Grace Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park

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The hike to view Grace Falls, high in the rock cliffs and ledges of Odessa Gorge, is one of several waterfalls and scenic waypoints along the Fern Lake Trail. Grace Falls drops nearly a hundred feet from Notchtop Mountain, tumbling over a series of ledges, eventually making its way into Fern Creek. Explore the full Grace Falls hike profile below for trail map, driving directionsRead more


South Rim Loop Trail at Roxborough State Park

The South Rim Trail at Roxborough State Park is a moderate loop hike that leads to breathtaking views of the red rock formations that make this Colorado State Park famous. It's a perfect hike for a weekend afternoon, or a great choice for visiting family and friends. We also put this on our list for great hikes to take if you wantRead more


Horseshoe Trail at Golden Gate Canyon Park

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he Horseshoe Trail in Golden Gate Canyon State Park is a wonderful hike for older kids, experienced and non-experienced hikers. It's a great trail for spotting wildlife, from birds to deer, viewing fall colors and wildflowers, and taking in the beautiful scenic view along the trail. Several of the backcountry campsites areas are also accessible from the Horseshoe trail. We'll detail those locations, provide links to a trail map, driving directions and more in the trail profile on this Colorado hike.
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horseshoe trail golden gate canyon state park

Golden Gate Canyon's Horseshoe Trail is a 3.6 mile out-and-back hike (1.8 miles one-way). We've rated it as moderate in difficulty because of the 900+ feet of elevation gain. The Horseshoe Trail is popular because it follows the beds of several small streams, winds through groves of aspen trees, and leads to beautiful meadows, as well as three of Golden Gate Canyon State Park's backcountry camping areas.

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To get to the trailhead (first,use our driving directions). Once in the park, exit to the right out of the Visitors Center--you'll want to stop here first to pick up a map. You'll find the Frazer Meadows parking area and trailhead for the Horseshoe Trail on the left-hand side of the road. Keep in mind that parking is limited, so it would be best to arrive early. There are also restrooms at the Horseshoe trail trailhead and we found them to be kept up and clean.
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peak along horseshoe trail in golden gate canyon state park

One of the highlights of this trail are the streams that run along it. You'll find that there are several small bridges to cross as you make your way up the trail. Seasonal streams also mean that sections of the Horseshoe trail will get muddy on after rains and during the Spring melt-water runoff. But water also means wildflowers, and this trail comes alive with them in late Spring through the Summer.

The Horseshoe Trail also leads you to access trails for three of the five Golden Gate Canyon backcountry camping areas. Use this link to the backcountry camping brochure to get details on cost per night and how to make campsite reservations in Golden Gate Canyon State Park. The first campsite access trail is at 1.1 miles and will take you to Greenfield Meadows, which has 4 campsites. Continuing on the same spur, you can hike further in to the Frazer Meadow campsite which has 4 campsites and one backcountry shelter. If you continue on the Horseshoe trail, you'll come upon the access trail for Rim Meadow campsite at 1.3 miles. Rim Meadow also has 4 campsites.

more dog friendly hikes

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Tips & Resources for Hiking the Horseshoe Trail:

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    • Park Pass: A Colorado State Park Pass is required to enter Golden Gate Canyon State Park. Check the Golden Gate Canyon Fees page for details on park passes. Some trails offer passes at self-serve dispensers.
    • Printed map: The trail forks to the left, make sure to have a printed map on hand which you can pick up at the Visitors Center.
    • Bug spray: for hot summer days not a bad idea.
    • Sun protection: The trail is often shaded--a rare thing for Front Range hikes--but be sure to bring sun protection because it is almost 4 miles round trip and there are areas exposed to the sun.
    • No cell phone: There is no cell phone coverage at Golden Gate Canyon State Park.
    • Download our Dayhikes Hiking Guide for a day hike packing checklist
    • After the Hike: Windy Saddle Cafe in Golden
    • Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
    • Trail Map for Golden Gate Canyon State Park: Trail Map Link
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        A big thanks goes out to Lisa Palmer, a member of our Dayhikes Pathfinder Team, who hiked this trail with her family, gathered the information for the trail profile, and took the photos for this post.

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        Weather


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        Map & Driving Directions


        Click for Driving Directions

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Hiking Beautiful Waterton Canyon

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The winding dirt road trail of Waterton Canyon takes you along the South Platte river and into a canyon where you might spy some Bighorn sheep or catch the sight of massive eagles soaring on the warm air currents rising from rock. It's an out-and-back hike, and you have a lot of options, from a short hike in to have a picnic, all to way to 12.4 mile round trip adventure to the Strontia Springs Dam. You can hike, bike, and fish on this hike near Denver. Explore the five different options we have detailed below. We'll describe the location of a few destinations, including the best places to rest and have a picnic, and some of the other trails that join up with this Colorado canyon hike.
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When you set out to explore Waterton Canyon, there are plenty of things that you can expect. We've hiked this three times and have spotted Bighorns on two of those hikes. The trail is a wide dirt road that gives Denver Water access to the dam at the top end of the canyon. So, this makes for a great stroller hike, if your stroller has a way to give the kids some shade from the sun. It's also a really enjoyable mountain bike ride because it's not too steep--well, at least not until just past the dam--and the downhill ride back down is easy and fun. Here are are over five different ways you can hike this great hike near Denver, Colorado.
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Hiking Options at Waterton Canyon Trail

 


1. The Shorter Hike in Waterton Canyon
The first mile or two of Waterton Canyon takes you to an old water conduit pipe that juts out over the trail, and your best chance to catch the site of Bighorn Sheep and Golden Eagles. The trail quickly goes from a paved road to a dirt fire road, then begins following the course of the South Platte river. The canyon itself starts low and shallow, and grows higher and more rugged the deeper you venture into Waterton.
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After about 15 minutes of hiking, keep your eyes peeled on the green hillsides on your right (see photo above). This is where we most often spot bighorn sheep and their lambs. Scan the skies, too, for gigantic golden eagles that hover on the hot air that rises from the canyon walls in the afternoons.

