Hanging Lake Trail will reopen June 1 with new social distancing rules after its closure due to COVID-19 precautions.
The trail's permit system, adopted in 2019 to manage the popular hike's overwhelming crowd sizes, will be used to limit the number of visitors out at one time.
A maximum of 128 people per day will be assigned to eight hiking groups. Each group will be given about three hours to complete the hike in an attempt to space out visitors. That cuts daily hiker numbers down to a sixth of normal use.
"It'll be a little harder to get a reservation this year than last year," said Marcia Gilles, the deputy district ranger in the White River National Forest's Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District. "It's a temporary plan, and we're hoping to get our numbers back up," later in the summer.
The online reservation system is what allows the trail to take on social distancing measures.
"We never thought that this would be the case, that we would be changing our numbers and using that adaptive management planning capacity to deal with a pandemic," Gilles said."But it's working and it's giving us that flexibility to be able to move our [visitor] numbers up and down."
Trail staff will clean handrails between groups and be on the trail to help facilitate the flow of hikers. There will also be passing zones and guidance on when it's clear to do so.
"It's little things like that, that just give it that little extra so people can feel a little more comfortable about hiking at Hanging Lake versus maybe another location that doesn't have a capacity reduction or a use limit in place," Gilles said.
If you're able to secure a permit, the ranger said it will almost feel like you're at Hanging Lake "by yourself," with a "more primitive-type experience than we've had in many years."
Another change due to the pandemic: There won't be a shuttle service to the trailhead this year. Hikers will need to either bike or drive to the trailhead, where Gillis said there will be required spacing between parked vehicles.
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