Hanging Lake Colorado Hike Guide

The Virtual Sherpa

Hanging Lake is a short but steep out and back hike located right off I-70 near Glenwood Springs. This world famous hike is short but I would not consider it an “easy” hike for the beginner hiker or small child. Hanging Lake has formed its own ecosystem over hundreds of years and is certainly a beautiful reward for the 1.5 mile hike up. Due to popularity, as of 2019, a permit is required to visit the hike. In 2020 it survived the Glenwood Canyon fire and is scheduled to open back up in 2021 after a long closure.

Hanging Lake Quick Facts

Hanging Lake Rating: ★★★★ (4/5 Stars)

Distance: 3.1 miles RT

Elevation Start: 6,387 ft

Highest Point: 7,323 ft

Total Elevation Gain: 1,000 ft

Estimated Time to Complete: 2 Hours

Difficulty: Easy/Moderate What does this mean?

Class: Class 1

Season: Year Round – Expect snow November – March – Visit the Winter Hike Guide Here!

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Directions to Hanging Lake

Trailhead: Hanging Lake

Getting There: As of 2021 you must either pre-book a bike or shuttle permit to visit Hanging Lake. Check out this link for more information. You can now park directly off exit 125 on I70 located just east of Glenwood Springs.

Parking:  As of 2021 you can now park directly at exit 125 off of I70. This parking area has restrooms and assuming that they will only be issuing permits for the number of parking spots available.

Fees: There is a $12 fee to hike Hanging Lake as of 2021.


Dogs: Unfortunately dogs are not allowed on this hike. Park Rangers site trail volume and the precious ecosystem of Hanging Lake as reasons for them being unable to join you on this one.

Camping: Camping near Hanging Lake is prohibited. If you are looking for a place to rest your head, nearby Glenwood Springs does have some campgrounds and lodging available.

Make it a Loop: Hanging Lake is a tough route to make a loop given the location of the heavily used trail. However, if you want to hike more, head out to the Glenwood Canyon Recreational Trail which follows the river through the beautiful canyon.

Trail X Factors: Permit System & Fire of 2020

In 2019, a new permit system was implemented to help cut down on crowds, trash and increase the overall hiking experience of hiking Hanging Lake. Visit this page for more information. In 2020, Glenwood Canyon suffered an awful fire that burned thousands of acres but somehow spared the lake. The closed for a while with reservations expected to open up in the spring of 2021.

Hanging Lake Tip(s): If you are looking to avoid the crowds at Hanging Lake, try visiting during the late fall or winter. Both times provide the same experience with a lot less people. Fall can actually be a very beautiful time to visit the lake with the beautiful foliage adding to the picturesque setting. Be sure to also hike up to Sprouting Rock as its a equally beautiful spot that adds almost no hiking to your overall mileage.

Best Views: This hike provides ample photographic opportunities from the lake itself, to the beautiful canyon that it sits in. Bring a tripod for longer exposure shots of the waterfalls along the way and above the lake. Take advantage of the early morning or evening light to photograph this beautiful ecosystem. The water is crystal clear which presents cool opportunities for photographing the small fish in the pond as well.

Hanging Lake My Trip: October 2016

Our first visit to Hanging Lake capped off a mini “road trip” that my girlfriend and I were able to take around the state during the fall. Knowing full well how popular Hanging Lake gets, we decided to plan this destination for a weekday and arrived right around 7AM. When we arrived in the parking lot there were maybe 2 or 3 other cars there so we were excited for the lack of people our hike up would bring. Once we made our way over to the trailhead (follow the paved path along the Colorado River) the trail turned to dirt and made for quite an easy hike up. Along the way the trail passed over Dead Horse Creek quite a few times which made for some nice photo opportunities, especially if you were looking to do some longer exposure shots.


The one part of the trail that I struggled to love or hate were the mile markers along the way. It’s hard to forget the distance you’ve gone when you have a wooden sign every half mile telling you where you are at. This really speaks volumes to the number of tourists and inexperienced hikers who frequent this beauty every day.

Towards the end of the trail, right before we reached the lake, we arrived at some stairs built into the side of the valley that take you up to the lake itself. Although it was not crowded when we went, we found ourselves stuck behind a group of slower hikers which was a bit tricky when navigating the narrow stairs. I would recommend that when you arrive at this part of the trail, look ahead and around you to decide how you should proceed, who you should let pass etc. Your fellow hikers will appreciate it.


Once we arrived at the lake, we were greeted by the unique ecosystem that has formed in this little pocket of forest over thousands of years. It really is a beautiful spot that I could spend hours taking pictures, exploring and enjoying. After some time at the lake, we headed back down and ran into several other groups of people just starting their hike. Hanging Lake was a beautiful way to start our last day on our “coloroad trip”and is a hike I would recommend to all levels of hikers. 


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Virtual sherpa provides free trail guides to hikes in Colorado & beyond. Whether you are hiking a "14er," visiting a National Park or trying to plan your next winter trip to the mountains, I have you covered. From virtual trail guides to gear reviews to hiking tips, my website and YouTube channel has it all! Visit my website here: https://www.thevirtualsherpa.com/ Visit my YouTube Channel here: https://www.youtube.com/thevirtualsherpa

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