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Elk Mountains: Capitol Creek Trail to Capitol Lake

Maroon Bells – Snowmass Wilderness | Saturday & Sunday, July 22-23, 2023

Almost nine years ago now, Diane was with me while I was photographing Fall Colors in the Elk Mountains near the Capitol Creek Trailhead, and while we were there she mentioned to me that she would like to backpack to Capitol Lake sometime, and I never forgot about it. However, we had never got around to doing that hike yet because it’s such a popular location and I’ve always been worried about hiking in and not finding a campsite near the lake on a weekend. But earlier this year when the White River National Forest finally implemented a permit system for the designated campsites around Capitol Lake, I hopped onto the day they became available and booked a site for us on this weekend in late July. On Saturday morning we woke up extra early and made our way over to the Capitol Creek Trailhead to start our hike up to Capitol Lake.

Here is a view of Capitol Peak from the Capitol Creek Trailhead just before we started hiking.

Capitol Creek Trailhead View

Although you cannot see them in this photo along the Upper Capitol Creek Trail, not only were the mosquitoes were pretty bad this morning, but the flies were atrocious!

Upper Capitol Creek Trail

It wasn’t long until we entered the Maroon Bells – Snowmass Wilderness.

Maroon Bells - Snowmass Wilderness Sign

Capitol Peak is a constant companion as you hike along the Capitol Ditch Trail.

Capitol Peak View

Diane hiking up the Capitol Creek Trail as we slowly made our way up the valley.

On The Trail

Shortly after this point we had to put on our microspikes and climb up a section of the trail that was still covered with snow to reach the upper basin.

Capitol Creek Trail


Capitol Peak is such an impressive mountain, but I’m pretty sure this is probably the closest I will ever get to climbing it…

Capitol Peak

Upper Trail View

Upper Capitol Creek Basin

Upper Capitol Creek Basin

We had a pretty great view from our designated campsite.

Capitol Lake Campsite

Rugged Ridge

Rugged Ridge

Capitol Peak from Camp

Capitol Peak from Camp

After setting up camp I had hoped to hike around Capitol Lake to the pass above, but there was a steep section of the trail covered with snow that I wasn’t comfortable crossing, so I never made it past the lake.

Hiking Along Capitol Lake

View From Camp

Looking down the valley from the upper basin we could see the familiar peaks of The Flat Tops on the horizon.

Flat Tops on the Horizon

After dinner I spent the rest of the evening watching the light change from the shore of Capitol Lake.

Capitol Lake Evening

Evening Shadows

Mount Daly

Capitol Peak Reflection

Capitol Peak reflecting on Capitol Lake.


Capitol Lake Sunset

Capitol Lake Sunset

Last Light Reflection

Last Light on Capitol Peak

Last Light on Capitol Peak

One final shot of Capitol Peak at dusk from our campsite.

Camp View at Dusk

Here’s a parting shot of Capitol Peak as we made our way back to the Jeep on Sunday morning.

Capitol Peak Parting Shot

>> Capitol Lake Photo Gallery


    JANICE LIEBERMAN August 2, 2023

    Beautiful photos – those reflection shots are terrific!

  2. Jean Larson
    Jean Larson August 4, 2023

    Gorgeous photography, Randy!
    Thank you for “taking me along” on your many treks and adventures that I no longer have access or ability to do myself. I appreciate your commitment, skill, and dedication to exploring the grandeur and beauty of our natural wonders and your willingness to share them. Seeing them through your lens means more to me than you can ever know.

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