Ski or Snowshoe McCullough Gulch

Rate this Adventure Colorado McCullough Gulch

Added by Amy Kesic

Hike through the gorgeous scenery from Quandary Peak’s north face and explore a frozen waterfall and lake.

If the snow is not coming to you, you go where the snow is. Breckenridge is a good place to start; this beautiful ski area gets more than its fair share of snow, and is full of stunning trails. Why pay big bucks at one of the Nordic centers, when you can access acres and acres of the White River National Forest for free?

I’d heard about McCullough Gulch but never got the chance to check it out until the wildflowers and autumn leaves were long gone. My patience was well rewarded with a gorgeous winter trek.

In summer, McCullough Gulch Road is open to the trailhead, but in winter it is not maintained. You will park in the Quandary Peak parking lot just off Hwy. 9, and hike up McCullough Gulch Road.* This 2.25 mile stretch is wide and likely well-packed from the many users (including snowmobiles). The first mile is a gentle ascent, followed by the second mile being a slight descent. Depending on recent snowfall, you may not even need to wear your snowshoes for this portion. Despite the ease of the road section, the scenery is incredible, and I got a lot of wonderful photos along here. At about 2.15 mi, the road forks; keep left.

The trailhead begins at the gate, and from here the trail is closed to snowmobiles. You’ll see an information kiosk. Even though this portion of the hike is only 1.3 mile, this is where you get most of the elevation gain (800+ feet). The trail is wide and easy to follow for the first half-mile. After that, the woods close in a bit and you have the usual confusion of whether you’re looking at a trail or a run-off gully. Fortunately, the trail is well-marked, and even if you get off-trail (as I did), you should be able to find your way back without much trouble. Of course, this applies only if you’re breaking trail, as I did. (It appears that most trekkers turn around at the gate; even if that is as far as you decide to go, it is still a beautiful 4.5 mile hike and worth your while.)

About one mile up the trail, you’ll come to the falls. While the water is mostly covered in snow, there are some interesting sections with great icicles. The snow may also disguise some ice fields beneath (the creek), so be careful in your explorations. The trail to the lake continues another 0.3 miles and 300 feet above. This is the most challenging part of the hike, if you choose to go that far.

All along the route, you will have some terrific views of Quandary Peak, and some glimpses of the creek and some canyon areas. A picturesque, snowbound cabin his located near the beginning of the trailhead. It’s a truly rewarding snowshoe/ski trek.

*Your smart phone's map may not take you to the correct location, so please use the map on this article as your guide. There are two areas to access Quandary Peak south of Breckenridge; you want the southernmost access point, near Blue Lakes Road.

Pack List

  • Ski or snowshoe gear
  • At least 1.5 liters water
  • Sandwich and trail snacks
  • Snowpants or gaiters
  • Parka or breathable, warm layers
  • Crampons (optional but useful)
  • Warm, dry boots
  • Wool socks
  • Hand and toe warmers
  • Sun protection
  • Hat, gloves, scarf/balaclava
  • Camera
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Activities:

Fitness, Hiking, Photography, Skiing, Snowshoeing

Skill Level:

Beginner

Season:

Spring, Autumn, Winter

Trail Type:

Out-and-Back

Distance:

6 Miles

Elev. Gain:

1300 Feet

Features:

Dog Friendly
Easy Parking
Family Friendly
Forest
Lake
River
Scenic
Waterfall
Wildflowers
Wildlife

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Added by Amy Kesic

A mom who decided to get fit a few years ago, I took up running and hiking to keep myself moving. Since moving to the Front Range foothills a year ago, I've spent my free time discovering all the trails I possibly can. I'm in love with Colorado and the Rocky Mountains; I also like to take pictures, and I share my adventures here on The Outbound and on Instagram at @run2themountains.

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