What to Know About the Hanging Lake Colorado Hike

This post may contain affiliate links, which means I’ll receive a commission if you purchase through my links, at no extra cost to you. Please read full disclosure for more information.

Are you looking to learn about the Hanging Lake Colorado hike? It’s one of the best hikes we’ve done while living here. Keep reading to learn more.

Nestled in White River National Forest, Hanging Lake is a jewel of natural beauty that attracts hikers and nature lovers alike. The stunning, crystal-clear lake is a hanging garden perched high within Glenwood Canyon. The lake’s unique position, suspended on the edge of a cliff, has made it one of the most photographed locations in Colorado, renowned for its beauty and the delicate ecosystem that thrives there.

Only a 1.2-mile trail, the Hanging Lake Colorado hike is a must-see for anyone living in or visiting Colorado. The hike is as rewarding as the destination itself, with breathtaking views in a gorgeous part of the state.

While the trek to Hanging Lake is just over a mile, it has over 1000 ft of elevation gain up steep canyon walls, so get ready for a great workout. Read on to learn everything you need to know about the Hanging Lake trail.

Where is Hanging Lake in Colorado?

A serene view of Hanging Lake in Colorado, surrounded by snow-dusted cliffs and pine trees. The emerald green water of the lake contrasts beautifully with the rugged, rocky landscape and wooden observation deck on the left.

Hanging Lake is located within the White River National Forest in Glenwood Canyon, just a short distance from Glenwood Springs. This makes it roughly three and a half hours west of Denver, easily accessible for a day trip or a weekend getaway. 

There is no exit for Hanging Lake traveling west on I-70. We were worried we missed it until we realized that you do have to fully drive past it and then drive back to it!

If you’re coming from Denver, take the Grizzly Creek exit #121 and get back on I-70 traveling east to the Hanging Lake exit #125. You can find the trailhead just up the exit. It’s a good idea to have a map beforehand, as there is limited cell service in the area.

How to Get from Denver to the Hanging Lake Trail

A dramatic canyon in Colorado with steep, snow-covered cliffs and tall evergreen trees. The blue sky peeks through, adding depth to the majestic scenery.

The journey from Denver to Hanging Lake is straightforward but scenic, primarily following I-70 west through the Rocky Mountains. Driving is the most practical option, as the trailhead is somewhat secluded, nestled in the depths of Glenwood Canyon.

The route offers an unparalleled opportunity to witness the diverse landscapes of Colorado. This area of Colorado is always our favorite for road trips because you’ll go through some beautiful areas.

Upon arriving, parking is available near the trailhead, though it’s advisable to arrive early, as this popular spot can quickly fill up, especially during peak season. You also need to get a ticket ahead of time by reserving your start time online.

All About the Hanging Lake Trail

A rocky, wooded trail leading through a forested area in Colorado. The path is surrounded by trees and dense foliage, with sunlight filtering through the leaves.

Hanging Lake Trail is a moderately challenging yet profoundly rewarding hike. While only 1.2 miles long each way, it sees 1000 ft of elevation gain from the trailhead.

The path is partially paved but steep, so don’t let its short distance fool you. The trail starts with a scenic half-mile walk from the parking lot to the tail-head along the Colorado River.

Make sure you come prepared to tackle the high elevation by drinking lots of water. Despite its difficulty, the rewards are unparalleled; the Hanging Lake trail winds up a stunning canyon with breathtaking views all the way to the lake itself.

The hike is beautiful in any season, and it’s worth visiting winter and summer for two very different experiences.

A rustic wooden bridge crossing a rocky stream in a forested area. The surrounding trees and bushes have autumnal colors, enhancing the natural beauty of the scene.

In summer, the heat is broken from the shade provided by the high canyon walls and tree cover. The hike up is a lush green alpine forest winding over a creek and footbridges. The lake itself is a beautiful blue turquoise, surrounded by lush hanging greenery.

