McCullough Gulch Trail, McCullough Gulch Trailhead, Summit County - Eagle County - Clear Creek County, Colorado
McCullough Gulch Trail - 2.7 miles
McCullough Gulch Trailhead
|Round-Trip Length:||2.7 miles (to first lake; unimproved travel continues to upper lakes)|
|Start-End Elevation:||11,105 - 11,915' (11,918' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||+810' net elevation gain (+912' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
McCullough Gulch Trail - 2.7 Miles Round-Trip
The McCullough Gulch Trail is located 2.2 miles west of Highway 9 on the north side of Quandary Peak. It follows an old mining road .5 miles up the drainage before splitting off on a rugged path to White Falls and Upper Blue Reservoir.
This spectacular lake has a long, open shore with many good vantages and nooks to explore. McCullough Gulch is a deservingly popular trail, especially among anglers and active families. Arrive early to secure parking and avoid crowds.
Upper Blue Reservoir is the first of several accessible lakes in the McCullough Creek drainage. A challenging but reasonably well-defined route continues into the capacious upper valley, where intuitive routing through expansive alpine meadows leads to over six additional lakes and tarns:
The trail begins on a steep mining road that rises along the creek to a fork, where you’ll veer left onto a rocky, rooted path (.5 miles : 11,440’). It shifts frequently and braids in several places, however signs provide ample guidance.
The trail crosses a short talus field at .95 miles (11,580’), just past which are consecutive splits for the White Falls Loop (1.0 miles : 11,597’). This short excursion leads to good views of the falls and returns to the main trail.
Travel continues steeply through treeline to an unmarked fork (1.3 miles); go left to reach the lake’s outlet area, or keep straight to the north shore (1.35 miles : 11,915’). Those with time should explore both access points, as they lead to different views of this deceptively long and shapely lake.
To reach the upper valley, follow the main trail along the north shore. It undulates ruggedly over outcrops and several marshy inlet streams to the far west side (1.6 miles : 12,006’), where you’ll begin a steep, twisting climb that generally traces the lake’s main inlet falls.
Though at first obfuscated by brush, the route clarifies and is well-marked by cairns once you get going. Look for mountain goat along the way, which are fairly common in this area.
The landscape naturally funnels you to the top of the waterfall, where it suddenly levels by a tarn and opens dramatically in the upper valley (2.1 miles : 12,415’).
The path continues west and eventually fades in open tundra, but it’s hardly necessary at this point. The first lake is located straight ahead at about 2.55 miles (12,555’).
It’s fairly easy to navigate by sight up to the lake just behind it, which lies in a deep cirque that's typically iced-over through mid-summer (3.15 miles : 12,785’).
- N39 24.059 W106 04.757 — 0.0 miles : McCullough Gulch Trailhead
- N39 24.223 W106 05.132 — .5 miles : Trail forks to left off of road
- N39 24.396 W106 05.497 — .95 miles : Trail crosses small rock slide
- N39 24.386 W106 05.543 — 1.0 miles : First of two splits for White Falls Loop
- N39 24.398 W106 05.800 — 1.3 miles : Unmarked fork to access lake outlet
- N39 24.368 W106 05.814 — 1.35 miles : Upper Blue Reservoir Lake
- N39 24.446 W106 06.111 — 1.6 miles : Far side of lake, begin steep climb
- N39 24.345 W106 06.308 — 2.0 miles : Route crosses small rock and snow field
- N39 24.339 W106 06.385 — 2.1 miles : Small tarn at foot of upper valley
- N39 24.380 W106 06.896 — 2.55 miles : Upper Lake #1
- N39 24.448 W106 07.227 — 3.15 miles : Upper Lake #2
- Rocky, rooted trail segments can be quite slippery when wet.
- The upper valley is ringed by Quandary Peak (14,265’), Fletcher Mountain (13,951’) and Atlantic Peak (13,841’).
- Travel beyond Upper Blue Reservoir is strenuous and requires basic route finding skills, especially with lingering snow and overgrowth. Use established tracks to limit impact. Only experienced hikers should attempt travel into the upper valley.
- The upper valley lakes are located in broad open tundra. Be mindful of changing weather and aim for treeline well before storms develop.
Camping and Backpacking Information
- Dispersed backcountry camping is permitted in the White River National Forest. No permit is necessary. Camping is prohibited within 100' of any lake or stream. Group size is limited to 15 individuals.
- Campfires are permitted for dispersed camping in the backcountry, with potential seasonal restrictions. Campfires are not permitted above or within .25 miles of treeline, or within 100' of any lake or stream.
- Contact the Dillon Ranger District (970.468.5400) for the latest weather, trail conditions and trail-specific guidelines when planning your trip. The office is open M - F from 8am - 4pm.
- For those not wishing to camp in the backcountry, there are several developed campgrounds within the White River National Forest. Contact the Dillon Ranger District for information on these sites.
- Fishing is permitted at Upper Blue Reservoir Lake and its headwater lakes in the upper valley with a valid Colorado fishing license.
Rules and Regulations
- The McCullough Gulch Trail passes through private property en route to White Falls and the lake. Remain on designated trails at all times.
Directions to Trailhead
The McCullough Gulch Trail begins at the end of Road #851, 2.2 miles west of Highway 9 near Breckenridge, CO.
From I-70, take Exit #203 for Breckenridge - Highway 9 and travel 18.3 miles south to Blue Lakes Reservoir Road (#850). Turn west (right), then make an immediate right on Rd #851 (this is the Quandary Peak Trailhead area).
Continue on #851 past the Quandary Peak Trailhead for 2.1 miles to the gated trailhead. This is an improved dirt road suitable for 2WD vehicles.
Dillon Ranger District
680 Blue River Parkway
Silverthorne, CO 80498
M - F from 8am - 4pm
White River National Forest
900 Grand Ave.
P.O. Box 948
Glenwood Springs CO 81602