A tough hike to a seldom visited off-trail lake in Rocky Mountain National Park.

The hike to Ptarmigan Lake has plenty of elevation gain for mountain lovers and views for miles from the Continental Divide. If you want to reach this spot for sunrise you'll need a very early start in the morning, but that also means you won't have to use the shuttle system to Bear Lake. The last half mile of the hike is off-trail so make sure to watch your step and practice Leave No Trace Principles. If you're lucky you might also encounter a herd of elk foraging for summer greens on Flat Top Mountain.

From the Bear Lake parking area head right on the Bear Lake Trail loop to a fork in .25 miles. Take this steep connector trail up Flat Top Mountain Trail and stay left at a junction with Fern Lake Trail at mile 1. Follow the trail all the way to the top and stay straight at the junctions after mile 4. After 5 miles in you should be able to see the lake 700' below you and can carefully choose your own path down. From the outlet of the Ptarmigan Lake, you can see numerous photogenic tarns and the North Inlet.

Pack List

  • Camera & Lens
  • Tripod
  • Batteries & Memory Card
  • Warm Layers & Rain/Wind Jacket
  • Hiking Shoes
  • Food & Water
  • RMNP Topo Map or GPS
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RT Distance 11.8 Miles
Elevation Gain 3850 Feet
Activities Photography, Hiking
Skill Level Intermediate
Season Summer, Autumn
Trail Type Out-and-Back
Features
Lake
Scenic
Wildflowers
Wildlife

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Please respect the places you find on The Outbound Collective.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

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