Hanging lake trail in Colorado is one of our favorite hikes in all seasons.
Starting at the Hanging Lake trailhead just off I-70 in Glenwood Canyon, you arrive at Bridal Veil Falls and Hanging Lake after one incredibly steep mile and a half.
The trail follows Deadhorse Creek Canyon, under a lush canopy for a nice cool summer hike. During spring the runoff, the flow increases over the Bridal Veil Falls and you can enjoy wildflowers in bloom along the way.
During an autumn hike, you can enjoy the beautiful fall foliage, fewer crowds, and warm sunshine.
Hanging Lake trail is even more fun in winter though! You get the trail mostly to yourself, slip your way to the top with spectacular icicles and then sled back down on your bottom.
Before I get you into something you are not prepared for – you should know this trail is challenging even in dry warm weather with kids. If you have the proper gear to stay warm and safe, are adventurous and prepared for intense mountain hiking – you will love it as much as we do.
If not – well – get some gear and stick to a summer visit. There are plenty of other free things to do in Colorado in the winter.
To get to Hanging Lake trailhead, you get to experience the spectacular beauty of Glenwood Canyon and the amazing engineering of elevated sections of I-70 that wind their way through the canyon.
Note: If you are traveling I-70 through the mountains in the winter, make sure you are prepared.
The exit is located east of Glenwood Springs Colorado at exit 125. The canyon is so narrow at this point that there is only an eastbound exit. So if you are traveling westbound I70— ie from the Denver, Frisco, Vail side, you will need to exit Exit 121 for Grizzly Creek or 116 Glenwood Springs and then return to the highway headed eastbound and exit 125.
One more note about getting there is that this hike is incredibly popular in the summer.
The parking lot fills up quickly and if the lot is full you are not allowed to park and must return later. In fact, the exit ramp will likely be closed so you can’t even get there.
~Local tip ~ If you do find yourself in this situation – Grizzly Creek is a beautiful hike at the next exit 121 off of I-70 or you can walk the paved trail along the Colorado River from No Name exit 119. Grizzly Creek hike is particularly kid and dog-friendly – unlike Hanging Lake trail.
Things to Know About Hanging Lake Trail:
Hanging Lake is a National Natural Landmark and is a very sensitive ecosystem.
This area is very popular with over 100,000 visitors per year and easily susceptible to damage. Therefore the rules are quite strict to keep the lake in its beautiful condition.
Dogs are not allowed on the trail, and if a Ranger is not present other hikers will likely tell you to take your dog back to the car. We have seen this happen more than once. So you may not get a ticket but you will certainly be shamed into complying with the rules.
The water at the lake is crystal clear which makes for such beautiful pictures. Swimming, fishing or even touching the water is prohibited. You are not allowed to hop in the rocks in the water or climb out along the log that is floating into the center.
In addition, there are no facilities a the top and the area is very small – so use the bathrooms at the bottom before you start hiking.
Hiking Hanging Lake Trail
Although the hike is not technical, it is surprisingly steep.
You climb about 1,000 feet in elevation over 1 1/2 miles.
There are no facilities so you must fill your backpack with water and snacks! Even seasoned hikers like us, need to stop and catch our breath. Plus yummy snacks work wonders to keep the kids motivated.
The vegetation is lush and beautiful. The kids found plenty of moss, bushes, and flowers to enjoy. The trail crosses back and forth over the creek on footbridges. Which gives the kids the chance to throw rocks in the creek.
In the winter the trail becomes snow covered and the bridges are covered up to the railings. Giving you a feeling of a real winter wonderland.
In the end, just before reaching the lake, you have to climb stairs that are carved into the rocks.
There is an old metal railing to hold onto, but not much more. This is the only truly difficult part.
In the winter the stairs become ice covered and very slippery to climb. We hiked the trail in snow boots but crampons or even Yax tracks would have come in handy at this point.
Once you make it past the stairs you arrive at Hanging Lake and the Bridal Veil Falls. As you walk up the last of the stairs, the sun appears from under the tree covered path and you see the bright turquoise waters.
A boardwalk has been constructed around the lake to protect the shoreline. You can walk around the small lake on the platform and sit at the benches to relax.
At the top of the stairs, there is another trail leading up above the lake to Spouting Rock. This waterfall comes directly out of the cliff wall.
This place really is magical.
And so much fun!
You can see why Hanging Lake is part of the National Natural Landmarks for the unique geological features.
Hanging lake is formed by travertine, a form of limestone deposited by the mineral springs. This formation is unique, unusual and delicate.
The Forest Service does have a future plan in place to limit the number of visitors, run a shuttle service and possibly implement a fee-based system during the summer.
We love to hike Hanging Lake Trail in Colorado. Do you have a favorite trail in Colorado that can compete?
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