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Pitkin Lake Trail

October 9, 2013

Before the snow rolled in and turned my beloved Vail trails muddy, I got in my longest hike of the summer on the Pitkin Lake Trail in East Vail

Pitkin Lake Trail

At about 9 miles, 2,900 vertical feet and 5.5 hours round-trip, it was my most ambitious hike of a summer full of shorter jaunts.  Along with a group of friends, I set out to hike up to Pitkin Lake on a gorgeous late summer day.

Pitkin Lake Trail

After climbing steeply from the trailhead for so long that my legs were screaming, we emerged in this high valley.  We were heading to a basin beyond our view in the photo above.

Pitkin Lake Trail Vail

I’m tempted to go on and on about how gorgeous this hike was, but I’ll let the photos do the talking for a bit.

Pitkin Lake Trail Vail

Pitkin Lake Trail Vail

After hiking for almost three hours we were just below the crown of the Gore Range.

Pitkin Lake Trail Vail

And for the next 30 minutes we were convinced that the lake must be right around the bend.

Pitkin Lake Trail Vail

Before every false summit, we were sure we’d see the lake beyond the next rise.  Nope.

Pitkin Lake Trail Vail

Finally it came into view.

Pitkin Lake Trail Vail

And the lake was a phenomenal sight.  The clean, clear water must have been incredibly deep.  On a warmer day I would have been seriously tempted to take a dip, but it was just cool enough to keep us on the shore.

Pitkin Lake Trail VailPitkin Lake Trail Vail

Our canine companions were almost as happy about our rest stop and picnic as we were.

Pitkin Lake Trail Vail

Pitkin Lake Trail Vail

Almost, but not quite.  PB&J, cheese and crackers and other salty snacks have rarely tasted so good.  After lounging and snacking for a bit, we decided to snap a few photos and begin the long journey down.

Pitkin Lake Trail Vail

The trip down was much easier and passed more quickly than the climb up to the lake, but it wasn’t exactly easy going on the steep terrain.  There were some seriously achey knees in our group by the bottom and I was highly jealous of the one member of our group smart enough to bring hiking poles.

Pitkin Lake Trail Vail

After about 5.5 hours of knock-out scenery, heart-pumping exercise and hilarious conversation, we returned to the trailhead a happy and hungry bunch.  It’s probably pretty snowy up by the lake by now, but on a warm summer day this hike was hard to beat!  The trail’s low use, combined with the views you’ve seen here, make it a pretty amazing place to spend the better part of a day.

Pitkin Lake Trail Vail

If you go…

Directions to the Trailhead:  From I-70, take exit 180 for East Vail.  Head under the interstate to the North side of the highway.  Go East on North Frontage Road until you get to a trailhead parking lot.  The trailhead will be on your left.

Level of Difficulty: Difficult.

Hiking Time: The round trip took us about 5.5 hours, but I’ve seen it listed as 7-8 hours elsewhere.  We weren’t moving that quickly so I’d assume the longer time accounts for a few more breaks.

Distance and Vertical Feet: Approximately 9 miles and 2,900 vertical feet.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 9, 2013 8:54 pm

    Sounds like a fantastic hike. Beautiful views!

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