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
14ers Are Dangerous: Safety is Your Responsibility
These awe-inspiring peaks can be unpredictable and dangerous. Help is often hours or days away: your safety is primarily your responsibility. Carefully prepare for your trek, understand your limits, be aware of the risks, and equip yourself with the necessary skills and gear.
We’ve compiled a comprehensive Mountain Safety Guide – but remember, it’s only as effective as its real-world application. Always prioritize your safety over summiting; the mountain isn’t going anywhere. Climb smart, be prepared, and respect the grandeur of nature.
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!
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.
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!
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:
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:
The full forecast from the National Weather Service for Quandary Peak is below – scroll through it fully to get all the weather info.
There are several good websites and forums with condition reports and information on the current status of Quandary Peak. We included some of our favorites below. Please remember we do not vet individual condition reports or posts – so take them each with a grain of salt.
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 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.
- $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
- $10 non-peak (Monday-Thursday), $20 peak (Friday-Sunday).
- Short-term reservations are well suited for McCullough Gulch hikers.
- 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.
- Round trip shuttle fares are $7 per person and $0 for Summit County residents.
- Residents must email firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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 nano-puff 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.
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 the 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.
If you are planning to hike Quandary Peak, prioritizing safety is crucial to ensure an enjoyable and secure experience. Here are some safety tips to keep in mind before hiking Quandary Peak:
Plan and Prepare: Research the trail and weather conditions before you go. Make sure to bring a map and compass, and let someone know your planned route and estimated return time. Ensure that you have appropriate gear, clothing, and sufficient food and water for the duration of your hike.
Start Early: Begin your hike early in the morning to avoid afternoon thunderstorms, which are common in the Colorado mountains. It is recommended to aim to be off the summit and below the tree line before noon to minimize the risk of lightning exposure.
Understand Altitude Sickness: Quandary Peak’s summit sits at an elevation of 14,265 feet (4,348 meters), which can cause altitude sickness for some hikers. Know the symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), and High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE). If you or anyone in your party exhibits symptoms (coughing, shortness of breath, severe headache, confusion), do not hesitate to descend to a lower elevation.
Stay on Established Trails: Preserve the environment and minimize your impact by staying on marked trails. Not only does this protect fragile vegetation, but it also reduces the risk of getting lost or encountering unexpected hazards.
Hike with a Buddy: Hiking with a partner or group provides additional safety and support. In case of injury or an emergency, having someone with you can make a significant difference in the outcome.
Monitor the Weather: Mountain weather can change rapidly, so keep an eye on the sky and be prepared to adjust your plans if necessary. If thunderstorms or other dangerous weather conditions develop, prioritize safety and consider turning back.
Know Your Limits: Be honest about your physical fitness, experience, and skill level. If you’re unsure about your ability to complete the hike or reach the summit, it’s better to turn back and try again another day.
Be Prepared for Emergencies: Carry a fully charged cell phone or a personal locator beacon (PLB) in case of emergencies. Familiarize yourself with basic first aid and wilderness survival skills, and know the emergency contact numbers for the area.
Following these mountain safety tips will ensure that you have a safe and enjoyable hike up Quandary Peak while also promoting responsible stewardship of our natural landscapes.
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.
You do not need a permit to hike Quandary Peak. However, you do need to reserve parking during the summer season, or you will need to be dropped off by a friend or take a shuttle from Breckenridge. This is meant to ensure emergency responders have access to the parking area, which is not large enough to meet demand.
Here are some additional websites and resources for those planning to hike Quandary Peak.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
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.