Hanging Lake reservations reopening Monday
First hikes start June 25
Get those hiking shoes ready, because a trail to Hanging Lake is on track to reopen much sooner than first anticipated after last summer’s devastating flooding and debris flows in Glenwood Canyon.
Online reservations are set to open at visitglenwood.com at 10 a.m. Monday, and the first available day to hike the trail under the permit reservation system is June 25.
The announcement was made at a Wednesday morning press conference at the Hanging Lake Rest Area hosted by the White River National Forest, the National Forest Foundation, the city of Glenwood Springs and the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association.
“This is much earlier than we thought we were going to be able to open this trail, thanks to great work by the construction crew and the Forest Service,” said Lisa Langer, director of tourism for Visit Glenwood.
“To be able to open the reservations and have people hike as early as June 25 is just really remarkable, considering what we had to deal with last summer with the debris flows,” she said.
Access to Hanging Lake has been closed since late July 2021, when record rainfall triggered massive flooding and debris flows that severely damaged Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon, closing it for three weeks, and also washing out parts of the Hanging Lake trail. The unique travertine lake itself was muddy for a period of time, but by fall had returned to its natural state.
The Forest Service contracted with Summit to Sea trail builders, which began work in late April to repair and replace two bridges that were washed out and to rebuild a temporary, primitive trail up the roughly 1.2 miles to Hanging Lake, said Leanne Veldhuis, Eagle-Holy Cross District Ranger for the White River National Forest.
Crews made speedy progress to secure bridge one back into place before the spring runoff peak, and to remove the old bridge two, which had been completely washed downstream in Deadhorse Creek. They are now in the process of building a new bridge in that location, Veldhuis said.
The remainder of the five bridges were not severely damaged, but crews are working to build a primitive trail through some of the debris flow areas to provide a walkable access to the lake, she said.
“We’ve been really impressed with the work that’s been done to date,” she said.
Long term, the National Forest Foundation expects to invest more than $3 million over the next three years to build a new, more resilient permanent trail with additional improvements, interpretive signage and restoration of the ecology along the trail that was damaged by the mudslides and by the 2020 Grizzly Creek Fire, said Jamie Werner, stewardship coordinator between the White River National Forest and the National Forest Foundation.
Design work for that larger project is to begin later this summer, she said.
“The goal with the temporary trail work is to open the trail to safe public access,” Werner said. “We will still be keeping an eye on the weather through the summer and potentially instigating some closures for dangerous weather events.
“The long-term plan for that permanent trail is to be looking at it from a holistic perspective … the alignment, the materials, the user experience … all those things to make this trail as sturdy and resilient and sustainable as possible,” she said.
The larger project includes funding from a $2.28 million Great Outdoors Colorado Community Impact Grant that was awarded last year, along with the city of Glenwood Springs, the Forest Service, the Glenwood Canyon Restoration Alliance and Hanging Lake visitors who donated their canceled permit reservation fees from last summer back to the rebuilding effort, Werner said.
Glenwood Springs Mayor Pro-Tem Charlie Willman also spoke at the Wednesday opening announcement.
“We heard clearly over this past year how important Hanging Lake is to Colorado, and we know how important it is to our local community, its character and its economic vibrancy,” Willman said. “We’re so grateful to those who made this happen, and it’s going to be exciting to have it accessible this summer much sooner than anyone anticipated.”
Reservations to hike to Hanging Lake are $12 per person, with the exception of small children who can be carried the entire way. A permit includes parking at the rest area.
There is a limit of 615 visitors per day in accordance with the Forest Service’s management plan that was implemented in 2019. Up until then, the area saw as many as 1,800 hikers on peak summer days, Langer said, resulting in overcrowding at the parking area and illegal parking along the Interstate 70 on/off ramps and leading to the development of the management plan.
One requirement when the new reservation system was implemented was that hikers had to use a shuttle service between Glenwood Springs and the Hanging Lake trailhead.
The shuttle, operated under contract by H2O Ventures of Glenwood Springs, which also handles reservations, was in place in 2019. It has since been suspended, at first due to pandemic restrictions in 2020, and since the Grizzly Creek Fire due to the potential for evacuations during flood events on the fire burn scar.
The shuttle will remain suspended this year, as trail managers would prefer that people have quick access to their personal vehicles in case of a flash flood watch or warning and the potential for an evacuation order during this summer’s monsoonal rains.