This pretty lake is nestled high in the Collegiate Peaks of central Colorado, with a fairly gradual climb that the U.S. Forest Service calls “one of the nicest hikes around the Arkansas Valley.” The trail begins off Chaffee County Road 306, just below Cottonwood Pass, at a fairly high elevation, 10,670 feet. The route climbs above the forest to meadows that teem with wildflowers in July for the final 1.5-mile push to the lake, for a total distance of 3.5 miles. Once at the lake, enjoy the view and scan the surrounding ridges for mountain goats. The trail continues a short way above the lake, where great views of fourteener Mount Yale can be had.
- Don’t stop when you reach two small ponds. These aren’t Ptarmigan Lake, though with great views they’re still worth a stop and a photo.
- If the road is open, make a point to drive to the top of Cottonwood Pass after your hike. The views of the Collegiate Peaks to the east and the Elk Mountains to the west are worth it.
- There’s little shelter from the weather at Ptarmigan Lake so backpackers may find better camping a bit lower.
Recommended season(s): May – October.
–R. Scott Rappold