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Hanging Lake Trail leads hikers one mile from the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon to the spectacular blue-green waters of Hanging Lake. The area is a National Natural Landmark for the rare geologic formation of travertine deposition (source).
Hanging lake trail in Colorado is a spectacular hike in winter and summer. We created this guide including hiking information, the new permit system, rules to follow and more.
Update: The canyon has recently had a major forest fire that started in August of 2020 in Grizzly Creek. The forest fire burned 32,000 acres and is the largest in White River National Forest History. Hanging Lake has been called a miracle because is was found unharmed by the fire.
However, the ecosystem upstream and downstream is was damaged and federal crews are working to mitigate the damage and protect the lake. The trail is closed until further notice. So if you have your heart set on seeing Hanging Lake, make sure to check with the website. You can read more about this unbelievable miracle here on the reservations website.
We suggest enjoying other attractions in Glenwood Springs and hiking in White River National Forest to the south and west of the area. See one of our suggestions of Rifle Falls State Park.
Starting at the Hanging Lake trailhead in Glenwood Canyon, you arrive at the breathtaking Bridal Veil Falls and Hanging Lake after one incredibly steep mile and a half.
Another short hike above Hanging Lake and you are rewarded with Spouting Rock. An amazing waterfall that flows straight out of the rock face.
The trail follows Deadhorse Creek Canyon, under a lush canopy at evergreen trees 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 for a view of spectacular icicles on Bridal Veil Falls. Then hike or 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.
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!
Even seasoned hikers like us, need to stop and catch our breath.
The vegetation is lush and beautiful. We found plenty of moss, bushes, and flowers to enjoy. The thick canopy is a welcome relief to the summer heat and beautiful in the icy winter.
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.
After a mile, 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 in the winter 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
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!
Getting to Hanging Lake:
Many visitors come from Denver or Colorado Springs to hike this unique trial. Glenwood Springs is
Note: If you are traveling I-70 through the mountains in the winter, make sure you are prepared.
Hanging Lake Trail Permit and Reservations (updated 2020):
In the last few years, the rules for hiking hanging lake have changed. Hanging lake has become so popular that you must obtain a permit to hike the trail.
The permit system has reduced the number of visitors on the trail and up to the lake in order to protect the fragile ecosystem of the lake. The number of visitors is limited to 600 per day.
Reservations for a permit to hike the lake can be made at https://visitglenwood.com/HangingLake/ .
Permit and Shuttle for hiking in the summer
Summer is considered the peak season for hiking the lake and runs May 1 – October 30th. The permit includes the shuttle and costs $12.
During peak season (summer) a shuttle runs from the New Hanging Lake Welcome Center in Glenwood Springs to the Hanging Lake Trailhead. The welcome center is located next to the Glenwood Springs Community Center at 110 Wulfsohn Road. You can park for free, pick up your permit and prepare for the hike.
Permit and instructions for hiking in the winter – off-season
The off-season runs from November 1st through April 30th. The permit is $10 per person and you can reserve your spot at https://visitglenwood.com/HangingLake/
A permit is still required for hiking Hanging Lake in the off-season, although the shuttle will not be running. You drive yourself to Hanging Lake Rest Area (I70 Exit 125) and park in the lot.
~Local tip ~ If you are not able to obtain a permit or want to hike with your dog – 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.
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.
Can you swim in Hanging Lake?
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.
Stay off the log
You are definitely not allowed to walk on the log. In fact, the degradation of the log in the middle of the lake is one of the reasons for the need for a permit system. Plus, you may be publicly shamed – as locals have been known to do.
Dogs and other pets are not allowed on the trail or at Hanging Lake.
Are there restrooms at the Lake?
There are no facilities a the top or along the trail. The area around the lake is very small – so use the bathrooms at the bottom before you start hiking.
Remember to bring plenty of water for the whole trip.
Running water is only at the facilities at the trailhead.
Drones are not allowed
Be prepared to hike a steep and rocky trail in the mountains.
Wear sturdy hiking shoes or boots, carry a backpack and have adequate layers fo clothes. The weather changes quickly and the trail conditions vary deepening on the shady or sunny areas. Winter hiking requires more gear. Crampons and hiking poles are recommended in icy trail conditions.
Final Thoughts Hiking Hanging Lake Trail
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.
Additional resources for planning your trip to Glenwood Springs:
- Ultimate Guide to Planning a Vacation in Glenwood Springs
- 16 Fun and Exciting Things to do in Glenwood Springs
- Iron Mountain Hot Springs – Glenwoods Newest Hot Spot
We love to hike Hanging Lake Trail in Colorado. Do you have any more questions for hiking Hanging Lake? Let us know in the comments.
Hi, I’m Shauna – Welcome to Family Travel Fever. We are a large family, that was bitten by the travel bug! We travel with kids and extended family. I take the kids by myself sometimes because I don’t mind flying or driving solo with my crew to discover the coolest places.
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