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Hanging Lake, Colorado: What to know before you go

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Hiking to Hanging Lake near Glenwood Springs

Hanging Lake is a wonder-filled destination for your active, outdoorsy family. This beautiful national natural landmark and one of Colorado's most famous hikes,

Why is it called Hanging Lake?

Hanging Lake was created when a geologic fault forced the lake bed to fall away from the valley floor above. Water flows into Hanging lake over trickling Bridal Veil Falls. 

Why is the lake blue-green in color?

The blue and green colors in the lake are due to minerals dissolving in the water over time. Travertine makes up most of the rock in this area, which is a kind of limestone that surfaces from the hot springs and mineral springs in the canyon. 

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Where is Hanging Lake?

Hanging Lake is just 7 miles east of Glenwood Springs* off the I-70 corridor, or a perfect day trip from nearby Colorado mountain town favorites.

About an hour from Vail or Aspen, the drive through Glenwood Canyon to get to Hanging Lake is spectacular enough on its own. Plan 2-4 hours for the hike to Hanging Lake and splash time at Spouting Rock, which is just a few minutes more of hiking up from the lake. 

We drove to Hanging Lake from our vacation home in the Aspen – Snowmass area last July. Packing a picnic lunch, we aimed to be at the trailhead around noon to refuel ourselves and then begin the steep, heart-pumping hike up to Hanging Lake.

*There are also some killer vacation home rentals in Glenwood Springs!

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How to get to Hanging Lake Trail

From the rest stop parking lot off of I-70, the hike starts on a paved path along the Colorado River before you reach the trailhead headed up.  Sitting 1,000 feet above the trailhead, the hike begins along Dead Horse Creek and steps up, up, up through the rocky canyon. 

Hanging Lake Trail is a moderate 3 mile there-and-back cardio hike, mostly enjoyed March through October. This lake is also one of Colorado’s most popular, gorgeous short hikes. 

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New for 2019: Permits required to hike to Hanging Lake

Due to its celebrity status, (thanks Instagram!) as of May 2019, permits will be required to hike to Hanging Lake during peak season.

The Forest Service learned that 184,000 people hiked to Hanging Lake in 2017, sparking the need for a management plan.

“The U.S. Forest Service has finalized a plan limiting daily visitation to Hanging Lake in Glenwood Canyon through a year-round permit system and implementing a shuttle system in lieu of parking at the trail head lot during peak visitation months.” - Dennis Webb - October 8, 2018 - The Daily Sentinel 

You can learn more about the Forest Service’s permit action for Hanging Lake here.

As of December 2018, information for how to get a permit has not yet been posted. Check here for updates regarding how to get a permit to hike to Hanging Lake:

What you should know before you take the hike:

  • The hike is a heart-pumping 1,000 foot climb up starting from Glenwood Canyon through Deadhorse Creek Canyon to Hanging Lake. 

  • The trail is only 1 mile long, but be ready for a steep and rocky way up. 

  • Wear sturdy shoes with good tread. Wear hiking shoes/boots if you have them. 

  • There is minimal to no cell phone coverage in this area. If you are hiking alone, tell someone where you are going before you hike. 

  • Bring all of your drinking water along (at least 2 L each) since there is no water spigot at the trailhead or along the hike.

  • While tempting, do not shortcut the trail’s switchbacks as that only increases erosion and de-beautifies the terrain.

  • There are several places to stop and catch a breather, so take your time and enjoy the hike! 

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  • On the last bit of the trail, before you reach Hanging Lake, there are steep stairs crafted from the canyon’s rock. Be careful.

  • Once at the lake, please stay on the made-for-you boardwalk. Do not tip-toe out onto fallen trees laying across the lake, and do get into the water. It is a very fragile eco-system. Don’t ruin it for everyone else just because you need a cool shot for the ‘gram.

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  • Don’t miss Spouting Rock! After you’ve seen Hanging Lake, double-back along the trail just a bit and take the very short hike to Spouting Rock - a super refreshing waterfall created from a hole through the limestone cliff wall. (see above)

  • Stay on the trail and obey all posted signs. Take care of Hanging Lake Trail so future hikers can enjoy this wondrous place too!

  • Be aware of occasional trail closings - learn more here, compliments of the USDA Forest Service.

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Plan ahead and this hike to Hanging Lake will be one for the books for your family!

See what other hikers are saying about Hanging Lake on alltrails.com.

Have you been to Glenwood Springs, CO? What are some of your favorite family hikes in Colorado?

Check out more great family travel destinations in Colorado by clicking on one of the images below….

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