This summer, be sure to visit Hanging Lake in Colorado, one of the most popular hikes and things to do in the Centennial State.
For many years, I avoided going to Hanging Lake because it is so popular and I do not enjoy waiting in a line of people while hiking on a trail. But since moving to Colorado 12 years ago, every summer I kept hearing more and more about the beauty of Hanging Lake and that I must make the trek out there. So, last summer, I finally made it up to Hanging Lake and I have to say it’s easily one of my favorite small town stops in Colorado.
Hanging Lake is located just a few miles east of Glenwood Springs. If traveling from Denver, the drive is about three hours, almost a direct shot along I-70 westbound.
Do note if you are driving from Denver to Glenwood Springs, you actually have to drive past the exit for the trailhead because there is no westbound exit. Take exit 121, to then get back on I-70 eastbound. Hanging Lake is exit 125.
During peak season, roughly May through October, parking is available at the Hanging Lake Welcome Center in Glenwood Springs. If are lucky enough, or are visiting on a weekday during peak season, the parking lot at the trailhead is an option. There are restroom facilities there which makes it nice when starting out on the hike.
The trick is, if you are traveling during peak season, allow enough time for parking and or taking the shuttle from the Hanging Lake Welcome Center.
Hanging Lake permits
A few years ago, the trail became so popular that the lake and surrounding landscape became trashed and damaged. If you know anything about this destination, then you’ve likely heard about the infamous log at Hanging Lake. For years, many Instagrammers and other travelers and influencers were called out for climbing on the log and posting about it. It has been a topic of contention for quite a while.
In 2019, the Hanging Lake permit system was launched in an effort to help preserve the health of the lake and surrounding landscape as the destination became increasingly popular. While many were angry about this, I personally think this was the best move to not only protect the area but make it more enjoyable to visit. It’s why I finally decided to visit myself.
Permits are purchased online and must be bought in advance of your visit. Summer permits are $12 per hiker and include self-parking at the trailhead. Each hiker requires a permit. You can make reservations here.
Is Hanging Lake back open?
Is Hanging Lake back open? This seems to be a popular question these past few years. Since the 2020 Grizzly Creek forest fire, the area has become even more susceptible to flooding, rock and mudslides. At times these natural events close I-70, thus hindering access to the trailhead. The best place to check if Hanging Lake is open is on the Glenwood Springs website.
About the Hanging Lake hike
Tucked away in Glenwood Canyon, Hanging Lake is truly unlike anything you’ve ever seen. The short but steep hike is roughly three miles round trip. While the trail is short, it ascends nearly 1,000 feet in elevation, in a short distance. For a few of the steepest sections, there are manmade stairs and steps to aid in the climb.
The hike to Hanging Lake starts out along the Colorado River, which cuts Glenwood Canyon. A paved bike path will start you off and lead you into the Dead Horse Creek Canyon. The trail turns to dirt and meanders for about a mile to Hanging Lake. Along the way, you’ll encounter bridges, mountain streams, rugged canyon walls and beautiful views as you approach the top.
In fact, one of my favorite spots was just before you make the final ascent up to the lake, at the steps where the canyon opens up to treetop and clifftop views. It’s a great place to stop and take a breather before finishing the final climb.
Upon reaching the lake you’ll be met with a deep turquoise-colored lake surrounded by a lush landscape of trees, ferns and moss. What makes this lake so unique is its location along a geologic fault. This particular location causes the lake bed to drop away from the valley floor above, thus the appearance of hanging. The falls just above, Bridal Veil Falls, continuously fill the lake.
But what surprised me were the waterfalls we hiked to from Hanging Lake. The Spouting Rock Falls are about 200 yards from behind the lake. These waterfalls tower above you at nearly 70 feet in the air. Hikers can walk behind them amongst a cavelike alcove for a spectacular view. There is always so much talk about Hanging Lake itself, these waterfalls don’t get the attention they deserve. I highly recommend adding this on to your hike.
Round trip distance: 2.4 miles
Elevation gain: 1,187 feet
Restrooms at the trailhead: yes
Dos and don’ts:
- Don’t climb on the log (there are signs explicitly saying this)
- Don’t leave trash behind. Pack in, you pack it out
- Don’t forget to pack plenty of water
- Do wear appropriate hiking shoes
- Do bring layers
All photos taken by me and are subject to copyright.