Hanging Lake Information

Hanging Lake is a lake that actually juts out of a huge travertine cliff. Hanging Lake hangs 1,000 feet up from the bottom of Glenwood Canyon up through Dead Horse Creek Canyon about 150 crooked miles west of the mile high city of Denver, Colorado. Hanging Lake is a U.S. national treasure and protected by the National Forest Service. Its waters are a deep turquoise color. 

Hanging Lake hangs in the Colorado’s vast White River National Forest. Natural springs and the tributaries of Bridal Veil Falls feed Hanging Lake. The U.S. government owns Hanging Lake and its surrounding area, which is administered by the Eagle Ranger District of the White River National Forest. Hanging Lake covers about 72 acres. 

The History of Hanging Lake

Hanging Lake actually dropped from a valley floor above Dead Horse Creek Canyon, but it did not fall to the canyon floor, so it hangs amidst the canyon walls. It is a mystery, and there is a myth about who discovered Hanging Lake, Colorado. The myth is of a man searching for gold in Glenwood Canyon who came across a dead horse at the opening of a gulch, now called Dead Horse Gulch. As this man followed the gulch, he found before his unbelieving eyes, a bowl-like basin “hanging” out of some cliffs full of intensely colored blue-green water.

Historians debate whether Thomas F. Bailey homesteaded Hanging Lake and its surroundings and how Hanging Lake was sold to the City of Glenwood Springs, Colorado. They do agree that Hanging Lake served as a private homestead in the early 1900s and that the owner, Thomas F. Bailey, had the best backyard in the West until 1912, when the town of Glenwood Springs supposedly purchased Hanging Lake for $953.

By 1908, people could buy colorized picture postcard photos of Hanging Lake. Between 1910 and 1929, Hanging Lake romantically destined itself as a getaway for lovers, families, and outdoorsmen who took auto trips to, and hiked and picnicked at Hanging Lake. Tourism had soared by the 1920s at Hanging Lake. The Daily Sentinel, an old-fashioned media outlet by today’s standards, a newspaper, out of Grand Junction, Colorado, frequently carried Hanging Lake entries. From August 1923:

“H.G. DeWalt, wife and sister…just returned from a week’s trip to Glenwood Springs, made several trips, one was to Hanging Lake, which was of much interest to all.” Hanging Lake was also a corporate conference destination way back when. One 1927 Sentinel article incorrectly declared that Hanging Lake was “the only hanging lake in the world”. In 1902, an article in the Fort Collins Newspaper, Inc., described Hanging Lake as “one of the most beautiful lakes the mind can conceive of”. 

By the 1930s, Hanging Lake Park had developed a reputation beyond western Colorado. Advertisements in the Sentinel asked: “Why Not Hanging Lake Park for Sunday Dinner?” A restaurant there offered beef and pork dinners for 45 cents each. Fried chicken dinners were 75 cents. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) began improving the Hanging Lake Trail during the Great Depression. 

The Sentinel reported in July 1936. “The trail to the lake is being widened and new bridges are being constructed,” In 1939, the paper reported that CCC crews were constructing a wooden shelter halfway up the trail. There was even a gas station at Hanging Lake in the 1930s, plus cottages and restaurants. G.O. “Dub” Danforth and his wife owned the resort by 1945. Jack Roberts, an American western artist, holed up in a cabin at Hanging Lake. Roberts’s paintings of cowboys, Native Americans and Western landscapes helped bring even more fame to Hanging Lake. 

Great concern exists today in Colorado about the eco-health of Hanging Lake. It is a nationally protected lake that comes with strict federal regulations. Hanging Lake today is not the recreational lake of the days of yore, but a landmark with a following of 131,000 visitors a year. You must hike and follow switchback paths for 1.2 miles up a steep, rocky incline to view this stunning wonder of nature, and no horses or dogs are allowed. 

