Capitol Ditch

Round Trip Distance: 6.4 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 9,480 - 10,014 feet
Cellphone: 0 bars
Time: 3 hrs. 30 mins.
Trailhead: Capitol Creek
Fee: none
Attractions: Forest hike

The Capitol Ditch trail is located in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area of the White River National Forest near Aspen, Colorado. Beginning at the Capitol Creek trailhead the trail follows the route taken by a once used irrigation ditch for a little over 1 mile before branching off and climbing along the shoulder of the mountains on the west side of the Capitol Creek drainage. Near the 3.2 mile point the trail merges with the Capitol Creek trail and comes to an end. The Capitol Ditch trail is a popular alternative route for backpackers, climbers and day hikers that are headed to Capitol Lake and to climb Capitol Peak (14,131 ft.).

Entering 'Capitol Creek trailhead' into your driving app will get you turn by turn directions. Alternatively, find your way to the Snowmass Creek Road, 14 miles south of Aspen on Highway 82, where there is a stoplight and Conoco gas station. Follow the Snowmass Creek Road for 2 miles and turn right onto the Capitol Creek Road and continue driving until you reach the trailhead. The pavement ends after 5 miles and the last mile of the dirt road is considered high clearance 4WD. The Colorado Rocky Mountain School manages to make it to the trailhead with their bus but there is a 2WD trailhead that is 2 1/4 miles before you get there.

The trail starts out from behind the kiosk at the north end of the parking area.

The first 1.2 miles are like an easy walk in the park with very little elevation change.

Some maps show a side trail branching off that climbs up to the Hellroaring trail. We were able to find the trail on this end but couldn't find the other end while hiking the Hellroaring trail out to Williams Lake.

 Just before the 1.2 mile point the trail leaves the old ditch route and climbs away on the right.

A short distance later the trail crosses into the wilderness area.

Other than a few groves of trees the trail travels out in the open for the remainder of the distance. Huge patches of thimbleberries cover the hillside in several places. The berries are good to eat but tend to be a little dry.

After crossing the highest point of the trail Capitol Peak comes into view at the head of the drainage.

As the trail reaches its junction with the Capitol Creek trail it drops down into the floor of the valley.

Continuing up to Capitol Lake and Capitol Peak requires crossing the creek. This photo was taken in the first week of September and the water was less than boot deep at this point. The high water mark looks to be about a half foot higher for those that are venturing through here earlier in the year.

Right after crossing the creek the Capitol Ditch trail comes to an end. The obvious options are to continue on up to Capitol Lake, loop back to the trailhead by going to the left on the Capitol Creek trail or returning the way that you came.

The scenery in the Capitol Creek area is incredible regardless of which trail you choose to follow. Both routes are the same length and both require you to cross Capitol Creek although the crossing at the end of the Capitol Ditch trail is a little shallower. On some weekends the parking area can be overflowing especially if some of the visitors are setting up tents and such to camp right at the trailhead. In the fall during hunting season it also tends to get congested. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.