Big changes proposed for iconic Hanging Lake trail in Glenwood Canyon

Details of $2.4 million in proposed improvements to the Hanging Lake trail in Glenwood Canyon have been released by officials of the White River National Forest.

The iconic trail was heavily damaged in the summer of 2021 when torrential rains caused massive debris flows in the burn scar left by the Grizzly Creek wildfire the previous summer. Trail crews reestablished a temporary “primitive trail” last spring that was reopened in June, with the forest service making plans for permanent long-term improvements designed to modernize the trail and make it less susceptible to damage from flash flood events.

If approved following a public comment period, the forest service plans to begin trail work in September with the expectation of finishing the project in the fall of 2024. Funding will come from Great Outdoors Colorado, the National Forest Foundation and the forest service.

“Proposed work includes reengineering six of the trail’s seven bridges to better accommodate high water and debris flows,” according to a forest service news release. “Two of the bridges would also be slightly relocated to crossing locations that provide better stream clearance. A boardwalk is proposed at Spouting Rock to reduce erosion and other impacts by guiding visitors on a defined pathway looping around the falls. Minor regrading and rock work, flood debris removal, and native seeding and planting would occur by hand along the trail to stabilize stream banks and reduce erosion. At the trailhead, debris would be removed and the stream channel reconstructed to protect the adjacent paved recreation path, restrooms, and trailhead facilities. An accessible plaza with seating and shade would be constructed.”

If approved, Great Outdoors Colorado will provide $2.05 million to fund the project. The White River National Forest would provide $300,000 and the National Forest Foundation $50,000.

More project details, and information on how the public can comment on the proposal, are available on a national forest website.

“This work would not be possible without the close support from the many partners who help us with Hanging Lake, especially Great Outdoors Colorado, the National Forest Foundation, City of Glenwood Springs, and Colorado Department of Transportation,” White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said in the news release. “These repairs and improvements will ensure that we continue to provide a world-class visitor experience at this iconic Colorado location for decades to come.”

A Hanging Lake timeline through fire and floods

August 2020: The Grizzly Creek wildfire begins Aug. 10 in the Grizzly Creek area of Glenwood Canyon, about four miles west of the Dead Horse Creek drainage where Hanging Lake is located. The fire quickly grows to more than 32,600 acres, doing major damage to much of Glenwood Canyon including the Hanging Lake area. The iconic Hanging Lake itself is spared, except for some ash that temporarily clouds the lake’s famously clear water. Interstate 70 is closed for 13 days.

May 2021: The Hanging Lake trail reopens for visitors, but not for long.

Spring 2022: A recovery project to get Hanging Lake reopened with a “primitive trail” includes replacing one bridge and repositioning the other. Portions of the trail that were covered by rocks are cleared.

June 25, 2022: Hanging Lake trail reopens to the public.

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