Williams/Hardscrabble Lakes

Round Trip Distance: 4 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 10,001 - 10,702 feet
Cellphone: 0 bars
Time: 3 hrs.
Trailhead: Hellroaring
Fee: none
Attractions: Backcountry lakes

Williams Lake and Hardscrabble Lake are located off of the Hellroaring trail in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area of the White River National Forest near Aspen, Colorado. Both lakes are popular with hikers and backpackers alike. Of the two lakes Williams is the larger and has the most places to camp.

Entering 'Capitol Creek trailhead' into your driving app will get you turn by turn directions to within 1.2 miles of the Hellroaring trailhead. From there you can begin hiking and add an additional 2.4 miles to the round trip distance or if you have a high clearance 4WD, and advanced off road driving experience, you can drive the remaining 1.2 miles. The 4WD road is only difficult for the first couple hundred yards past the Capitol Creek trailhead. It starts off up a hill that is so steep that if you try stopping in places you will only slide back downhill. Before starting up it make sure there are no vehicles heading down. There are a few deep swells to negotiate in the middle of the hill.

Those that parked at the Capitol Creek trailhead seemed to make good time hiking up the 4WD road. The Hellroaring trailhead is well marked with a kiosk and trail sign.

The Hellroaring trail itself follows a high ridge where it drops off steeply on the south into the Capitol Creek drainage. On the north side of the ridge is the Sopris Creek drainage where in most places there is little to no drop off.

A little past the quarter mile point from the Hellroaring trailhead the trail enters the wilderness area. It is at this point that the short trail to Hardscrabble Lake branches off on the right. The Forest Service map overlay that we used swaps the location of the wilderness boundary and the Hellroaring trailhead.

Continuing along the Hellroaring trail for just over another 3/4 of a mile there are a couple of places where it gets a little steeper that will probably be more memorable for backpackers. The trail itself alternates between nice and smooth to rocky to rooty but all in all it is a moderate hike.

The turnoff to Williams Lake is in a saddle of the ridge at the bottom of what might be the steepest part of the hike.

From the turnoff the trail to Williams Lake drops off of the saddle of the ridge and makes use of several bridges that carry it over small brooks and marshes.

After that the trail has a few steeper stretches as it climbs up to the basin that holds the lake.

Williams Lake is pretty shallow where the trail meets it but looks to get a lot deeper on the opposite side. The peak on the left that is just out of this photo is part of a ridge line that leads up to Mount Sopris. The ridge is just high enough to block the view of Sopris from the lake.

Hardscrabble Lake requires little extra effort to check it out on the return trip although it is the ultimate destination for some hikers and backpackers that venture no further.

There are a few good primitive campsites along the 4WD road between the Capitol Creek and Hellroaring trailheads but there is nothing available right at the Hellroaring trailhead. Part of the area around that trailhead is leased to a guide service and is posted no trespassing. There is also a 2WD trailhead that is 2 1/4 miles below the Capitol Creek trailhead. On the day that we took the photos for this post we met a local, from Aspen, that had parked all the way down there and hiked up to Hardscrabble Lake. Lots of options are available for all kinds of hiking and backpacking adventures in the area. As far as Williams and Hardscrabble Lakes go, if you would like to see them for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.