• Activities:

    Chillin, Camping, Photography, Running, Backpacking, Hiking

  • Skill Level:


  • Season:

    Spring, Summer, Autumn

  • Trail Type:


  • RT Distance:

    12.8 Miles

  • Elevation Gain:

    2105 Feet

Dog Friendly

Backpack to a remote and beautiful lake at the base of one of Colorado's best 14,000 foot peaks and avoid the crowds found just up the road at the Maroon Bells.

The route to Capitol Lake is fairly straight forward, but not without its minor hardships. The route begins at the end of Capitol Creek Road, 9 miles from the small "town" of Snowmass (NOT Snowmass Village - thats the high class ski resort). The last few miles of this road provide the first minor hardship, as it is rated as a 4WD road and does have a number of fairly difficult spots. However, in the parking lot I saw a few minivans and even a Mini Cooper, so the road is definitely passable by most vehicles.

Once parked, go to the western edge of the parking lot to find the Capitol Ditch Trail. There is a trail information board and a TH marker. It may say Capitol Creek Trailhead, but do not fear, this is the much mellower Ditch Trail (it avoids the elevation loss and regain of the Creek Trail). After just over a mile you will come to a junction where you will angle left, cross the drainage ditch and head up a hill. For the next 1.5 miles the trail is easy to follow and will provide many great views of Capitol Peak while meandering through aspens, over creeks and through meadows. The only real challenge may come in the form of cows. There are tons of cows on the trail, and therefore lots of cowpies. At times you may even need to physically move a cow from off the trail as it looks at you and wonders why you are touching it.

After this relatively easy 1.5 miles you will drop down into a meadow and see before you a junction in the trail and Capitol Creek. To the left the trail looks as though it goes straight into the creek and disappears, while the right side looks very well defined and well worn. While the right side looks better, go left and cross over the fairly wide and fairly deep creek - there are narrow areas to jump across if you look for them. The right side path will take you down cow trails and ultimately lead you nowhere.

Once you have crossed the creek, head up to a trail junction with a marker. This is where the Creek Trail meets the Ditch Trail. The route to the lake should be marked, but if it isn't, just turn right and follow the good trail as it starts to gain elevation as it works its way through forested sections.

This stretch of trail after the Creek/Ditch Trail junction contains most of the elevation gain, however compared to many 14er trails it is very tame and manageable. There is also no shortage of things to look at and admire as you work your way through forests and over the creek, so take your time and enjoy the views.

After working your way up through the forest you will be dumped off in your final meadow right below Capitol Lake. Climb a steep hill through this meadow and follow the trail and soon you will find yourself at a 4 way trail junction staring right up at Capitol Peak. After a minute or two, scrape your jaw off the ground and take a right at this junction to head to the largest cluster of camp sites. There are no sites around the lake itself, but from the junction the lake is only about a 30 second hike if you head up straight.

Set up camp, and enjoy the views and the light company you may have on a summer weekend. If you plan on going of the summit of Capitol Peak, get a lot of rest and get ready for a big (but short) climb the next day. The route to the summit starts if you take a left at the junction and head up a steep slope to the saddle of Capitol and Mt Daly....but more on that later.

Pack List

  • Permit (self-register at the trailhead and carry it with you)
  • Daypack/Weekend pack
  • Plenty of water
  • Water filter
  • Food for dinner/breakfast the next day
  • Sturdy and supportive shoes
  • Base layer
  • Warm layer
  • Shell (temperatures and conditions change quickly up in the alpine),
  • Tent
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad
  • Any other camping supplies you may want
  • Camera
Read More

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

Community Photos

+ Add Photos


Overall rating: 

Leave a Review

Fantastic hike especially this time of year with the aspens setting mountainsides ablaze with green and gold :-)

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

Went half way and camped over night and finished the last half the second day. Absolutely amazing. Can hear the streams roaring next to you the whole way.

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

You're right to point out that it is better to use the creek trail on the west side to avoid that sudden elevation loss... This is such a beautiful hike with the magnificent Capitol Peak in sight for the majority of the way. Take your time, but get an early start so you can grab one of the few camp spots with a view.

about 2 years ago
about 2 years ago

Thanks for the info, i'm considering this now as a backpacking venture with my father sometime this summer. I love the descriptions and helpful Instructions, especially about the cows. :)

about 2 years ago
about 2 years ago

Jeff Richards Explorer

Addicted to the mountains and in love with all they offer.

 Boulder, CO

Are we missing something? Suggest an edit

Nearby Adventures

Hike the Sugar Bowl Loop in Kings Canyon NP

Tulare County, California

First and foremost, to get to this trailhead you need to drive down a 2-mile, one lane dirt road that is quite steep.

6 Saves

Hike to Ehukai Pillbox

59178 Ke Nui Road, Hawaii

This hike starts directly across from Banzai Pipeline, the famous barreling wave at Ehukai Beach.

7 Saves

Winter Hike to Calypso Cascades

1046 County Highway 115, Colorado

While most people go snowshoeing near the Bear Lake or Glacier Gorge area in RMNP, Wild Basin is a much less trafficked option.

5 Saves