Hiking Hanging Lake 

Hiking on foot is the only way to find the amazing Hanging Lake. The Hanging Lake Trail takes one on a challenging 1.2-mile hike, for a 2.4-mile round trip. It is illegal for hikers to cut across switchbacks on the hike to Hanging Lake. This section serves to give hikers who want to visit Hanging Lake the information that will make their Hanging Lake hike the best one they ever hiked, while taking measures to preserve Hanging Lake’s nature and obeying the laws. 

What Is a Switchback? 

A switchback in hiking terms is defined as a trail that cuts sharply from one direction to the other while going up a steep hill or mountainside. Instead of climbing straight up from the foot of a hill to the summit, a switchback leads you laterally up the steep hill and then makes a u-turn to do the same. You basically have to walk up the mountain by hiking slowly but gaining altitude by not climbing straight up the mountain. 

If you want to hike to Hanging Lake, it is illegal to cut across its switchback trail. The 1.2-mile hikes on the switchbacks are surely worth it. Many an able hiker could hike up to Hanging Lake without following the switchback trail, but when hikers do that, they are destroying nature. It is also illegal to stray anywhere off of the Hanging Lake Trail. Hanging Lake rests in a fragile ego system, so hikers are encouraged to respect the federal laws surrounding its nature. 

What Do You Need to Hike Hanging Lake?

Hikers need to wear hiking boots, take one-half gallon of water per person for a day’s hike, food loaded with protein and carbohydrates, take rain protection, and depending on the time of year, wear sturdy clothes that will protect them from elemental exposure. It is advised that even if a hiker is not thirsty on Hanging Lake Trail, he or she should take regular sips of water or any hydrating liquid. 

If you are not acclimated to altitude, or not an experienced hiker, this Colorado hike will prove sore muscles and feet, plus test your lung capacity. The Hanging Lake trail is rigorous, but hikers can take a break at one of the rest stops on the way up. Near the top of the trail, it becomes more rocky and steep. Handrails are in place to help guide visitors to the boardwalk that surrounds a portion of the lake. The only restrooms are at the trailhead. There are no restrooms at Hanging Lake. 

Where Is Hanging Lake and Its Trailhead? 

The Hanging Lake trailhead is located approximately 10 miles east of Glenwood Springs, Colorado, along Interstate-70 in Glenwood Canyon. Glenwood Springs is a historical small town with a commanding attraction in itself. I-70 traverses Colorado from east to west, and Glenwood Springs is about 160 miles west of Denver. You may have to park at the Hanging Lake Welcome Center in Glenwood Springs to access its shuttle to the trailhead. The trailhead parking lot can be closed at any given time. 

When the trailhead parking lot is full, it is best to exit and return another time. Parking on the entrance or exit ramps of I-70 is prohibited. The government asks hikers to please follow all posted directions at the parking area, on the trail, and at the lake. It is advised to plan a hike to Hanging Lake during times when traffic is low, like during the week in the warmer months instead of the weekend. 

Driving to Hanging Lake can be as confusing as the switchbacks on its trail. If you are coming from the east on I-70 going westbound, you have to drive past the trailhead because there is not a westbound exit, then take exit 121, go under interstate 70, and get back on eastbound I-70. Then take exit 125 to the Hanging lake Trailhead. It also depends on what time of year you want to visit Hanging Lake, whether you park or ride the shuttle to the trailhead. 

To get to the shuttle, take exit 116 off of CO 82 east toward Glenwood Springs/Aspen. Stay on 82 as it wraps back around to the south and becomes Grand Avenue. After going over the bridge, take 8th street west/right. After about 0.4 mile, take a right onto Midland Ave. Go about 0.5 mile and turn right onto Wulfsohn. The Hanging Lake Welcome Center is just up the road on Wulfsohn next to the Glenwood Springs Community Center. 

