Forest Service Asks: Would You Pay To Visit Colorado's Hanging Lake?

Aug 22, 2017

One Colorado landmark is so popular that fistfights break out in the parking lot and traffic can back up onto I-70 in Glenwood Canyon.

All to make the mile and half trek to Hanging Lake.

Visitation to the iconic lake has doubled in the last five years and visitors frequently flout the rules. They traipse off platforms and into the lake's fragile ecosystem and leave behind trash, graffiti and even human waste. For years some Forest Service officials have said visitation to the area needs to be curtailed to save it from being overrun. A new plan out Tuesday aims to do just that.

“We’re seeing environmental degradation, we’re seeing degraded visitor experience up there, so we’re hoping this plan is actually going to yield positive effects to the environment and the social aspect of Hanging Lake,” said Aaron Mayville, district ranger for the Eagle and Holy Cross areas.

During the peak summer season, the lake sees over 1,100 people every day, spiking in the morning. The U.S. Forest Service draft plan aims to cap visitation at 615 per day by instituting a shuttle and reservation system.

“What we’re doing right now is we’re soliciting comment from the public, to hear what they think about the idea of a shuttle and the idea of a reservation system - pickup times and how often the shuttle will run, those are details that will be worked out in the near future,” Mayville said.

The plan has been long in the making. The fragile ecosystem has grown in popularity - in 2016 alone 150,000 people visited, over half of whom were from the Front Range. Trail widening and graffiti are becoming more common, aided in part by the lake’s popularity on social media.

The trail is being widened as people walk around each other.
Credit White River National Forest

“There’s a sense that the lake needs to take a breather and to take a little bit of a break. That was a big driver at arriving at that 615 daily capacity. It will allow for less trail widening, people won’t be walking around each other, and it should mean a better visitor experience,” Mayville said.

Following a 30-day public comment period, the forest service will take the comments into consideration and present a draft decision to the public this winter.

“It’s an adaptive management plan, we could adjust that 615 daily capacity up or down accordingly. We’ve purposely built in the flexibility to do that in the future if we need to,” Mayville said.  

Hanging Lake Timeline

Here’s how forest officials got to this point:

2013: Surveys and analysis of Hanging Lake visitors begin, asking about shuttle and reservation system.

2014: Seasonal rangers added during peak summer months at the parking lot and lake to cope with increased visitation.

April 2017: Vandals spray paint graffiti on rocks and trees along the trail, causing over $5,000 of damage. According to Mayville that investigation is ongoing.

Vandals caused over $5,000 in damage in April, 2017.

June 2017: Liquido Active, a Brazilian company, tweeted a picture of a photographer wading into the lake to take photos of models posing on the iconic log - both of which are prohibited. The company has since apologized, payed a $300 fine and is working with the U.S. Forest Service on an outreach campaign so people better understand the rules at Hanging Lake.