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Hike to Hanging Lake

Just east of Glenwood Springs off I-70

Glenwood Canyon along I-70

A hike through Glenwood Canyon to Hanging Lake is very enjoyable for the canyon views and two waterfalls pouring into a crystal clear lake that seems to hang high above the canyon floor below. We went near the end of September of 2008 on our way home from hiking in the Maroon Bells/Aspen area. The falls are more impressive in the spring, of course, and have beautiful ice formations in the winter, but it was still gorgeous and I assume the crowds were a bit smaller than in the summer.

Length: Just over 2 miles round trip. Allow 1.5 to 2 hours hiking time.
Elevation: 6,100 at the trailhead and about 7,200 at the top.
Restrictions: No dogs, no fishing, no swimming.
Difficulty: Moderate. The often rocky trail is a constant uphill climb. A metal hand rail and high steps cut into the rock are provided in the most difficult section, which is short and near the top. The path has many hikers, particularly in the summer. I saw a number of people with young children. The less fit enjoyed the benches for resting along the way.

Directions: The trailhead is located about 10 miles east of Glenwood Springs and 150 miles west of Denver. The parking lot and rest area can only be reached when heading eastbound on I-70. If you are coming from Denver, go a few miles past Hanging Lake and take the Grizzly Creek rest area exit. Then make two lefts to get back on the I-70 eastbound ramp. Exit at Hanging Lake. The parking lot is close and on the north side of the expressway.

paved path from parking lot to trailhead

The Colorado River (on the left) cuts through Glenwood Canyon, a scenic portion of I-70. There is a paved 1/4 mile path heading east from the parking lot and modern rest area to the trailhead.

Soon after the trailhead, you frequently see small waterfalls from Dead Horse Creek, a tributary of the Colorado River which follows the trail. The path quickly gets somewhat steep and rocky. In the photo of Greg below, you see the path we have just climbed after leaving the paved path. Dead Horse Creek Greg on rocky path just past trailhead

We welcomed the shade as we entered the woods where I stopped frequently to take shots of small waterfalls. Dead Horse Creek Dead Horse Creek

Dead Horse Creek

As we ascended beyond the trees, a good view of the canyon ahead opened up. Some steeper sections of the path in this area were slippery with gravel. I was getting a little tired and was glad that Greg was carrying the tripod, which we used for the waterfall shots. (We did not climb the rocks in the photo below - the path bent to the right below these rocks.)

canyon view

Steff and Greg at the steep handrail section I wish I had taken a photo of the large rock steps and handrails in the steepest portion of the trail where you have to go single file for a short way. Anyway, we are standing at a small landing after going up a few steps where you have a great view looking back at the canyon we just came through.

I felt a little leery going back down this section because there is a drop off of a hundred feet or so beyond the railing and the steps are a bit awkward. I went slow, gripping the railing. Keep in mind that I am a cautious person, so some may think nothing of this part unless they came in the winter when it can be treacherous for anyone when icy.

When we arrived at Hanging Lake, we proceeded along a boardwalk that encircled half the lake and had a wider section perfect for setting up the tripod for shots of the waterfalls. I was immediately struck by the tropical feel of the setting with the clear blue-green waters and lush moss growing behind the bright waterfalls.

Don't forget (as we did) to check out Spouting Rock Waterfall which shoots out from a cliff. There should be a sign just west of the lake (about the middle of the photo below) leading to a short side trail that takes you above Hanging Lake where you can take a good photo of the lake with the canyon as a backdrop.

Boardwalk around Hanging Lake

I was surprised to see people walking out onto a fallen log in the middle of the lake to get their pictures taken. The water wasn't that deep, but I still wouldn't want to fall in as it was chilly in the shade and the bottom looked questionable. There was even one young father who brought his baby onto the log with him. A few of us bystanders were so relieved when the baby made it safely back to shore.

hanging lake

man on log To the right is a crop from the photo above showing how narrow the log is and how daring the people were. No one fell in, thankfully. Since the water's edge has fragile travertine rock, wading is prohibited in an effort to reduce erosion and preserve the lake.

We stayed over a half hour to take pictures, eat lunch and simply enjoy the beauty of the water.

Hanging Lake

The lake has trout, but no fishing is permitted.

small fish in lake

Greg at base of falls In the photo to the right Greg is standing in front of the base of the falls to give you an idea of how tall they are. Because of the crowds, it was a challenge to get shots without people in them, so you either have to be patient, try to start very early in the morning or go during the off season when it's colder.

The shots below took awhile because I kept trying different speeds and people were taking turns standing beneath the falls. The photo below on the right shows the popular place where everyone went to get sprayed by the waterfall.

I highly recommend hiking boots because of the rocky path. For winter hikes wear Yaktrax on your boots for traction (it can get very icy) and bring ski poles for balance.
hanging lake falls spray area

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