You'll find the first picnic area just about 1/2 of a mile into Waterton Canyon.

2. Waterton Canyon Picnic Area - 3 Miles Round Trip
This section of Waterton makes for a great evening picnic. You'll find it on your left just after the Highline Canal Diversion Dam. It's a great place to skip rocks with the kids and to watch the light soften on the canyon walls as the sun sets over the distant mountains. Continuing past this picnic area, the next feature you'll pass is the Marston Dam. There is another picnic area at approximately 3.75 miles into Waterton Canyon (see the pdf map), that's also a great little spot, but if you get in that far, you'll want to keep exploring.
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If you hike further up into Waterton Canyon, the river grows both wider and wilder. Cedars and pines grow along the banks and canyon sides, and the cliffsides become steep and jagged. It's here, around mile 4, that things start to get interesting.

3. Fishing Hole and Picnic Table at Mile 4.5
The next destination worth mentioning is a secluded spot on the river where you'll find a deep fishing hole on the right side of the road. There is a picnic table hidden down among the willows (it's hidden well enough that it doesn't show up in the photo below). There is a restroom just about 150 yards upriver from the spot.
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The trail just keeps getting better after you pass this fishing hole. At mile five, we saw a lot of big horn sheep sign, flowering bushes, and wildflowers. Hummingbirds were buzzing along the trail in a furious search for nectar. Folks who fish Waterton Canyon often ride their bikes in and start fishing at the dam, then work their way back downstream.
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4. Hike the Entire Trail to the Strontia Springs Dam - 6.2 Miles
The Strontia Springs Dam is an imposing structure, looming over 200 feet high above the trail with water gushing from its release pipes into the river.Accessing the 7700 acre Strontia Springs Reservoir is extremely difficult, though not impossible. However, its banks drop straight off into the water making it a pretty inhospitable place, but it can be fished for perch, trout, and walleye. One fisherman on a Colorado fishing forum commented that you have to really "WANT to get there" because it's so tough to access.
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5. Hike the Colorado Trail
Most people turn around at Strontia Springs, but the trail doesn't end there. In fact, Waterton Canyon is the eastern gateway to the close to 500 mile Colorado Trail. The Colorado Trail starts here in Denver, then weaves it's way all the way to Durango. You can download a Trail Map of the Colorado Trail here. You really have several options at this point. You can continue onto segment one of the Colorado Trail on Trail #1776.
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Segment one of the Colorado Trail will take you out of the canyon and onto US Forest Service land where you can camp near Lenny's Rest. It's important to note that camping is prohibited in Waterton Canyon, so this area at Lenny's rest should be your goal if you plan to overnight. Another option is that you can hike down into Roxborough State Park on the Roxborough Connector section of the Indian Creek Trail #800. Yet another option--and this option is way more than a dayhike being well over 28 miles--would be to hike the full Indian Creek Trail loop, then to exit at either Roxborough or back down through Waterton Canyon. However, Indian Creek does have it's own campground, so you could make it a long weekend trip. Of course, your final option is to hike out the way you came through Waterton Canyon. Click here for a PDF map of the first segment of the Colorado Trail that shows the connections to both Roxborough and the Indian Creek Campsite.
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Tips & Resources for Hiking Waterton Canyon :

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  • No Dogs: Because of the bighorn sheep and other wildlife, dogs are not allowed in Waterton Canyon.
  • Fishing: If your goal is to go fishing in Waterton Canyon, then start early and ride your mountain bike the 6.2 miles up to the dam and fish your way down.
  • It Gets Hot: Don't hike this in the middle of the day. Waterton Canyon is close to 100% exposed to the sun, so it's best to start very early or to hike later when the sun is moving itself to end the day.
  • Did I Mention It Gets Hot? Bring sunscreen and a hat
  • Bring Water: Bring plenty of water. You can say this about every hike, but it's especially important because of the sun and heat.
  • Dusk: It gets dark quickly after sunset. Because you're in a canyon, once the sun sets beyond the foothills, the canyon becomes a land of shadows.
  • Watch for Bikes: Watch for mountain bikes, especially those headed down and out of the canyon. The road is wide enough to accommodate a lot of traffic in Waterton Canyon, but you want to be sure that you are staying to the right as you hike so that you can give a wide berth to the bikes that are letting it rip as they leave the canyon.
  • Trail Map for Waterton Canyon: Trail Map Link
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • After the Hike: Spur Coffee in Littleton

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Weather

 


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Map & Driving Directions


Click for Driving Directions

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Guide for Hiking Hanging Lake in Colorado

Hanging Lake is a short hike to two waterfalls and one of the most beautiful lakes in Colorado. On the same hike, you can explore Spouting Rock Falls, and even walk behind the waterfall. It’s not a day hike near Denver, but it’s definitely worth the nearly three-hour drive to the Hanging Lake Trailhead just outside of Glenwood Springs.
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e've attempted to create the definitive guide to hiking the Hanging Lake Trail. In this guide, you'll find: 10 hiking tips, notes on driving directions to Hanging Lake, and tips for parking--which runs out fast. You can download the Hanging Lake trail map, find tips on photography at the lake, and some notes on hiking this trail with kids. If you are planning a Colorado vacation, there is helpful information for planning both your hike and trip to this Colorado destination. This guide is extensive, so we have created a table of contents help you navigate your way around.

