Ptarmigan Peak, Ptarmigan Trailhead, Summit County - Eagle County - Clear Creek County, Colorado

Ptarmigan Peak - 12.0 miles

Ptarmigan Trailhead

Buffalo Mountain and Red Peak are two imposing monuments visible throughout the hike

Buffalo Mountain and Red Peak are two imposing monuments visible throughout the hike

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Round-Trip Length: 12.0 miles
Start-End Elevation: 9,155' - 12,498' (12,498' max elevation)
Elevation Change: +3,343' net elevation gain (+3,710' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Strenuous
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: Yes
Related Trails:

Ptarmigan Peak - 12.0 Miles Round-Trip

Ptarmigan Peak (12,498') straddles the border between Summit and Grand Counties, offering 360 degree views of every mountain range located within the Dillon Ranger District. The summit is positioned within the Ptarmigan Peak Wilderness adjacent to its sister area, the Eagles Nest Wilderness but just 1/6 its size.

At 13,175 acres, the Ptarmigan Peak Wilderness is small by Colorado standards yet yields very diverse topography ranging from aspen and lodgepole pine forests at the lower montane elevations, Englemann spruce at the sub-alpine elevations and alpine tundra above treeline. These changes in elevation-oriented ecology result in a wide range of fauna including bear, moose, elk, deer, bighorn sheep and mountain goat.

From its unusually flat and broad summit, Ptarmigan Peak offers unabated views of the Tenmile Mountain Range, Williams Fork Mountain Range and Continental Divide. Notable visible summits include Buffalo Mountain, Red Peak, Grays Peak, Torreys Peak and even Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park.

From the parking area, the trail heads north through a residential area sparsely populated with aspens and tall grass. At .1 miles, the trail intersects a private road. Turn left and walk up the road for 100 yards until a sign for the Ptarmigan Trail points to the right. Turn right to pick back up the the Ptarmigan Trail.

The trail begins a moderate ascent along a hillside filled with low sagebrush. Small stands of pine and aspen dot the hillside as the trail passes the .5 mile mark (9,570'). At .7 miles (9,617'), a second trailhead sign greets visitors and reiterates the various regulations associated with entering the Ptarmigan Peak Wilderness (whose official boundary is still 3.7 miles and 1,890' away).

Continuing past the sign, the trail begins a minor descent, passes under a set of major powerlines and enters the forest at 1.0 miles (9,560'). The path now begins a steady ascent, crossing two minor run-off streams while winding through a dense, mature aspen forest for the next mile. The trail briefly opens up to reveal amazing views of Buffalo Mountain and Red Peak before re-entering the forest and reaching the Angler Trail junction at 2.0 miles (9,868').

Past the Angler Trail, the Ptarmigan Trail continues north on a moderate ascent. At 2.5 miles, the trail breaks through 10,000' - aspens now begin to give way to more pine and spruce trees providing a change in scenery from the aspen-dominated lower elevations. Views to the east, south and west are excellent with terrific vistas of all the aforementioned mountain ranges.

At 3.0 miles (10,425'), the trail begins a more aggressive grade as the path bends northwest on a heading towards Ptarmigan Peak. At 3.75 miles, the trail breaks through 11,000' and the landscape begins to change to accommodate treeline. Then, at 4.4 miles (11,500'), the trail reaches treeline and the official Ptarmigan Peak Wilderness sign. From this point on, the landscape is entirely exposed with nothing but alpine tundra as far as the eye can see.

Now headed northwest through a vast area of impressive tundra, the views are simply outstanding. The trail leads up to the Ptarmigan Pass split at 4.9 miles (11,888'). Stay straight on the Ptarmigan Peak Trail and shortly thereafter the trail passes 12,000' (5.15 miles).

For the next mile, the trail is spectacularly exposed. Unlike most summit approaches, there is very little rock to be found in this area. For miles around, the entire area is literally carpeted in alpine tundra creating a surreal environment for any visitor.

At 6.0 miles, there is a sign for the Ute Peak Trail - Ptarmigan Trail separation and Ptarmigan Peak is but feet from this split. Turn right and walk .1 mile towards the large cairn which marks Ptarmigan Peak (6.1 miles : 12,498').

