Everything You Need to Know for Hiking Quandary Peak

Last Updated on January 11, 2024 by foxintheforest

The only 14er in the Tenmile Range, Quandary Peak stands tall near Breckenridge and beckons thousands of hikers to its slopes each year.

The Quandary Peak hike is so popular because it is an “easy” 14er that is also stunningly beautiful.

Quandary Peak is a great beginner 14er that’s right near the Front Range. Of course, with something this conveniently located, it’s usually got a long line to get to the top.

Although I’ve never had the summit to myself, I am an expert at beating the crowds and I’ve been the only one on the Quandary Peak hike many times.

If you’re looking for all the insider info on Quandary Peak from a local, you’re in the right place. I’ve called Colorado home for nearly 15 years now and have summited Quandary Peak multiple times.

I’ve done almost every route up the mountain, from the standard route described here to the famous Class 3 West Ridge.

As a local hiking expert, I will help you take on the Quandary Peak trail like a local, not a tourist.

View of the mountains in Colorado

About this Guide to Quandary Peak

Inside this local guide to Quandary Peak, you’ll find expert advice about:

  • Trail stats for hiking Quandary Peak
  • Quandary Peak hiking route
  • How to get to the Mt. Quandary trailhead (including parking & shuttle info)
  • Hiking Mount Quandary in winter
  • Quandary Peak hike packing list
  • Additional Colorado travel planning resources

Quandary Peak Hiking Safety

While Quandary Peak is often referred to as one of the easiest Colorado 14ers, there are no true “easy” 14ers.

Quandary Peak is rated Class 1, which means it is straightforward hiking on a good, defined trail, and you won’t need to do any scrambling (ie use of your hands) or navigate scree.

If you’re wondering what 14er should I hike first, Class 1 trails are the best options to start with. Class 2 trails like Mount Bierstadt, one of the most popular beginner 14ers near Denver, are also good choices.

So is Quandary Peak safe? The Quandary Peak trail is a very strenuous hike with a lot of elevation gain at high altitudes. You should take hiking Mount Quandary – and any Colorado 14er – seriously.

Tips for hiking a Colorado 14er include:

  • Acclimate to altitude ahead of time
  • Train your body to handle the physical challenge
  • Check the weather conditions up until you leave for the trail!
  • Know how to navigate (have a GPS & download route photos)
  • Bringing proper gear
  • Be ready to turn back if necessary (even if that means you don’t summit)

Quandary Peak Trail Stats

Summit: 14,272 feet
Distance: 6.75 miles out & back
Elevation Gain: 3,450 feet
Class: 1
Difficulty: Challenging
Estimated Time: 5-6 hours

Quandary Peak Hike Details

Quandary Peak is truly one of the best Colorado hikes, and the standard East Ridge trail is generally straightforward to navigate – especially since there are usually so many people to share the trail with.

It really can be quite the conga line, so I’d definitely recommend trying to go during the week if you can (but still don’t expect to be alone).

The Start

Start at the clearly marked trailhead just beyond the parking lot, and head uphill on some switchbacks of the well-defined Quandary Peak trail through a forest.

You’ll gain some elevation quickly and reach the treeline at around 11,500 feet in less than a mile. Continue to follow the trail along the south side of the east ridge as you continue to ascend.

You’ll probably be feeling all the uphill here, but at least you’ll have great views of Blue Lakes surrounded by mountains to distract you.

The trail gets rockier as you get higher, but trail crews have done a great job building lots of rock steps to help you keep your footing – although that doesn’t help your heart rate as you keep going up!

Keep going steeply up the slope, and keep an eye out here for the many mountain goats that call Quandary Peak home.

Give them plenty of space, and eventually, you’ll reach some thankfully flat ground on the ridge. Savor this lack of steepness, but also watch out for some drop-offs here on the left.

And be especially careful if it’s windy because the open ridge can really see some strong gusts.

Towards the Summit

Don’t be fooled by the false summit – you still have to contend with the final tough 1,000-foot ascent to the true summit.

