Spontaneity Dies at Colorado’s Hanging Lake Trail

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I find myself gravitating toward one particular hike every time I have a calling to scramble up above the world. Hanging Lake Trail, is my favorite hike, ever, and I’m lucky because I live only 10 miles away.

I grew up in the town of Glenwood Springs, CO where the majority of our time was spent outdoors; hiking, biking, rafting, or skiing. I grew with a deep love of nature. Because of that hiking has become a big part of who I am.

I have spent a lot of my time on Hanging Lake Trail, with my family, with friends, and even by myself. I feel like I practically grew up on it. There isn’t anything about Hanging Lake that I don’t know. It’s in my blood.

Hanging Lake became my go to hike anytime I was needing to get out of the house and clear my head. Or, most often, when I just felt in need of a quick adventure. Many times I’d hike up to Hanging Lake at midnight, just because I could. This is a place where I find the most peace.

I’ve been lucky enough to have hiked it during every season, at every time of day and night, even in the middle of winter. Which, if pressed I’d say is my favorite time to hike Hanging Lake.

As a kid we used to play in the creek that runs alongside the trail. We would stop at the little hut, that appears to be from ancient times, to rest or eat a snack. We would cool off by immersing ourselves in the waterfall at the top of Hanging Lake.

But, unfortunately, Hanging Lake has changed a lot since then. First, there are more people who find delight in this hike. More people means more benches for them to sit and more regulations and chained off areas. The hut and the waterfall are no longer accessible.

I used to go to Hanging Lake to get some peace and quiet, away from the rest of the world. Today, it would be hard to believe. Today, the whole world knows and heads to go to Hanging Lake to revel in its beauty. And because of the amounts of traffic, it’s facing threats of ecological disruption.

Simply put, people aren’t taking care of this fragile ecosystem. Spray painting parts of the trail, people and dogs swimming in the water despite signs forbidding such activity. The last time I hiked Hanging Lake there was trash left everywhere, all over the trail. My brothers and I picked up all that we could carry and hiked it out in our packs. It’s unfortunate that there are many who simply can’t adhere to the selfless actions that “leave no trace” encourages.

Because of the mass amounts of people visiting Hanging Lake, and honestly not caring for it, hikers can no longer park at the trail head. A drastic reservation and fee process has been enacted beginning May 1, 2019.

Future visitors need to make a reservation, pay a fee of $12/person and take a shuttle to the parking lot. If you think you can get around paying the fee and making a reservation by biking to Hanging Lake, you are wrong. You’ll still have to follow the same procedure, only the fee will be  $9 instead of $12.

It’s extremely heartbreaking to me that we have to regulate Hanging Lake to this extent. It’s sad, quite frankly, and maybe it is a reflection of society’s mentality today, maybe it’s the result of inadequate education, or maybe it’s simply both? Regardless, it’s a great loss for locals who enjoyed the spontaneity and sheer beauty of a Hanging Lake Hike.

If you plan on hiking Hanging Lake please respect the rules that are in place. They are there for a reason to protect its fragile ecosystem. Remember to take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but footprints so that future generations can experience its beauty.

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