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Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

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  • N39 38.113 W106 03.210 — 0.0 miles: Ptarmigan Trailhead
  • N39 38.461 W106 03.157 — 0.5 miles: Trail ascends through sagebrush field
  • N39 38.816 W106 03.219 — 1.0 miles: After gradual descent trail enters forest
  • N39 39.183 W106 03.262 — 1.5 miles: Trail maintains gradual ascent through aspen
  • N39 39.472 W106 03.232 — 2.0 miles: Angler Trail junction - stay straight
  • N39 39.754 W106 03.243 — 2.5 miles: Break 10,000' - aspens change to pine/spruce
  • N39 39.982 W106 03.254 — 3.0 miles: Ascent becomes slightly steeper
  • N39 40.281  W106 02.661 — 4.0 miles: Landscape changes for upcoming treeline
  • N39 40.301 W106 02.434 — 4.4 miles: Official Ptarmigan Peak Wilderness Boundary
  • N39 40.688 W106 02.234 — 4.9 miles: Trail split to Ptarmigan Pass - stay straight
  • N39 40.810 W106 02.014 — 5.15 miles: Break 12,000' - land completely exposed
  • N39 41.466 W106 01.633 — 6.0 miles: Ute Peak / Ptarmigan junction - turn right
  • N39 41.452 W106 01.583 — 6.1 miles: Ptarmigan Peak - 12,498'

Worth Noting

  • Every mountain range with within the Dillon Ranger District are visible from Ptarmigan Peak - these include the Tenmile Range, Williams Fork Range and the Continental Divide.

  • The last 1 - 2 miles of the Ptarmigan Trail are above treeline and completely exposed to the elements. Be prepared for sun, wind and quick moving thunderstorms.

  • Many well-known summits are visible from Ptarmigan peak including but not limited to: Buffalo Mountain, Red Peak, Grays Peak, Torreys Peak and Longs Peak (the highest in Rocky Mountain National Park).

  • Past the turn off to the Ptarmigan Peak summit, the Ptarmigan Trail becomes the Ute Peak Trail which continues north - straddling the spine of the Willams Fork Mountain Range.

  • There are very few trails that enter the Ptarmigan Peak Wilderness - but all of them connect with the Ute Peak Trail which provides alpine access to the Williams Fork Mountains.

  • Elevations in the Ptarmigan Peak Wilderness Area range from 9,127' to 12,757'.

  • The Ptarmigan Peak Wilderness Area is part of the White River National Forest and is a sister area to the Eagles Nest Wilderness - located across Highway 9 to the west.

  • The Eagles Nest Wilderness consists of 82,484 acres while the Ptarmigan Peak Wilderness has only 13,175 acres.

Camping and Backpacking Information

  • Dispersed camping is allowed but is prohibited within 100' of all lakes, rivers and streams.

  • Camping in groups of more than 15 people is prohibited.

  • Building and using a campfire within a quarter mile of all lakes is prohibited, it is also prohibited to build a fire within 100' of all lakes, rivers and streams. Fires are also not allowed in alpine areas including alpine meadows, krumholtz and riparian areas.

  • Equestrian camping - no hay or straw allowed. Only pelletized feed and rolled grain may be used. Violations will result in a fine.

Fishing Information

  • Fishing is allowed with a valid Colorado fishing license.

  • Bury fish guts in latrine holes. Do not leave along lake and stream beds.

Rules and Regulations

  • Mountain biking is allowed only up to the Ptarmigan Peak Wilderness boundary, past which it is prohibited.

  • Dogs must be leashed in the Ptarmigan Peak Wilderness or face stiff fines.

  • Motor vehicles of any kind are strictly prohibited.

  • Permits: For special use permits for outfitting, commercial filming, recreational events, firewood cutting and hazardous tree removal, please contact the Dillon Ranger District.

Directions to Trailhead

From I-70 take Exit 205 (Silverthorne / Dillon) and turn right at the light. Travel for .2 miles and turn right onto Rainbow Drive (Wendy's is on the corner). Shortly thereafter turn right onto Tanglewood Lane and follow to Ptarmigan Trail Road. Turn right onto Ptarmigan Road and drive .8 miles to the parking area on your right. The trail leaves across the street from the parking lot.

Contact Information

Dillon Ranger District
680 Blue River Parkway
Silverthorne, CO 80498
970.468.5400
M - F from 8am - 4pm

White River National Forest
900 Grand Ave.
P.O. Box 948
Glenwood Springs CO 81602
970.945.2521

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