Round trip distance: 4 miles, or 2 miles longer if your car cannot negotiate the rough road Hiking time: 4 hours High point: 10,815 feet Elevation gain: 1,300 feet Best hiking time: July and August Maps: USGS 7.5 minute series Capitol Peak Trails Illustrated #128 Maroon Bells, Redstone, Marble
For more information: U.S. Forest Service, White River National Forest, Aspen Ranger District, 806 West Hallam, Aspen, CO. Phone: (970) 925-3445. http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/whiteriver/contact/
Special note: Bring mosquito spray. A high-clearance, 4-wheeel-drive vehicle will get you closer to the trailhead. Hike is in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness area and leash laws apply.
Getting there: Take Colorado Highway 82 northwest from Aspen for 14 miles to Old Snowmass. The turnoff is about 4 miles south of the Basalt By-pass. Turn left (west) onto Snowmass Road. Continue for 1.8 miles to “T” junction. Bear right (west) onto the Capitol Creek Road. The pavement ends at 6.35 miles from the Highway 82 turnoff, but the gravel road is passable by regular cars for another 3 miles. The road becomes rough at 9 miles, about 1 mile short of the Capitol Creek Trail trailhead, where there is ample parking. Only high-clearance vehicles can go farther on the very steep and rough road to the Williams Lake trailhead, another 1.5 miles ahead. There is parking at the trailhead.
The trail to Hardscrabble Lake and Williams Lake, as well as the Roaring Hell Trail, start at the same place. The ride to the trailhead is worthwhile just for the scenery. This hikes offers a closer look at the north side of the Elk Range and of Capitol Peak, 14,130 feet, one of the hardest and most beautiful of the Fourteeners. Thus, the hike up the ridge to the two lakes provides both scenery and water, something for you and something for your canine companion. Since both lakes are below timberline, the trail passes through a mature spruce and fir forest that gives way to charming meadows filled with wildflowers and vistas of jagged peaks along the ridge. As you start down the trail, the exposed slopes of Capitol Peak dominate the view. From the Williams Lake/Hell Roaring Trailhead, pass the green gate and continue through a stand of aspen. Pass a wilderness boundary sign and watch your step as exposed tree roots crisscross the trail. You might want to stop at the small pond on your right for your dog to get his feet wet and lap some water. Climb uphill and stay to your left to avoid a social trial that peters out. Continue through the mixed forest and look for the turnoff for Hardscrabble Lake in a short 0.5 mile from the trailhead. There should be a sign pointing to your right (north). The lake is just a few hundred yards north of the main trail, up to the shelf. The lake is oval in shape, much smaller than Williams Lake and an unusual emerald green in color. When you return to the main trail, turn right (west) and start hiking uphill. At 1.5 miles from the trailhead the Roaring Hell Trail veers to the left (southwest) at the base of a short downhill pitch. Continue straight ahead, climbing uphill and down as the trail stretches upward to the forested ridge line. Pass through a bogy area where mosquitoes can be fierce. Here boardwalks and a series of bridges take you over the wetter spots and several creeks. Follow one of these creeks, with several cascades, up to the shelf where Williams Lake lies, surrounded by boulders and evergreen trees. Sitting on one of the sun-warmed boulders and savoring the solitude and peace, while your dog lies at your feet, it is hard to imagine why and how Hardscrabble Lake got its name or, for the matter, how Hell Roaring Trail was named. Return the way you came.