Hanging Lake Trail - One Of The Best Hikes In Colorado
As the snow season was winding down earlier this year, we decided to take a day trip out to Glenwood Springs and hike the Hanging Lake Trail. We had seen so many pictures of it and heard many great things, so there was no way we were leaving Colorado without hiking it!
ABOUT HANGING LAKE TRAIL
Hanging Lake is known as one of the best hikes in Colorado and after hiking it, we have no doubt. Visit Glenwood Springs says that Hanging Lake is a geological wonder - 'a rare example of a lake formed by travertine deposition where the natural geologic and hydrologic processes continue to operate as they have done for thousands of years'. Travertine is a form of limestone which is deposited by mineral springs. The Hanging Lake trail also has a thriving hanging plant community and has been designated as a National Natural Landmark.
The formation of Hanging Lake which sits at an elevation of 7,040 ft (2,146 m) is really interesting. 1.5 acres (6070 m2) of the valley floor dropped out and formed the bed of the lake. This is due to it sitting right on a fault line. The amazing colours that you see in the lake are because of the minerals and carbonates that have dissolved into the water.
GETTING TO THE HANGING LAKE TRAIL
The Hanging Lake Trail is around 10 miles / 16 km east (heading towards Denver) of Glenwood Springs along the Interstate-70 in Glenwood Canyon. Access it via the Hanging Lake exit. If you are westbound, then take the Grizzly Creek exit, cross the highway and then get back onto the Interstate-70 eastbound. Pretty much a massive U-turn.
Free parking is available but the carpark is small and Hanging Lake is an extremely popular spot so keep that in mind. There are signs on the highway which will tell you if the car park is full and if it is, then the gate will be shut. There is no alternative parking option but you can bike or walk to the trailhead from Glenwood Springs or nearby rest areas (No Name and Bair Ranch).
There is a rest area at the start of the trailhead with picnic tables, restrooms, water fountains and vending machines. The Hanging Lake trailhead is about half a mile down from a paved bike and pedestrian trail and follows Dead Horse Creek.
THE HANGING LAKE HIKE
The Hanging Lake hike is considered a moderate to difficult hike. It is a 2.4 mile (3.8 km) round trip on steep, rocky terrain with an elevation gain of 1,020 ft (310 m). Add the high altitude into the mix and you have a tough climb. Give yourself around 2 hours to complete it depending on your fitness and conditioning levels. There are plenty of places to stop along the way with benches and rocks so that you can sit down. The scenery is stunning and there are plenty of photo opportunities along the way so don't rush.
The trail follows and crosses a mountain stream all the way to the lake with several bridges along the way. As you get closer to the end of the hike, the trail gets quite steep. The final part includes a climb up rocky stairs. There are handrails to help you along but if you are scared of heights you might find this part quite challenging. It's only a short section though and I promise it will be worth it!
It was a jaw-dropping moment when we finally reached Hanging Lake. The water in the lake was incredibly clear, fed by a waterfall, with a stunning graduated turquoise colour through it. There is a boardwalk and benches around the lake so that you can sit there and enjoy the spectacular view. There is plenty of wildlife about too. We saw the most colourful birds, friendliest squirrels and lots of fish in the lake. The lake is also surrounded by lush vegetation including moss, ferns and wildflowers.
The lake edge is built from dissolved minerals deposited by the water. This mineral layer is fragile and destroyed easily so avoid walking on it.
Fishing, swimming or touching the water is prohibited in the lake and no dogs are allowed. That includes stepping out onto the log for a photo which so many people do. There are actual concerns that Hanging Lake may be 'loved to death' as more and more people visit. Oils, sunscreens and other foreign materials can seriously damage the environment there. It's really important to respect the unique and fragile ecosystem that thrives there and obey all the rules.
AN EXTRA BONUS
We noticed that there were people who seemed to be above the waterfall pouring into the lake. When we went to take a look, we realised that off to the left of Hanging Lake is another small trail which will lead you to another waterfall. It's called Sprouting Rock and is definitely worth the short hike. The Sprouting Rock waterfall shoots out from holes in a limestone wall that the water has created.
HOTELS AND CAMPGROUNDS IN GLENWOOD SPRINGS
As we were living in Frisco at the time, we did a day trip to the Hanging Lake Trail but there are numerous lodging options available in Glenwood Springs.
If you like to camp, there are quite a few camping options near the Hanging Lake trail. Check out Heycamping.com for a list of campgrounds near Hanging Lake including reviews.
If you don't want to rough it, there are plenty of hotels in Glenwood Springs to choose from.
TIPS FOR HIKING THE HANGING LAKE TRAIL
- Get there early to secure parking and try to avoid peak times during the year. We went in April during the week. It was uncrowded and the temperature was perfect.
- Avoid winter as the trail can get very icy.
- Make sure you have proper footwear with good grip. Some of the rocks can be slippery.
- Be prepared with plenty of water, snacks, sunscreen, hat and of course your camera.
- Keep an eye out for altitude sickness (read my tips how to manage this).
- There is no cell service available so make sure that someone outside your group knows where you are.
- If the trail is busy and you are hiking slower than others, step off to the side and allow them to pass.
- Don't feed the wildlife. Wildlife shouldn't be eating human food. It's not good for them and also makes them dependent on an unnatural food source.
We're so glad that we completed the Hanging Lake trail and can easily see why it is considered one of the best hikes in Colorado. If you're in Colorado then this is a must do! Pictures are nothing compared to seeing the real thing. Have you been to Hanging Lake? Or planning to? Tell us more in the comments below. (Make sure you click on 'subscribe via e-mail' to be notified when we write back).
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