gets injured or sick, the other can go for help.

  • Share Your Itinerary: Tell someone dependable back home that you are hiking Quandary Peak and share as much of your plans and itinerary as possible. Tell them you when you will check-in with them, and who to call if you fail to do so.

Respecting these safety guidelines will help ensure that your climb up Quandary Peak is memorable for all the right reasons. Stay alert, stay safe, and enjoy the grandeur of the Rockies. 

Learn more by reviewing our complete mountain safety guide.

Permits, Regulations & Guidelines

There are no permits, passes, or reservations required for hiking Quandary Peak at this time.

Please follow Leave No Trace practices and recreate responsibly to preserve free and open access to this Colorado fourteener.

National Forest Regulations

Follow these US Forest Service rules and regulations while hiking Quandary peak or camping in the area:

  • Be aware & follow posted regulations on national forest lands.
  • Keep noise levels down to avoid stressing wildlife and livestock, as well as other visitors.
  • Respect private property.
  • Do not carve, chop, cut or damage any live trees.
  • Camping is limited to 14 days within any continuous 30-day period.
  • Developed campgrounds may not be used when posted closed.
  • No camping is allowed within 100 feet of all lakes, streams and developed trails except for designated campsites
  • Be sure your fire is completely extinguished before leaving. You are responsible for keeping fires under control.
  • Keep dogs and pets under voice control at all times.
  • Using or possessing fireworks on national forest land is prohibited.
  • Travel only on designated off-highway vehicle routes. Travel slowly through water or mud. Do not make new tracks outside of the roadbed. Obey road closures and locked gates.
  • Vehicles must obey posted parking regulations. Unless otherwise posted, one may pull off a road to park.
  • Wilderness areas have specific rules and regulations that must be followed in order to protect these areas from our collective impacts


Check the US Forest Service safety page for other general guidelines.

About Quandary Peak

Winter 14ers for Beginners

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. 

Quandary Peak Photos

Here is a collection of photos of Quandary Peak and the east ridge route to the summit. Share you own photos of this 14er by leaving a comment below with your submission.

Mt Bierstadt Frequently Asked Questions

Below are some of the most common questions we get asked about hiking Quandary Peak. 

If you do not see your question addressed below in our FAQs, leave it in a comment at the bottom of the page and we will get an answer to you as soon as possible.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Notice: The material presented in this route guide may not be comprehensive or precise and should not be solely relied upon when planning your climb. Inadequate experience, physical fitness, supplies, or equipment may result in injury or fatality.

The Next Summit and the author(s) of this hiking guide offer no guarantees, neither explicit nor implied, regarding the accuracy or dependability of the information provided.

By utilizing the information herein, you agree to indemnify and absolve The Next Summit and the hiking guide author(s) from any claims and demands against them, including any legal fees and expenses. 

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Alex Derr, Founder of The Next Summit

Alex Derr 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.

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In 2018, I watched in disbelief as dozens of people hiked into a storm on Longs Peak, unaware of the extreme danger. Soon after, I started The Next Summit to educate and empower the public to safely and responsibly explore America's mountains.

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