Hanging LakeDate: 6/24/2013
Miles: Approx. 3 miles round trip from the parking area.
Time: 3.5 hours
Elevation Gain: 1125ft.
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 39° 35.358’N , 107° 11.404’W
View Hanging Lake in a larger map
Hanging Lake is located in the scenic Glenwood Canyon just east of Glenwood Springs Colorado. To access the trail head from Grand Junction Colorado you need to take I-70 east for approximately 90 miles. Once you enter Glenwood Canyon you will need to keep an eye out for the Hanging Lake exit which is exit 125. Exit 125 is only accessible from the east bound lane. If you are heading west you will need to actually pass the Hanging Lake parking lot and exit at the Grizzly Creek rest area a mile or two west and turn around to get in the east bound lanes of I-70. In the same light, eastbound I-70 is not accessible from the Hanging Lake parking lot. If you want to head east you need to get back on I-70 westbound, exit at Grizzly Creek and enter the eastbound lanes there. It’s really not as confusing as it sounds.
As the story goes, a prospector came upon a dead horse at the mouth of the little canyon, they believe that is how the canyon and creek got its name. The prospector then followed the creek up and came upon the back side of hanging lake and found it in the little bowl area below him.
The Hanging Lake trail is probably one of the most beautiful trails in Western Colorado and maybe in all of Colorado. Given the beauty of the area, the geology and the easy access it has become a very popular destination. To be able to enjoy the trail you need to get to the parking lot early, very early. It is a fairly large parking area and rest stop. Although we got there about 10:00am on a Monday there was only about five parking spaces left to park. By the time we left around 1:30 cars were parked nearly back to the off ramp and there were still people circling the lot waiting for a space.
To access the actual trailhead you need to follow the paved bike trail that begins from the rest area and follows along the river for about ¼ mile. Just before the bridge over Dead Horse Creek you will see the trailhead on your left. Just across the creek you will see some old bathrooms and an old overgrown parking area and picnic spot. This was the actual parking area prior to the new highway being put in. The old original trail actually began on the east side of the creek and you can still see some remnants of it buried in the bushes.
The trail begins its ascent by climbing through and old rockslide area. This section of the trail does have a few loose rocks and is covered with loose dirt and pebbles in many places so you need to be careful where you place your steps.
Once out of the rockslide area the trail becomes mainly dirt with sporadic rocky areas. You will cross the creek on well made bridges about seven times. As you climb higher you will pass through areas of dense ferns and beautiful waterfalls. There are benches placed along the trail that allow you to rest or just sit and enjoy the views. There is even a covered bench about halfway up in case you get caught in the rain.
You will know that you are almost there when the trail begins to follow the base of the cliff and you see the recently installed hand rail. The last hundred yards or so is considered the most difficult section of the trail. You will be climbing up the face of the cliff as the trail switches back upon itself and requires you to step up a couple foot high ledges. This section could be dangerous if you’re not careful or in the winter time but they have done everything they can to make it safe. There are some fantastic views of the canyon along this part. I saw people from toddlers to senior citizens navigating this section just fine. It can be a little creepy if you are afraid of heights.
Once at the top of the cliff you will see the boardwalk that goes around the lake, a few more steps and you will be rewarded with one of the most beautiful lakes in the state. There are benches placed around the bank where you can rest and take in the view. Please remember that this is a fragile ecosystem and as refreshing as the water looks, it is prohibited to swim or wade in the lake due to the fragile makeup of the geology.
If you continue around the lake you can walk right up to the waterfall and cool off from the mist. There is also an old tree that fell in the lake years ago. Many people like to walk out on the tree and get their picture taken. As neat as that sounds the Forest Service prefers that you not do that.
The water is so blue and clear that you can see straight to the bottom. Keep an eye out because you will also see all different sizes of fish swimming around.
Once you’re done at the lake you need to make the short side trip up to Spouting Rock. Spouting rock is the source of the water into the lake. What makes it unique is that the water literally shoots out of a hole in the face of the cliff making a nice waterfall that you can walk behind and around. The trail up to it will be on your right just before you begin you descent back down. We saw a fairly large Gopher snake that just swallowed a chipmunk on the trail to the falls.
Overall this is a very beautiful hike and one that everyone needs to do at least once. I really don’t agree with the “strenuous” rating they gave it but I think they are trying to be cautious on the rating since such a large variety of people frequent it and it can get the best of you if you are out of shape or un-prepared. I call this trail a “novelty hike” because with the amenities and number of people it just felt kind of like a walk to a destination so you can say you saw it, similar to the last time I was in Mesa Verde in regards to the number and type of people. All this hike is missing is a tour guide.