Capitol Lake, Capitol Creek Trailhead, Aspen - Snowmass, Colorado

Capitol Lake - 13.2 miles

Capitol Creek Trailhead

Capitol Lake (11,597') in the Maroon Bells - Snowmass Wilderness

Capitol Lake (11,597') in the Maroon Bells - Snowmass Wilderness

Round-Trip Length: 13.2 miles
Start-End Elevation: 9,468' - 11,597' (11,627' max elevation)
Elevation Change: +2,129' net elevation gain (+3,284' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Moderate-Strenuous
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: Yes
Related Trails:

Capitol Lake - 13.2 Miles Round-Trip

Capitol Lake (11,597’) is located 6.6 miles from Capitol Creek Trailhead in the Maroon Bells – Snowmass Wilderness. It fills a steep-walled bowl framed by Capitol Peak (14,130’), Mount Daly (13,305’) and Capitol Pass (12,078’).

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

The trail drops 400’ in .68 miles from Capitol Creek Road to the valley floor, where it turns south beside Capitol Creek and follows it through long intervals of aspen, meadow and airy alpine landscapes to the lake.

There are marked connections for Nickelson Creek Trail, Capitol Ditch Trail and West Snowmass Trail, and unmarked climbing routes that split off to Mount Daly and Capitol Peak. The main trail continues .8 miles past Capitol Lake to the pass and drops SW into the Avalanche Creek drainage.

Camping is only permitted at designated sites around the lake, and campfires are not permitted at these sites (stoves only). Dispersed camping and campfires are otherwise permitted in the MB-SM Wilderness leading up to the lake (see Camping and Backpacking for details).

Capitol Creek Trail sees heavy use, especially on summer weekends. Arrive early to secure choice campsites and avoid congestion on Capitol Creek Road (see important driving notes below):

There are two trailheads in the main parking lot – find Capitol Creek Trail and begin a fast descent through mountain shrublands to the valley floor. Flowers are particularly abundant on this sunny, south-facing slope.

The trail crosses Capitol Creek on a bridge (.68 miles : 9,070’) to the Wilderness Boundary (.7 miles) and Nickelson Creek Trail split (.72 miles : 7,097’). It rises away into thick aspen and curls south on high banks over the creek with good views of open slopes across the valley.

The trail crosses a creek (2.15 miles : 9,370’) and rises steadily through aspen, glades and brush to a large meadow at 3.0 miles (9,840’). It cuts across the base of this steep meadow to the Capitol Ditch Trail split (3.32 miles : 9,940’), a scenic area along the creek ideal for fishing.

The trail continues south through attractive meadows to the West Snowmass Trail split, which comes in from the left (3.9 miles : 10,145’). It crosses a big meadow then steepens into a cluttered forest and passes through a grazing allotment boundary gate (4.4 miles : 10,305’).

Travel eases across a meadow (4.75 miles : 10,475’) before another steep push up an E-W dogleg and tight switchbacks that lead to a creek at 5.55 miles (10,960’). The trail is potentially vague here but easy to find once across.

It continues on a shifting climb through an expanding alpine landscape to the Designated Campsite – Fire Restriction sign (6.17 miles : 11,360’), past which it funnels up a steep gully that opens to big alpine meadows at the Capitol Lake – Capitol Pass Trail split (6.45 miles : 11,563’). Designated Campsite spurs can be found between the gully and this sign.

Follow signs left that crest over a scree pile down to Capitol Lake (6.6 miles : 11,597’). The lake is hemmed by steep walls comprised of loose rock - be mindful of falling/sliding rock around the shore. Scale walls and knolls for a better look, or hike up toward Capitol Pass for great views over the basin.

