Hanging Lake Colorado is one of the best and most awe-inspiring sights to take in that this state has to offer. Finding the right information all in one place can be a challenge.
While access used to be very easy, things have changed and the process is different. Because of this, we decided to build this guide to Hanging Lake Colorado.
**Due to the current Wildfires in Colorado, as of August 2020, the trail is closed. However, please check the links below to determine the current status at the time of reading this.
Hanging Lake Colorado is nestled in the White River National Forest and is designated as a National Landmark by the US Forest Service. Hanging Lake was created by a geological fault that caused the lake to drop away from the valley floor.
Sitting 100ft above the Glenwood and Deadhorse Canyons, Hanging lake is a class of its own with its unique geo-placement, natural waterfalls, and beautiful colors. A 1.2 mile out and back hike (2.4 miles roundtrip) places access to Hanging Lake at the hands of hikers.
Best Time to Visit
We completed the Hanging Lake Colorado Hike in the early spring of 2019. In Colorado, May is generally considered early spring for my out-of-towners. Early Spring offered mild temperatures and beautiful scenery as there was active snowmelt running down the canyon walls and still areas of snowpack on the trail.
As far as the “best time” if the trail is open, it’s a good time to hike it! Really, the trail is closed in the late fall and winter seasons so its best to plan for this hike accordingly.
One thing to also keep in mind, when we completed the early spring hike, there are some early spring “challenges”. For example, as we hiked up we heard a loud crashing sound heading towards us very fast. I quickly realized that a boulder had broken loose from its position as it was tumbling down the canyon wall and flew right through the trail area no more than 10ft from us and crossed the trail at head level.
Fortunately, because we quickly identified the boulder, we were able to get behind trees that created a barrier for any potential impacts. As the environment thaws, things like this can happen. No one was hurt and we laughed it off nervously and kept on up the trail.
Generally, Hanging Lake is closed October 31 through May 1st each year. However, in 2020, there have been adjustments to this as the Colorado Wildfires, specifically, the Grizzly Creek Fire blocked access to the hike. Good news, as of today, the fire completely missed the lake. I’m so thankful for this as the lake should be enjoyed for generations to come.
Hanging Lake Trail Directions
From Denver, Hanging Lake is 2 hours and 41 minutes. A straight shot heading westbound on I-70 makes this an easy access trail.
From Fort Collins, Hanging Lake is 3 hours, 34 minutes and is accessed via I-25 South to I-70 West.
From Colorado Springs, Hanging Lake is a similar 3, hours, and 39 minutes like that of Fort Collins. However, instead, you will head up I-25 Northbound and then hit I-70 Westbound.
From Grand Junction, Hanging Lake is the easiest to access with a quick 90 minute drive and a direct shot on I-70 Eastbound.
Access (parking history, shuttle)
Access to Hanging Lake has changed over the past few years. When I first Hiked Hanging lake in the early Spring of 2019, we were able to park at the designated parking area at the base of the trailhead just off I-70 and hike on our own up to the lake. However, due to the popularity of this natural attraction, the process has changed significantly.
Currently (2020), Hanging lake can only be accessed by permit. Now, don’t get discouraged, this process is actually very simple, affordable, and can be done with ease.
Permits and Costs
- Price: $12 per Hiker/Person
- Phone Reservations: 970-384-6309
- Email Reservations: email@example.com
Glenwood Springs offer 240 permits per day to hike Hanging Lake. Reservations are required to obtain the permit. The price for the permit is $12 per hiker. Permit reservations can be purchased both in-person by calling 970-384-6309 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your reservation must be purchased for a start time and you must start your hike at that designated start time. This allows for the smooth trail access to all who have reserved their hike. If everyone bought a day pass and then all 240 permit holders started around 8am-9am, the trail would be packed, more dangerous, and not as enjoyable. Due to this, please, start your hike at its timeframe it was purchased for. I said that in my best dad voice.
While you can still park at the designated Hanging Lake trailhead parking area, you MUST be a permit holder to access the parking area. If you do not have a permit or do not wish to park in the parking area, you can park in the city of Glenwood Springs just 10 min down the road and then take a shuttle from the town to the trailhead.
