Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in our August 2017 issue. This version was fact-checked and updated (where possible) with current information for the 2018 edition of 5280 Traveler.
Climbing 1,100 feet over 1.2 miles, Hanging Lake Trail is a calf buster. But the aquamarine pond at its apex, perched improbably on a cliff, is also a jaw dropper—and why more than 150,000 people descend upon the Glenwood Canyon gem each year, most of them during the summer months. Thankfully, there are other nearby hikes (with similar characteristics) that show off equally stunning landscapes, minus the crowds.
Same Distance, Less Sweat: Main Elk Creek Trail
Thirty minutes northwest of Glenwood Springs, this three-mile out-and-back trail follows lush Main Elk Creek past 800-foot walls of granite and limestone. The scenic payoff at the end—a rocky riverbank ringed by spruce and firtrees—feels almost undeserved, given the relatively small effort the rolling hike demands.
Extended Stay: Pack your tent and spend the night at a dispersed camping spot near the turnaround.
Roadside Attraction: Grizzly Creek Trail
Like Hanging Lake, this trail is located just off of I-70, but here the immensity of Glenwood Canyon quickly swallows the roar of traffic. Soaring rock abounds on this trek: yellow crags poking out from forested slopes, striated walls that curve like amphitheaters. For a moderate outing,
turn around at the two-mile mark about two-thirds of the way down the trail.
Extra Credit: Combine the nearby Jessie Weaver (better known as No Name Trail) and Crossover trails for a longer, and more complex, nine-mile excursion.
Serious Vert: Mitchell Creek Trail
Beware, this demanding trail climbs a punishing 700 feet per mile. The ascent is worth it, though, for the remote feel and excellent views of the Elk Range’s Mt. Sopris and Capitol Peak. Hike the full 4.2 miles and you’ll pass through just about every landscape the mountains have to offer—a rocky gorge, aspen forests, wildflower-flecked meadows—by the time you reach 9,115 feet.
Come Ready: Bring worn-in hiking boots. You’ll have to clamber over fallen trees and hop across streams on this adventure-filled journey.
View From Above: Forest Hollow Trail
While passing through Glenwood Canyon on the interstate, you gaze up at its rock faces from below. Glimpse them from above on the Forest Hollow Trail, accessed via the 2.5-mile Scout Trail in downtown Glenwood Springs. The path hugs the canyon for about five miles, flitting in and out of scrub oak and pines, with stretches that offer panoramic views of the Flat Tops.
Après-Hike: Stroll over to Glenwood Canyon Brewing Co., a few blocks from the trailhead, for an easier way to experience Hanging Lake: the Hanging Lake Honey Ale.
615: Maximum hikers who would be allowed to access Hanging Lake Trail per day if a new management plan for the area is approved (about half of the average during summer’s busiest days)