Pitkin Lake Trail

Difficulty
This reflects the 10Adventures difficulty rating for each route. We aim to keep ratings consistent across regions.
Hard
Duration
This reflects the estimated time the majority of users will take on this trail. If you are slower, add time to the top-end figure. If you are fast, then you may complete this route faster than this time range.
5-7h
Distance
This reflects the return distance of this route as measured by the GPS file.
15.6 km
Elevation
This reflects the total elevation gained throughout this route as measured by the GPS file. This includes all ascents and descents, and is higher than what is quoted in most route guides, which simply measure the distance between the starting-point and high-point of the route.
837 m
User Ratings
These ratings are completed by users who have completed this trail and not subject to reviews by 10Adventures.
Overall Rating
This is the average user-submitted overall rating on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest.
9.9
Physical Difficulty
This is the average user-submitted rating on the physical difficulty of this route. In general, green is beginner, blue is intermediate, black is advanced/most difficult and double-black is expert-only. It is recommended that users build up to black and double-black routes.
Intermediate (Square)
Suitable for intermediates who are ready for a little bit more adventure.
Technical Difficulty
This is the average user-submitted rating on the technical difficulty of this route. In general, green is beginner, blue is intermediate, black is advanced/most difficult and double-black is expert-only. It is recommended that users build up to black and double-black routes.
Easy (Circle)
Suitable for beginners, families, young children, and those looking for a casual adventure.
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Directions to Trailhead
Panoramic views from the Pitkin Lake Trail hike near Vail, Colorado

Pitkin Lake Trail makes for an adventure-filled day hike. The gorgeous trail starts off steep, but it quickly (after roughly 1.6 km) levels out. Gradually, the trail ascends the valley, past two waterfalls, to the stunning lake that sits below East and West Partner (two 3,960 m peaks).

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Route Description for Pitkin Lake Trail

The trail begins adjacent to the trailhead message board. You’ll follow Pitkin Creek for a couple hundred meters through dense foliage. Quickly, you’ll cross a large bridge as Pitkin creeks rushes below.

After crossing the bridge, the trail steeply ascends for 0.3 km gaining 56 m of elevation, taking you to the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area sign. After passing the sign, the trail continues to strenuously climb for another kilometer before leveling out. The trail plateaus to a disperse aspen forest, offering shade to cool you off after the steep ascent.

After the trail levels out, around 2.0 km in, the trail opens up to a steep hillside scattered with pines, aspens, spruces, and firs. The Gore Range comes into view, sitting picturesquely at the back of the valley. The trail also passes a series of moraines (rock/sediment piles left from glacial retreats), which are always fascinating. Continue for another 200 m and you will reach the creek, rushing on your right.

3.0 km in, the trail becomes heavily forested; however, it soon opens up to a beautiful meadow with even better views of the Gore Range.

After a series of small switchbacks, at 4.0 km, look out towards the east to see the first of two waterfalls along Pitkin Creek.

At 4.5 km, just past the small creek crossing, continue left on the trail towards the western side of the trail. Follow the well-distinguished trail as it meanders onto the western slopes of the valley. From here, the trail begins to steeply ascend towards the alpine tundra where Pitkin Lake resides.

At 5.6 km, while passing through a meadow flush with creeks, a cascading waterfall will be on your left.

After enjoying the waterfall, leave the valley of meadows and hike up another steep section of the trail. The trail takes you to another high alpine meadow filled with pine trees and numerous small creek crossings. For the remaining 2.0 km, the hike takes you through similar terrain slowly curving around to the final destination: Pitkin Lake.

Pitkin Lake sits around 8.0 km in, dramatically surrounded by tall, gray granite walls and alpine tundra. East and West Partner, at 3,977 m, reside above the lake.

After enjoying your well-earned time at the lake, follow the same trail back, through Pitkin Creek drainage, to finish your hike!

Insider Hints for Pitkin Lake Trail

  • There is a 1 m-tall man-made waterfall located on Pitkin Creek 25 m past the trailhead information board. It the perfect place for a quick dip to refresh you after the long hike.

Getting to the Pitkin Lake Trail Trailhead

Take the I-70 E from Vail. Use right two lanes to take exit 180. Turn left onto Big Horn Rd.

Route Information

  • When to do

    Summer/Fall

  • Backcountry Campsites

    Yes, in Eagle's Nest Wilderness

  • Toilets

    No

  • Family friendly

    No

  • Route Signage

    Average

  • Crowd Levels

    High

  • Route Type

    Out and back

Pitkin Lake Trail Elevation Graph

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Pitkin Lake Trail Reviews

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