Ptarmigan Lake Trail

MODERATE 25 reviews
#1 of 2 trails in

Ptarmigan Lake Trail is a 6 mile moderately trafficked out and back trail located near Nathrop, CO that features a lake and is rated as moderate. The trail offers a number of activity options and is accessible from March until October. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.

6.0 miles 1546 feet Out & Back

dogs on leash

kid friendly

backpacking

birding

camping

fishing

fly fishing

hiking

mountain biking

nature trips

trail running

walking

horseback riding

forest

lake

views

wild flowers

snow

Directions from Buena Vista: Travel approximately 12.5 miles west on Cottonwood Pass Road (Highway 306) to the trailhead on the southern side of the road.

hiking
2 months ago

some ppl stop when they get to the first 2 ponds not knowing anything is beyond but keep going another half mile up the mountain to the big lake! so many ppl dont go all the way and they miss out.

hiking
2 months ago

When you get to the trailhead, make sure you take the right path. There is a trailhead sign with a trail departing from behind the restroom area, but even though the trail is marked, it's not the right one. I spent two hours navigating it before it ended, and so did four other people I met on the trail. The actual trailhead is on the south side of the parking lot. You won't notice it if cars are parked there. Luckily I got an early start, so I did the real trail after messing around on the wrong one. Beautiful views! Windy on top. Bring extra layers.

3 months ago

Had a good family hike up to the top lake. We took our kids (4 and 2). The hike was steady but not too hard for a 4 year old to complete. GPS measured the entire hike at 7.6 miles and took us 5 hours. There was a good place to stop and eat a picnic with a great view. The trail is good for all levels, ages and dogs.

hiking
3 months ago

great, easy hike. amazing views, and the lake is beautiful. also, I HIGHLY recommend climbing Jones mountain (13,200 ft) right next to the lake. it's very difficult, and takes close to an hour to peak, but the view is way worth it.

hiking
4 months ago

Enjoyed this trail but pretty busy on 4th of July weekend. Great views and the trail was a steady but doable climb to the lake. Be prepared for no one having their dog on leash. Too many morons just can't follow the rules and think they're dog will obey their commands but all they do is bee-line towards our leashed dog without thinking twice. We finally gave up and took our dog off leash to give her a fighting chance. Some guys fishing at the lake let their dog run over to ours and never even tried calling it back. People always ruin it! Otherwise, great day.

4 months ago

Good hike. Nice workout! No bug problems.

4 months ago

Beautiful day hike. It's not too rigorous but definitely has rewarding scenery at the lower lakes and at Ptarmigan lake. In the beginning there are some cool rock slides to walk through. I went on a Saturday afternoon when there were a lot of people, but I didn't mind. I also went on a Tuesday at midday and it was much less populated. Great trail for dogs.

hiking
4 months ago

Excellent day hike that is easy to get to. Uphill most of the way, but not overpowering. Trail is easy to follow. Don't overlook the second lake on your hike. It is an excellent place for a picnic.

4 months ago

Great hike with awesome view of Mt. Yale. The final Lake is worth the work! You can also continue up ok to the ridge if you so desire to get breath taking views of the valley at your own risk of course! ;)

hiking
5 months ago

Beautiful hike. Went on June 9 and the last mile or so was still waste deep snow. Post holed through it and completely worth it.

hiking
5 months ago

Beautiful views and variable landscapes throughout the hike. It was challenging to us beginner hikers but well worth the effort. There were periodic light showers at the beginning of July, and the areas close to the lake were wet and muddy.

If you continue on the trail, keeping Ptarmigan Lake on your left, there will be another smaller lake and more scenic views.

hiking
5 months ago

Ptarmigan Lake Trail is normally a 6 mile in and out Hike With snow levels being around waist deep in spots, once I cross the Creek and climbed to the top a ridge in the sun for a half mile of very little snow. Once I past the two lower pothole lakes the trail comes and goes, in and out of the snow.
As I waded through the snow I couldn't help but notice how breath taking the scenery was in every direction.
Once up to Ptarmigan Lake the snow disappeared to the beginnings of Alpine Flowers The lake was still frozen but ought to be open in the next couple of weeks. The hike down was about as rough as going up for a bit. I actually got stuck up to my waist and had to have a little help to get out.

