Ptarmigan Wilderness Figure 8

Wanting a quicker overnighter away from the heat I went backpacking in the Ptarmigan Wilderness outside of Silverthorne, CO


Some trips are done for distance and exploring new places never seen before. Where I want to walk all day and push myself physically.

Other trips are done for a different reason. To spend time with friends, family or loved ones.

But sometimes I just want a quick trip alone. No real purpose other than being by myself in the mountains. A chance to travel at my own pace but with no real agenda in mind other than for the simple purpose of being outside.

With that 'goal' in mind, I went on a quick overnighter to the Ptarmigan Wilderness outside of Silverthorne, CO.

I did a fairly ambitious trip there  two years ago that took in the ridge line, exploring the the off-the-beaten path trails that aren't maintained too well and thoroughly enjoying the area.

But I wanted something less challenging this time. A bit more mellow.

So, off I went Saturday morning fortified with my favorite quick weekend breakfast: Dark, rich black coffee with a bagel topped by cream cheese, lox, tomatoes, red onion and capers.  I may be a Colorado resident, but my tastes in food will always have an East Coast flavoring. 🙂

Once arriving at the trailhead, I noticed how even the higher elevation really did not mitigate the heat too much.  Just had to go higer.

On the way, I passed two gentlemen with light packs and trail runners: CDT Northbounders on the Wolf route!     We chatted a bit and wished them good luck on their journey.

Reached treeline and enjoyed the rolling tundra along with the slight breeze.



I went to Ptarmigan Pass and walked off trail a bit on the ridge above and down a drainage to South Williams Fork Creek.  At the pass and in the creek area, the trail became more of a social trail. Survery tape had been placed on tree by at least one enterprising hiker.  The views from the creek to the divide were picturesque.



Waded in the creek and felt it was still too hot to make a camp.

Decided to walk up the trail (again, marked with flagging tape) and camp above tree-line instead. The wildflowers along the trail were memorable. Columbine, Indian Paintbrush, Heartleaf and others. A bit early in this hot and dry spring and summer. I was glad to see the flowers before they wilted away.



Towards twilight, I found a flat area with some ​krummholz ​that formed a windbreak. The views in the fading sun proved to be a wonderful way to spend a a Saturday evening.

I propped myself up on my elbows, sipped my water and just took in the mountain views as day turned into night  The stars were above me and I did not have a care in the world.


The sun rose and greeted me in the cool air of the morning.


After a quick breakfast and some cold coffee, it was time to head back to Ptarmigan Pass. At the pass, headed off-trail to Ptarmigan Peak.


The broad summit was quickly reached.  Surprisingly, I had this popular summit to myself.

Took in the views and sipped on my new favorite concoction: Backcountry Iced Coffee!

(Starbucks Via mixes pretty well with cold water.  Add some snow and the caffeine fiend in me is quite happy…)


It was time to head back down.

At the wilderness boundary, I started seeing a steady stream of people heading to the summit.  My solitude was over. Time to head back home.

Down from the tundra and into the trees.  The pine bark beetle scarred trees gave way to an aspen glen.



My vehicle was reached. Cotton was changed into. And the thoughts of a beer and a burger were on my mind.

Time to go.

All the photos


  • Directions – This link has good directions ot the trailhead
  • The Route:  I did what could be described as a "Figure 8 Lollipop" : Take the Ptarmigan Trail to the pass, go  up along the ridge, down a drainage to the creek, back up the the trail back to the pass. Go off-trail to Ptarmigan Peak down the actual trail to the Ptarmigan Peak/Ptarmigan Pass split and back along the Ptarmigan Trail to the trailhead again.  I did perhaps 18+ miles and 4000' gain.   Take TI Maps # 108 and #104.
  • A more ambitious route:  If you have the time, an excellent loop is the loop starts at  Ptarmigan Peak TH in Silverthorne. Go up to Ptarmigan Peak.  Follow the obvious ridge on the William Fork Mountain/ Ute Peak Trail.  The trail is sparsely marked with cairns. Eventually you'll hook up to the Ute Pass Trail to FS-138. Follow the road for approx  2 miles to the South Fork Trailhead. Follow this trail to the Ptarmigan Pass Trail and hike up Ptarmigan Pass and back to the Ptarmigan Trail. Basically a big lollipop with a short stick.    Once past Ptarmigan Peak you will see few people. The "trail" peters out at times and you should be comfortable with some basic backcountry navigation.  This loop is about 40 miles and maybe 6000' gain.   A large part of this loop is on the "Wolf Route" of the CDT.  Besides TI Maps #108 and #104, also take TI Map #107.
  • Post Trail Grub:  The Dam Brewery in nearby Dillon never fails to satisfy my craving for a beer and burger. I am partial to the Sweet George's Brown.  I really need to buy this dam t-shirt, too. 🙂
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Take a Hike
11 years ago

Beautiful photos and great trip report! I had almost completely forgotten about Ptarmigan. I lived in Dillon back in 96-97, and had done a little light hiking in the area. That looks like Buffalo Mountain in the 2nd photo…. my 1st Colorado hiking experience. It was the 2nd week after moving there from Maryland. We took WAY too long on the way up, made it above timberline but not the summit. We were inexperienced kids from the flat lands. It was almost completely dark when we decided to turned around and stumble our way back down without even a headlamp.

4 years ago

Hey Paul,

The link in this line is broken:

“I did a fairly ambitious trip there two years ago that took in the ridge line”

I’m pretty sure I did a similar one this weekend – half of the South Fork trail plus the entire ridge from Ptarmigan through Ute Peaks. Rough stuff.