Hanging Lake, a Great Way to Wave in the Spring
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This is a guest post from my dad, Grandpa Points. He and my mom are in their mid-60’s, are (mostly) retired, and are ticking off “bucket list” destinations quicker than they ever thought possible thanks to miles, points, and travel deals. They have an intense love of this country, of its National Parks and treasures, and have no problem with a clean budget hotel room and an economy airline seat on a budget airline as long as it gets them where they want to be. A photographer by trade, his adventures are usually captured not just in his mind, but in his camera. He shares his thoughts and travels here from time to time, and I’m excited to share another one of their travel stories!
In the spring, a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of love…….. ly hikes and outdoor adventures. What did you think I was leading to? And not to be socially, politically or sexually incorrect and exclusive, I want to be sure and include all in this pursuit of nature and not just to a young man’s fancy as the poem alluded to.
Springtime is the time for a renewal, reawakening and a reacquainting of our bodies with physical challenges. The grass is greening, the snow is melting, the trees are leafing, the flowers are popping, and our skin is looking for a little exposure to the warming sun. So, if you are in western/central Colorado on Highway 70 near Glenwood Springs, we have a great suggestion for you to consider, the hike to Hanging Lake.
The trail can be found at the 121 mile marker and a significant parking area and a nice restroom facility are located there. But, be warned that the parking lot does fill up quickly at times and your success at easily grabbing a spot can vary greatly depending on the time, day and season of your visit. As is good advice with all attractions, get there early before the crowds. The Hanging Lake Trail is reported to have about 135,000 annual visitors.
There is a sign near the start of the trail head describing the trail as “Difficult” in relation to its severity.
I would say this is somewhat an accurate description with an asterisk attached. It is challenging in parts, but is doable for most. Using ski slope signage as an example, I would rate the trail as a blue/black if you are in reasonable condition and wearing appropriate shoes. Smooth soled shoes and flip flops are not advised. And remember, there is no timing device and you don’t wear a contestant’s bib so there is no competition involved. Take your time, go your pace, listen to your body and take breaks during the climb.
There are nice spots along the way to catch your breath, drink some water and to enjoy the view.
The hike is up the Dead Horse Creek Canyon and is made mostly under a forest canopy and alongside a vibrant stream.
The canyon floor narrows as you increase elevation and the trail itself does encourage a “hike friendly” and “be courteous” attitude due to the near single file width that occasionally occurs.
The total distance from the trail head to Hanging Lake is about 1.25 miles one way and in that span there is an elevation gain of about a 1000 feet, or about the height of the iconic Chrysler Building in New York City.
The path offers stretches of relatively level travel mixed in with some abrupt rises.
But remember, you are not being graded. The meandering stream is crossed several times via well constructed bridges and climbers are greeted by very verdant vegetation thanks to the abundant water source. As you near the goal of Hanging Lake, the trail gets quite steep for about 100 yards.
This part of the climb is made on a set of distinctly cut and chiseled steps in the rocky base. Hand rails line part of this section for safety and to facilitate the ascent.
The lake is your immediate reward for completing this final push as it lies just ahead. We were surprised when the lake appeared as, at the time, we neither knew what we were looking for or where it was. It was just suddenly right in front of us. The first thing we noticed were the waterfalls at the far end of the lake and the second was the rich emerald color of the water.
The waterfalls cascaded down about 20 feet from a moss covered ledge above. In places the water fell like a gentle shower and in others like a soaking, drenching downpour.
It is relatively easy to access an area behind the falls for a different perspective and to get above the falls for a look down. A nice boardwalk has been constructed around the lake with some sitting areas provided. The walkway seems to be there to enhance the visitor’s experience and also to protect the lakes perimeter.
The lake itself is small but dynamically beautiful and calming. And very clear. And very green. Other than the boardwalk, the area seems very natural and pristine. Several long tree trunks lie in and across the lake seemingly beckoning the young at heart to check their balance on a floating? balance beam.
A few made the walk on water while we were there, including the kid in me. I suspect that this has been, and will continue to be, a long standing and frequent occurrence.
We saw no signs discouraging or disallowing this adventure at the lake, and my common sense meter registered neutral. It just seemed like an innocent challenge and innocuous fun, and it was. But in an attempt to be fair and balanced, we have subsequently seen info to suggest that visitors should avoid doing this due to possible environmental damage that could occur. We always advocate for the protection of our natural surroundings as a courtesy to others and as a guarantee future generations will be able to enjoy what we now enjoy, so wanted to share that information.
In addition to the visual treasure of the lake itself, the overall scenery available from this viewing point is spectacular.
After about an hour of admiration, we thanked the lake and headed down. The trip down, as they say, is all downhill. But care and thought are still required to safely navigate the steep parts so that your journey will have the happiest of endings. Our journey lasted about 3 hours and was quite a rewarding experience.
In my opinion, once the hike is over and you are at the parking lot and in your car, there is still an enjoyable treat ahead. You get to travel the fantastic I-70 that goes through the gorgeous Glenwood Canyon. This 13 mile stretch was one of the final sections of the Interstate Highway System to be completed, and is lauded both for its beauty and for its engineering magic. It has a Disney quality to it. The road goes over and around the roaring Colorado River through a series of tunnels. bridges, suspended viaducts and cantilevered lanes on roadway that was created to fit into a canyon better suited to be navigated on water than on a freeway running through it.
Wow, what a treat! Hanging Lake Trail and the Glenwood Canyon highway. A dynamic duo!
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