Parking in Glenwood Springs is actually a bit more enjoyable if you wish to visit the town and do some shopping or grab a meal. As you can imagine, this really does help support the local small businesses.
The Hanging Lake Trail Hike
So, this is always an interesting topic. Some will tell you its hard, some will tell you its easy. The hike to Hanging Lake is described on AllTrails as “Hanging Lake Trail is a 3 mile heavily trafficked out and back trail located near Glenwood Springs, Colorado that features a lake and is rated as moderate. The trail is primarily used for hiking and is best used from May until October.”
For reference, at the time we completed Hanging Lake Colorado trail, we completed it as a family with my wife and two children ages 8 and 9. So, while it is moderate, it is very doable. The trail is a 2.5-mile round-trip trek that climbs over 1,000ft and consists of switchbacks and small stream/runoff crossings.
It generally takes about an hour to hike up and another hour heading back down. Most people spend about an hour at the lake as a way to take in the beauty and relax, rehydrate and have a bite to eat.
With all hikes, bring lots of water. A simple small water bottle is not going to be enough and will keep your hands occupied in times when you may need them to keep balance on the trail. A good hiking pack is always recommended. Check out this recent write-up on this Osprey pack for a great day pack with a built-in water bladder and at a great price. Elevation/altitude can make a big difference when getting some exercise and keeping hydrated is a big deal!
In addition to water, definitely bring some snacks or a light meal. Due to the general activity level of hiking a few miles and climbing elevation, you’re going to burn some calories. While this is great, you will want to bring some food to replenish yourself along the way. Don’t overdo it, just something light. Then, you will be able to enjoy a great meal back in Glenwood Springs when your done and have earned that tasty meal.
For a great resource on the basics of hiking gear, check out our write up here.
Just as a FYI: There is no swimming at Hanging Lake Colorado. While the water is beautiful and inviting, you are not allowed to swim at Hanging Lake. Also, there is a log that extends across Hanging Lake, while you may have the urge, you are not allowed to walk the log.
There is NO CELL SERVICE at Hanging Lake. Due to the nature of a hike that sends you miles into a canyon, you want to have some first-aid resources with you. Hypothetically if you injure yourself on the hike, you’re not getting a medic near you anytime soon. While medics can respond to this trail, it will take some time because of the location and terrain. If your not sure about where to start with a hiking first aid kit, check out this helpful “how-to” on making your own effective kit or suggestions on good pre-made ones.
FAQ’s of Hanging Lake Colorado (That I haven’t hit so far)
- Can a reservation be canceled? Yes, Reservations cannot be canceled or rescheduled within 48 hours of your departure day. To change or reschedule your reservation please call 970-384-6309
- Can you bike to the trailhead? Yes, bikers/hikers need a reservation and can bike to the trailhead and hike to the lake, year-round at any time.
- Are Dogs allowed on the Hanging Lake Trail? No, dogs and/or other pets are not allowed on the Hanging Lake Trail or at the Hanging Lake Welcome Center. Please visit visitglenwood.com/dog-daycare/ for dog-boarding options.
- Is there a restroom on the trail? Restroom facilities are available at the Hanging Lake trailhead along with a water fountain and picnic tables. Restroom facilities and drinking water are not available along the trail or at the lake; please pack water and snacks with you and remember to pack it out.
- Is there a Military or Senior discount? At the time of writing this, no, there is no senior or military discount.
Hanging Lake Resources
- Glenwood Springs City
- U.S. Forest Service Info on Hanging Lake
- AllTrails.com Hike Info for Hanging Lake
If your heading to Hanging Lake Colorado, or if your a local alike, Hanging Trail definitely needs to be on your shortlist as a must-see. Hopefully, the resources and information in this guide are helpful and you can make the trip to the top and experience the beauty of the Hanging lake. Go get outside!
Mike is a Colorado resident, a combat veteran, and a former Police Officer, and an avid outdoorsman. Mike has camped, hiked, and Overlanded all over the United States. From backpack Elk Hunts on Public Land, solo truck camping to Multi-week Overlanding adventures with his family, Mike is very familiar with these outdoor topics.
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