Whether you’re a local or just visiting the area, you should definitely take advantage of all the amazing hikes Colorado has to offer. With all its geological wonders, there’s no denying that Colorado offers some of the best hanging lake in the country.
But what hikes rank at the top of the list and are must-dos while you’re in the area?
One of the most popular trails is the Hanging Lake Trail, located near Glenwood Springs, CO. This is a moderate trail that’s just a little under three miles long, and so it’s accessible to nearly all skill levels.
What really makes the Hanging Lake Trail one of the best and highest rated trails in the state of Colorado, though, is the destination.
Hanging Lake is a gorgeous, small lake surrounded by rich nature and rock formations. Small waterfalls flow into the lake, enhancing its natural beauty. Before you hit the trails, though, you should know exactly what you’re getting into, so you know how to prepare.
Below, we’ll be providing comprehensive information and of all you need to know before embarking onto the Hanging Lake Trail. It is our goal to provide you with the knowledge you need to have both a fun and safe hiking experience.
This is a 2.4 mile out and back trail that is typically rated as moderate. The way up is for the most part all uphill, so consequently there is a downhill descent. The trail leads to Hanging Lake, a gorgeous small-sized lake that many refer to as a “geological wonder.”
The trail is in the mountains near Glenwood, CO, just off the I-70 and near the Colorado River. Hanging Lake is a national monument of the White River National Forest.
Due to its popularity, this is a very heavily trafficked hike. To avoid the crowds, you may want to arrive either in the early morning or late afternoon, or on a weekday. Most hikers typically complete this hike in 2-3 hours.
A hike for everyone
The short distance makes this hike ideal for hikers of all ages and abilities, though the upward descent has been a bit of a heart-pounder by many.
This is a great trail to bring the kids on, though if you’re looking for an easy hike to bring a baby on this might not be the greatest choice because of the upward ascent and rocky nature of the trail. This trail has an elevation gain of 1,204 feet. It is best used between the months of March-October.
Parking and Alternatives
To get to the Hanging Lake Trailhead, you pull into a rest stop off the I-70. The parking area is alongside the Colorado River.
There are two parking lots, and these fill up FAST. This is true particularly on the weekend. Visitors in the summer who’ve arrived before 7 am have reported the first lot already being full before they arrived.
If you plan on getting there closer to 8 am, the likelihood of getting a parking spot is highly unlikely. Each lot has a gate that closes when the lot fills, so you’ll know if you’re too late.
There are also traffic alert signs along the I-70 that let you know if the lots are full. Don't let it discourage you if the lots are full. Try coming back at a later time, perhaps in the late afternoon, so that you can still experience this beautiful hike – there’s a reason that it’s as popular as it is.
While it may be tempting to park along the exit and entrance ramps of the I-70, you should refrain from doing so. They don't allow parking here, and you may receive a citation for parking there.
Also, don’t wait along the ramp for there to be space. This creates a congestion and clogs the path, which poses a problem for any emergency vehicles that may need to get through.
Due to the limited space, recreation vehicles and trailers are not allowed in the parking lots. Because parking can be difficult to score if you don’t go either really early or really late, many forgo trying to park there in the first place.
Rather, they park in the nearby town of Glenwood Springs. There they rent bikes and instead bike to the trailhead. This is a great way to cut down on traffic congestion and also guarantee that you can hike the trail at the time of your choice.
There are restroom facilities near the parking area, and bike racks at the beginning of the trail. There are several shaded picnic tables near the parking lot, and unshaded tables along the river.
This trail Shared-Use Path in the mountains of the White River National Forest. It runs along Dead Horse Creek and takes you through the Glenwood Canyon. This is an out and back trail, a little over a mile each way, that takes you to the beautiful Hanging Lake.
Most hikers typically take roughly 40 minutes to an hour to hike up to the top, achieving an elevation gain of 1,204 feet.
Though relatively easy and short, this is generally classified as a moderate hike due to the abundance of rocks that you have to climb over and negotiate. Because of these rock outcroppings, it is imperative that you wear a pair of good hiking shoes or boots so that you have all the traction and support necessary.
If you’re not much of a hiker, however, or aren’t used to high elevations, then this can quickly become a challenging hike for you.
As stated above, this trail follows along the Dead Horse Creek, and even repeatedly crosses over it. Over just the course of the mile-length trail, you will cross seven bridges. The creek provides a refreshing coolness to the air enhanced by the shade that the canyon naturally provides.
The abundance of water, however, also means that some of the rocks you’ll be hiking over can get quite slippery. So, be careful and mindful of your step, and make sure your shoes have a good grip.
Once you’ve reached the top of the staircase, it’s just a short walk to the magnificent Hanging Lake.
The Destination: Hanging Lake
Hanging Lake is without a doubt a marvel of the natural world. The destination of this trail. Rock formations and natural plant life are surrounding this small-sized lake. Also, one will find the travertine deposition forming through the lake, which is an extremely rare occurrence.
Waterfalls cascade down the rocks and into the lake, enhancing its beauty and serene atmosphere. There are trees, ferns, and wildflowers everywhere along the lake. If you look carefully, you will most likely be able to spot trout and other wildlife in the lake.
There are decks built along the lake, so you can get the best possible views. They don't allow swimming and climbing out onto the logs of the lake, however tempting it may be.
Because this is such a highly trafficked hike, these regulations are essential for preserving its natural beauty.The blue water and elegant waterfalls make for a fantastic photo op, so don’t forget to bring along that camera.
Spouting Rock Falls
Just before you reach Hanging Lake, you’ll probably notice a sign for Spouting Rock Falls. This is definitely worth checking out before you begin heading back down. It is only an extra 200 feet or so, so this little offshoot will barely cost you any time or energy.
Once you reach the Spouting Rock Falls, you’ll see waterfalls that are far different from those cascading down rock into the lake. This waterfall emerges from a hole in the limestone cliff face, so rather than falling gently down it is quite literally spouting.
When the water pressure is really strong, an additional waterfall spews water at a good height above the Spouting Rock, creating an amazing layered effect.
A Few Considerations
Now that we’ve convinced you to go on the Hanging Lake Trail to see all its beautiful sights, here are a few last-minute considerations to keep in mind before heading out on the trail.
First, we must really emphasize the importance of proper footwear and attire. Either a good pair of hiking shoes or boots is necessary to safely negotiate this rocky and slippery trail.
Bring your camera
Also, be sure to bring a camera, whether you have a professional-grade camera or simply the camera on your phone. Both the Hanging Lake and Spouting Rock are beautiful sights just begging to be on camera, and you’ll be glad you have one when you arrive.
And last but not least, be sure to bring an appropriate amount of water and snacks. If you’re not used to strenuous activity in high altitudes, this hike might be quite the workout for you, no matter how short it is.
Featured Image: Image: CC 3.0, Joshuahicks, via Wikimedia Commons