HANGING LAKE 2017 CLOSURE DATES
On the following dates, the trail to Hanging Lake will be closed for trail maintenance.
- June 5 - 8, 2017
- Sept 9 - 10, 2017

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Hanging Lake Guide Contents

1. Trail Snapshot
2. Driving Directions
3. Parking & Trailhead
4. Hiking the Trail
5. At Hanging Lake
6. Spouting Rock Falls
7. Photography
8. Hiking with Kids
9. For Out-of-State Hikers
10. Ten Hiking Tips
11. Fishing Prohibited
12. Dogs Prohibited
13. Camping Nearby
14. Lodging Nearby
15. Things to Do Nearby
16. Proposing
17. History and Geology
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Hanging Lake Driving Directions

Driving Directions for Hanging Lake Header

Driving to Hanging Lake from Denver (the east) can be a bit confusing. Here’s why: you have to drive past the trailhead because there is not westbound exit, then take exit 121, go under interstate 70 and get back on eastbound I-70. Then you’ll take exit 125 to the Hanging lake Trailhead. I’ve posted a map below that shows all this in detail.

hanginglake_gettingthere

When leaving the Hanging Lake Trailhead, you can only exit onto the Westbound lane of interstate 70. So, you’ll have to do the same thing and take exit 121 again to double-back and head back to Denver. If you are coming from Glenwood Springs or the west, then things are pretty straightforward. Driving from Denver, this maps out as a 2.5 hour drive using Google maps, but be sure to add time for construction.

Parking and Facilities at Hanging Lake Trailhead

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We arrived at the Hanging Lake Trailhead parking lot at 8AM on a Saturday morning in July. The first parking lot was full, and by 8:30, the second lot was nearly full. Beginning in 2015, a gate has been installed to close the lot when it is full.The restroom facilities were large enough to serve the number of people who frequent this popular Colorado hike, and were well kept. This is important: if you get there when the lot is full, you will either need to try again later, or make other plans. An alternative is to rent bikes in Glenwood Springs, to bike in, and lock up your bikes at the trailhead (be sure to get locks at the rental shop).

There were a few shaded picnic areas near the parking area, and some unshaded ones along the river. On our way out, the parking lot was at full capacity with cars having to turn around and leave because there was no place to park. Parking is prohibited along the the I-70 exit ramp, so if the parking lot is full, your best bet is to drive into Glenwood Springs, grab something to eat, and try back later. Don't wait idling or clog the ramp, it prevents emergency vehicles from accessing folks who really need their help. It's also important to note that recreational vehicles and trailers have been banned from parking at the hanging lake parking lots as there is not sufficient space for turn around.
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Guide for Hiking the Hanging Lake Trail

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The Trailhead begins along the Colorado River with a paved bike path surrounded by the banded rock walls of Glenwood Canyon. The morning air was cool, and steam was lifting from the warm surface of the Colorado River. After about a quarter-mile you’ll see a bike rack and the Hanging Lake Trail on your left. This is the beginning of Dead Horse Creek Canyon, the canyon that you’ll follow for about 1 mile up to Hanging Lake, then to Spouting Rock Falls.
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Depending on your pace, it may take you anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour and a half to get to the top.Though the prize at the end of this hike are two breathtaking Colorado waterfalls, one of our favorite features of the Hanging Lake trail is that it follows and crosses a mountain stream all the way up to the lake. In fact you’ll cross seven bridges on your journey up to Hanging Lake. You’ll be refreshed by the sights and sounds of cascades and the cool air of the canyon.
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Most of the hike is in the shade of towering spruce, cedar, and fir trees. You’ll find several benches and rocks where you can stop and rest. If you are acclimated to the altitude, the hike up the Hanging Lake is relatively easy and short, but it is steep and there are a lot of rocks to negotiate, so we have categorized the Hanging Lake trail as a moderate hike.

If you are not acclimated to the altitude, or not a regular hiker, this Colorado hike will be a real workout, so you may classify it as difficult. If this is you, then be sure to read our Tips for For Out-of-State Hikers. The piece you may find most challenging is just how slippery some of the rock can get. I hiked this in Chaco sandals, which had great grip, but I got a few blisters on the descent. I’d recommend wearing a shoe or a boot that you know won’t be prone to slipping.The piece you may find most challenging is just how slippery some of the rock can get. I’d recommend wearing a shoe or a boot that you know won’t be prone to slipping.

