Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Hanging Lake: Gem of the White River National Forest


Hanging Lake, Glenwood Canyon
Hanging Lake in summer
This ultra-popular hike is in Glenwood Canyon east of Glenwood Springs. The trail ascends 1,200’ in about a mile and a half from the Hanging Lake Trailhead to the teal-blue waters of Hanging Lake. A series of beautiful waterfalls at the top makes this a worthwhile adventure. This hike draws a great deal of attention, particularly on summer weekends. For more solitude, hike Hanging Lake in the off-season such as fall when the air temps are not as high, the crowds are down, and the colors are out. The trail up Hanging Lake is solid and well-maintained. Despite this, many people underestimate the effort required on the steep route that leads back to the lake. For the experienced hiker, however, Hanging Lake is little more than a moderate workout in a gorgeous setting.

From Glenwood Springs, drive east on I-70 nine miles to the Hanging Lake exit (exit 125). This exit is only accessible from the eastbound lanes, so drivers coming from the east will have to exit and turn around at exit 121 (Grizzly Creek) to get there. Park at the large rest stop (which will fill despite its size on a busy summer weekend) and hike .5 mile east along the Glenwood Canyon Bike Path to reach the trailhead.

Winter in Glenwood Canyon
Hanging Lake Canyon in winter

While this hike is on a solid trail the entire way, it is important to note that it is strenuous. Many people undertake this hike thinking that it's going to be a casual journey; it is not. You will probably pass many un-shapely humanoids struggling and complaining their way up this trail. For a true hiking enthusiast, however, making it to the lake shouldn’t be a problem.

The trail follows Deadhorse Creek up the northern side of Glenwood Canyon, passing many rapids and waterfalls along the way. There are several footbridges and plenty of shady places to stop and rest. The trail becomes considerably steeper near the end as you circumnavigate Bridal Veil Falls just below Hanging Lake proper. The very last pitch is the steepest, and steps have been cut into the stone to help you along. In addition, a handrail has been constructed for protection. Despite these safety features, it seems like several people get injured up here every year.

Spouting Rock
Spouting Rock above Hanging Lake
Once past the steepest section you arrive at Hanging Lake. Here a beautiful, multi-ribbon, 40’ waterfall pours into a teal-green pool formed by travertine “teacup” deposits. This travertine is very fragile and takes eons to form. To protect this fragile wonder, a wooden walkway has been constructed around the lake. Please be respectful of this amazing place and stay on the boardwalk.

For those seeking a little adventure, a spur trail climbs up and around the main waterfall to Spouting Rock, a peculiar waterfall which partially erupts directly from the cliff. You can walk behind the waterfall here for a unique perspective and even stand under it if the water is low enough. Take caution, however, this plunge generates some powerful forces!

The nearest camping is at the Glenwood Canyon Resort off the No Name Exit in Glenwood Canyon (a few miles west of Hanging Lake). Here you will find cabins, showers, and slightly overpriced tent sites.

Hanging Lake in winter
Spouting Rock
Winter at Spouting Rock
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  1. I think that's what everyone is looking for when they go out for a hike. A moderate to challenging hike in a gorgeous setting. I guess people also want to just relax and enjoy the beauty of nature too, they don't always need something that is physically challenging.

    Certainly, this type of setting makes those criteria. The water is a beauty to look at and just watching it flow takes a lot of stress out of the equation.

    1. Yes it is nice but it has become very crowded. People should avoid summer weekends especially when it can become so busy that the Forest Service turns people away at the parking lot.

  2. This article was very helpful thank you! trying to make it out there in a few weeks coming from Philly.