1,000 feet up the steep walls of Glenwood Canyon there hides away a basin full of water the color of Paris Green, waterfalls roaring near the fragile shoreline of travertine, the bottom of the lake fully visible through crystal clear waters.
Discovered by a gold hunting prospector, Hanging Lake was a private homestead and family retreat until falling into the hands of Glenwood Springs in 1910. Protected by the White River Forest Service, this is a popular stop for those willing to take a short but steep hike to see the trout-filled, glacially formed watery haven seemingly suspended from the side of the canyon.
Just a few hundred yards behind Hanging Lake is yet another waterfall, Spouting Rock, which jets through holes in the canyon walls.
Know Before You Go
The lake can be reached via a trailhead located near I-70 at the bottom of the canyon. Be aware! You cannot reach the Hanging Lake parking lots from westbound I-70. You will need to head to exit 121, go underneath the interstate, then double back and take the exit from the eastbound lanes. Similarly, there is no entrance to eastbound I-70 from the trailhead.
The trailhead is right off the interstate and it is a short hike (1.2 miles). If you are visiting during the summer months, both parking lots are usually full before 8:30 AM. You cannot park on the I-70 ramps, and it is frowned upon to sit around idling while waiting for a spot to open up - you will block traffic and emergency access should it be needed. RVs and trailers are not allowed. You can, however, park at the exit for Grizzly Creek. This path follows along the Colorado River and will eventually get you to the Hanging Lake Trailhead. It does, however, add an additional 4 miles (round-trip) to your hike.
The trail follows Dead Horse Creek, a tributary of the Colorado River, and ascends some 1,000 feet. No dogs are allowed on the trailhead or left behind in cars. No fishing or swimming is allowed at the lake. This is now a permitted site, you must have a $12 permit to enter at the trailhead at a designated time, and unless it's the off-season you should plan on getting your permit ahead of time.
Update as of May 2021: There was a horrible forest fire in this area in 2020. The lake trail just opened back up in May 2021, and luckily the area around the lake (and the lake itself) is fine, but expect to see a ton of fire damage as you hike.
Update January 2024: Hanging Lake is open to the public. However, due to its popularity, a $12 per hiker reservation is required ($10 in winter). Tickets can be redeemed anytime during the day of the reservation, and are available here.