By Amiee White Beazley/Newsbreak Denver
After of year of closures, Glenwood Spring’s iconic trail to Hanging Lake is set to reopen in June.
In August of 2021 when the Grizzly Creek Fire devastated the steep, red rock walls and 30,000 acres of the White River National Forest, there was tangible fear that Hanging Lake, an area designated as a National Natural Landmark in 2011, had been destroyed. Miraculously, it survived, the fire burning much of the area above the lake and trail, without actually reaching the lake itself.
But last summer, the lake was impacted again, when July’s heavy rains created a massive debris flow in the Grizzly Creek Fire burn scar. The 1.2-mile trail to the lake was damaged and since then, the popular trail and ecological site has been closed to the public. Officials recently announced the construction of a temporary trail, and access to the lake will open for permitted visitors on June 25.
Hanging Lake, east of Glenwood, a popular year-round hike
Hanging Lake is a popular backcountry hike with both visitors and locals alike. The steep trail is rigorous and rocky but rewarding. In just over a mile, the trail gains elevation of 1,200 feet, and the payoff at the top of the trail is exceptional with access to Spouting Rock waterfall and views of both the Glenwood Canyon and of the lake. Hanging Lake was formed by a geological fault which caused the lakebed to drop away from the valley floor above. Over the years, water flowing over Bridal Veil Falls has deposited dissolved carbonates to build up the fragile lake edge and give it its gorgeous green-blue hue.
Before the fire and the debris flow, the biggest threat to Hanging Lake was overuse, the overcrowding leading to vegetation and trail damage. A management plan was put in place in 2018 to protect the natural wonder. The Forest Service still doesn’t know how long-term current impacts of fire and flow will affect Hanging Lake, as its health is directly tied to the hydrology of the area.
Financial partnerships fund new hiking trail
Fire-related erosion and runoff getting into the fragile lake ecosystem is still a concern. However, the Forest Service is working closely with the National Forest Foundation on mitigation efforts to protect the area, as well as the rebuild of a new, permanent trail so that the area can withstand future challenges. This effort was recently assisted by the awarding of a $2.28 million grant to the National Forest Foundation and the city of Glenwood Springs to help with restoration.
“The NFF’s anticipated $3 million investment into the Hanging Lake Trail over the next three years perfectly exemplifies our mission to inspire meaningful connections to our National Forests via collaborative restoration and recreation projects,” says Jamie Werner, White River National Forest Stewardship Coordinator with the National Forest Foundation.
Visitors to Hanging Lake should be prepared for a challenging hike and remain aware of the increased chance of flooding and debris flow in areas that have been impacted by wildfire. The trail may be closed with short notice depending on weather conditions following Colorado Department of Transportation protocol.
“Hanging Lake is a community treasure, and we are so grateful that area residents and guests will be able to access it this summer so soon after last year’s debris flows. We heard from across the state how important Hanging Lake is to Colorado. We look forward to welcoming back visitors who can’t wait to hike up the temporary trail to see this awe-inspiring natural landmark,” shared Glenwood Springs Mayor Jonathan Godes.
Hiking permits issued for visitors
Access to Hanging Lake can now be secured through an online permit system at visitglenwood.com for June 25 to October 31, 2022. Hiking permits are available for hourly reservations starting at 6:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. Permits are $12 per hiker and include self-parking at the trailhead.