At bridge three you’ll come across a beautiful cascade. The canyon soon opens to display clifftops that look like the ancient ruins of some abandoned castle. In areas where the sunlight breaks through, you may find raspberries along the trail in the latter half of the Summer. You’ll find more cascades near bridge number five. Dead Horse Canyon is a particularly lush ecosystem packed with spruce trees, moss, lichen, ferns, and sweet woodruff. As our six-year old daughter hiked into this part of the trail, she looked up to me and said, “It’s a rainforest, Dad!”
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07_hanging-lake-colorado-raillingClose to the one-mile point, you’ll climb a steep staircase of rock complete with handrails. While the handrails are helpful, it would be easy for a child to slip over one.So, we’d recommend that you keep smaller children on the inside of the steps as you ascend and hold their hand. It’s a sheer drop on the other side of the handrail.At the top of the stairs follow the path about 100 yards to Hanging Lake. On the way, just before Hanging Lake, you’ll notice a sign to Spouting Rock. We’ll detail this trail in a moment, but you absolutely must hike this short 200 yard trail to this waterfall hidden behind Hanging Lake.
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At Hanging Lake

Hanging Lake is a masterpiece of the natural world. You could spend the entire morning staring into its waters and discovering new things. We spotted trout in its green and blue waters, and dippers, little birds that create nests right on the rocks along the water. There are a variety of moss, ferns, and wildflowers all along the lake. Because of all the traffic at the lake, we saw a bit of trash floating at the base of the waterfall. Dayhikes Near Denver would like to challenge you to look for a piece of trash at the lake and to pack it out with you. Of course, don't go in for it, but pick up what is along the trail and edge of the lake. If we all do this, we can do a little part to help keep this natural wonder beautiful. With 130,000 people visiting a year, the impact adds up fast.

86_hanging-lake-colorado-waterfallatlakeThe back side of Hanging Lake was my favorite spot. The light play and the water spray made for great photos (see our photographing hanging lake tips below), and it gives you a real stunning perspective of the waterfalls pouring into the lake.

You may notice what looks like a huge chain-link cage along the canyon wall above Hanging Lake. It’s there to hold back the rocks that are prone to pile up and roll downhill toward the lake.

Stay off the Log

There is a log that stretches out into the lake, and its tempting to walk out onto it. However, it’s important to know that the oils and detergents on our bodies and clothing--even our shoes just touching the water--can damage the sensitive ecosystem of Hanging Lake. So, as cool as it might be to get that pic of you out on the log, it’s even cooler to help preserve this place for the next generation who gets to see it.

So, as cool as it might be to get that pic of you out on the log, it’s even cooler to help preserve this place for the next generation who gets to see it.

Spouting Rock Waterfalls

On your return, be sure to hike the short spur (about 200 yards) up to Spouting Rock Falls. That’s right, it’s plural--there are multiple falls. This set of waterfalls is much higher than the Bridal Veil falls at Hanging Lake, and instead of pouring over the cliffside, the falls shoot out from holes that the water has carved through a sheer wall of limestone. When the water is really flowing (which is most of the time), an additional gusher of a falls spills out from the heights above Spouting Rock, creating a breathtaking series of waterfalls.

Photography: How to Get Great Photos of Hanging Lake

09_hanging-lake-colorado-indispoutingfallsThe key to getting the best photos of Hanging Lake is to go very early or later in the afternoon when the sun is close to setting. We hit the trail around 8:30 AM, and by the time we got to the lake, there was direct sun on the waterfalls pouring into Hanging Lake.

The real problem is that part of the waterfalls and lake are in direct sun and part in in the shadow of the canyon walls. This makes for two very different exposures within the same frame. So, that’s why we recommend that you go earlier or much later when the sunlight is still indirect and diffused. For some incredible shots, be sure to walk over to the back side of hanging lake where you can take photos that reveal the area carved out under the falls--but be sure to keep out of the water.

You will find the light at Spouting Rock Falls much more forgiving. Spouting rock is shaded more by both the canyon walls and trees that surround it. However, I would expect that light might be a bit harsh around midday.

Hiking with Kids at Hanging Lake

Hanging lake9smallfor postingThe trail is steep and the rock steps are high, so if you are bringing your kids, be prepared to hike at a slower pace and for a lot of people to be passing you. Be aware that there is a lot of slippery rock along the trail, so both good hiking shoes with grip and close supervision of kiddos are important. We brought our 4-year old and 6-year old with us and they did fine. Take into account that we have been hiking with our kids since they were a few weeks old, so this is more normal for us. We read an online comment where another family recommended this hike only for kids 10 and up. If your kids are young, I wouldn’t recommend this as a first hike.

The experience of hiking the Hanging Lake trail with our four-year old was a bit like hiking with a marionette. A lot of the rock steps on the trail were above her knees, so we were helping her up most of the way. This eventually turned into a game of leapfrog, as there were a lot of folks visiting from out-of-state who quickly became winded and needed to take stops, too.
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The trail got busy quickly, so we found ourselves stopping often and stepping aside to let others pass us. Our children were particularly taken with the snails we found along the trail when we took breaks. The snails are easy to miss, but if you just stop and look around for a moment, they seem to appear from out of nowhere.[hr]
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Visiting Hanging Lake From Out-of-State

