Pay to Play

Faced with the sad impacts of too many hikers, the U.S. Forest Service implements a fee-based reservation program for Hanging Lake.

Planning to hike Hanging Lake in Glenwood Canyon? Take a number, and break out your wallet.

That’s the storyline behind one of Colorado’s most popular hikes, as April 30 marked the last day of being able to hike to Hanging Lake for free. To alleviate crowds, starting May 1 a new reservation system is in place, with a $12 fee (May 1-Oct. 31; $10 November 1-April 30) now required to make this iconic trek. Parking is no longer available at the customary trailhead, instead visitors must take a short shuttle from Glenwood Springs included in the price.

Formed by a geologic fault causing its bed to drop away from the valley floor above, the lake, hemmed in by dissolved carbonates, is fed by water cascading from Bridal Veil Falls. Hanging Lake—whose 1.2-mile trail gains 1,000 feet in elevation along Deadhorse Creek Canyon—is a national natural landmark in the White River National Forest.

The decision to implement the fee system was caused by crowds—visitors were often turned away at the parking lot during peak summer months—as well as vandalism and other violations. The change will limit the number of daily hikers allowed on the trail, reducing impact.

The permit fee covers the cost of the shuttle service, reservation system, and on-site maintenance, says Visit Glenwood Springs’ Lisa Langer. “It will allow for improved trail management and ensure compliance with the 615 hiker-per-day cap put in place by the Forest Service,” she says. “It will enhance the hiking experience and also follows the Forest Service’s Management Plan to preserve this natural landmark.”

Still, it has some users up in arms about a place they remember as one as easy to exercise the legs. “I realize this has been done at national parks and state land attractions for generations, but seeing it happen on a trail like this is unfortunate,” says nearby Gypsum resident Ken Hoeve, who recorded one of the last “free” hikes on the trail on April 30.

To book reservations, visit or call 970-384-6309.

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