Pitkin Lake Trail

Vail
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Pitkin Lake Trail

Distance: 9.7mi
Elevation: 2,746ft
Time: 5.5-7h

Difficulty Rating:

Pitkin Lake Trail makes for an adventure-filled day hike. The gorgeous trail starts off steep, but it quickly (after roughly 1.6km) levels out. Gradually, the trail ascends the valley, past two waterfalls, to the stunning lake that sits below East and West Partner (two 3960m peaks).

Getting there

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

About

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


Elevation


Detailed Description

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 0.3km gaining 56m 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 2.0km 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 200m and you will reach the creek, rushing on your right.

3.0km 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 4.0km, look out towards the east to see the first of two waterfalls along Pitkin Creek.

At 4.5km, 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 5.6km, 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 2.0km, the hike takes you through similar terrain slowly curving around to the final destination: Pitkin Lake.

Pitkin Lake sits around 8.0km in, dramatically surrounded by tall, gray granite walls and alpine tundra. East and West Partner, at 3977m, 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

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

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