Pitkin Lake Trail

Distance10.88 mi
Elevation Gain2989 feet
My Time5 hr 39 min
DifficultyHard
Closest TownVail
Food NearbyGarfinkles

A difficult hike to a beautiful alpine lake with great views of the valley. There are a series of steep sections with flat sections in between but the steep get very steep.

The First Hill

Starting from the parking lot just off of I-70 the trail will follow a nice stream up to a bridge next to a cool small waterfall. After the bridge the trail starts to get really steep. You will gain 500 feet of elevation in a half mile of switchbacks with a dirt trail. The grade tops out over 40% and is consistently in the mid 20-30% range.

After that first very steep section you will continue on for the next two and half miles at a consistent but much easier grade. This section will take you through some Aspen groves and around a the beginning of the valley before taking you into a pine forest.

The trail leading through some aspen trees with pine trees and a mountainside in the distance.

For most of this section you will have the sounds of a stream next to you although you never really see it. This section of the trail last until the 2.5 mile mark when you will emerge from the pines and to the next steep section.

The Ridge

The next steep section that occurs just as you leave the pine forest is climbing a ridgeline. The ridgeline will take you above the valley that you just walked through and again lead to some amazing views looking back toward the start of the hike.

A look back down the valley from the ridgeline.

You will gain another 500 feet of elevation in just .7 miles while you are climbing this ridgeline. The trail is again dirt but a little more rocky than the initial hill. The trail will flatten out after you clear the ridgeline as you will walk to another small open area where a lot a of trees have been blown down. You will also need to cross a small boulder field.

To the Lake

After the ridge you will have about a mile before the next really tough elevation gain. At the 4 mile mark you will come to another hill that will gain 400 feet of elevation in just .4 miles. This also has some nice views as you get closer and closer to the peaks that surround the lake.

The third incline is just past an area of blown down trees through a small valley.

The hill to climb is just past the above picture. I thought I was getting close to the lake after this portion but was surprised when I just kept going and going. The lake is still over a mile away from the top of the hill to the left.

The Lake

As you get closer to the lake the trail takes a sharp turn that takes you up one more incline. There is a couple of quick steep spots that run in the 20% grade range and get you to the final lake approach. The approach is open and rocky and starts to look a bit more like to tundra than forest but the trail ends at the beautiful Pitkin Lake.

For me this top section was really windy. I’m not sure if it is a natural wind tunnel or if it was just a really windy day. There are some rocks around the lake but not really any really big boulders to lounge on. Still plenty of room to enjoy your stay up there. Congrats you made it!

*One not of caution, the steep spots are also tricky on the way down so make sure you take your time on the return!

Distance and Elevation

If you don’t have the AllTrails app you might want to check it out, I really love mine. It records your progress and is a great way to search for hikes that are nearby and gives you difficulty measurements. According to AllTrails today’s hike was around 10.88 miles and had a total elevation gain of about 2989 feet including undulations. That put my high point at around 11,375 feet. I was also moving for a total of 5 hours and 39 minutes.

Effort

This one was a challenge. There are a lot of sections of steep inclines but usually with a flatter area directly after that to let you catch your breath. I needed to take several breaks along the way even with the flatter spots. Here is the step count from my Fitbit.

The step count from the Pitkin Lake hike was 31,476.

Terrain

Really a mix of everything on this trail. The trail starts with a steep and narrow dirt trail and progresses through a forest with a softer trail with some roots. Later the trail will get more rocky as you climb higher in elevation. The trail remains narrow for most of the hike. I would strongly suggest a good pair of hiking shoes or boots and hiking poles to help with the elevation.

Access

The trail head for Lake Pitkin is located just off of I-70 on Fall Line Rd in Vail. There are spots for about 8 cars at the trailhead. Winter parking restrictions begin in November limiting parking to 3 hours according to a sign posted. There was a port-o-potty at the trailhead.

Wrap up

I enjoyed this hike even though it was really tough. The nearly 3000 feet of elevation in under 6 miles out to the lake got the legs burning but having long sections of flatter area after each incline was helpful. 1,400 feet of the total elevation gain are in 3 sections totaling just 1.6 miles!

The valley is really pretty and if you time it right the Aspens would be great to walk through. The lake is nice and big but there aren’t as many good spots around it as some lakes I have been too. I really enjoyed the different area’s of the hike. It was almost like being on several different hikes as I passed by willows, aspens, pine, streams, waterfalls and a lake. Really enjoyable as long as you can handle those steep hills!

I have added this hike and all of my hikes to my interactive map section you can find here. If you have any suggestions for hikes or any other comment feel free to email me at fatmanlittletrails@gmail.com or you can follow me on any of the below social media platforms. Happy Hiking!

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