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Capitol Creek Circuit: Capitol Creek to Capitol Lake

Day one of an epic circuit through the Maroon Bells

Hiking Difficult

9.7 km
841 m
178 m
3-4 hrs
Low Point
2.8 km
High Point
3.5 km
Capitol Creek Circuit: Capitol Creek to Capitol Lake Map

The Capitol Creek Circuit is a fantastic alternative to the well-known Four Pass Loop. The circuit features fewer people and goes by some of the most spectacular scenery in Colorado, such as Capitol Peak.


You can start this multi-day backpacking loop from a few different trailheads: the Capitol Creek trailhead or the Maroon Snowmass trailhead. You could also begin from the Maroon Lake trailhead and combine the Capitol Creek Circuit and the Four Pass Loop for an even longer route. The below description starts from the Capitol Creek trailhead.

Day one ends at Capitol Lake, which is nestled right below one of the gnarliest peaks in the country: Capitol Peak. You can either descend from the trailhead via the Capitol Creek trail or the Upper Ditch trail. Regardless, the scenery is beautiful as you traverse through alpine meadows and streams. There are aspens in this area too. The parking area at the trailhead is right near a huge aspen forest, so it is not a bad spot to have a picnic!

The incline isn't too strenuous on day one, so this route provides a good introduction for the overall trip. Day two will feature much more elevation gain, so it is best to take it easier on day one.

Plan to arrive at Capitol Lake with some time to relax. The lake is one of the highlights of the entire circuit. The water is crystal-clear, albeit chilly!

Once at the lake, there are a few different designated camping spots. Note, the spots located a bit above the lake provide great sunrise and sunset views. If staying overnight at Capitol Lake, advance reservation overnight permits are required and must be purchased in advance at recreation.gov. Approved bear food storage containers are also required and strictly enforced.

The Capitol Peak summit trail departs from the lake so you could choose to spend an extra day at the lake to bag the peak. Note, this is one of the most dangerous 14ers in Colorado, and should not be taken lightly.

Overall, this route is a splendid way to begin the Capitol Creek Circuit!



Hiking trails where obstacles such as rocks or roots are prevalent. Some obstacles can require care to step over or around. At times, the trail can be worn and eroded. The grade of the trail is generally quite steep, and can often lead to strenuous hiking.

Low Exposure

1 out of 4

The path is on completely flat land and potential injury is limited to falling over.


3 out of 4

Little chance of being seen or helped in case of an accident.

Best time to visit

between June and October


  • Alpine
  • Wildlife
  • Picturesque
  • Wild flowers
  • Water features
  • Forestry or heavy vegetation

Similar routes nearby

Guidebooks in this area