Pitkin Lake, Pitkin Lake Trailhead, Summit County - Eagle County - Clear Creek County, Colorado

Pitkin Lake - 8.9 miles

Pitkin Lake Trailhead

Pitkin Lake (11,362') in Vail, CO

Pitkin Lake (11,362') in Vail, CO

Round-Trip Length: 8.9 miles
Start-End Elevation: 8,476' - 11,362' (11,370' max elevation)
Elevation Change: +2,886' net elevation gain (+3,054' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Strenuous
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: Yes
Related Trails:

Pitkin Lake - 8.9 Miles Round-Trip

Pitkin Lake (11,362') is located 4.45 miles north of Vail in the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area. It fills a large cirque just above treeline at the head of a broad, glacier-carved valley. The Pitkin Lake Trail climbs 2,886' in several steep stages into the upper valley, where the landscape opens to rolling alpine meadows on the approach to Pitkin Lake:

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

The trail crosses Pitkin Creek and begins a strenuous climb on a narrow, aspen-lined path. Grades moderate past .3 miles (8,955') on a grassy slope between thick aspen stands and the creek.

Travel steadies up a widening valley, introducing lodgepole, spruce and fir as you progress (1.0 miles : 9,302'). It joins the creek for a moment (1.5 miles : 9,516') before climbing steeply to a crest overlooking a wide berth in the valley, a good place to scan for wildlife (1.85 miles : 9,765').

The trail drops down the west side, bottoms out (2.0 miles : 9,715'), and climbs ruggedly out of the meadow with great views back down valley, and NE toward Pitkin Falls (2.5 miles : 10,087).

Travel intensifies to the base of a rockslide (2.7 miles : 10,272'), then makes another short, steep burst to a second crest over a large meadow where a major tributary joins Pitkin Creek (2.95 miles : 10,420').

Cross the meadow and begin a strenuous climb up the far side through a dense spruce-fir forest. Be mindful of false spurs along this shifting segment. The trail moderates on the edge of a thinning forest (3.35 miles : 10,765'), relaxing for a spell through small clearings and spruce stands.

Another short, steep push to 3.8 miles (10,975') moderates in a transitional forest beneath towering, sculpted walls of the upper valley. The trail bends northwest through an expanding alpine landscape and shoots up the valley's west side through the vestiges of treeline (4.0 miles : 11,072').

It scales a ridge and edges back to the valley center (4.25 miles : 11,277'), where it levels beside Pitkin Creek to the south edge of Pitkin Lake (4.45 miles : 11,362').

The Pitkin Lake basin is immense and, to see it all, you'll have to climb a bit up its southeast or southwest shore. From these points you'll also have great views back down valley that reveal hidden meadows, ponds and streams.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N39 38.586 W106 18.184 — 0.0 miles : Pitkin Lake Trailhead
  • N39 38.960 W106 17.965 — .5 miles : Mild travel through grassy hillside and aspen
  • N39 39.219 W106 17.543 — 1.0 miles : Moderate travel through diversifying forest
  • N39 39.594 W106 17.346 — 1.5 miles : Join creek, begin steep climb
  • N39 39.990 W106 17.170 — 2.0 miles : Nadir along wide meadow on valley floor
  • N39 40.329 W106 16.945 — 2.5 miles : Climb out of meadow with view of Pitkin Fall
  • N39 40.758 W106 16.742 — 3.0 miles : Pass through meadow at confluence
  • N39 40.994 W106 16.723 — 3.35 miles : Trail levels in high subalpine forest
  • N39 41.183 W106 16.833 — 3.55 miles : Mild travel in thinning subalpine forest
  • N39 41.291 W106 17.203 — 4.0 miles : Break treeline on west side of upper valley
  • N39 41.441 W106 17.232 — 4.25 miles : Reach center of valley on final approach
  • N39 41.579 W106 17.330 — 4.45 miles : Pitkin Lake

Worth Noting

  • Circumnavigating Pitkin Lake is difficult due to steep cirque walls and rugged talus fields along much of its north shore.

  • You'll find excellent backcountry camping terrain at the Pitkin Creek confluence (2.95 miles), and in the rolling alpine meadows below Pitkin Lake.