I met a great group of women hikers that forged a great trail through the snow. Make time to do this hike.

hiking
5 months ago

Hiked June 12, 2016. Beautiful trail through a pine forest with sound of nearby stream for most of the hike. We made it to about 11,700 just below the lower lakes before the snow on the trail became more consistent, about 2.2 miles in. A trail runner coming down from the lake said the trail evident all but the last tenth of a mile which was still a snow field. The trail was a consistent moderate grade. We started at 7:45am and had the trail to ourselves going out, and encountered a few groups on the return. I would love to do this trail again in a few weeks when there is less snow.

backpacking
5 months ago

Lake was still frozen during our visit in mid-June. Backtracked down to split off from the trail and the creek, where CR 346 cuts on the southside. Found a secluded campsite near the creek with views of Gladstone Ridge towering above us from across the creek. Aim to camp near the lake at the end of June or beginning of July for snow-free experience.

hiking
1 year ago

fishing
1 year ago

Didn't make it to the main lake, which I was told was still covered in snow by the two serious hikers with leg gators and trekking poles. They were complaining of not having SNOW shoes, I'm in sandals .....so I stopped at the lower lakes about 2 miles in and did some fishing. Because of the snow parts of the trail were gone so you had to do a little detouring. Would have liked to fish the main lake but it was just too early (2nd week of June).

hiking
2 years ago

Nice easy going trail see pikas, squirrels and chipmunks along the way. Great view of Mt. Yale. Did a day hike but think it would be a good camping area. Well traveled I would have liked a few less people.

2 years ago

In August even a light rain did not detract from the enjoyment if this trail. Perfect. Hiking, pine, rocks, lakes. Loved it!

Here is a great blog post we used to choose and navigate this trail:
http://colorado-lifestyle.blogspot.com/2012/09/ptarmigan-lake.html?m=1

hiking
2 years ago

Gorgeous hike. This is a great opportunity to get above treeline with moderate effort. get there early if you want a parking spot because this trail is popular! It is most definitely worth it. :)

hiking
2 years ago

My wife and I loved this trail. The first 2/3 of the trail is pretty standard sub-alpine hiking: lots of trees and wooded sections; occasional views; and a couple scree fields to scramble over.

The payoff is worth it though. Eventually, you reach a clearing with a large lake on your right, and just up the trail another one dropped down and to the left. Continue up the trail, which does get a bit steeper just before Ptarmigan Lake, and bam: a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains and a nice 13er (Jones Mountain) directly in front of you. There are plenty of vantage points all around the lake, and navigating the entire perimeter was not difficult at all. Beautiful views of Mt Yale and the surrounding range, too. And July 2013 was a great year for wildflowers. They were everywhere.

Be sure to venture around the left side of the lake toward Jones Mountain. There is a saddle, just up and to the left of the back corner of the lake that provides even more breath-taking views. You'll also notice a Jeep road on the other side of the saddle (County 344 I think?) in case you want to approach Ptarmigan or Jones from the other side.

The overall ascent was moderate, but not too difficult. However, I am a flat-lander and still don't have my high-altitude lungs, so my assessment might not be spot on for someone who has no problems with altitude. The physical exertion was minimal to moderatesucking wind while going up the trail was the only difficulty for us.

Take a lunch. Take lots of photos, and get there early if you venture out in the summer months because of storms (and a fair number of other hikers). An afternoon shower kept us from venturing to the top of Jones. This hike is a must if you like wooded areas, open fields, wildflowers, lots of lakes, and great views from just above treeline. We'll be back!