Ptarmigan Lake is a gorgeous, but difficult to access alpine lake in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness near Independence Pass. The last couple miles to the lake are not well marked, so it’s imperative that backpackers attempting to reach Ptarmigan Lake have a topography map and orienteering skills. The area between the White River and Gunnison National Forest along the route is especially difficult to navigate as the area is not well maintained.
What Makes It Great
This trail sees low traffic and can be enjoyed in a day or overnight trip, making a great option to escape the hustle and bustle of downtown Aspen and really get back to nature.
The route crosses multiple creeks including Lincoln Creek, New York Creek and Brooklyn Gulch Creek and can be tricky during high spring runoffs.
The route to Ptarmigan Lake follows New York Creek Trail. The trailhead is situated about three miles up Lincoln Creek Road. A vehicle with high clearance and 4WD is recommended. The New York Creek trailhead is on the right.
Hikers will ascend moderately and then more steeply along an old jeep road for one mile before merging with an old aqueduct road. Follow that for .5 miles. In about .25 miles the trail will cross the Brooklyn Gulch Creek Diversion. Stay on the aqueduct road. An “S” curve will follow before the New York Creek Diversion can be seen. Before the diversion, the New York Creek Trail enters a marked trail on the left.
New York Creek Trail parallels New York Creek for about .75 miles, climbing through spruce forests before crossing the creek. The trail opens up into a beautiful alpine meadow and then ascends for another mile or so to an above treelike meadow. The next mile is very steep and extreme caution is required to avoid damaging the fragile alpine tundra.
The return loop descends through Brooklyn Gulch Creek Diversion.
The views of the Collegiate Peaks are quite lovely, but the real bragging rights are reserved for for experienced backpackers who don’t get lost at least once on this less-traveled, high-alpine route.
Who is Going to Love It
Experienced backpackers with orienteering, backcountry and map knowledge are best prepared to take on Ptarmigan Lake. Those with less experience can hike the 8.4 miles in one day to the head of New York Creek and back.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
New York Creek Trail #2182
From Aspen, drive east on Highway 82 for 10 miles to Lincoln Creek Road. Turn right onto Lincoln Creek Road and drive 3.1 miles to the New York Creek Trail turnoff on your right. A 4WD vehicle is not necessary, but you will need a vehicle with higher clearance.