Hanging Lake’s proposed multi-million dollar renovation boasts flood protection, various trail improvements

Michael Elizabeth Sakas/CPR News
Hanging Lake as it appeared June 14, 2020.

The United States Forest Service has released its proposed plan for renovations to the Hanging Lake Trail.

The popular hiking trail in Glenwood Canyon has had a rough few years. It was damaged first by the Grizzly Creek fire in 2020, and then by subsequent flooding and debris flow within the fire’s burn scar. The trail experienced destabilized pathways, fallen trees and destroyed bridges. The lake, which is famous for its pristine waters, was undamaged, but mud murkied the waters temporarily. It reopened to the public last summer, accessible by a temporary trail.

The plan for the permanent trail was released to the public Wednesday. Forest Service officials wrote the goal is to make Hanging Lake “more sustainable, resilient, and safe, and to ensure a world-class visitor experience" – also noting that heavy visitation over the years has damaged the trail.

Part of the proposal includes efforts to head off potential flooding. Six bridges along the trail would be replaced to “better accommodate high water and debris flow.” Officials have also proposed raising parts of the trail using native rock to allow water to drain more easily from it. 

The 2021 flooding is also giving the Forest Service an opportunity to rethink trailhead features. Debris flow damaged current facilities at the trailhead, including picnic tables, creek access, signs, and more. Proposed improvements include a new accessible plaza with seating, a shelter for shade and weather protection, as well as more bicycle racks and picnic tables. 

Other proposed improvements include replanting native vegetation, preventing trail erosion and defining path restrictions more clearly. 

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
The Hanging Lake trailhead exist in Glenwood Canyon on Friday, Aug. 21, 2020.

The Forest Service is expected to pay upwards of $2.4 million to fund the renovation project. Great Outdoors Colorado is providing about $2.3 million of that through a grant, while smaller amounts from White River National Forest and the National Forest Foundation will help with additional costs. 

The full details of the proposed restoration project can be found on the Forest Service’s website. Officials are accepting public comment through Feb. 25. If approved, work on the renovation is expected to begin this September and last through 2024. 

“Trail closures will likely be necessary at some points. We just don’t know what the scope of those are yet,” Sam Massman, White River National Forest Recreation Program Manager said. 

Paid reservations are currently required to visit Hanging Lake and are available through Glenwood Springs’ website. According to the National Forest Foundation, Hanging Lake generates about $4.6 million of revenue annually for the City of Glenwood Springs.