It’s a serious slog, I’m not gonna lie. But just keep climbing through the rocks and fairly stable scree, and you’ll get there eventually.

Celebrate your 14er summit and enjoy the views of the Mosquito and Gore Ranges in one of the prettiest places in Colorado.

But make sure to head back down to the trailhead well before noon to avoid the potential thunderstorms that roll through the Colorado mountains in the summer.

How to Get to Mt. Quandary Trailhead

While actually getting to the Mount Quandary trailhead is easy, hiking Quandary Peak has become so popular in Breckenridge in summer that parking is the real challenge.

The Quandary Peak trailhead is just 15 minutes from Breckenridge – south on CO-9, west on Blue Lakes Road, then a right turn onto McCullough Gulch to the trailhead.

But the parking area for one of the best hikes in Breckenridge is quite small. Due to the overwhelming popularity of Quandary Peak, parking reservations are now required from June 1-September 30 (5am-3 pm daily).

A full-day parking reservation costs $25 on non-peak days and $50 on peak days. Shorter 3.5-hour parking time slots can also be reserved for $5 on non-peak days and $20 on peak days.

To avoid the parking madness, you can take the Summit Express Shuttle from Breckenridge to the Quandary trailhead. Hiker standing at the top of a Colorado 14er.

The shuttle runs 7 days a week from 5 am-5 pm from June 15 to September 18. A round-trip fare is $15 (or $5 for Summit County locals).

Tips for Hiking Quandary Peak in Winter

Quandary Peak is one of the best Colorado 14ers to hike in winter. It’s a straightforward route that doesn’t require mountaineering skills, and the avalanche risk is low – but not non-existent.

The Quandary Peak trail is often packed down, but bringing snowshoes is a good idea, just in case. (There’s lots of other snowshoeing in Breckenridge if you’re looking for more winter adventures, too.)

Local Tip: If you’re hiking Quandary Peak in winter, make sure you DON’T follow the summer Quandary Peak trail to the south side of the ridge between 11,800-13,000 feet.

Ascend the slope instead and then continue along the ridge crest. Find more details about the Quandary Peak winter route on 14ers.com.

What to Bring on Your Quandary Peak Hike

Here are the basics of what to pack for your Quandary Peak hike:

  • Water
  • Snacks
  • Extra layers (hat and gloves are essential – even in summer!)
  • First aid kit (including blister prevention & treatment)
  • Headlamp
  • Sun protection
  • Emergency space blanket or bivvy
  • Lighter/fire starting kit
  • Map/compass/GPS

Check out this local’s 14er packing list for more details on all the gear you need to bring on your summit attempt!

Mount Quandary History

Quandary Peak, Colorado was named in the 1860s by a group of miners who discovered a type of mineral on the mountain that they could not identify.

This put them in a “quandary,” hence the name of the peak!

Quandary Peak ranks as the 11th highest peak of the 53 Colorado 14ers with a summit of 14,272 feet.

As of 2020, Quandary Peak was the most-climbed 14er in Colorado, according to the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, and is one of the most popular things to do in Breckenridge.

Mountain goats are very common to encounter on Mt. Quandary, and you’ll also probably find pika.

In the summer, this is a great Colorado wildflower hike, with columbine, orange and red paintbrush, fireweed, and more in bloom.

Additional Colorado Hiking Resources

Meg Atteberry
Meg Atteberry

Meg is a long-time Colorado local and outdoor industry professional. She's spent the last 15 years hiking, climbing, mountaineering, and canyoneering all over Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and Nevada in search of the best views. She's written for Outside Magazine, REI, Backpacker Magazine, and appeared on the Weather Channel.

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Meg Atteberry standing on a mountain sticking her tongue out

Meg aka Fox is a 30-something who's born to explore. Toddler mom, queer, and neuro-spicy her favorite things to do are climb in the alpine and camp in the desert. Her mission is to get you out on your greatest adventure.