Ptarmigan Creek Trail

Chugach National Forest
This hike was rated 3 stars.
Easy; small elevation gain to get over mountain and then level along the lake.
Connects With
Falls Creek
Miles One Way
Miles from Anchorage
97; 23 miles north of Seward
May to October (snow may be too heavy at lake in early season)


A nice “no hassle” hike along a beautiful aquamarine lake. I like to do this trail early in the season when I’m dealing with some stress and I just want to get “out there”. Views include two small glaciers on the mountain on the north side of the lake. The trail starts at the Ptarmigan Creek Campground and can be traveled as a day hike if so inclined. This is a perfect trip for beginning backpackers or people with children. It also makes a nice preseason hike.

The first time I did this hike, there was too much snow on the trail when I got to the lake so I set up camp by the mouth of the creek. The next year, much later in season, I got to the end and really thrilled to a beautiful colored lake. The third year, too early in the season, I actually walked over the frozen lake to get to the end.

Important Information

Once you start hiking along the lake, you’re committed: there are no good sites until you get to the end where there is a nice sandy flat area to set up your tent. Ford the narrow but deep creek to get to the area.

If you’re only going to the west end of the lake, hook around the corner. There are great sites at the mouth of the creek.

There are fish in the lake; make sure you are educated about fishing regulations for this area if you are so inclined.

Be aware of hunters in search of bear in early season.

Also in early season, be avalanche aware along the mountainside part of the trail. I saw the aftermath of a huge one the first time I hiked this trail. It was nothing but a huge wide gash in the mountain of mud and ice.

The following was added June 5, 2007:

Haven’t been here in awhile. I really wanted a reason to drive down the Arm and camp out somewhere and I knew this place would be snow free. They cleaned up a lot of the dead trees by the lakeside trails and I discovered a campsite that I didn’t know existed. It was a great site on a cliff with a great view of the lake. It’s just about 75 yards down the trail where the lake starts. I did hike almost to the end of the lake but then turned around realizing this site on the cliff was where I really wanted to stay. I had a great book and it was a real peaceful time. Since it was lightly drizzling on and off, I got to setup my new siltarp canopy.

There was amazing amount of bear scat on the lakeside trail with portions giving you limited view. Make sure you make a lot of noise.

This was the first time I did this hike in season and was quite surprised by how many people were camping. Voices were really carrying over the lake so if you’re looking for real peace and quiet, you won’t get it unless you go to the end of the lake.

Anyway, here’s my updated skinny on the camping:

When you get to the lake, there’s a primo site to the right nestled in a group of boulders. As stated above, you could also camp by the mouth of the creek just down from this site.

Up just a little ways from where the lake trail starts, on the left are designated sites. While the view is good, the sites are crappy and I would only camp here if I absolutely had to.

Continue on the lakeside trail and you’ll see the cliff site. You could also camp on the beach below but you’d need something to cushion the rocks.

About midway on the lake trail is one flat area to set up camp and a sort of semi site off of a game path. Neither one would be my ideal.

And of course, lots of flat area at the end of the lake to enjoy.


It was announced in 2002 that this trail will be incorporated into a loop trail with huts. As of November, 2003, this project has been put on hold due to budget cuts. In 2006, I heard rumors of its return.

Topo Map

Ptarmigan Creek Trail topo map

Comments on hiking Ptarmigan Creek Trail

  1. Anchorage Hiker — May 29, 2016

    We hiked the trail this weekend (Memorial day 2016) and the trail was very clean and snow-free. The first half-mile or so is a gravel-marked trail complete with wooden walkways in some parts. Very nice. Once you get to the end of that part, the trail becomes a little more rustic, though stillquite well-trekked. Very sunny/hot during mid-day hiking, but around 9/10 am it was very pleasant. I would imagine that in about a month it will begin to be more overgrown in certain parts. Pants and short sleeves okay for now. On the hike out, it is very a very gradual hill pretty much the whole way, so obviously the way back is quicker. There are a few little creek run-offs to cross, but its not even ankle deep so no need for special footwear. One pile of bear scat on the trail and we did see a cow and two babies down at the creek, but never up close. Quite a few trail runners, so don’t freak out when they sneak up on you. We stayed at the campsite just past the toilet which was perfect for the two of us and fit the tent and our stuff nicely and it is far enough from the trail that people didn’t bother us too much, although the toileters always made their presence known (it was a family with what I would estimate as a few thousand kids). The first campsite had a bear locker however the actual site was a bit of a ways back, right on the water’s edge. Not sure how big it was because that’s where the tribe of kids was at. The second campsite, where we stayed, had an incredible view and I would highly recommend, even if site #1 is vacant. No fish in the lake at this part of the season, but not for a lack of trying. Bug spray and sunscreen a must.

  2. Eliza — July 21, 2015

    I hiked this trail in July 2015. I hiked in to the lake and back out the same day so I can’t say too much about camping spots around the lake. The hike in was moderately easy. The views of the surrounding mountains were beautiful. We saw fresh bear scat along the trail and there is a long part of the trail where you’re traveling through wildflower and berry filled mountainside with VERY limited visibility, so make lots of noise. Wear long sleeves and long pants – the path was a bit overgrown in this area and I ended up with a few scratches. The view once you get to the lake is absolutely stunning.

    Overall it took us 2 hours to get the lake. We spent about 2 hours at the lake eating, fishing, etc., and then it took another 2 hours back out. If you’re going to do a one-day hike you should plan on 6 or so hours. I really enjoyed this hike and will be back to do it again sometime soon.

  3. L. Hood — April 28, 2015

    I hiked this trail in mid April 2015, the views of the mountains were awesome. The trail was dry for the first 2 miles. 2 inches of snow on the trail caused my feet to get wet. I stop at the west side of the lake looked around at the 2 camp sites. 1st one has a bear box for food storage, the second one has a back country toilet. I would recommend this hike to any one who likes to hike.

  4. The following was submitted by Sarah on 6/25/04:

    My boyfriend and I hiked the Ptarmigan Creek Trail this past weekend. Very buggy, make sure to bring something with Deet, including red flies. Yuck! Also, since we had such a huge snowfall last year, the creeks are much higher and deeper and there is no beach to camp on once forded. Everything on the other side of the creek is just marsh. We camped right off the rock beach on the trail side of the lake. Decent campsite but little shade. There is also a nice campsite midway between the first sites (3.5 miles in) and the end of the trail. It’s an obvious path that veers to your right off the trail towards the creek. It is not an established campground by the state, but is clean and shaded.

    Finally, the second half of the trail, after the first campsites, is very overgrown. I was staring Devil’s Club and Cow Parsnip in the face (with the marks on my arms to show for it – wear long sleeves!) and above my head and the willow trees are trying to take over the trail. The wild flowers, including Dogwood, wild roses and Wild Geranium are beautiful and everywhere. We also saw 9 piles of bear scat on the trail from beginning to end, so stay noisy!

    Happy Hiking!

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