Alternately, in the winter, you will need to prepare for the cold with layers and good clothes. The trail is covered in ice and snow, and some of the bridges can be buried. The final climb of the hike can become dangerous due to the icy trail and steep drop-offs. The lake turns into a winter wonderland, complete with a frozen waterfall and mirror-like stillness to the water. 

We hiked in the late fall/early winter, and honestly felt like we witnessed all seasons along the trail. Parts of it were covered in snow and others were warm. We were extremely grateful for the layers that we wore!

Between the gorgeous canyon views and the mountain forest, there are seven bridges you will cross before the final climb up to the lake. We made a game out of it by counting all of the bridges as we went up. You can see more in the video of our trip linked below.

Towards the end of the hike, the path gets steeper with a sheer drop-off. This section can be a little tricky, especially if the trail is covered in snow and ice. There are rails in place to help you with the winding, narrow path, but microspikes attached to your hiking boots can keep you from slipping on the ice.

At the top of the winding path, you are immediately met with a view of the limestone-lined, emerald-green lake. While you cannot go into the lake, there is a boardwalk with a picture-perfect outlook and a path that can take you around to the other side. Hanging Lake is famous for its beautiful emerald-green water and is one of the best-preserved travertine systems in the area.

A beautiful view of Hanging Lake with crystal clear green water, surrounded by rocky cliffs and trees. A small waterfall cascades into the lake, adding to the serene atmosphere.

After you soak up the views of Hanging Lake, check out the waterfall behind it. The Sprouting Rock Waterfall sits just above the lake. There is a marked detour that cuts from the main path, taking you only a few minutes out of the way.

Flowing from a huge cliff face, this impressive waterfall is worth the hike alone and is only 200 yards from Hanging Lake! During spring and early summer, there can be multiple waterfalls sprouting from the rock face.

We walked up to see this and were shocked to only see two other people up there, while there were so many people at Hanging Lake.

Inside a cave along the trail for Hanging Lake, a waterfall flows down from the rocky ceiling, creating a misty effect. The bright blue sky and tall pine trees are visible through the cave opening.

The hike typically takes 2-3 hours to complete, depending on your pace, and stops along the way. There are no restrooms on the trail, so be sure to use the toilet at the trailhead.

What to Pack for the Hike

A person wearing winter gear walks along a snowy trail in a forested area. The path is surrounded by snow-covered trees and bushes.

Preparation is key for a successful hike to Hanging Lake. Essential items include:

🥾 A sturdy pair of hiking shoes: The hike has a steep climb at the end, and parts with uneven footing. Good footwear is needed.

🗺️ A trail map: A trail map can not only help you find your way but also point out spots of interest on the hike.

🎒 A backpack to carry supplies: A pack to carry water, snacks, and sunscreen, as well as to put layers of clothing you aren’t wearing.

☀️ Sunscreen: While a lot of the trail is shaded, the high altitude makes the sun beat down much harder. Remember to protect your skin!

🍎 Snacks and water to stay energized and hydrated: It’s important to stay hydrated whenever you go up to elevation. Hanging Lake is an excellent place to enjoy a picnic.

🧤 Layers of clothing, as weather can quickly change, especially in late fall when snow is a possibility: Colorado weather is unpredictable. Make sure to bring extra layers of clothing just in case the weather takes a turn.

Will you try hiking to Hanging Lake in Colorado?

The Hanging Lake Colorado hike is a must-do for any outdoor enthusiast visiting the state. The absolute beauty of the lake, combined with the rush of conquering this trail, makes for an unforgettable day in the nature that the state is so well known for.

Make sure to take the detour to Sprouting Rock Waterfall and get the most out of your experience. As you plan your visit to Hanging Lake, remember to respect the natural habitat and preserve its beauty for others to enjoy.

Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or someone looking for an adventure, the Hanging Lake Trail promises a beautiful afternoon in the Colorado mountains.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *