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Hiking has its hidden gems—obscure, spectacular trails that get little attention and less traffic. Colorado’s 14ers are not among them: The highest mountains in the state see hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. But there’s a reason for that. We’re sharing this story on hiking Quandary Peak—one of the state’s most spectacular, popular 14ers—for free. Members can read our full-length round-up of this and 9 other perfect ridge-hiking adventures right now. Not a member? Sign up today.
- Distance: 6.7 miles
- Time: 1 day
- Elevation gain: 3,253 feet
The 14ers are Colorado’s jewels and Quandary is one of the most beautiful, its broad, snow-streaked pyramid rising high above the Tenmile Range. Unfortunately, we’re not the only ones who think so: As of 2020, Quandary is the most popular 14er in Colorado, drawing an incredible 50,000 hikers from around the state and beyond. If you’re doing the math, that’s an average of 136 people per day (and far more during the summer, when conditions are ideal.) On the busiest mornings, the trail to the top looks more like a conga line than a hike.
So should you steer clear? We don’t think so. Hiking up Quandary’s East Ridge—the classic route to the summit—is like climbing a catwalk into the sky, a broad ridgeline that treats climbers to the snow-capped peaks surrounding Breckenridge the entire way up. The best part? This is one of the easiest 14ers to climb, not counting drive-ups like Pike’s Peak or Mt. Evans, making it an ideal place to start your journey up the state’s highest summits.
The 6.7-mile out-and-back trip starts at the Quandary Trailhead. From the lot, follow the path as it steadily climbs the ridge through thinning trees, eventually erupting out onto a broad shoulder below the ridgeline. (Keep an eye out for herds of mountain goats, which like to congregate here.) About a mile in, the slope steepens substantially, climbing up the rocky ridge, before reaching another wide shoulder at mile 1.3. Catch your breath and make the final push up to the wide summit, where you’ll bask in views of the Mosquito and Gore Ranges before turning around for the downhill.
Crowds are always inconvenient, but sometimes they can pose a genuine danger. That’s what happened on Quandary, where the glut of visitors often fills parking lots by the wee hours of the morning and has led some people to park illegally along the roadside, potentially delaying emergency response when hikers get in trouble. The government of Summit County, where the peak is located, responded by instituting a reservation-only parking system. The fees, which begin on July 30, 2021, are astronomical, peaking at $50 for an all-day pass. A cheaper alternative? Take the shuttle bus, which leaves from Breckenridge’s Airport Road parking lot.
Colorado’s 14ers are just as spectacular in winter, if not more, but avalanche danger and harsh weather keep all but a relatively few hardy hikers from heading for the peak. If you have a good grasp of avalanche safety, a calm weather forecast, and a reasonable tolerance for the cold, Quandary is among the easier 14ers to summit in the snowy season, since the easy-to-follow ridge keeps visitors away from slide-prone slopes. Bonus: Pack skis and avalanche gear for the ride down, which is mellow enough for less-experienced backcountry skiers to tackle in good conditions.