Ptarmigan Lake Trail is a Colorado favorite trail for a fantastic half-day or full-day hike. Ascend a moderate grade through a spectacular forest. Pass a sweet lake and dreamy dispersed campsites along the trail before breaking out at the tree line.  Here, views of the highest peaks surround you as you hike across an expansive meadow and upward to Ptarmigan Lake.


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It’s early morning in late September and I am thrilled to show off this trail to a friend who loves alpine lake hikes. We started off hiking through lush dense forests on a moderate grade with occasional views between the pines of Gladstone Ridge (13,208ft) and Turner Peak (13,327ft).




A popular trail in summer, yet we are finding ourselves with only a couple more hikers in late September (something to note if you prefer fewer crowds). Many areas to stop and catch your breath make it an excellent hike for even a novice hiker.

Not to be taken lightly though. It’s a high altitude trail and dehydration plus fickle weather is always something to consider. CLICK HERE> for a look at Practical gear that we love at Crazy About Colorado and have in our backpacks on every hike.







The first lake appears to our left after hiking about 2.5 miles. This is not Ptarmigan Lake; keep going… However, It’s a wonderful spot to take a break, check out the dreamy campsites mingled in the trees around the lake, and take in views of Turner Peak and Gladstone Ridge.

A super guide to identifying wildflowers, waterproof and easy to carry – Colorado Trees & Wildflower Guide



Back on the trail, heading out of the shade of the trees and into an expansive meadow full of alpine tundra and leftover wildflowers from summer. It’s steep, and we are full of anticipation as we get closer to reaching Ptarmigan Lake,







You can’t see Ptarmigan Lake, but the ridgeline ahead keeps enticing you to keep going as the terrain gets a bit steeper.

Items I never leave home without and highly recommend when hiking on any trail in Colorado. Especially when backpacking. A Garmin In-Reach Mini for safety and a Sawyer Mini Water Filter.






Up over the ridge, and here we are at Ptarmigan Lake, Surrounded by terrific views of Mount Yale (14,196-ft.) and Turner Peak to the north, the Gladstone Ridge to the east, and Jones Mountains to the West.

NOTE: You can continue on towards the south of the lake and hike up Jones Mtn. It’s another 0.6 miles with a 941’ elevation gain over the open tundra to the summit.

Getting Serious About Hiking? Items I never leave without.

First Aid Kit

Emergency Blanket

Nuun Tablets

Bear Bell



Just before hiking back down the trail, we stumbled upon another lake just to the left of Ptarmigan Lake hidden over the ridge. Another beauty, aqua blue/green, and shimmering in the sunshine.


Rated: moderate

6.8 miles out and back

Trail #1444

Elevation start: 10,680 ft.

Elevation end: 12,300 ft.

Restroom at trailhead

Dog friendly

Chaffee County

San Isabel National Forest

Nearest town: Buena Vista

LOCATED: On CR 306 (Cottonwood Pass). From Buena Vista turn west onto CR 306 off of Hwy 24 (at the stoplight). Drive approx 14.5 miles. You will see the sign for Ptarmigan Lake Trailhead on your left. Turn left (south) and follow a short dirt road to the parking area. NOTE: Cottonwood Pass is closed in the winter months, check before you go.


Herman Gulch Trail – Bakerville, CO

Hope Lake Trail – Telluride, CO

Native Lake Trail – Leadville, CO

Kroenke Lake Trail – Buena Vista, CO

Booth Lake Trail – Vail, CO

Drop a comment below for any questions. Share your adventures with me. I’d love to hear from you, HAPPY TRAILS…

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Note: Many of the links are affiliate links which means I receive a very small commission (at no added cost to you).