  • Fishing is notoriously good at Pitkin Lake.

Camping and Backpacking Information

Backcountry Camping:

  • Dispersed backcountry camping is permitted in the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area. Camping is prohibited within 100' of any lake or stream. Group size is limited to 15 individuals.
  • Campfires are permitted for dispersed camping in the backcountry, with potential seasonal restrictions. Campfires are not permitted above or within .25 miles (440 yards) of treeline, or within 100' of any lake or stream in the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area.
  • Contact the Holy Cross Ranger District (970.827.5715) for the latest on weather, trail conditions and trail-specific usage guidelines when planning your trip. The office is open M - F from 8am - 4pm.
  • For those not wishing to camp in the backcountry, there are several developed campgrounds within the White River National Forest. Contact the Holy Cross Ranger District for information on these sites.

Gore Creek Campground - Facilities and Campground Information:

  • The Gore Creek Campground is located 2.5 miles east of Exit 180 from I-70 on Bighorn Road. It's located just past the Gore Creek Trailhead and holds 25 campsites with picnic tables and fire grates. A vault toilet is available. Campsite parking spurs are 30-40' long, but no electric hook-ups, running water or dump stations are available. Sites are first come, first served. There is a $16 fee, and 10 day occupancy limit.

Fishing Information

  • Fishing is permitted along Pitkin Creek and at Pitkin Lake with a valid Colorado fishing license.

Rules and Regulations

  • Dogs are permitted on the Pitkin Creek Trail and within the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area. Dogs must be on a leash no longer than 6'.

  • Horses are permitted on the Pitkin Creek Trail.

  • Bikes are not permitted on the Pitkin Creek Trail.

Directions to Trailhead

Pitkin Lake is located in the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area and Holy Cross Ranger District of the White River National Forest. The Pitkin Lake Trailhead is located .3 miles east of Exit #180 from I-70 on the North Frontage Road.

From westbound I-70, exit #180 and turn right (east) on the north frontage road. Travel .3 miles to the Pitkin Lake Trailhead parking area. Be mindful of private property in the area and only park in designated spaces.

Contact Information

Holy Cross Ranger District
24747 US Highway 24
Minturn, CO 81645

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

Trip Reports

There are no trip reports on this trail.


"We ended up going to Pitkin when the parking at Booth Creek was full ( terrible parking there - 8 spots). But maybe it was meant to be. My wife and I ( both in our 50s) loved the hike. Great mix of terrain- from woods to meadows to Aspen groves then finally the lake. A welcome sight after a pretty challenging at times hike. It seemed a lot longer than 4.5 each way- but was worth it. Bring lots of water!!"
Eric  -  Pitkin Trail / Lake  -  Date Posted: September 6, 2019
"Very nice, easy to follow trail. A bit buggy up at the lake, but nothing horrendous. It took me 3 hours to get to the lake. Wildflowers were awesome!"
Dave  -  Lafayette, CO  -  Date Posted: July 30, 2016
"Hiked to Pitkin Lake yesterday. The hike is very beautiful, peppered with wildflowers and aspens. However, the bugs are extremely bad. I recommend wearing long sleeves, although the bugs bit me through my clothes. I used OFF bug spray and it didn't even phase these bugs. Be forewarned. "
HT  -   -  Date Posted: July 26, 2015
"Nice trail. Not highly traveled. Only 1st 20 min is difficult, but you should have some hiking experience. But if you have spring Time allergies, you may want to think twice before going. I was pretty miserable the whole time and didn't make it it the falls . I had to turn at the 2nd brook. "
Skelly  -  Pitkin trails  -  Date Posted: June 27, 2014
"Wildflowers at the top were at their peak!!! Meadows were a carpet of color. Well worth the effort to reach the lake, which is deep and crystal clear. . . begging to be jumped into if not for the chill. "
c winkler  -   -  Date Posted: August 5, 2013
"This was a great hike with some incredible scenery. It felt longer than expected, partially because there were "false lakes" - we kept expecting Pitkin to be right at the next crest and meadow, but kept finding just meadows. Well worth going out there."
 -   -  Date Posted: May 24, 2012


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