Pets allowed
Elevation Gain
1,230.00 ft (374.90 m)
Trail type
5.60 mi (9.01 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

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.

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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.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)




Parking Pass

Not Required


Gorgeous views. Hiking above the treeline. Native cutthroat trout.


Middle segment of trail a bit monotonous.

Trailhead Elevation

10,680.00 ft (3,255.26 m)


Backcountry camping
Big vistas

Suitable for



Nearby Lodging + Camping

Sawatch Range + Elk Mountains, Colorado
Grand Mesa Uncompahgre + Gunnison National Forests
Sawatch Range + Elk Mountains, Colorado


A relatively easy hike up to the lake through the forest. The pond below the lake is incredibly scenic and filled with fish. Once you get up to the lake the view is spectacular.
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