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Visiting Hanging Lake? You may need to plan ahead.

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Hanging Lake - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • Hanging Lake

The U.S. Forest Service has released a draft of the environmental assessment of its proposed plan for visitor management of the popular Hanging Lake near Glenwood Springs.

An iconic Colorado landmark, the lake in the White River National Forest is both a popular destination for hikers and photographers, along with being a spur-of-the-moment stop for people passing by on I-70 as it winds through Glenwood Canyon. The site has seen tremendous increases in visitors over the last several years — 2017 brought 184,000 visitors, a 23-percent increase over 2016.

The increase has brought with it a host of problems, the biggest being parking at the trailhead, which is now too small for the number of cars that stop there, especially during the busiest times of the year. During recent peak seasons, signboards on I-70 warned that the lot was full and the area closed, and the forest service and CDOT worked to restrict access, but problems persisted with cars parked in no parking zones and backed up onto I-70.

And all those cars brought hikers, which increased the wear and tear on the narrow, steep trail that was designed for far less use. With that and graffiti and people misusing the lake and trail, the forest service has not been able keep up with maintenance of the trail or curb the environmental damage.

Dead Horse Creek, along the trail below Hanging Lake. - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • Dead Horse Creek, along the trail below Hanging Lake.

In its plan, the forest service has proposed a number of measures to decrease the usage of the trail to get control of the situation. The plan calls for restricting the number of visitors to 615 per day, year round. From May to October, when usage peaks, there will be no public parking at the trailhead — visitors will be required to take a shuttle to and from the site, the details of which are still to be determined. All visitors will also be required to purchase a pass in advance via the recreation.gov website, meaning that the days of the spontaneous hike to the lake will be no longer.

The draft environmental assessment found that the forest service plan would "benefit the fragile ecology of the area by limiting soil compaction to improve soil health, plant viability, stream health and wildlife habit." It also concludes that implementation would improve the experience and safety for hikers.

The proposed vehicle restrictions at Hanging Lake are similar those at Maroon Bells Scenic Area in nearby Aspen. There, visitors are required to use the $6 shuttle from mid-June to October. Other times of the year, when the shuttle isn't running, there is a $10 entrance fee to access the area with your own vehicle. But there is no pre-registration.

Vehicle traffic during peak summer tourism months at Colorado Springs' Garden of the Gods Park is also being examined as part of another transportation study currently underway. One of the many options being considered is a mandatory shuttle system during peak times of the year. According to Colorado Springs Parks Director Karen Palus, the study is expected to be completed sometime in 2018.

The environmental assessment for the Hanging Lake plan is now in a 30-day public comment period. You can find more information about the management plan, and also the environmental assessment plan here.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife online system gets update

Colorado Parks and Wildlife's online system will soon allow users to make camping reservations, buy hunting and fishing licenses and park passes. The current system will go offline Jan. 1, 2018 and is expected to be replaced with the new system by the following weekend. Users will not be able to make any online purchases during the downtime of the update.

Happy trails in 2018!

Bob Falcone is a retired firefighter, photographer, hiker, college instructor, business owner and author of Hiking Bob's Tips, Tricks and Trails, available via his website. He has lived in Colorado Springs for more than 25 years. Follow him on Twitter (@hikingbob), Facebook (Hiking Bob), Instagram (@HikingBob_CO) or visit his website (Hikingbob.com). E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to Bob: info@hikingbob.com.

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