Welcome to my article on Castle Peak and Conundrum Peak! My name is Kelsey and Instagram knows me as @kelseyycarol. I’m originally from Minnesota where I lived for 23 years before moving out to Colorado after wanting to live by the mountains and get outdoors more often.
My inspiration for hiking came after a family trip to Colorado and hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park, which led me to attempting Longs Peak when I moved to Colorado. I actually had to give up on Longs Peak because of the exposure and heights on the Keyhole Route of the mountain.
I’m now a Colorado 14er finisher – Longs Peak being my finisher after two years of climbing all 58 of these mountains that are over 14,000 feet tall. I have now done all the Colorado 14ers and have done 40+ repeats as well. Castle Peak stands at 14,265 feet and Conundrum Peak is 14,060 feet tall.
Two Awesome Climbs up Conundrum Peak
I have climbed up Conundrum Peak twice, once in October of 2020 and again in October of 2021. The first climb was with a group of friends and a few of us ride shared. We were so exhausted on the way home as we took a wrong turn and ended up in Grand Junction, instead of Denver.
So we got gas and headed back to Denver which was another four and a half hour drive. The second time we did not make that mistake! The second time I did Castle Peak and Conundrum Peak because my boyfriend Josh still needed to get both of these peaks added to his list of 14ers.
On another note, Josh and I met after the first time I climbed Castle Peak. Our first date was climbing Mount of the Holy Cross – another Colorado fourteener – and this was my second time hiking Mount of the Holy Cross.
Castle Peak and Conundrum Peak Trail
The trail I took the second time up is the trail on 14ers.com called the Castle and Conundrum Combination Route. First you take the Castle Peak Northeast Ridge, then the Castle and Conundrum Combination Route from Castle Creek Trail. On this route you hike up two 14ers. You do Castle Peak, then descend, and ascend again to Conundrum Peak.
On the way back there is an option to descend in the middle of Castle and Conundrum peaks. You can glissade there in the spring or early summer, or you can go down crazy scree in the summer or fall. The other option is to ascend back up Castle Peak, taking the same route back to the trailhead.
If you have a four-wheel-drive lifted vehicle, you can drive up the road quite a ways which comes to about 8 miles round trip with 3,350 feet of elevation gain. But if you don’t, you will need to park at the two-wheel-drive trailhead which brings you to 14.5 miles round-trip with 4,850 feet of elevation gain.
This is almost what we ended up doing. We actually drove the road right before the creek crossing which saved us about 1.5 miles. A lot of the climb from the two-wheel-drive trailhead is hiking up a road until you get to the four-wheel-drive trailhead, and then you start your hiking and scrambling.
We actually made a YouTube video about this hike, so it did take us longer than a hike would have if we didn’t video it. It took us about 8 hours to hike Castle Peak and Conundrum Peak. See the links below for all relevant info:
What the Terrain and Scenery is Like
The scenery by Castle Peak and Conundrum Peak is stunning no matter which way you look. When you are first on the road climb, if you turn around, you can see beautiful mountains behind you and all around you.
When you get to the four-wheel-drive trailhead, that is when you start to realize you have to go way up. Once you get there you get to the trail, then you start to scramble up some rocks (in our case it was snowy rocks).
Once you scramble up those snowy rocks it turns back into a trail, then you get to parts where you kind of have to climb and use your hands and feet until you arrive at the summit of Castle Peak. After that you start climbing down on some rocks which leads you to climbing back up a rocky trail that takes you all the way to the summit of Conundrum Peak.
There is some climbing involved and some exposure along this hike but it’s so worth it! The feeling of reaching the top of a summit – whether it’s your first time or your third time – never gets old. It’s one of the best feelings in the entire world to know that you just accomplished a hike like that.
Castle Peak and Conundrum Peak are rated as Difficulty Class 2. All in all on this hike you will be doing some scrambling and some climbing with your hands and feet, but for most of the trail you will be walking on foot.
Best Memories from this Mountain Climb
Conundrum Peak has the most beautiful view of Castle Peak. You can also see the surrounding Elk Range, the Maroon Bells, Pyramid Peak, Snowmass Mountain and Capitol Peak. The Elk Range is my favorite Colorado mountain range, not only for the hikes but also for the breathtaking beauty.
The second time I hiked Castle Peak and Conundrum Peak was even better because I had already hiked the rest of the Elk Range. The first time I hadn’t liked any of the other mountains in the Elk Range. I also enjoyed snow the second time hiking up these two peaks. We had a snowball fight on our way down which was fun! That is the memory that stays with me the most.
How Hard is Castle Peak and Conundrum Peak?
This hike is not for beginners. The beginning of the hike was a road walk from the two-wheel-drive trailhead, then once you get to the four-wheel-drive trailhead you get on a trail that scrambles and ascends up to Castle Peak. After you descend down and ascend again up to Conundrum Peak.
There were a few sections of this hike/climb where it wasn’t just a walk, and you actually needed hands and feet to get through them. It would have been helpful if I brought spikes to put on my shoes so it wasn’t as slippery.
I recommend starting early (3am-7am), especially in summer (June-October), to avoid afternoon thunderstorms. You don’t want to be at 14,000 feet during a thunderstorm. Weather conditions change quickly in Colorado. They say you want to summit by noon to avoid weather changes.
This hike is for people who have experienced high elevations and people who are looking to hike all of the Colorado 14ers. This hike isn’t suited for people who are afraid of heights, and this is not a family-friendly hike.
Camping is the Best Option for Early Starts
We car camped in our car when we hiked Castle Peak and Conundrum Peak, in the dispersed camping area just past the two-wheel-drive trailhead. We also saw people camping in tents around the same area.
There are a lot of dispersed camp spots down the road. The two-wheel-drive trailhead is located 30 minutes drive from the town of Aspen. Aspen has many great hotels and airbnbs to stay at but remember you have to start early, so I think camping would be the best option.
Tips for Castle Peak and Conundrum Peak
Always pack out what you take with you on Castle Peak and Conundrum Peak. I typically carry a ziplock bag for all my garbage, so after eating a granola bar I can put the wrapper in the ziplock bag. I also have seen litter on hikes and always pick it up when I see it. The rule in Colorado and other states is “leave no trace”, so basically hike it as if you weren’t ever there.
One of the most important considerations for climbing Castle Peak and Conundrum Peak is to make sure you have layers packed. I typically wear a tank top, long sleeve and a jacket, leggings, hiking socks and hiking boots.
In my bag, I usually have with me some sunscreen, chapstick, sunglasses, gloves, hand/feet warmers, first aid kit, Colorado CORSAR card, baseball hat, winter hat, extra snacks (including granola bars, protein drinks and energy chews), sandwiches, at least 2 liters of water and a water filtration system.
I also think people should do research using AllTrails and 14ers.com to see the route, and use OpenSummit and Mountain Forecast to check the weather and wind before they go. If the weather looks iffy, the mountains will always be there – so it’s better to be safe and go another day.