5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Hiking Hanging Lake

Most Coloradans recognize the photo above. Hint: it’s the famous Hanging Lake—Colorado’s most-photographed natural beauty. If you ever plan on visiting Colorado, it’s a must-see. Sitting on the shelf of a cliffside, the green-blue lake is filled with water falling further up the mountain. It’s unlike anything most people have seen—a natural phenomenon.

Hanging Lake is a protected ecosystem and as a result there is no swimming allowed.
Hanging Lake is a protected ecosystem and as a result there is no swimming allowed.

So if the photo above makes your jaw drop and you are now contemplating planning a day trip to Glenwood Springs to hike Hanging Lake, take a second and read on. Below is everything I wish I knew beforehand and tips on how to survive the hike to Hanging Lake.

It’s not an easy hike.

An important fact about the just-over-one-mile-long trek to Hanging Lake: the elevation gain is more than one thousand feet—not for beginning hikers. Even so, this trek is a popular one, attracting adventurists from all over the world. However, if you’re not the most experienced hiker, this hike is still doable.

Tips to how to survive the Hanging Lake Trail:

-If possible, try and plan on a morning hike to avoid the Colorado-afternoon summer showers.
-Sunscreen up before you start. (The trail is mostly open to the sun.)
-Bring extra water. (Think about what you usually need for a hike, then add another water bottle.)
-Take lots of breaks. (You would have done this anyway, but now you can say someone advised you to do so.)
-Wear solid waterproof hiking shoes. (Tevas and/or “athletic” flip-flops do not fall under this category.)
-If nothing else don’t run up the first quarter-mile like I did in an effort to get up the mountain before the rest of the shuttle-bus riders. (You will lose steam by the half-mile marker and the rest of the hike will be miserable. Until you set eyes on the turquoise water that is. Then it all becomes worth it.)

Hanging Lake Trail starting point: ~6,100 feet; Hanging Lake: 7,040 feet.
Hanging Lake Trail starting point: ~6,100 feet; Hanging Lake: 7,040 feet.

You have to reserve a spot on the Hanging Lake Shuttle.

Hiking Hanging Lake was on my bucket list for more than four years before I finally got the opportunity. Why? Because the parking lot was always full. So I for one was ecstatic when the shuttle service started. Plan ahead and reserve your spot on the shuttle bus in advance. Tip: get to the Hanging Lake Service Center early to check-in and get your shuttle pass.

The trail is rocky and wet.

This isn’t a flat leisurely walk to your typical lake. This one-mile trek feels longer than it is and has lots of pointy rocks and the occasional water feature to step through. Tip: do not get distracted by butterflies and slam your foot into a rock. Rock always wins.

It’s easy to get distracted while hiking to Hanging Lake so be careful.

It will most likely rain in the afternoon.

Colorado is known for its summer storms. Lucky for us, we got back on the shuttle bus moments before it started to downpour, just before 3 p.m. Dozens of hikers, however, got caught in the rain, making the trail even harder to hike. Tip: do not wear a white shirt.

Around 3 p.m. the clouds began to threaten rain.
Around three in the afternoon the clouds began to threaten rain.

Just above Hanging Lake is the Spouting Rock waterfall.

A few steps above Hanging Lake is the Spouting Rock waterfall and definitely worth the extra climb. You can walk around the entire waterfall and even step behind it. Tip: do not listen to your partner when he tells you to “take one more step back” because you will get wet.

Spouting Rock waterfall.
View from behind the Spouting Rock waterfall.

You are now ready to hike up to one of the most wondrous lakes in the world. Good luck!

Until next time,

Leah Pinkus


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