The Vail area is home to some of the most spectacular hikes in Colorado and Hanging Lake is arguably at the top of that list based on its popularity. A hike to Hanging Lake is geologically interesting because the lake was formed by travertine depositions. The natural geologic and hydro-logic processes continue to operate as they have done for thousands of years. The lake also boasts a thriving hanging garden plant community. Hanging Lake was designated a national natural landmark in 2011.
Heading on I-70 West toward Glenwood Springs you take exit 121 and then loop back around heading east on I-70 to exit 125 where Hanging Lake is located. Rangers now manage the parking lot, which does fill up early. We arrived just after 8 am and were told a 10-30 minute wait depending on when people come down. It was probably closer to 30 minutes but well worth the wait and well managed. There was a line of cars waiting when we left. It is probably better to get there early but if you are lucky you might be able to time it right for a short wait later in the day too.
It is a fairly steep up hill trail, rated as moderately difficult. There is a short walk on the bike path to the trail head and there is plenty of shade once you get on the trail. It is 3.2 miles total with about a 1,000 foot ascension. If you are a first time hiker, or not used to the altitude it may be challenging. As could be guessed by the wait for a parking spot, the trail is heavily trafficked. No solitude here. You’ll want to wear sturdy shoes and bring water, and maybe even a picnic lunch or snacks to enjoy while you take in the views up top. Highly recommend this hike. It is relatively short for a spectacular payoff at the lake.