About 15 miles west of Buena Vista, Ptarmigan Lake is a remote lake that sits at 12,147 feet in elevation above Chaffee County, Colorado. Ptarmigan Lake offers breathtaking views and ample outdoor activities, making it a very popular destination during the summer and fall.
To reach the lake, visitors must hike up 3 miles of gradual incline, and are rewarded with an astonishing view of the blue water surrounded by towering peaks, pines, and glaciers. Depending on how you spend your time at the lake, hikers can expect to log between 6 and 7 miles in the total round trip, but the trail is considered not challenging.
Parking is somewhat limited at the trailhead, which has enough space for approximately 10 to 12 vehicles. Here, it is important to note that both tent and self-contained camping are prohibited at the trailhead.
Activities at Ptarmigan Lake
Birding and Wildlife: Ptarmigan Lake gets its name from the Ptarmigan birds that frequent the alpine water’s surrounding foliage. Beyond this, the area is well known for mountain goat sightings among other small Rocky Mountain critters like chipmunks, marmots, and pikas.
Fishing: Ptarmigan Lake is approximately 11 acres in surface area, with a healthy population of cutthroat trout in the cold, alpine water. A valid Colorado fishing license is required to fish in Ptarmigan Lake, and shores are generally dotted with anglers most days in summer and fall. Fishing in Ptarmigan Creek and Lower Ptarmigan Lake on the way up is also quite popular.
Hiking & Backpacking: As stated above, a 6 mile, moderate round-trip hike is required to visit Ptarmigan Lake. Once the water is reached, hikers then have the option to walk along the eastern shore of the lake and continue to explore the Mineral Basin towards Cottonwood Creek.
For overnight stays, backpackers must abide by the regulations set by the San Isabel National Forest. Along the Ptarmigan Lake Trail, there are a few popular campsites located near Lower Ptarmigan Lake, but camping is permitted anywhere over 100 feet from a water source.
Picnicking: There are no picnic tables or trash facilities available at Ptarmigan Lake. Visitors must pack in and pack out all food and trash. A toilet is available near the parking area.
Address: Ptarmigan Lake Trailhead, Co Rd 306, Buena Vista, CO 81211
Season: Summer and Fall