The Best Day Hike in Breckenridge, CO

The next time you are near Breckenridge, Colorado during the summer months, be sure to set aside time for the McCullough Gulch Trail. If you only have time for one trail in Breckenridge, it should be this one!

Summer vacations in the mountains are a must for Texans, don’t you think? After spending the last five days in the cool air of the Rockies, and not in the Texas heat, I am beginning to think so.

McCullough Gulch Trail (32 of 36)

Some friends and I hiked the McCullough Gulch Trail near Breckenridge this past weekend, and despite overcast skies and chilly conditions, we could not have been more pleased. My thought is, if 8 people huff and puff up a mountainside in the cold and wind, and still enjoy themselves, then the trail must be good.

McCullough Gulch Trail (12 of 36)

In fact, McCullough Gulch Trail is rated as #4 of 68 things to do on TripAdvisor and it has earned their Certificate of Excellence.

The trail starts as a wide dirt road, and follows McCullough Gulch waterfalls up the side of the mountain to a small glacial lake.

McCullough Gulch Trail (5 of 36)

I usually look for trails that have some natural feature like falls, a view, a river or lake to keep me entertained. If I’m going to be burning my buns up the side of the mountain, I want some reward–and not just an Oreo in my picnic lunch. (Though that is nice.)

McCullough Gulch Trail (10 of 36)

McCullough Gulch definitely delivered on the rewards front.

McCullough Gulch Trail (1 of 36)

You pass boulders, fallen trees, gurgling creeks, and slopes with mountain goats, snow patches, and rock slides.

McCullough Gulch Trail (6 of 36)

McCullough Gulch Trail (27 of 36)

McCullough Gulch Trail (16 of 36)

Mountain goaties!
Mountain goaties!

McCullough Gulch Trail (15 of 36)

Within the first quarter mile, there is a pretty view of the McCullough Gulch waterfalls, and for most of the hike you are treated to the sound of the stream rushing down the mountain.

McCullough Gulch Trail (17 of 36)

The final 200 yards or so to the lake is the most challenging part.

McCullough Gulch Trail (20 of 36)

But just think of it as another day at the gym.

Feel free to take a break along the way and look for white mountain goats on the surrounding hills…and catch your breath.

McCullough Gulch Trail (18 of 36)

…or stop and admire the view.

McCullough Gulch Trail (9 of 36)

(That’s hiker speak for “catch your breath.”)

McCullough Gulch Trail (8 of 36)

Because in the end, it’s worth it!

McCullough Gulch Trail (24 of 36)

The lake and surrounding snow capped peaks is a treat. And the good news is, it’s all downhill from there.

McCullough Gulch Trail (31 of 36)

Plan Your Trip

Who Can Do This

This trail is a work out. That said, it’s not very dangerous–the trail does not involve cliffsides, thank goodness. 🙂

But rather, it’s a challenge because of the continuous 683 feet of elevation gain from the parking lot to the first lake. If you’re a Texas flatlander like myself, and not used to the thin air of Colorado, you will be breathing hard. We certainly were. And you will be acutely aware of your muscles.

I would recommend this for:

  • Ages 7 – 70
  • Fit and active

We developed a theory on our hike that kids would actually be the best candidate for this trail, because they would view it as a giant playground.

We were all in our 30’s and work out a few times per week, and ended up taking about four 3 to 5-minute long breaks on the way up. For pictures, of course. Not because we couldn’t breathe.

McCullough Gulch Trail (11 of 36)

Map & Directions

This trail is 15 minutes south of Breckenridge off of Hwy 9 and 851. Specific directions can be found here: All Trails – McCullough Gulch Trail

McCullough Gulch Trail (36 of 36)

When to Start

  • 8:30am

It is worth getting up early for this!! Even on vacation. Here is why:

You’ll want to beat the weather that usually rolls in mid afternoon, and you’ll also want to beat the crowds. (Everyone  reading TripAdvisor has discovered this trail.) Nature is so much more romantic without a ton of other people around.

How Much Time to Allow

I’d allow half a day. We hiked for two hours up to the lake, stopped for a picnic, and then the hike down to the car only took about 15-30 minutes.

McCullough Gulch Trail (30 of 36)

Plan a Picnic Lunch

This is critical to maximum enjoyment of this trail! McCullough Gulch trail leads to a gorgeous little lake, with another lake just half a mile away. Enjoy lunch beside the first lake and after lunch taking a jaunt up to the second lake.

McCullough Gulch Trail (26 of 36)

Whit’s Recommended Lunch

  • Chicken Bacon Avocado wraps, using a rotisserie chicken and fresh avocado. Mmm!
  • Cookies (essential.)


Parking is very limited at the trailhead, so unless you get there very early (around 8:30 am) you will either have to park on the side of a narrow road leading to the trailhead, or at the lower parking lot, which is a little over a mile away.

McCullough Gulch Trail (4 of 36)
View of the tiny parking lot at the trailhead (looking downhill, towards the road.)

What to Wear

See my posts What to Wear on a Day Hike and 6 Things to Always Pack in Your Day Pack for guidance on this.

McCullough Gulch Trail (7 of 36)
This girl is dressed appropriately! (As always.)

Read More

Fore more details on this trail, check out AllTrails.com (<–this link goes straight to the McCullough Gulch Trail page.)

All Trails is a great place to see pictures and reviews of various trails.



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