Quandary Peak is still Colorado’s most popular 14er, according to a report released in 2021 from the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative. Estimated usage of the hikes was between 35,000 and 40,000 people during the 2021 hiking season, even though the Summit County government implemented a new program that included parking fees.
The hike use estimate at Quandary Peak beat other popular hikes over 14,000 feet with Mount Bierstadt on the Front Range in second place – with 30,000 to 35,000 visitors during the 2021 season.
Quandary Peak’s designation as the state’s favorite 14er comes amid total visits to 14ers, which fell 27% from 2020 to 2021, and the new pilot program established by the Summit County Board of Commissioners.
As the 2022 hiking season begins, the Summit Board of County Commissioners optimized their Quandary Peak pilot program to make it more sustainable.
The most important changes concerned the increase in the parking fee at the starting point of Quandary Peak and Adaptation of the shuttle bus system. During the 2021 season, parking at the Quandary Peak Trailhead ranges from $20 for a half day to $50 for a full day.
The Summit Board of County Commissioners eliminated the half-day fee for the 2022 season and increased fees to $25 for full-day parking on weekdays and $50 for full-day parking on weekends and holidays.
The Summit Express shuttle bus program was introduced to urge visitors not to use the reservation-based parking lot at the Quandary Peak trailhead and instead use the shuttle bus that picks hikers up from the South Gondola parking lot and takes them to the trailhead .
Visitors must pay $15 for parking in the South Gondola lot and a fee for the shuttle. Shuttle fees are $5 for locals and $15 for non-locals, round trip.
The parking and shuttle system was put in place to ultimately make the trailhead safer. Before the park and shuttle system, the trailhead for Quandary Peak was a liability.
“People were parked on streets, in driveways, and people were blocked,” said Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence. “There were a number of issues with emergency vehicles not being able to access because of people parked all over the street. It was really about safety.”
Quandary Peak has already seen fewer search and rescue trips this season due to the new park and shuttle system.
“We saw so many search and rescue trips there with people who weren’t willing to hike there,” Lawrence said. “It was very crowded with a lot of problems.”
The income from the parking and shuttle system mainly flows directly back into the Summit Express shuttle system, as it is disbursed by the district.
“The shuttle system is still running on subsidies,” Lawrence said. “The shuttle still costs us (Summit County) money. We needed to make sure these costs were covered and we didn’t want to pass them on to users in full as that would be very expensive.”
Despite the additional fees from last season through this year, Quandary Peak seems to continue to be the hotspot for visitors hiking over 14,000 feet.
According to Brian Sargeant, development and communications manager at the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, one of the main reasons hikes like Quandary Peak and Mount Bierstadt are so popular is because of the accessibility of the hikes.
“The accessibility of these two peaks — both have easy access to the I-70 corridor from the Front Range and a paved road that leads to the trailhead,” Sargeant said. “They’re also among the best for 14-inch beginners.”
To Sargeant’s knowledge, Quandary Peak is the only 14er in the state of Colorado that charges parking and has a fee shuttle system. That being said, Sargeant says it’s often a necessary step to mitigate parking and infrastructure issues.
Regarding projected visits for the 2022 season, Sargeant expects numbers to continue to decline after the peak of hiking during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
“We certainly see a calming down of this rush in 2021 and I would say 2022 as well,” Sargeant said. “Right now it’s just anecdotal data but it doesn’t appear to be a super high traffic year like we saw in 2020.”
According to Lawrence, the additional fees do not appear to affect visitation or visitor satisfaction.
In June, Quandary Peak had nearly 1,000 all-day parking reservations. In July, visitor numbers increased with 1,500 all-day parking reservations.
Parking also sold out 26 of the 31 days in July, further showing the popularity of the peak and the effectiveness of the reservation system. 1,000 rides were purchased on the shuttle in July.
Despite the summit’s popularity, attendance has declined compared to previous years — in large part due to the extra planning — but Lawrence doesn’t necessarily see that as a bad thing.
“It takes more planning, but it helps spread people out across Summit County and makes it more enjoyable,” Lawrence said.
A visitor satisfaction survey designed by the Summit Board of County Commissioners confirms Lawrence’s thoughts, as the majority of Quandary Peak visitors thoroughly enjoy their full-day excursion.
“Satisfaction with the shuttle system is 7.6 out of 10 and overall satisfaction with their experience is 10 out of 10,” Lawrence said. “I think it’s great, I think people are starting to understand. People are starting to get used to planning ahead before visiting these popular places.”
Hikers at the trailhead on Saturday, August 6 were also pleased with the overall experience, finding the necessary fees to provide an enhanced experience.
“Last time I came here it was free, but now that they’re charging I’d say it goes without saying,” said former Breckenridge resident Ryan Aldrich. “Outdoor adventures are becoming more popular and you have to provide parking and shuttles. It’s a great way to get people here safely. “
To hike Summit County’s Quandary Peak, visit ParkQuandary.com to reserve a parking space.