Nearby our home, there is a high-alpine travertine lake with crystal-clear waters. A grandiose waterfall plummets as the source, and a log sits, suspended, from the shore.
Maybe you’ve heard of it?
Hanging Lake is a world-famous attraction, known as a geological wonder and top contender for bucket list musts. It’s both gorgeous and amazing, and is a hidden oasis tucked into Glenwood Canyon.
In late October, my parents and I decided to hike up the 1-mile trail and admire the natural beauty of the lake. This was their very first time seeing Hanging Lake, and my second trek. We decided the night before, prompted by a glass of wine, and were definitely happy that we followed through on our early morning plans.
At the moment, Hanging Lake has pretty clear rules for capacity: if the parking lot is full, you’re out of luck. The last time Chad and I visited, we pulled up to the trail head at 6:30 a.m. on a Friday, and there were only about 10 spots left.
This time around, it was the off-season. I wasn’t sure how early was early enough, so I hauled out my parents at about 7:20 a.m. on a Friday—cursing the cold as I slumped out of bed. Fortunately, we were only the second car in the lot. We barely had any interaction with other hikers until the way down, as more visitors began there ascent.
We came prepared for the October chill with plenty of layers, plus we also had water, a small backpack, and hiking shoes. Shoes with good tread are essential, and should always be closed-toe. A good attitude is an extra packing item, especially if it’s early, cold, and a hot springs soak sounds like a better alternative at the time.
Because Hanging Lake is such a famous destination, people do not always realize how difficult the trail is. It is on the harder side, deceptively so. Though it’s only a mile long, the trail is steep and at times a little treacherous; it’s is filled with rocks, which are sometimes slick from over-use. There are plenty of spots to “pull over” for a quick break, but keep in mind that this trek is not necessarily young-kid-friendly.
Depending on how in-shape I am, it’s not always Savannah-friendly, either.
It was a killer workout for my parents and I. We enjoyed taking breaks without worrying about trail traffic, and took plenty of pictures along the way. Though the lake at the end is the big prize, the surroundings of the trail are also breathtaking. Glenwood Canyon is showcased, with beautiful forest, small water features, and the rushing of the Colorado River below.
Pause to appreciate the natural features. You won’t regret it.
When we reached the top (keep in mind, one mile really feels like several at times), my parents and I were absolutely blown away by the scene in front of us.
Hanging Lake was breathtaking. We admired the turquoise-yet-clear water, and noticed fish floating nonchalantly, minding their own business. Iron deposits built up along the shore, telling a story of nature changing seasons. The log, which juts out into the water, hung in miraculous suspension before our very eyes.
It’s cold up there. After sweating and huffing and puffing, the high-mountain feel is soothing. You pause, see your breath in the brisk and clear air, and wonder how you got so lucky to find this place.
After taking some photos and helping another group with their shots, we ended up wandering further up the trail. “This way to Spouting Rock,” reads the sign. Last time, probably off-put by the crowds, Chad and I ignored the sign and went back down. Now, I hoped to find something incredible with the extra climb.
Incredible barely covers it.
Spouting Rock is the source of the falls, and is exactly how it sounds: it’s a hole in the middle of the mountain with water gushing out of it. As simple as it sounds, Spouting Rock is loud, constant, and beautiful. We took photos in the cave area, and enjoyed our quiet visit with the rushing water.
We had an incredible time, and were so thankful that we decided to make the trip. My parents got to see Hanging Lake for the first time, which is a major Colorado bucket list item. I was very happy to spend time with my parents in nature, and flex with my knowledge of the site and my experiences as a local public relations agency that promotes the area.
When You Go
There are rules at Hanging Lake, for very important reasons; as previously mentioned, the area is a geological wonder, and becoming less and less of a hidden gem. Thanks to its popularity boom, the pristine habitat is threatened, especially as people disregard “leave no trace” courtesies. Rules have been set to keep Hanging Lake beautiful, and to preserve the space as a public resource for as long as possible.
If you travel to Hanging Lake, please follow these rules, and pay attention to the signs that list them.
- Stay on the trail.
- No dogs are allowed.
- Do not feed the wildlife. (Yes, even the cute chimp monks that look so cute and friendly.)
- Do not go in the water.
- Do not walk on the log.
- Fishing is not allowed.
It might seem like a hefty list, but each rule was created for a reason. They represent the detrimental effects of introducing unnatural elements into a delicate and over-used ecosystem. For example, your body does not belong in the water and can greatly damage its minerals and degrade the fish’s home.
The Future of Hanging Lake
While Hanging Lake is a world-famous destination, it has also been a source of infamous treatment. In recent years, travelers have disrespected the land in numerous ways: they have littered, vandalized, and ignored the numerous signs that warn to keep off the log, stay on the trail, and not go in the water.
Rule breakers, in addition to a heaping serving of so much love and use, has mandated the local forest service to step in and take over the management of Hanging Lake. For the past several years, hundreds of thousands of visitors have come to Hanging Lake per summer season. This has worn down the trail and the already fragile ecosystem.
Starting in May 2019, there will be a shuttle system in place, along with a fee and permit process for anyone wishing to visit Hanging Lake. It will be similar to the Maroon Bells procedure (which is considered the top photographed location in Colorado, and went through parallel struggles).
For more information and to properly prepare to your visit to Hanging Lake, check out the Forest Service website.
Happy Hanging Lake hiking!