The trailhead parking area is in a canyon alongside interstate 70, so it would be expensive to expand the parking and trailhead facilities without disturbing the region’s fragile ecosystem. Peak season is May 1 to October 31. Off season is November 1 to April 30. Hikers can usually park at the trailhead parking lot during off season and take the shuttle from Glenwood Springs during peak season. 

Hanging Lake Regulations

You must make reservations and have a permit to hike to Hanging Lake. Rules and regulations are strictly enforced at Hanging Lake and on its trail. The Hanging Lake permit costs $12 in peak season and $10 in off season. Hikers must present their permit upon arrival to the Hanging Lake rest area. Hiking permits are available for hourly reservations starting at 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Hikers are not allowed to access the trailhead after 5:45 pm.

To make a hiking reservation, you can contact [email protected] or phone 970-384-6309. Here is the website for all reservation information about Hanging Lake: https://visitglenwood.com/hanginglake/#toggle-id-5.

  • It’s illegal to swim, wade, or fish in Hanging Lake.
  • Dogs are not permitted on the Hanging Lake Trail.
  • Remain on designated trails and boardwalks at all times.
  • Plants in and around the lake are sensitive, and should not be stepped upon or handled. Small amounts of oil from human skin can dissolve travertine by altering its pH, and the rock itself can easily crack under the weight of footsteps.
  • Walking off the trail and short cutting switchbacks is not permitted.
  • There is no restroom at the lake. Use facilities at the trailhead before hiking.
  • Pack it in and pack it out. Respect the area by taking your trash with you.
  • There is no cell service on the trail.
  • Bring plenty of water.
  • In accordance with FAA safety and Forest Service guidelines, drones should not be flown in the Hanging Lake area.
  • From October through April: The trail may be icy all winter. Please be prepared for a steep and slippery trail with compacted ice and snow. Traction footwear is recommended.
  • Animals may NOT be left in vehicles while hiking. 

Why Is Hanging Lake Such a Fragile Ecosystem?

A geologic fault caused Hanging Lake’s bed to drop away from the valley floor above and forming the lake, which became a National Natural Landmark. Dissolved carbonates called travertine have built up the lake’s edge and are deposited on the shore as the water flows over it. Travertine is a freshwater carbonate. Hanging Lake is a unique example within the Southern Rocky Mountains and is a biophysiographic lake formed by travertine deposition. 

A travertine ecosystem is extremely biophysiologically fragile. A travertine system comprises travertine deposits of calcium carbonate, which can dominate channel geomorphology in streams where travertine deposition creates a distinct morphology characterized by travertine terraces, steep waterfalls, and large pools. Algae and microorganisms can facilitate travertine deposition, but geologists do not know how travertine affects material and energy flow in stream ecosystems at this time. 

Hanging Lake is one of the larger and least altered travertine systems in the world where natural geologic and hydrologic processes continue to operate as they have done throughout the history of the lake. Hanging Lake also supports one of the largest examples of a hanging garden plant community. Travertine geological formations have led Dead Horse Canyon to a ripe ecosystem packed with spruce trees, moss, lichen, ferns, and sweet woodruff. 

Stare into Hanging Lake’s waters and discover rainbow trout in its turquoise waters. Then look for the dippers, the little birds that create nests right on the rocks along the water. Take in the aroma from a variety of moss, ferns, and wildflowers all along the lake, all which tell a story about the delicate need to protect themselves from humans. 

Hanging Lake Email Updates


Hanging Lake Current Weather Alerts

There are no active watches, warnings or advisories.


Hanging Lake Weather Forecast



Hi: 54

Sunday Night


Lo: 32


Snow Showers

Hi: 41

Monday Night

Snow Showers Likely

Lo: 28


Chance Snow Showers

Hi: 40

Tuesday Night

Partly Cloudy

Lo: 29


Slight Chance Rain/Snow

Hi: 46

Wednesday Night

Partly Cloudy

Lo: 30

Hanging Lake Water Level (last 30 days)

Water Level on 4/14: 2462.82 (-4,860.18)

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