This climb is excerpted from 100 Hikes in Colorado, by Scott S. Warren, published by The Mountaineers, Seattle. ©1995 by Scott S. Warren. All rights reserved.
True to its name, Hanging Lake is tucked away on a high ledge in a narrow canyon. Scenic, to say the least, this precious jewel of a lake offers a just reward for all who hike the steep but short trail up.
This hike begins at the Hanging Lake rest stop along Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon, through which the Colorado River flows. Westbound travelers must exit a few miles farther west at the Grizzly Creek exit and double back on the eastbound lane to the Hanging Lake exit. Eastbound travelers can drive east from Glenwood Springs directly to the Hanging Lake exit. The return access to Interstate 70 from Hanging Lake is westbound only, so drivers who wish to continue east on Interstate 70 must travel west to the Grizzly Creek exit to get back on track after the hike.
From the Hanging Lake rest area, the hike begins by following the paved bicycle path east, or upstream, for about 0.25 mile to a narrow side canyon. Upon turning left up this drainage, the route climbs a mile up a mostly strenuous grade that does not quit until it reaches the lake. Such a steep ascent is understandable since this segment of the trail ascends some 1,000 feet. The trail is also rocky in most places. About a third of the way up, the trail intersects the Dead Horse Creek Trail. Within the last 0.3 mile leading up to the lake, the trail steepens as it climbs through a cliff area. Along this last stretch of the hike metal handrails provide some safety as a drop-off of 100 feet or more is encountered. The trail in this portion also climbs up a roughed-in staircase that is extremely steep but short.
While the hike to Hanging Lake is strenuous, it is also quite beautiful and well worth the effort. As the trail climbs along Dead Horse Creek, it passes a wonderful riparian plant community. In addition to such shady deciduous trees as box elders and cottonwoods, an interesting variety of undergrowth can be found at trailside. Perhaps most alluring are the many ferns that form along the streambed. Their presence, along with moss-clad boulders, attest to the humid conditions of this ecological niche. Benches along most of the route provide nice rest spots from which to enjoy the canyon.
Upon reaching 1.5-acre Hanging Lake, hikers are immediately rewarded with is secretive, Eden-like ambience. Walled in by limestone cliffs and leafy cottonwoods, Hanging Lake resulted from the collection of water in a geologic fault. Because the lake's fragile shore has been built up from carbonate deposits, visitors are required to stay on the boardwalk that rings the south shore. Dropping into the north end of the lake is Bridal Veil Falls, a small but beautiful cascade of water. Of special interest are the schools of trout that teem in the lake's clear waters. Because of the fragile nature of this lake, both swimming and fishing are prohibited. Follow a short side trail just west of the lake to visit nearby Spouting Rock, a waterfall that has cut a passage through solid limestone.
Water along this hike must be treated before drinking, and treat the dangerous drop offs at the top of the trail with respect. You can expect to see many other hikers making the trip up from the popular rest stop.ABOUT THE AUTHOR —
Scott S. Warren has been exploring Colorado for over 20 years, both on his own and in his earlier work for the U.S. Forest Service. An avid photographer, he holds a bachelor of fine arts degree in photography from Utah State University. His images have appeared in Audubon, Outside, Sierra, Travel & Leisure, and various National Geographic publications.