McCullough Gulch Trail, McCullough Gulch Trailhead, Summit County - Eagle County - Clear Creek County, Colorado

McCullough Gulch Trail - 2.7 miles

McCullough Gulch Trailhead

Upper Blue Reservoir on the McCullough Gulch Trail

Upper Blue Reservoir on the McCullough Gulch Trail

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)
Skill Level: Moderate
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: Yes
Horses Allowed: Yes
Related Trails:

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.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

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’).

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • 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

Worth Noting

  • 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 Information

  • 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.

Contact Information

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

Trip Reports

There are no trip reports on this trail.


"I hiked this trail 7/17/17. Arrived at 8:30 am to about seven other cars. The hike up to the main lake was fairly quiet at this early hour. As mentioned by others, the main trail is at times difficult to follow and is in poor condition, so would be tough to navigate with young kids (or old joints!). I followed the directions in the post to continue on to the upper valley, which was well worth the challenge. While I agree with the post that one shouldn't attempt going further unless comfortable with route finding and some scrambling when the "formal" social trail is snow covered in parts. It was great to reach the tarn, upper lake and cirque and I didn't see anyone else after I moved past the first lake. Coming back down to the first lake was a stark contrast as there were now hoardes of people. Arriving back at the trailhead, there were cars all along both sides of the road, but I had no trouble passing through in my sedan. I wouldn't have done this hike were it not for the promise of something interested beyond the end of the official trail, but I am glad I explored this area. "
Dori M  -  Denver  -  Date Posted: July 17, 2017
"Hiked McCullough Gulch yesterday up to Upper Blue Reservoir. Colors are a bit past prime at this point though it's still a pretty area with peak views and a small waterfall. If you like well defined and marked paths, this isn't the trail for you. If you are okay with a little uncertainty and forging ahead, than you will do alright. I would rank this hike as a strong moderate with the steep inclines. The trailhead is a little confusing at the start. Walk through the gate at the end of the road and to the left is a small faded sign, head up the path that looks like a road. Midway through the hike the trail signs disappear and there are many branched off paths that end up leading the same direction. Keep forging ahead and you will get there. We started our hike on a Friday around 10:30 am and there was plenty of parking at the trailhead (we were one of 7 vehicles at the time). Leaving around 2 pm there were 20 or so vehicles. Turning around is a little tricky but manageable. "
Christina  -  Longmont  -  Date Posted: September 26, 2015
"This is a moderate to difficult hike up to an amazing waterfall and lake. We hiked up and around the lake then back down to the waterfall loop. If you take the loop, it goes to an area below the falls, then back to the trail. It's about 2.5miles to the best scenery, so the 1.3mile description on the trailhead is likely just the improved trail. However, the unimproved portions are a must and add 30minutes to an hour to your trip. We took our time and spent 3 hours moving and about 30 minutes sitting at the lake and waterfall. Parking can get a little hairy, but the turnaround at the trailhead is usually clear. I was able to turn around in a Subruban without issue."
Joby  -  Texas  -  Date Posted: August 17, 2015


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