Hanging Lake permit reservations coming in from all around the world

But mostly from Colorado

New Hanging Lake Welcome Center employee Edith Walker carries supplies into the Glenwood Springs ice rink which will house the new welcome center this summer.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

A week before the shuttle to Hanging Lake kicks off, more than 8,000 people from all over the world have purchased passes to take the hike up to what has become one of the region’s most popular spots.

Hanging Lake was something of a local secret until recent years, when its popularity became so great that the U.S. Forest Service began raising alarms that the thousands of human visitors were damaging the fragile ecosystem. 

After the Forest Service counted more than 150,000 visitors to Hanging Lake in the summer of 2016, it began developing a system to manage access.

From May 1 to Oct. 31, the only way to access the trailhead by car is a shuttle leaving from the Hanging Lake Welcome Center near the Glenwood Springs Community Center. The reservation costs $12, but until April 30, an “early bird” reservation to bike to the trailhead in Glenwood Canyon is available for $9.50.

Ken Murphy of Glenwood Adventure Company is part of H2O, a collaboration of local businesses and professionals who were hired by the city of Glenwood Springs and the Forest Service to manage the new system.

A total of 8,639 people have booked their chance to hike Hanging Lake at some point this summer since the reservation system at launched April 1.

Of that number, 1,335 people have booked their spot to make the hike after biking to the trail, and avoiding the shuttle.

Where are Hanging Lake visitors coming from?

People from all across the U.S. have booked reservations, and others have paid for the chance to visit from Australia, China, Thailand, Israel, and several countries in Europe.

Illustration of reservations to visit Hanging Lake during the summer of 2019 from across the world. Image courtesy of H2O.
Hanging Lake reservations worldwide
Heat map shows which states have the highest concentrations of reservations to visit Hanging Lake. Green indicates a few reservations, red means high concentration of reservations. Image courtesy of H2O.
Hanging Lake reservations from lower 48 states

The vast majority of reservations have come from the Front Range, which is the primary market for other Glenwood Springs tourist attractions, Murphy said.

The number of Hanging Lake reservations by geographical region in Colorado. The total number of reservations is for the entire summer, not any specific day. Image courtesy of H2O.
Hanging Lake reservations from Colorado

While 8,000 may seem like a big number for the small lake at the top of a short trail, those visitors have booked spots throughout the summer. The maximum number of visitors per day is 615, but the shuttle will only take, at most, 44 people each trip about every 45 minutes.

As people hike at different paces, they will naturally spread out. Murphy said it’s unlikely there will be large clumps of people heading up the trail.

“The way we’ve set up the system creates a better experience,” Murphy said.

Compared to years past, when hundreds of people might be at the top of Hanging Lake on a busy day, the reservation system makes it possible to see only a few people at the lake itself.

“There are certain times of the day where you might be there by yourself,” Murphy said.

Case in point

In just the past few weeks, the importance of a more hands-on management of Hanging Lake has been illustrated.

Pictures of an apparent wedding celebration at Hanging Lake in mid-April circulated on a closed Facebook community group over the weekend, showing video of streamers scattered in the grass near the waterline.

The reservations prove that Hanging Lake is not just a local gem, but a Colorado and national treasure, Murphy said.

From June to August 2016, Hanging Lake had far more than 615 visitors each day, according to the Forest Service’s count.  In May 2016, only six days saw fewer than 615 visitors. Most days were over 1,000.

Murphy and H2O have made some adjustments to the process as they hear from people registering for this summer. For example, they won’t charge for an infant too young to walk — but that requires a call to the office. 

But the daily limit will stay in place. “The only thing that will never change is the 615 people per day limit,” Murphy said.

H2O is finalizing the trail signs and getting the welcome center set up for next Wednesday. Murphy said they have been very conscientious about how to best educate hikers. The welcome center will not sell disposable water bottles, only refillable containers.

And, with more interaction with Forest Service and representatives of H2O, hikers should be more prepared for the steep trail and any adverse conditions, he said.

Safety concerns

In the past week, the Glenwood Springs Fire Department was called to the trail for emergencies twice, according to Fire Chief Gary Tillotson.

The details of the two incidents were unclear, but Tillotson said the trail conditions after the heavy snows had left slippery conditions.

“Our guys on the last couple of trips definitely had to wear their traction devices, I can only imagine that some hikers had been injured as a result of those conditions,” Tillotson said.

“I anticipate that, with this being the last weekend that no reservations or fees are required, it’s probably going to be a busy weekend for those who think that they’re going to get their last free trip up the trail,” Tillotson said.

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