Capitol Pass is .8 miles and 510’ up from the split to the lake. It’s a little easier to backtrack on the established trail than negotiate steep loose rock around the lake to pick it up.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N39 14.042 W107 04.785 — 0.0 miles : Capitol Creek Trailhead
  • N39 13.860 W107 04.892 — .4 miles : Cross footbridge on valley descent
  • N39 13.695 W107 04.834 — .68 miles : Cross Capitol Creek on long bridge
  • N39 13.656 W107 04.867 — .72 miles : Nickelson Creek Trail split
  • N39 13.516 W107 05.193 — 1.1 miles : Steady climb into aspen stands
  • N39 13.222 W107 05.286 — 1.5 miles : Valley opens across meadow
  • N39 12.899 W107 05.238 — 1.9 miles : Cross large meadow
  • N39 12.718 W107 05.146 — 2.15 miles : Cross creek in brushy area
  • N39 12.432 W107 05.090 — 2.5 miles : Fast travel east bank of creek
  • N39 12.108 W107 05.086 — 3.0 miles : Cross base of steep meadow
  • N39 11.930 W107 05.244 — 3.32 miles : Capitol Ditch Trail split
  • N39 11.466 W107 05.148 — 3.9 miles : West Snowmass Trail split
  • N39 11.122 W107 05.135 — 4.4 miles : Grazing boundary fence
  • N39 10.715 W107 05.216 — 5.0 miles : Steep intervals in thinning forest
  • N39 10.421 W107 05.147 — 5.57 miles : Cross stream after steep switchbacks
  • N39 10.263 W107 05.061 — 5.81 miles : Cross creek on shifting climb thru treeline
  • N39 10.086 W107 04.795 — 6.17 miles : Designated Camping and Fire boundary
  • N39 09.916 W107 04.855 — 6.45 miles : Capitol Lake - Capitol Pass split
  • N39 09.820 W107 04.824 — 6.6 miles : Capitol Lake (11,597')
  • N39 09.655 W107 05.005 — Trail leading up to pass
  • N39 09.477 W107 05.101 — Designated Camping and Fire Boundary
  • N39 09.295 W107 05.255 — Capitol Pass (12,075')

Worth Noting

  • The trail braids in many places, and in almost every case rejoins itself. Some braids lead off to dispersed campsites, creek access and climbing routes. Follow signs and the main trail closely.
  • There are grazing allotments on this trail, and you may encounter cattle up to the 4.4 mile mark.
  • The Capitol Ditch Trail can be taken to vary the return route, or form a shorter loop (approx. 6.5 miles) if not aiming for the lake.

Camping and Backpacking Information

  • Camping is permitted only at numbered, designated sites at Capitol Lake. Campfires are not permitted at these sites. Stoves only. Dispersed camping and campfires are otherwise permitted in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness leading up to the lake. Permits are required for overnight stays in the Wilderness Area (see below for details).

Backcountry Camping

  • Dispersed backcountry camping is permitted in the Maroon Bells - Snowmass Wilderness. Self-registration permits are available at each trailhead and/or Wilderness Boundary. Backpackers must carry a completed registration form with them for the duration of the trip.
  • There is no fee for this permit.
  • Camping is prohibited within 100' of any trail, lake or stream. Group size is limited to 10 individuals (or 15 with people + stock).
  • Bear Canisters are now required for overnight backcountry stays in the Maroon Bells - Snowmass Wilderness.
  • Campfires are permitted in the Maroon Bells - Snowmass Wilderness, with potential seasonal and location-specific restrictions. Campfires are not permitted above or within .25 miles (440 yards) of treeline, or within 100' of any trail, lake or stream.
  • Contact the Aspen Ranger District (970.925.3445) or Sopris Ranger District (970.963.2266) for the latest weather, trail conditions and trail-specific guidelines when planning your trip.

Fishing Information

  • Fishing is permitted along Capitol Creek and at Capitol Lake with a valid Colorado fishing license.

Rules and Regulations

  • Dogs must be leashed at all times in the Maroon Bells - Snowmass Wilderness.

Directions to Trailhead

Capitol Creek Trailhead is located 9.7 miles west of Highway 82 on Capitol Creek Road. Only capable high clearance cars should attempt to reach this trailhead by car. You may otherwise park at Hay Park (7.8 miles from HWY 82) and walk the road.

There is very limited parking along the road between Hay Park and Capitol Creek, and turning around can be difficult if unable to make it all the way:

From Highway 82, turn west on Watson Divide Road in Old Snowmass (at the Conoco Gas Station and Snowmass Ranch Liquor Store).

Travel 1.7 miles to the Snowmass Creek - Capitol Creek Road split and turn right on Capitol Creek. Remain on Capitol Creek Road for 8 miles to the trailhead.

The turn off from Highway 82 is approximately 14 miles west of Aspen and 8.2 miles west of Bush Creek Road in Snowmass Village. Note Capitol Creek Road turns to dirt after 4.7 miles.

Contact Information

Maroon Bells - Snowmass Wilderness | Aspen Ranger District
806 West Hallam
Aspen, CO 81611

Maroon Bells - Snowmass Wilderness | Sopris Ranger District
620 Main Street
Carbondale, CO 81623

White River National Forest
900 Grand Ave.
P.O. Box 948
Glenwood Springs CO 81602
970.945.2521 | 970.319.2670

Trip Reports

There are no trip reports on this trail.


"There are large snowfields on the final approach to Capitol Lake, but melting fast and packed down enough to walk across with little trouble, especially in the morning when firm. There are short, steep sections that are slick and more difficult when soft. Capitol Pass is reachable without traction, though several hundred yards of steep snow must be crossed. "
ProTrails Admin  -   -  Date Posted: June 30, 2015


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