Hanging Lake, near Glenwood Springs, Colo., is one of the state's most popular — and crowded — outdoor attractions. A new shuttle and permit system hopes to alleviate the strain.

Courtesy Volpe/U.S. Dept. of Transportation

Starting May 1, visitors to Hanging Lake near Glenwood Springs will need to make reservations and pay $12 during peak season.

The Forest Service and the City of Glenwood Springs announced the new reservation system Friday.

“It’s a good start,” said Aaron Mayville, a district ranger at Eagle-Holy Cross district. “I think we have a good plan in place. I’m really looking forward to it and I’m really looking forward to the visitor experience improving there at the lake.”

The new system will now require guests to make reservations ahead of time, use a shuttle service to access the lake and will limit visitation to 615 people per day.

Between 2012 and 2014, more than 90,000 visitors made the 2.8-mile trek. Last year, 186,000 people went to Hanging Lake, according to the Forest Service.

Closing the trailhead to cars during peak visiting time, May 1 to October 31, will help protect the popular destination, according to the Forest Service. Its popularity has led to overcrowding, erosion and vegetation damage, officials said Friday.

Trails that start about 18 inches wide can sometimes grow to 20 feet, Mayville said. “We saw a lot of the rules not being followed, people jumping in the lake.”

Mayville said people fought over parking and would disrupt the travertine mineral deposit in the lake, which gives the nationally designated natural landmark its distinct blue-green color. In 2017, a Hanging Lake ranger threatened to close the site after graffiti was found there.

Online reservations are scheduled to open April 1 and in-person reservations can be made at the Hanging Lake Visitation Center starting May 1. Reservations will not be needed between April 1 and May 1.

The Forest Service and the City of Glenwood Springs started to work on a management plan for the lake in fall 2018. The city said the goal of the partnership is to balance preservation of natural resources and support local tourism.

“Hanging Lake is extraordinarily important to our history and our residents and our visitors,” said Glenwood Springs City Manager Debra Figueroa. “We feel it is very important to protect the jewel that is Hanging Lake.”

Five percent of the visitation costs will be used to manage Hanging Lake, including rehabilitation at the site, according to city officials. It also includes ensuring access to the welcome center, the online reservation system, shuttle service to and from Hanging Lake and ranger presence there.

Mayville stressed the current plan is adaptable so improvements can be made as they’re needed.

The city awarded a contract to operate the shuttle service to H2O Ventures, an organization that provides transportation for activities like white water rafting as well as rides from I-70 to Denver International Airport.

The trailhead parking lot will be open to private vehicles during the offseason, November 1 to April 30, but visitors will still need to make a reservation for $10 during that time.

CPR's Hayley Sanchez contributed to this report.

Editor's note:  This story has been updated with comments from ranger and Glenwood Springs officials.