Ptarmigan Lake Trail

San Isabel National Forest

Sawatch Range + Elk Mountains, Colorado

Start Exploring
Ptarmigan Lake Trail


  • A group of hikers arrives at Ptarmigan Lake.- Ptarmigan Lake Trail
  • Trailhead to Ptarmigan Lake.- Ptarmigan Lake Trail
  • The first third of the trail has nice views and crosses several rock falls.- Ptarmigan Lake Trail
  • Unnamed pond on the trail.- Ptarmigan Lake Trail
  • Looking back toward the north down the valley to Cottonwood Creek.- Ptarmigan Lake Trail
  • Ptarmigan Lake.- Ptarmigan Lake Trail
  • The lake has a beautiful backdrop of late season snow patches.- Ptarmigan Lake Trail
  • Mount Yale (14,199').- Ptarmigan Lake Trail
  • The wet spring of 2015 made for very full ponds.- Ptarmigan Lake Trail
  • Pond below Ptarmigan Lake.- Ptarmigan Lake Trail
  • Beautiful hiking in the Collegiate Range.- Ptarmigan Lake Trail
  • - Ptarmigan Lake Trail
Overview + Weather
Gorgeous views. Hiking above the treeline. Native cutthroat trout.
Middle segment of trail a bit monotonous.
Sawatch Range + Elk Mountains, CO
Pets allowed: 
Net Elevation Gain: 
1,230.00 ft (374.90 m)
Parking Pass: 
Not Required
Preferable Season(s):
Summer, Fall
Suitable for:
Hiking, Horseback
Total Distance: 
5.60 mi (9.01 km)
Trail type: 
Trailhead Elevation: 
10,680.00 ft (3,255.26 m)
Current Local Weather:
Hike Description

Hike Description

Pro Contributor

The Collegiate Range has some of Colorado's highest peaks; 14,202-foot Mount Yale, 14,421-foot Mount Harvard, 14,204-foot Mount Princeton, and 14,160-foot Mount Oxford are among the tallest peak of this beautiful range, which is itself a part of the Sawatch Range in the central Colorado Rockies. The peaks are along the continental divide and drain east into the Arkansas River.

There are dozens of great hikes in the Collegiates, and one of the most popular is the hike to Ptarmigan Lake above the Cottonwood Creek drainage. Just a short and scenic drive up Cottonwood Road from Buena Vista, the hike begins below the tree line but eventually breaks through into some beautiful open basins above the trees. The first part of the hike follows Cottonwood and Ptarmigan Creeks with nice views but quickly climbs higher into dense spruce forest. The middle third of the hike can be a bit monotonous, but that quickly changes as the trees thin out and the trail passes several small ponds and streams nestled among rolling meadows. The last push up to the Ptarmigan lake basin is a bit steep, but it is very scenic in all directions.

Ptarmigan Lake is set in a small basin below the slopes of Jones Mountain. Cutthroat trout of good size can be seen in the clear, cold water swimming enticingly near shore. Wildflowers surround the lake in summer, as do the mosquitos. The trail continues a bit further up behind the lake, but most people opt to make the lake a turnaround spot. There are several good backcountry camping spots near this lake; one very good area is on a small ledge lake just below the main lake on the east side of the outlet stream.

Join the effort to protect these places

Conservation Colorado has worked with communities around the state for over 50 years in pursuit of its mission - to protect Colorado’s environment and quality of life by mobilizing people and electing conservation-minded policymakers. It fights to protect the air, land, water, and people of Colorado. Their collaborative approach and focus on electing pro-conservation officials has yielded successes in addressing climate change, supporting clean energy development, conserving water resources, and protecting our public wildlands and rivers.

Updates, Tips + Comments

Updates, Tips + Comments

Field Guide

Field Guide

Location + Directions

Location + Directions

Nearby Camping + Lodging

(14 within a 30 mile radius)

Nearby Adventures

(20 within a 30 mile radius)

Related Content

Related Content

Adventure Community

Adventure Community

Who Wants To Do It
34 Members
Who's Done It
7 Members
Submission by
Pro Contributor
623 Adventures Explored
554 Adventures Published

Newsletter Signup

Join the Outdoor Project Community

Get access to essential planning materials and information for your next adventure. Take a few seconds to join the community. It’s FREE!

Free Field Guides + Maps

Post Updates, Tips + Comments

Organize + Track Your Adventures

Insider Detailed Info, News + Benefits

Custom Driving Directions

Recommended Campsites, Photos + Reservation Info