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  • Be ready to feel winded by the altitude change. You can help yourself adjust to altitude and to have a successful hike up to Hanging Lake by getting a good nights rest, drinking lots of water, and by going at a slower pace than you may be used to. This is good basic advice for anyone vacationing in Colorado.
  • As I mentioned earlier, the rock on the trail can be wet and slippery, so make sure that you have footwear that can grip the rock.
  • If you are overweight or have knee or ankle problems, then trekking poles are an absolute necessity. Coming down the trail is tough on the joints, and you’ll be weary at that point, so it’s easy to turn an ankle (I did, but that was probably because I was wearing Chaco sandals).
  • Don’t give up. We saw several people about 400 yards shy of the lake talking about turning around and heading back. They were so close. Of course, if you think that your health would be compromised by continuing, or if a bad lightning storm is rolling in, then it’s always wise to turn around.
  • If you are from out-of-state, or just not in the best of shape, plan for your hike to take longer. And definitely get to the parking lot early, 7AM, to avoid the heat and crowds. If you would consider yourself very out-of-shape, I’d recommend building up to this hike. See our Easy Hikes Near Denver or Short Hikes Near Denver pages for a good place to start.

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Ten Hiking Tips for Hiking Hanging Lake

Because there are a lot of first-time hikers on this trail (and you might be one), we wanted to share a few tips.
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    • If you find that you are going at a slow pace, step off to the edge of the trail to let other groups pass.

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  • If you are going at a faster pace, simply say, “Pardon us as we pass on your left.” Just like driving, always pass on the left.
  • Take your time and don’t pass folks on the handrail section. It gets crowded here, but it’s just a short jaunt, so take your time so that everyone can make a safe passage of it.
  • Don’t feed Bucky: We encountered one woman who had tried to feed an almond to a squirrel, but the squirrel mistook her finger for the nut. As a rule, you don’t want to be feeding wildlife because it makes them dependent upon an unnatural food source (especially fingers), but it’s also not a good idea because you could get bit.
  • Make sure to bring a snack and some water. Be sure to pack out your plastic water bottles and other trash.
  • Hike the Hanging Lake Trail early in the morning, not just because of parking and traffic, but to cut down on the heat and humidity of the day. Depending on when you hike this trail, it can feel like two completely different experiences. If you hike in the early morning, the canyon is cool and refreshing. Hike it after 11am in the summer and it can feel more like a sauna.
  • This is one of the most popular if not the most popular hike in Colorado, so avoid holiday weekends. Or go very early, by 7am, if you want a parking spot.
  • Don't forget to bring a camera.
  • There will likely be snow on the trail in the Spring, Fall, and of course Winter, so we advise bringing a traction device like YakTrax and trekking poles.
  • Don’t cut through the switchbacks, these are here to cut down on erosion, which can be significant with around 130,000 visitors hiking the trail each year.

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Fishing at Hanging Lake

There are trout at Hanging Lake, but fishing is NOT allowed because of the lake’s unique and fragile ecosystem. However, if you would like to add fishing to your day, I’d recommend fishing the Colorado River along the Hanging Lake trailhead. I’ve not fished this section of the Colorado River, but I saw trout rising while we were walking past, and there looks to be some pretty good access to the river banks.

Dogs Not Allowed at Hanging Lake

You’ll have to leave Fido at home for this one because dogs are not allowed on the Hanging Lake Trail. In fact, the forest service sites that dogs, and the trash left by visitors, are biggest threat to the sensitive environment of Hanging Lake. A lot of people ask if you can swim in Hanging Lake, but for the same reasons swimming is prohibited. In fact, the US Forest service details that there is to be no bodily contact with the water.

Camping Near Hanging Lake

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We decided to camp with our family on Friday night, then to get up early on Saturday to do the Hanging Lake hike. I was surprised by how difficult it was to find a campground near Glenwood Springs.

However, we eventually found and reserved amazing campground. In fact, it’s so good that I’m hesitant to share it. We booked a campsite at Bogen Flats Campground along the Crystal River. It was a 1 hour drive from the campground to the hanging lake trailhead. Though, not as beautiful, you could camp at Redstone Campground, which is a bit closer. We would also recommend (if you have a good clearance 2WD vehicle), the Avalanche Creek site--no reservations required.

Lodging near Hanging Lake

If you don’t want to rough it, there are plenty of lodging options in Glenwood Springs and great places to stay.
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  • You can rent a private cabin or home using VRBO - Vacation Rentals By Owner (affilate link).
  • The Glenwood Springs Inn gets some really good reviews online, and it’s close a lot of the attractions in Glenwood Springs. This place is family owned and operated, a rare find these days.
  • The Glenwood Hot Springs Lodge is upscale, right there at the hot springs, and more pricey. Again, we’ve not stayed here but it looks great.
  • The Hanging Lake Inn The Hanging Lake Inn is a locally-owned and family operated business. Be sure to read their TripAdvisor reviews; they get excellent ratings.
  • The Caravan Inn in Glenwood Springs is an affordable, family-owned option that has a solid reputation with TripAdvisor.

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Other things to Do in Nearby Glenwood Springs

If you are driving from the east, there is a good chance that you may want to spend the weekend or a couple vacation days in Glenwood Springs. If you are looking for some things to do, here are a few suggestions.
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  • The Hot Springs at Glenwood Springs - Sit back and soak in the main attraction and namesake of Glenwood Springs, Colorado. This is a perfect way to recover after your hike up to Hanging Lake.
  • Glenwood Caverns Cave Tours and Adventure Park - Go on one of the many different cave tours, or seek some above ground thrills on the parks many rides and attractions.
  • Rafting - There are a ton of rafting outfits in the Glenwood Springs area. Check out this Glenwood Springs page for a listing of Colorado guided rafting tours.
  • A Whole Lot More - Glenwood Springs was voted as one of the best vacation spots in the West--there is just a surprising amount of fun to be had in this Colorado town. The best place to really explore and find out more about the area’s attractions, see the Visit Glenwood site and begin planning your trip.

