Hanging Lake | Colorado

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We understand that some people don’t like to pay for hikes. We also understand that some hikes are being loved to death. Some access precious resources like drinking water. And some are just too close to irresponsible people with paint cans. So we accept that fact that sometimes an impact fee for hiking is a good way to save a hike from deteriorating. If you’re cool with that, you can hike to an amazing lake that is the jewel of one of the most beautiful hikes we’ve ever done.

Hanging Lake is a beautiful spot.

Reservations

This hike is called Hanging Lake. The destination is a little slice of Eden, and in order to save it from heavy traffic, they have imposed a fee. Please make sure that you pay for an online reservation before arriving at the trailhead. It’s required in order to attempt the hike. Just think of it as a donation to our national forest system.

The parking area for Hanging Lake is about 15 miles east of Glenwood Springs, Colorado, on Interstate 70. You can only access the trailhead from the west, and Hanging Lake has its own exit. You are expected to arrive on time, and then they’ll check your reservation. This helps keep the number of hikers on the trail down, which we appreciated.

The scenery is beautiful in this area.

The Hike

The second thing that you should know is that this hike is difficult despite the short distance. It’s only 3 miles roundtrip, but it is straight up. There’s an elevation gain of around 1200 feet over the 1.5 mile up to Hanging Lake. The trail is steep and rocky the entire way. It still one of the most amazing hikes we’ve ever done.

There’s a wide, flat, smooth bike trail that runs the first quarter mile. Make sure to use the bathroom at the end of this trail as you won’t get another chance. Be glad, though, that this easy part covers a half mile off the three mile distance. 

The bike trail section is flat and easy.
The Hanging Lake hike begins here.

The trail leaves the bike path and starts immediately uphill. It really is beautiful as it follows a splashing river up the mountain. There are dozens of small cascades along the way. We spotted shrews and pikas in the rocks lying along the side of the trail. There were even snails packing their little shells on their backs. 

The trail immediately begins to climb.

The trail climbs steadily as you cross the river a half dozen times on foot bridges. There are markers for each quarter mile you cover, and it’s 5 quarter miles to the top. It’s very steep, so go slow and drink a lot of water. 

There are quite a few little bridges along the way.
We enjoyed following the creek the entire walk.

At around the 1 mile mark, the wall on the right side of the trail becomes a tapestry of waterfalls. There are dozens of rivulets coming off the hill. This is the first destination to stop and take a few pictures. It also means that you are almost there! You’re going to make it!

We spotted some small wildlife on our hike.
There are lots of little waterfalls along the way.
This trail is super rocky.
The signs bring hope and despair all at once.
We loved this little spot.
We were grateful for places to rest along the way.

The last quarter mile flattens out for just a bit, and then it becomes a staircase. There is a railing, but the stair climbs straight up the mountainside. This is the last leg of the hike to Hanging Lake. It’s also the most difficult because you are so tired, but once you finish climbing the stairs you reach Hanging Lake.

This is the steepest climb right at the end.

Hanging Lake

At the top of the stairs, you come to a trail split, with a sign pointing left to a waterfall. We saved that for last. Around the corner to the right is one of the prettiest spots we’ve laid eyes on. Hanging Lake is a small emerald green lake with multiple waterfalls feeding it. Trout swim in the crystal clear water. The reflection is beautiful. You really have to see it to believe it.

You come around the corner and enter Lorien (for LOTR fans).
The color of the water is gorgeous.

There are plenty of benches and few signs reminding you to stay out of the water. You’re allowed to sit for as long as you like, and that may be a while after the uphill hike you’ve endured. Then, make your way back to the other waterfall.

We loved spotting the fish
Hanging Lake is a little like heaven.

Sprouting Rock Waterfall

The sign to Sprouting Rock waterfall says 200 yards, but it was a lot less than that. The amazing thing is that there are two chutes to this waterfall. The larger one comes from over the top of the cliff. The small one shoots out of the rocky face. It was beautiful to see these two cascades. You can even walk right behind the waterfalls and look out through the curtain. The viewpoints around the base of the falls are amazing. You are allowed to splash in the water near the base. And don’t worry, the hike back down the trail is a lot easier than the hike up! 

Make sure to take the Sprouting Rock Waterfall side trail.
The trail was a little muddy even in August.
This waterfall is impressive.
You can walk behind this waterfall.
We were so glad we visited both spots on this trail.

We stayed in Glenwood Springs and also went to Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park. This is another adventure we highly recommend. It is a park with rides and shows. If you stay in this area, make sure to check it out.

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