Elevation: 12,498 ft
Roundtrip Length: 12.0 miles
Start Elevation: 9,155 ft
Elevation Gain: 3100 ft
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 summits positioned within the Ptarmigan Peak Wilderness adjacent to its sister area, the Eagles Nest Wilderness but just 1/6 its size.
At 13,175acres, the Ptarmigan Peak Wilderness is small by Colorado standards yet yields very diverse topography ranging from aspen and lodge pole pine forests at the lower montain 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.
Climbing Ptarmigan Peak makes an exhilarating outing with all the forest beauty and eye-opening views hikers hope for. What’s more, the trail is padded like a carpet store showroom, soft with built-up mulch, and rock free. But the big problem with Ptarmigan Peak is its luck of public trailhead access.
Take I-70 to Silverthorne Exit 205. Head north on Route 9 and turn right at the first stoplight (Wendy's is on your right). Turn right at the next stop sign and proceed .2 miles past the hotels on your right. Bear right onto road 2021 and parking for the trailhead is about .9 miles ahead on your right. The trailbegins across the road from the parking area
The trail begins on a knoll above a sheer rock cliff which drops to the I-70 corridor in Dillon Valley. Avoid crossing any private property here, giving wide berth to the land surrounding the home close to the trail.
The tracks leads through a dry, rocky sagebrush area andconnects briefly with a road which takes you through a gate. Both the 4WD roadand footpath climb to Ptarmigan’s 12, 498 foot summit. Cross the road, whichclimbs sharply, and use the trail, rising gently to enter a rich aspen forest.
As you gain altitude, take a breather to look back on Dillon Lake, shimmering like a jewel in its mountain setting. To the west, Buffalo Mountain and Red Peak loom large, giving you a great view into Red Buffalo Pass. Soon, you can see all the way south to the Breckenridge ski trails on the Ten Mile Range. The trail continues up and north in pine forest, which opens to reveal the gentle lower Blue River valley and imposing Gore Range.Three streams cross the trail. Look along dark forest stream banks for ptarmigan who come to drink.
Ptarmigan hikers gain walloping 3,098 feet in altitude, but the increase is spread over 4.6 miles so the hiker does not experience it as a punishing climb.
Watch for a trail descending from Ptarmigan Pass,northeast at 11, 777 feet, which meets the Ptarmigan Trail at about 11, 500feet. This trail provides the link in a 8.4 mile loop trip that connects Ptarmigan and Lanskey Gulch trails.
The path ascends to above timberline and than, quickly tothe 12, 498 foot Ptarmigan Peak summit. A top Ptarmigan, towering Grays and Torreys Peaks on the Continental Divide dominate the view east. Northwest of Torreys, the Loveland Pass area appears.
Beyond Tenderfoot Mountain spreads residential Summit Cove, site of the late 1800s Rice Ranch. Just bellow lies the green cut of Laskey Gulch, streaching to its head at Ptarmigan Pass.
North of summit, a ridge along the Williams Fork Range rises. The Ptarmigan Trail also completes a difficult but rewarding hike from Ute Pass, 12 miles north of Silverthorne, up Ute Peak and along this ridge and down Ptarmigan to the Lake Dillon area.
The United States Congress designated the Ptarmigan Peak Wilderness (map) in 1993 and it now has a total of 12,760 acres. All of this wilderness is located in Colorado and is managed by the Forest Service.
The Williams Fork Mountains leap up and away into Ptarmigan Peak Wilderness from just below the western entrance to the Eisenhower Tunnel on Interstate 70, virtually unnoticed in winter as skiers rush to many nearby developed ski areas. The south slope of the mountains, dominated by Ptarmigan Peak at 12,458 feet, is where you'll find the designated land. A typical lodge pole-pine forest rises to Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir and then on to alpine tundra at the highest elevations. From the boundary along the top of the mountain ridgeline, the terrain drops into the wet, lush, and lovely drainages of the South and Middle Forks of the Williams Fork Rivers.
You will not find many miles of trails in this Wilderness. The Ptarmigan Peak Trail just outsideSilverthorne crosses Ptarmigan Pass into the drainages to the northeast, a one-way journey of seven miles. The Ute Pass Trail follows the ridgeline boundary from Ptarmigan Pass north to Ute Peak (12,303 feet) and on to Ute Pass,a total distance of about 10 miles.
The Williams Fork Mountains could be ascended year round. The summer would provide the opportunity to walk along broad swaths of alpine tundra replete with wildflowers. However the Williams Fork Mountains are great off season or shoulder season mountains. The nearby paved highways allows year round access. The upper slopes are gentle enough to mitigate avalanche danger when snow drapes the ground. In the Fall there is a rather pleasant aspen grove that the Ptarmigan Peak Trail passes through.
· Fishing is allowed with a valid Colorado fishing license.
· Bury fish guts inlatrine holes. Do not leave along lake and stream beds.
· 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 specialuse permits for outfitting, commercial filming, recreational events, firewoodcutting and hazardous tree removal, please contact the Dillon Ranger District.
Dillon Ranger District
680 Blue River Parkway
Silverthorne, CO 80498
M - F from 8am - 4pm
WhiteRiver National Forest
900 Grand Ave.
P.O. Box 948
Glenwood Springs CO 81602