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Check out the rest of our Hanging Lake images on our Pinterest board

Follow Dayhikes Near Denver's board Hanging Lake Hike, Colorado on Pinterest.

Popping the Question at Hanging Lake

Hanging Lake is a picture perfect place for an engagement. The downside is that there is a lot of traffic on this popular Colorado trail. So, here are three tips that should help you out.
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  • Go early on the weekend, on a weekday, or off-season. By early, I mean parking the car by 6:45 AM.
  • Hanging Lake is great, but Spouting Falls is, in my opinion an even more spectacular spot for an engagement, especially because you can walk underneath the waterfall.
  • There are some rocks on the back side of Hanging Lake that you could scramble up with your significant other and get engaged under the spray and sound of the waterfall along Hanging Lake.
  • For a great example of engagement photos, check out Kristen Hakes Photography's photo shoot at Hanging Lake and Spouting Rock.

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History and Geology of Colorado’s Hanging Lake

Hanging Lake was formed in a really interesting way. At some point in it’s geologic history, about 1.5 acres of the valley floor dropped out and formed the bed of the lake. This happened because it sits right on a fault line. The blue and green colors in the lake is a result of the carbonates, minerals that have dissolved in the water. Most of the rock in this area is travertine, a kind of limestone that often precipitates out of hot springs and mineral springs.

It was supposedly first discovered by an early pioneer prospecting for gold in the area. He and his family lived on the real estate near Glenwood Springs for some years before the city of Glenwood Springs purchased it as a park. Hanging Lake is now under the authority and management of the White River National Forest. In 2011, Hanging Lake was declared a National Natural Landmark.
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Links & Resources for Hiking Hanging Lake :

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  • After the Hike: After the Hike: Burgers at Grind Glenwood
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • Hike Trail Map for Hanging Lake: Trail Map Link
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    Map & Driving Directions


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First and Second Flatirons Hike in Boulder

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iking the Flatirons near Boulder, Colorado is a must. The trail draws you across an green meadow, then up through a notch between the First and Second Flatiron. You'll find the best part of this hike in the Flatirons at the end of the trail: some breathtaking and unmatched views of Colorado's Rocky Mountains. There's even more though. Explore the trail profile below to get links to the Flatirons map, hiking tips, trail details, and driving directions to the Chautauqua Park trailhead.
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First and Second Flatiron Hike - Trail Snapshot

The Flatirons are the most prominent feature of Boulder Colorado's landscape. They are beautiful to take in from a distance, but they are even better to explore. Here I'll give you a three different options on how to make the most of the First and Second Flatiron trail, and some details on what to expect.

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The Flatirons Panorama

In the panorama video above, you'll see that the first flatiron is the most prominent. It's on the far right (North) and the second and third flatirons follow it to the south. There is an impressive canyon between the second and third flatirons that you'll get to peer down into towards the end of the trail. But let's start this hike profile at the trailhead.
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The Flatirons Trailheads at Chautauqua

1 - Chautauqua Trailhead: You can start your hike from a couple different places. I chose Boulder's Chautauqua Park trailhead. The parking lot will fill up fast, by 8:30 on the weekend, but you can park along Baseline Road. The city of Boulder is doing some improvements on the parking area beginning September 3rd, 2013 and it looks like the lot will be closed. Here's a link for construction updates. But don't let that deter you, just park out on Baseline. The Chautauqua trailhead features an historic Ranger Cottage (link for hours of operation), and you'll find free trail maps for the flatirons in a box attached to the sign at the entrance to meadow.

2 - Enchanted Mesa Trailhead: This is a lesser known trailhead (but probably well known by locals). Here's a google map to help you find it. From here, you can walk across to Chautauqua Park and pick up the Chatauqua Trail, or you can make a longer trip out of it by following the McClintock Upper Trail in. See the Chautauqua Area Hiking Map for details.

The Flatirons Trail Sequence

Here's the basic set of trails I'd recommend just because it's the most direct approach: Chautauqua Trail to First and Second Flatiron Trail. On the way back, I'd recommend the Bluebird Mesa trail; it takes you through a pine glade along the spine of a Bluebird Mesa, then gently drops back down to the Chautauqua trail near the trailhead. This makes for a roughly 2.5 mile hike.

Make it a loop. Deb Stanley details an interesting loop by taking a little known trail down the back side of the flatirons that hooks back into the Saddle Rock Trail. Looks like fun, but it also looks like it could be easy to get turned around in there if you're not careful. Check out the details on her loop trail profile if you're interested in taking this route.

Flatirons Hike Trail Details

Flatiron 1 and 2 Overview
This photo gives you the best overview of the Flatirons one and two trail. Basically, once you break out of the meadow and start on the 1st and 2nd Flatirons trail, your going to ride the ridge of the 2nd flatiron up to a notch between the 1st and 2nd Flatirons. The trail continues behind the flatirons, then bends north and takes you up into a canopy formed by the back of the first flatiron.

