Ptarmigan Trail Review

Ptarmigan Trail Review

Ptarmigan Trail, not to be confused with Ptarmigan Peak, is a 5 mile out-and-back, scenic trail that offers unparalleled vistas of Summit County, Dillon Reservoir and the surrounding mountains(including Quandary Peak, Red Mountain, and the ​Decalibron Loop). Located just outside of Silverthorne and Dillon, the trail rises about 1,140 feet in elevation gain, making it’s way from a valley to an outlook with views that are sure to take your breath away. The trail starts out quite steep and is sure to pose a challenge to even the most fit hikers, but this incline changes to a gradual slope that carries you up to an amazing viewpoint/lookout. 

Trail Specs

  • Distance: 5 miles RT
  • Route: out-and-back
  • Elevation Gain: 1,141 ft 
  • Features: viewpoint, forest, wildflowers
  • Difficulty: moderate

Hiking Ptarmigan Trail

a trail leading through a green aspen grove

Start up the trail from the parking area and within 50 yards you’ll be back on the road. You’ll continue up the very steep road heading north until you come to a field on the right and you’ll see an obvious trail just before the house on the north end of the field. Pick up this trail and you’ll stay on the trail from here on out. This first ¾ mile is the steepest part of the hike and is a real calf burner. It’s also the most exposed part of the trail, so we got hot and sweaty really quick. 

Once you reach the Aspen grove, you know the trail will begin to smooth out a little and will be a gradual incline instead of a steep ascent. That being said, this trail has over 1,100 feet in elevation gain in 2.5 miles so expect a decently difficult hike with this uphill challenge. Most of this section goes through forest and aspen groves, so it’s more protected from the elements and is cooler. There are two streams that cross the path, but they are more like small, slow creeks and add no difficulty to this hike. 

We could see this hike being a great fall hike, as a significant portion of the tree coverage is from aspens. We went in early June and the wildflowers were all beginning to bloom and offered a great sight for sore eyes after a long winter season. You basically just continue uphill until you reach the lookout, which has a large clearing through the trees and a wood bench. This is the best place to just sit and take in the breath-taking views before you.

Getting There

From Denver, use the right lane to take Exit 205 for US-6 E/CO-9 toward Silverthorne/Dillon. Take the next right onto Rainbow Drive then take another right at the stop sign onto Tanglewood Lane. Take another right at the next stop sign onto Ptarmigan Trail and follow that up to the parking lot. At the parking lot, you’ll see that the road continues but is marked not for public access. You’ll see the start to the trail on the North side of the parking area. 

The Verdict

This trail is truly one of the best views in Summit County. While it’s still a moderately difficult trail, the short distance means it can be accomplished in a shorter amount of time than some of the other big viewpoint trails in the area. Plus, it offered a great hike through the woods with some beautiful wildflowers along the way.

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