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100 classic hikes in colorado
100 Classic Hikes Colorado covers some of the best hikes the state has to offer. Although the main focus is on the central mountains, the book also covers a few hikes on the Eastern Plains and in the Plateau region.

Hanging Lake

Trail Features: Scenic Lake, Waterfall hanging lake
Trail Location: Glenwood Canyon - Exit 125 off I-70
Roundtrip Length: 2.9 Miles
Trailhead Elevation: 6135 Feet
Total Elevation Gain: 1065 Feet
Avg. Elev Gain / Mile: 734 Feet
Highest Elevation: 7200 Feet
Trail Difficulty Rating: 5.03 (moderate)
Parking Lot Latitude 39.58967
Parking Lot Longitude -107.18983

Trail Description:

Steep would be the one word that I would use to describe this hike. Oh yes, and beautiful!

Getting to and finding a parking spot near the Hanging Lake Trailhead can be a little tricky. If traveling eastbound on I-70, take Exit 125 and follow the signs to the trailhead. If traveling westbound on the interstate you'll have to take Exit 121, also known as the Grizzly Creek Rest Area, and then turnaround so that you can drive eastbound to Exit 125.

glenwood canyonAfter your hike, for those wishing to continue eastbound on I-70, you'll first have to go westbound on I-70 in order to change directions at the Grizzly Creek Rest Area at Exit 121.

Once you've oriented yourself on the location of the trailhead, you'll simply have to hope that there will be a parking spot available at this very popular destination in Glenwood Canyon – especially on weekends, during the summer months, and during the midday hours.

The hike begins behind the restroom area and follows the Canyon Trail, also known as the Glenwood Canyon Recreational Trail, a 16.2-mile paved bike path that parallels the Colorado River as it carves its way through Glenwood Canyon.

At just over one-third of a mile from the restroom you'll reach the Hanging Lake Trail. This is where the true hike begins. From the junction the trail begins climbing rapidly up a very rocky and rugged pathway. Soon it passes over the first of seven footbridges that cross over Dead Horse Creek. It's around here that you'll likely notice the noise from I-70 beginning to fade away.

hanging lake canyonAlthough this is a very touristy attraction, and likely the most popular hike in the Glenwood Springs area, it's still an extremely tough hike. In addition to a very steep climb of more than a thousand feet in just over a mile, most of the trail travels over some very rough terrain.

The trail climbs up the narrow Deadhorse Creek Canyon. Depending on your point of view, the route is shaded, which makes the hike a little more tolerable on a hot summer day. However, if you wanted a panoramic view of the rugged canyon, the tree cover mostly prevents that.

Roughly 1.2 miles from the parking area you'll pass a small log trail shelter. I'm not exactly sure what its purpose is, other than as a place to seek refuge in case of a downpour or a sudden storm.

At roughly 1.4 miles hikers will reach the steepest part of the hike. Fortunately you're almost to the top at this point. Because of the steepness, as well as exposure to some very steep drop-offs, the forest service has carved steep stairs into the rock and has installed hand railings. There will be a couple of spots along this section which provide nice views down the canyon from which you just ascended. Once above this relatively short section you'll reach a boardwalk that circles around the southeastern shore of Hanging Lake. You'll also have several benches to relax and soak in the sublime beauty of this 1.5-acre lake.

hanging lake trailbridal veil falls

On the far side of the lake is Bridal Veil Falls, which in conjunction with the lake, offers a fairly unique scene. The crystal clear, turquoise colored lake is incredibly beautiful. It appears to be about 10 to 15 feet deep, and allows visitors to see right down to the bottom. The waterfalls feeding the lake are absolutely gorgeous. Look closely and you may be able to see small trout swimming in the lake. Above water, be on the lookout for American dippers near the falls, or black swifts buzzing around above the lake. Both the lake and falls support a rare wetland ecosystem, which includes hanging gardens.

hanging lakeHanging Lake was designated as a National Natural Landmark in June of 2011. National Natural Landmarks are areas that are recognized for their outstanding and unique biological or geological features. In this case, Hanging Lake has been recognized as an outstanding example of a lake formed by travertine deposition around the shoreline. Travertine is a form of limestone deposited by mineral springs. As a result, no dogs, no fishing, no swimming and no bodily contact is allowed anywhere near the water. Unfortunately the oils from human skin can destroy the fragile travertine.

Before reaching the boardwalk there's a short side trail that leads to Spouting Rock, a spectacular waterfall that exits out of a cliff wall above the lake.

If you're in the Glenwood Springs area, or traveling on I-70 and need a break, the hike to Hanging Lake is well worth your time.

hanging lake maphanging lake elevation profile