Starting at the Chautauqua Trail, you'll hike through the spectacular meadows at the base of the flatirons. If it's after a rain, be prepared for a lot of rain along what is essentially a fire road. The sides of the trail here have a good bit of poison ivy that tries to reach out and touch your calves, so keep an eye out for it. What I found most interesting about this section of the trail was the diversity of both plants and trees along the trail. There is a greater variety of deciduous trees and shrubs that I've seen anywhere on the front range.

After taking the Bluebird-Baird Trail (left), you'll encounter a fork in the trail. Follow the signage towards the 1st and 2nd Flatirons trail (see photo below). Soon the trail will fork again and you'll want to take the 1st and 2nd Flatirons trail. The signage is really good in the Chautauqua/Flatirons area.
bluebird baird trail to flatirons

Emerging from the woods, you'll hike up through a long talus field, but the trail is well-constructed through this gigantic pile of rock. Be sure to look back at the views that open to Boulder.
talus field below flatirons

The trail goes in and out of the shade, over a lot of rock, and eventually to a short scramble over some larger rock to regain the trail. The next landmark you'll reach is the notch between the first and second flatiron; you'll see the angled outcrop of the second flatiron just below the notch (photo below). This is a great place to stop and relax.
2nd Flatiron Notch

The notch between the first and second flatiron offers more views of Boulder and a birds-eye view of the CU campus, it's terracotta roofs against the green of the city lawns.
the notch between the first and second flatirons

But the better place to take a break is just behind the notch. Here, you'll be able to look down into canyon that runs between flatiron two and three, and you get a great view of the imposing profile of flatiron three.

flatiron three

Then take the trail up a few switchbacks as it bends north. You'll hit a saddle but the trail will continue to bend to the right, until you find yourself in the shade of the massive top of the first flatiron. Back here you'll find all kinds of rock shelves and nooks to sit and take in some of fantastic views of Colorado's Rocky Mountains to the West.

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Tips & Resources for Hiking the First and Second Flatirons :

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  • TIP: This hike gets really crowded, so start early (before 8:30 AM).
  • TIP: Take a lunch or breakfast and coffee with you. The first flatiron nooks are perfect for just sitting and enjoying a picnic.
  • TIP: Weather can come up fast on the flatirons in the summer. Just be aware that it can change fast and bring a rain jacket.
  • TIP: Dogs are allowed if they are leashed. Boulder does have a special tag you can get for your dog to allow it off leash in the park. It's called the Voice and Sight Control tag and you can get more information here.
  • After the Hike: Ozo Coffee Roasters in Boulder
  • Trail Map for Chautauqua Park: Trail Map Link
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
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      Map & Driving Directions


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Spruce Mountain Hikes Near Larkspur

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hese hikes along Spruce Mountain near Larkspur, Colorado offer both expansive vista of Colorado's rolling green hills and a unique view of Pikes Peak. Spruce Mountain is a tall butte just 45 minutes south of Denver. This hiking trail follows the outer edge of the mountain giving you a great 360 degree view of the area. Check out the entire hike profile below to get acquainted with Spruce Mountain before you hike it. You'll find links to trail maps, driving directions, and all the details you'll need to strike out on this Colorado trail.
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Spruce Mountain offers breathtaking views of Pikes Peak, Eagle Mountain, and the rolling hills of Greenland and Larkspur. Most trails close to Denver are pretty exposed to the sun, so we were pleasantly surprised with how much shade the trees provided along the trails. Still, bring sunscreen because the South side of Spruce Mountain is a bit more exposed.
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We rated this as medium in difficulty because of the first segment, which climbs about 400' in the space of about a quarter mile. After that that trail is relatively level. So, we'd put this on the easy side of medium. Because of that, this makes a great family hike close to Denver. But we'd highly recommend getting on the trail by 9am on the weekends (see the tips below).
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Two Options for the Spruce Mountain Hike:

1 - 1.5+ Mile Hike to the Greenland Overlook - (out and back) Take a left where the trail forks and head up to the overlook (about 3/4 mile). This is a great first option if you have children with you. The views of Pikes Peak may be the best in Douglas County, and you can see how the family is doing and decide whether or not you want to continue on the loop hike.

spruce mountain hikes near larkspur eagle mountain view north

2 - 4+ Mile Spruce Mountain Loop Trail - Continue west on the trail making a loop around the top of Spruce Mountain. You'll encounter fantastic views of Eagle Mountain, and the Windy Point overlook. Just a quick note that the service road may look like a shortcut back to the trailhead, but it's not. It is an option though if you would like to hike the open meadows between Eagle and Spruce mountains.

