Top 5 Badass Hikes in Summit County
Breckenridge is surrounded by miles and miles of hiking trails that offer a fantastic variety of terrain, elevation and difficulty levels. So often we have written blogs over the past years that highlight trails (as we should) that are pretty accessible to a large majority of the hiking population. This time, we thought we’d mix it up and highlight five hikes with bragging rights.
Hiking is one of the most popular summer activities in Breckenridge and Summit County. We realized that we have never really highlighted what we think are the hardest hikes in Breckenridge and Summit County. With so many towering peaks surrounding us, we thought it would be cool to talk about the truly painful, lung-busting, leg-burning hikes you can go out and bag. Here are our picks for the top 5 badass hikes in Summit County.
Bald Mountain seems to sit all by itself to the east of downtown Breckenridge. “Baldy,” as it is most often called, rises an impressive 13,684 feet above sea level and is a popular summer and winter hike. While Baldy looks like a single peak it is actually a six-mile-long ridgeline that divides into two sections. To the southeast is Boreas Mountain, which rises to 13,082 feet, and to the northwest is Bald Mountain, which is the “true” summit at 13,684 feet.
Baldy is a fairly gentle hike but it is long, has steep sections, is mostly exposed above treeline and reaches almost 14,000 feet, so it is an elevation challenge. The easiest way to hike Baldy is to start at the top of Boreas Pass. For a badass hike it is a pretty easy climb to the summit. That being said, it is a 2,700-foot elevation gain in just three miles so that’s like a 270-story building. It’s completely exposed above treeline, so even mild days offer a nice breeze and chilly temps. All in all it is an amazing view and a pretty easy day hike.
To reach the trailhead: Drive to the south end of Breckenridge on Route 9. Turn left onto Boreas Pass Road. At 3.3 miles the pavement ends but the road is well-graded and is passable by any car. At 9.5 miles from the traffic light, you will reach Boreas Pass.
Greys and Torreys Peaks
Greys and Torreys make up the “Twin Towers” of Colorado’s Front Range and are two of the three “Fourteeners” that touch Summit County. Torreys is the higher of the two peaks and sits at an impressive 14,267 feet. While these peaks are in and accessible from Summit County the easiest trail starts a little east back through the Eisenhower Tunnel in Clear Creek County. Both mountains offer multiple ways to ascend. Their proximity to Denver and relative ease (for a Fourteener) make this hike wildly popular, so go early on weekends if you want to find parking and also to avoid getting struck by lightning in the frequent afternoon storms that pop up in the summer.
Greys and Torreys get their “badassery” not so much from the altitude, which is super high, or the pitch of the climb or even the 3,600-foot vertical rise you have to climb in order to summit, but rather from the 9-mile round trip involved in getting there and back. The distance of this hike puts it over the edge.
To reach the trailhead: Take I-70 to the Bakerville exit #221. Drive south over to the dirt parking area near the start of Forest Road 189. Follow the dirt road three miles to the summer trailhead. Stay straight and follow the sign for the Grays Peak trailhead. Continue another two miles to the trailhead at 11,280 feet. There are restrooms and a few dispersed camping spots near the parking area.
Quandary Peak is the third Fourteener that touches Summit County and is a bit more difficult than Greys and Torreys. Although Quandary is pretty much the same elevation as Greys and Torreys at 14,265 feet, the climb of 3,450 vertical feet is condensed into about half the distance of Greys and Torreys. The easiest way up is the east ridge which starts south of Breckenridge and ascends the east side of the mountain for just under three miles to the summit.
After you clear the trees there is a steep pitch that delivers you onto a thin windswept ridgeline that runs west up to the summit. There is a “false” summit you will be looking at and when you reach that you will realize there is still another thousand feet or so you get to climb to reach the summit. Once you are up on the ridge, don’t get too close to the south side. There are 50-degree slopes dropping thousands of feet to Blue Lakes.
To reach the trailhead: Drive 8 miles south of Breckenridge on Highway 9. Turn right on (Blue Lakes) Road. Drive a few hundred yards and turn right on the 851 (McCullough Gulch) Road. Drive 0.1 mile to the signed trailhead and small parking area. If the trailhead lot is full it is ok to park on the side of the 851 road or the overflow lot but don’t park on the side of the 850 road, in front of homes.
This hike and the next aren’t Fourteeners but are arguably the two most difficult hikes in Summit County. It is the crushing pitch and vertical rise in such short distances that make these two hikes so badass. Peak 1 is the iconic pointy mountain that sits just above Frisco and is clearly visible from almost anywhere in Summit County. Peak 1 is only 12,805 feet but it offers an almost 4,000-foot climb in about three and a half miles. As with all the badass hikes it is primarily above treeline and totally exposed to all of the elements. The final 700 feet is a hair-raising knife-thin ridge walk through a loose scree field. It is non-technical so you don’t need ropes, just don’t bring a fear of heights.
To reach the trailhead: From Frisco’s Main Street stoplight on Highway 9, head west on Main Street and turn left on 2nd St. Follow 2nd Street to the parking area at the end of the road and the trailhead starts here.
If you come through the Eisenhower Tunnel on Interstate 70 heading west, the first thing you will see looking out towards Dillon and Silverthorne is Buffalo Mountain. Ironically the shortest mountain on this list at 12,777 feet is one of the most visibly imposing mountains in Summit County. You cannot miss the distinctive round hump and huge crater-like hole in the middle of the mountain. The best views are from Silverthorne and Dillon. Buffalo Mountain edges out Peak 1 as the most badass hike in Summit County based on its ridiculously steep middle section that includes a .6-mile 23% grade. The hike is about three miles one way and just over 3,000 vertical feet, but don’t let that fool you. The majority of that 3,000 feet is actually covered in about a mile and a half.
The climb is basically through a loose scree field in an avalanche chute. It’s hard on the way up but it is absolutely brutal on the joints on the way down. The views from the summit are truly stunning especially the view of Dillon Reservoir. One of the most interesting things is although the mountain looks round from down in Silverthorne, from the summit looking down, the back side is a 3,000-foot vertical cliff.
To reach the trailhead: From the town of Silverthorne, turn onto Wildernest Road (7-11 is on the right corner) and follow this road (it turns into Ryan Gulch Road about a third of the way up) to the very end. Take the trailhead to the right and follow the signs for Buffalo Mountain. After about a mile or so you will know you are on the right trail because you will be climbing a never-ending staircase.
If you do decide to tackle one of these Summit County hikes, do your homework first. They are all achievable for even moderate hikers if you prepare correctly and respect the mountains.
If you are looking for a place to stay while you’re visiting Breckenridge and Summit County, visit one of our Breckenridge properties. Find the best Breck lodging deals at The Grand Colorado on Peak 8, Grand Lodge on Peak 7 and Grand Timber Lodge.