Extensive trail damage from recent slides will keep Hanging Lake area closed into next year

A U.S. Forest Service crew member inspects damage along the Hanging Lake Trail earlier this week caused by the late July and early August mudslides and debris flows.
Photo courtesy White River National Forest

Hanging Lake, one of the most popular hiking destinations in Colorado, will be closed to visitors for the remainder of this year and likely well into 2022 due to extensive trail damage caused by the recent debris flows in Glenwood Canyon.

The good news, White River National Forest Service Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said during a Wednesday video news conference, is that the lake itself is already clearing up.

Until this week, U.S. Forest Service crews had not had a chance to go in and inspect the 1.2-mile-long trail up to the lake, Fitzwilliams said.

When they did, they found extensive rocks, tree limbs and mud over parts of the trail, major damage to several of the seven bridges that cross the creek and one bridge completely washed out.

One of several bridges along the Hanging Lake trail that were severely damaged by the late July and early August debris flows in Glenwood Canyon.
Photo courtesy White River National Forest

“This will not be a minor trail repair,” Fitzwilliams said, describing a completely reconfigured passage in spots leading up Dead Horse Creek to Hanging Lake.

“We will need to redesign the trail to meet the new landscape that’s out there,” he said.

The result will be a lengthy trail closure through the remainder of this year and into 2022. It could possibly extend through all of next year, Fitzwilliams said, unless a temporary trail can be built while work continues on a permanent trail.

“We don’t have contingency funds to repair this,” Fitzwilliams said. “But we are committed to doing what it takes to get the trail open again. It’s just not going to be a quick situation.”

Some of the federal emergency aid being requested by the state could be used to rebuild the trail, he said.

The lake itself is already returning to its usual emerald green color. And the boardwalk and other infrastructure immediately adjacent to the lake are not severely damaged, he said.

“The lake is clearing up from the chocolate milk color you saw in some of the photos,” Fitzwilliams said of aerial photos that emerged following a series of major rain events on July 29 and 31 and Aug. 1.

Hanging Lake in Glenwood Canyon is clearing up and returning to its usual emerald green color after recent mudslides clouded the water in late July and early August 2021. The 1.2-mile-long trail up to the lake is severely damaged from the slides and will remain closed for the foreseeable future.
White River National Forest/Courtesy

Fish are still swimming in the lake, he said, and the unique Spouting Rock feature behind the lake “is still spouting,” Fitzwilliams said.

The trail itself is not safe and is completely impassable in some areas, he said.

It was tough news for Glenwood Springs tourism officials and Ken Murphy, owner of H2O Ventures, which runs the hiking permit reservation system for Hanging Lake.

Murphy also joined the news conference and said that over 15,000 reservation holders will be allowed to go online and cancel their reservations. No new reservations will be taken.

“Up to this point today (Wednesday), we didn’t know if we would be able to open back up or not,” Murphy said.

Hanging Lake has been closed since July 29, when I-70 in Glenwood Canyon also closed for 15 days due to what National Weather Service meteorologists called a 500-year event over parts of the 2020 Grizzly Creek Fire burn scar.

Hanging Lake was also closed for an extended period of time after the fire in late 2020 and until May 1 of this year while damage from the fire was assessed.

A shuttle that normally takes hikers to and from the trailhead from Glenwood Springs did not run this year, due to concerns about expediting evacuations during flash flood warnings, which have been frequent all summer long.

Murphy said reservation holders who do not cancel will have their $12 per person permit fee donated to the Hanging Lake restoration fund that will be established.

In the meantime, Murphy’s staff is still directing visitors to the many other attractions in the Glenwood Springs area, including other hiking options.

Added Glenwood Springs City Manager Debra Figueroa, who also joined the news conference, “Please, still come to Glenwood. We are still very much open, and there are other trails and things to do. We are looking forward to you continuing to vacation in our town.”

Colleen Coleman of the National Forest Foundation said during the video conference that Colorado fundraising efforts will be focused on Hanging Lake and other restoration work in Glenwood Canyon. The Grizzly Creek Trail and the paved recreation path along the Colorado River also remain closed due to the slide damage.

“We are committed to proceeding with restoration, no matter how long it takes,” Coleman said.

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Crews earlier this week inspect damage to one of the bridges on the trail leading to Hanging Lake caused by the recent mudslides and debris flows that closed I-70 in Glenwood Canyon for 15 days.
White River National Forest courtesy photo

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or

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