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more dog friendly hikes

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Tips & Resources for Hiking Spruce Mountain Hikes Near Larkspur :

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  • Speed Trap? We haven't seen the lurking cop car, but their are all the makings of a good old speed trap in Larkspur. So, take it easy. Our guess is that when the Renaissance festival is in full swing that traffic will really back up. The first reason to go early, and to probably allow more than 45 minutes for the drive.
  • The Spruce Mountain Trailhead Parking Fills Fast: There is a lot of parking, but the lot was full by 11am on a Saturday. Second reason to go early.
  • Great For Fido: There were more dogs on this trail than we've seen on any other, probably because most of the hike is pretty level and shaded. However, it makes for a bit of a traffic jam at times. Third reason to go early.
  • Great Hike For Visiting Friends and Family: This hike has a lot of bang for the buck, and once you are up the first mile it's smooth sailing. It would be a great place to take out of towners who may be looking for a less demanding hike.
  • Trail Map for Spruce Mountain Open Space: Trail Map Link
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • After the Hike: Charito’s House

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spruce mountain open space trailhead

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Rattlesnake Gulch Trail at Eldorado State Park

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he Rattlesnake Gulch trail takes you up the sides of Eldorado Canyon, one of Colorado's historic State Parks. This lollipop trail takes you past the ruins of the Crags Hotel, then on to gain views of the Continental Divide. Scroll down to look over the trail snapshot, then explore the trail details and tips below for this rewarding hike in Eldorado Canyon State Park.
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If your legs are ready to gain some quick elevation
to some rewarding views, the Rattlesnake Gulch trail will give you just that. This trail starts at the west trailhead of the Fowler Trail about 1/2 a mile into Eldorado Canyon. The hike first takes you about 1.2 miles to the site of the Crags Hotel. The hotel was built in 1908 and visitors could reach it by taking an incline railroad and by an old wagon trail. In 1912, the hotel burnt to the ground, and just a few ruins remain. The parks department has put up interpretive signs to give you an idea of what the site was like in the early 1900's.

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If you continue past the Crags Hotel site, you can add on an additional 1.4 miles by hiking the Rattlesnake Gulch Loop. A spur along the trail takes you to the Continental Divide overlook, where you can look out to the plains and towards a few peaks to the west. If you don't want to hike the entire loop, but you want to catch the view from the overlook, take the trail to the right after the hotel site and hike about 10 more minutes. See the map link above for the exact location of the spur that leads to the overlook.
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The picture above is looking northeast towards the Cadillac Rock area. If you take a pair of binoculars, scan the formation for rock-climbers. Eldorado Canyon makes for some great Denver area hiking. It's one of those places with so many unique features, that you'll find yourself drawn back there time and time again.
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Tips & Resources for Hiking the Rattlesnake Gulch Trail at Eldorado State Park:

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  • Exact Trail Length: Exact trail lengths are approximate until we can GPS this one. We've noticed discrepancies on maps and reports. So, be sure to add some buffer time on to this hike.
  • Parking: Parking fills up fast at Eldorado Canyon. So, we suggest you go early in the day, or as the crowds are filtering out of the park in the late afternoon. As well, you'll find weekdays less crowed. Eldorado Canyon is open from sunrise to sunset year round.
  • Directions: Use the driving directions on this page. They will lead you to the nearest parking area to the Rattlesnake Gulch Trailhead.
  • Fee: There is an $8 parking fee per car or you can use your Colorado State Parks Annual Pass
  • Trail Map for Eldorado Canyon State Park: Trail Map Link
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • After the Hike: Boxcar Coffee Roasters in Boulder

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Homestead Trail at Castlewood Canyon

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his trail is great place to begin if you plan to explore the west side of Castlewood Canyon. It's a short hike, but the Homestead Trail can be used to link up to other hiking trails in this Colorado State Park. Scroll down to get all the hiking info you need in the trail snapshot, trail options descriptions and tips.
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The Homestead Trail in Castlewood Canyon is the first trail you will encounter as you enter the west side of the park. Park at the first lot and you'll immediately see the ruins of the old Lucas Homestead, an unusual concrete structure built in the late 1800's.

The trail is less than a mile round trip, but it links up with several other trails which form 2 loops. Download the Castlewood Canyon Brochure & Trail Map to get a better idea of how these two loops work.
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4 Mile Loop: Hike the Rim Rock Trail for 2.14 miles to enjoy the east side of Cherry Creek. Eventually, you will meet with the Creek bottom trail. Take that North for 1.7 miles until you have returned to the Homestead Trail.

2 Mile Loop: When the Homestead Trail meets the Creek Bottom Trail, take the Creek Bottom Trail south for about .7 mile until it intersects with the Cherry Creek Trail. Take this North for 1 mile back to the Lucas Homestead.
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Tips & Resources for Hiking Homestead Trail at Castlewood Canyon :

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  • Finding the Traihead: The West Side entrance can be hard to find. Usually, Colorado state parks have brown signs indicating the park roads. The west side doesn't. But the name of the road you're looking for is "Castlewood Canyon" - easy to remember.
  • TIP: Hikes in Castlewood Canyon can be quite exposed to the sun, so bring the sunscreen.
  • TIP: Poison Ivy: We've been surprised how poison ivy flourishes in this park, often along the edge of the trail. Know how to identify it, so that you can avoid it. But don't let that deter you from the park. You just need to keep an eye out. See our post on how to identify and treat poison ivy.
  • Trail Map for Castlewood Canyon State Park: Trail Map Link
  • Additional Castlewood Canyon State Park Maps: Other Trails
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • After the Hike: Crowfoot Valley Coffee

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Cave Trail at Castlewood Canyon

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Colorado's Castlewood Canyon State Park has several caves hidden in the park, but this set has their own trail. It's a short trail, just a 1/8 mile one-way, but can be combined with other hiking trails--one that takes you to a waterfall--to create a real adventure. Check out the trail snapshot to get the map,Read more