Quandary Peak is one of Colorado’s 58 fourteeners, rising to an altitude of 14,265 feet. It is considered one of the “easier” fourteeners (but really, no fourteener is easy!). Quandary Peak is located in the White River National Forest, easily accessible from Breckenridge or Vail and about 2 hours from Denver.
The hike is only about 7.5 miles roundtrip, but don’t let the seemingly short distance fool you. It covers a significant amount of elevation over a short period, averaging 900 feet of elevation gain per mile. The thinning air makes a tough hike even more challenging. But those willing to put in the effort to hike Quandary Peak are rewarded with sweeping views high above the clouds.
In this article, we’ll explain everything you need to know to prepare for hiking Quandary Peak, from where to stay to safety tips.
Article Contents (click to expand)
- Quandary Peak Hike | At a Glance
- Quandary Peak Hike Guide
- Quandary Peak hike | FAQs
- Other useful resources
Quandary Peak Hike | At a Glance
- Hiking distance | 7.5 miles
- Elevation gain | 3339 feet
- Estimated time | 4 – 6 hours (could vary depending on your acclimatization)
- Difficulty | Strenuous
- Why you’ll love it | A great first fourteener, Quandary Peak is extremely challenging but doesn’t involve any technical skill.
- Trailhead & parking | Extremely limited parking at the Quandary Peak trailhead. Shuttle bus tickets or parking reservation required during peak season.
- Fees | shuttle tickets: $7 per person, parking on weekends: $55 per vehicle per day, parking on weekdays: $30 per vehicle per day
- Crowd levels | High
- Conquer a Colorado fourteener!
- Stunning 360-degree views from the peak.
- Relatively close to Denver.
- One of the most popular fourteeners means you’ll share the peak with quite a few fellow hikers.
- Logistics of getting to the trailhead are cumbersome.
- Acclimatization required before hiking if traveling from lower elevations.
Acclimating before the Quandary Peak hike
Climbing a fourteener like Quandary Peak is an epic challenge due to the extreme elevation change, which can be especially detrimental for hikers more acclimated to lower altitudes. It is not recommended to attempt a fourteener before spending at least one week in Colorado to allow your body to acclimate to the thinner air.
Traveling from Virginia at a measly 100 feet above sea level, I climbed Quandary Peak after only a few days in Colorado, but I will not pretend that it was by any means easy (or entirely safe). I was in the middle of training for a marathon at the time, but Quandary Peak was one of the hardest hikes I’d ever done. I was out of breath in a way that I had never felt before.
How to get to the Quandary Peak Trailhead
Parking at the Quandary Peak trailhead is extremely limited. Starting in 2023, you must have a parking reservation or ticket to take a shuttle from Breckenridge to the trailhead during the peak season.
Parking costs $30 per vehicle for a full day on weekdays (Monday to Thursday), and $55 per day on weekends (Friday to Sunday) and holidays. Four-hour time slots are also available, but not recommended for hiking Quandary Peak, as most hikers will need more time.
The shuttle from Breckenridge offers a more budget-friendly option, with tickets costing $7 per person for non-residents and free for Summit County residents. The shuttle operates 7 days a week from 5am to 5pm during peak season.
Outside of the peak season, parking is free and first-come-first-serve at the trailhead.
Make your reservations | You can find more information and book reservations for the parking lot or shuttle at Hike Quandary.
Quandary Peak Hike Guide
Starting the hike
The first mile and a half or so of the Quandary Peak hike is a moderate trek through the forest. Eventually, the trees start to get more sparse as you approach the tree line.
Once you are above the tree line, the elevation starts to pick up. The trail is almost entirely large rocks, making it tough on your feet and difficult to navigate at times.
As you start switch-backing up the rocky mountainside, the high altitude really starts to weigh on you. I should note that my hiking partner, a Denver native, was hardly struggling at this point.
If you are used to the altitude, you should have a much easier time.
The false summit
Around 2.3 miles into the Quandary Peak hike, the trail starts to level out. But don’t be fooled: this is a false summit! It can be disheartening to think you’ve made it, only to see Quandary Peak still looming in the distance.
Final climb to Quandary Peak
The last mile is brutal, covering nearly 1000 feet in elevation. At this point, the trail is so steep you can’t really see the top. It kinda feels like you will never make it!
Quandary Peak Summit
By the time you reach the summit, your thighs will burn and your lungs will ache. But you’re on top of the world with a stunning 360-degree view… at least on a clear day.
Unfortunately, by the time we reached the peak the clouds had rolled in and completely obstructed the view. Oh, and its just a little cold up here… we couldn’t stay still for long, had a quick snack, and started our descent.
To get back to the trailhead, return the same way you came. On the way back down, we ran into a herd of mountain goats with two babies!
If you are lucky enough to encounter mountain goats on the Quandary Peak hike, please remember to keep your distance. They may look fluffy and cute, but mountain goats can be dangerous, particularly when babies are around.
Quandary Peak hike | FAQs
What is the weather like at the peak?
Be prepared for strong winds and temperatures as much as 20 degrees lower at the top than at the base. I hiked in September, and the mid-day temperatures at lower altitudes were reaching the upper 60’s. Do not let this fool you. It will be very cold at the peak.
The winds become extremely strong with no trees providing cover. When we started our hike early in the morning, it was 30 degrees Fahrenheit at the base, and probably close to 15 at the top.
How early do I need to start the hike?
As early as possible to avoid dangerous afternoon thunderstorms on the peak.
Thunderstorms typically roll in at the peak in the afternoon. Given that the peak is a wide-open mound of rocks, essentially acting as a lightning rod, this can be very dangerous!
It is recommended that all hikers are off the mountain by noon to avoid getting caught in a storm. Since the hike is strenuous and will take several hours to complete, you have to get an early start to make sure you finish by a safe time.
When is the best time to hike Quandary Peak?
The best time to hike Quandary Peak is during the summer from June to August. We hiked in September, and it is certainly doable but be prepared for freezing temperatures at the summit.
Can I hike Quandary Peak at sunrise?
If you are feeling ambitious, watching the sunrise from Quandary Peak is absolutely amazing! We started our hike a little late and only made it to the false summit by sunrise, but it was still really amazing with a stunning cloud inversion.
While hiking through the forest in the dark was spooky, the tranquility of the hike was amazing. By the time were started our descent, the trail was packed with people coming up, but we had been lucky enough to enjoy a few moments of solitude at the summit.
Is there camping available near Quandary Peak trailhead?
Camping near the trailhead before hiking Quandary Peak is a great way to help your body acclimate to the altitude while you sleep. Even if altitude isn’t a concern, camping nearby makes it easier to get an early start if you are trying to catch the sunset or complete the hike by a safe time.
Dispersed camping is permitted in certain areas of the White River National Forest near the Quandary trailhead. Dispersed camping means you can pull your car off anywhere you wish along the side of the road and pitch your tent. There are no defined campsites, no fees, and no campground utilities.
Plan your camping trip | You can find more information about dispersed camping on the Forest Service website.
Where should I stay near the trailhead?
If you choose not to camp, Breckenridge is the closest nearby town, located about 20 minutes from the trailhead. Alternatively, Vail is located just over an hour from the trailhead.
You may also drive from Denver, which is about 2 hours on a good day. Keep in mind that the traffic can be terrible, so build in at least 30 minutes to an hour for traffic.
Other useful resources
Looking for other great hikes? You may also be interested in these resources.
If you are interested in hiking Quandary Peak and have any questions about the hike, please feel free to reach out. I loved this hike so much and would be happy to help!