Visitors satisfied with Quandary Peak experience after county revamps shuttle and parking system
Quandary Peak is still Colorado’s favorite 14er according to a 2021 report released by the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative. The estimated hike use ranged anywhere from 35,000 to 40,000 people during the 2021 hiking season despite Summit County government rolling out a new program that included parking lot fees.
The hiking use estimate at Quandary Peak handily beat out other popular hikes above 14,000 feet with Mount Bierstadt on the Front Range coming in second place — seeing anywhere from 30,000 to 35,000 visitors during the 2021 season.
Quandary Peak being named the state’s most popular 14er comes in light of the total visits to 14ers falling 27% from 2020 to 2021 and the new pilot program established by the Summit County Board of Commissioners.
At the beginning of the 2022 hiking season, the Summit Board of County Commissioners tweaked its pilot program for Quandary Peak in order to make it more sustainable.
The major tweaks involved upping the fee for parking at the Quandary Peak trailhead and adjusting the shuttle bus system. During the 2021 season, parking at the Quandary Peak trailhead cost anywhere from $20 for a half-day, to $50 for a full day.
The Summit Board of County Commissioners did away with the half-day fee for the 2022 season and upped the fees to $25 for a full day of parking on weekdays and to $50 for a full day of parking on weekends and holidays.
The Summit Express shuttle bus program was implemented in order to urge visitors to not use the reservation-based parking lot at the Quandary Peak trailhead and instead use the shuttle bus which picks up hikers from the South Gondola lot and buses them to the trailhead.
Visitors are required to pay $15 for parking at the South Gondola lot and a fee for the shuttle. Fees for the shuttle are $5 if you are local and $15 for non-locals, round trip.
The parking and shuttle system was set in place in order to ultimately make the trailhead more safer. Prior to the parking and shuttle system, the Quandary Peak trailhead was a liability.
“Folks were parked on roads, in driveways leaving people blocked in,” said Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence. “There were a number of issues with emergency vehicles that were not able to get access because people were parked all over the road. It was really about safety.”
Quandary Peak has already seen less search and rescue trips this season because of the new parking and shuttle system.
“We were seeing so many search and rescue trips there with people who were not prepared to hike it,” Lawrence said. “It was very crowded with lots of issues.”
The revenue brought in by the parking and shuttle system mainly goes directly back to the Summit Express shuttle system since it is expensed by the county.
“The shuttle system is still operating on a subsidy,” Lawrence said. “The shuttle still costs us (Summit County) money. We had to make sure that that cost was covered and we didn’t want to pass it on completely to the users because that would be very expensive.”
Despite the added fees from last season to this year, it appears that Quandary Peak continues to be the hotspot for visitors to bag a hike above 14,000 feet.
According to Brian Sargeant, development and communications manager with 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 both of those peaks — both have easy I-70 corridor access from the Front Range and a paved road that goes all the way to the trailhead,” Sargeant said. “They are also some of the best for beginner 14er hikers.”
To Sargeant’s knowledge, Quandary Peak is the only 14er in the state of Colorado that charges for parking and has a paid shuttle system. That being said, Sargeant says it is often a necessary step in order to mitigate parking and infrastructure issues.
In terms of the projected visitation for the 2022 season, Sargeant expects for numbers to continue to decline after the peak in hiking during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
“We are certainly seeing a settling of that rush in 2021 and I would say 2022 as well,” Sargeant said. “At the moment it is all anecdotal data but it doesn’t seem to be a super high traffic year like we saw in 2020.”
According to Lawrence, the added fees do not seem to be hindering visitation or visitor satisfaction.
In the month of June, Quandary Peak had nearly 1,000 full-day parking reservations. In July, visitation increased with 1,500 full-day parking reservations.
Parking was also sold out for 26 out of the 31 days in July further showing the peak’s popularity and the effectiveness of the reservation system. On the shuttle, 1,000 trips were purchased during the month of July.
Despite the popularity of the peak, visitation is down from previous years — in large part because of the added planning — but Lawrence does not view this necessarily as a bad thing.
“It requires more planning but it helps spread people out all over Summit County and makes it more enjoyable,” Lawrence said.
A visitor satisfaction survey designed by the Summit Board of County Commissioners backs Lawrence’s thoughts as the majority of visitors to Quandary Peak thoroughly enjoy their full-day excursion.
“Satisfaction of the shuttle system is 7.6 out of 10 and overall satisfaction of their experience is 10 out of 10,” Lawrence said. “I think it’s great, I think people are beginning to understand. People are starting to become used to planning ahead before coming to these popular places.”
Hikers at the trailhead on Saturday, Aug. 6 also felt satisfied with the overall experience finding the fees necessary in order to provide an enhanced experience.
“Last time I came here it was free but now that they are charging I would say it is par for the course,” former Breckenridge resident Ryan Aldrich said. “Outdoor adventures are getting more popular and you have to accommodate for parking and shuttling. It is a great way to get people here safely. “
For those interested in hiking Summit County’s Quandary Peak, visit ParkQuandary.com to reserve a parking spot.
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