Hanging Lake reservation system hopping on first day

More than 7,500 reservations made in opening 90 minutes, leading to system slowdown

The Hanging Lake Trailhead in Glenwood Canyon, shown after the Grizzly Creek Fire had passed through the area in August 2020.
Post Independent file photo

It might have been a toss-up as to which was the most popular opening day — Major League Baseball or the Hanging Lake permit reservation system.

The Hanging Lake Trail in Glenwood Canyon proved to be as popular a destination as ever, attracting 7,500 reservations in just the first 90 minutes after the reservation site went live at 9 a.m. Thursday for the 2021 season.

“We were getting about 20 reservations per minute at one point,” Lisa Langer, director of tourism promotion for the city of Glenwood Springs, said of the permit booking system, which is managed under contract by H2O Ventures. “Things began to slow some after that initial surge.”

As of 8:38 p.m. Thursday, more than 8,000 reservations/permits were secured, including some well ahead into October, Langer said.

Of those reservations, 3.5% were for the bike/hike option and the rest, 96.5% were for the self-drive and hike permit option.

The rush to book a day and time to make the 1.2-mile trek up the Dead Horse Creek trail to Hanging Lake did result in the system bogging down, and a few frustrations, Langer said.

“We were getting a lot of calls and emails to the visitor center and Facebook posts from people saying they couldn’t get on,” she said. “One person said it took her 40 minutes to make a reservation.”

Another said their whole vacation centered around a visit to Hanging Lake.

“She said she finally got in, but it was rough,” Langer said.

Site visitors were advised to keep trying, and eventually it would allow them in. There was never a complete site crash, she said.

The Hanging Lake Partners — which includes the city, H20 Ventures, the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Department of Transportation — announced in early March that Hanging Lake would reopen May 1, and reservations would open April 1.

The trail and lake area have been closed since the Grizzly Creek Fire began Aug. 10, 2020 and torched much of Glenwood Canyon. The pristine lake feature and trail infrastructure were miraculously unscathed, though.

The White River National Forest announced Tuesday that many of the fire closures were being lifted, effective Thursday, including the nearby Grizzly Creek and No Name trails, and the Grizzly Creek and Shoshone rest area/boat launches.

That likely served as a reminder for people to make their reservations for Hanging Lake, Langer said.

“We kind of saw it coming,” she said of the initial rush.

Access to the Hanging Lake Rest Area and trailhead remains closed, and the paved Glenwood Canyon Bike Path is not slated to open until May 1 to coincide with Hanging Lake reopening.

A special Forest Service management plan for Hanging Lake limits permitted visitors to 615 per day, and normally limits vehicle access to and from the trailhead to a shuttle service that runs from Glenwood Springs.

For this season, though, the $12 permit allows people to either self-drive and park at the Hanging Lake Rest Area during their allotted time, or to bike or hike in using the paved path.

While the shuttle service was suspended before the fire last summer due to COVID-19 restrictions, it won’t likely resume this season because of the ongoing risk of debris flows in Glenwood Canyon in the burn-scarred areas.

“The concern is that, with the possibility of a weather event that could necessitate an evacuation, they want people to be able to get out more quickly in their personal vehicles, instead of waiting for a shuttle,” Langer said.

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

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