Forest Service, Glenwood Springs partner up on new Hanging Lake shuttle service

Matthew Bennett
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
A hiker makes his way down from the snowy Hanging Lake trail on a chilly winter afternoon Thursday in Glenwood Canyon.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

The U.S. Forest Service and city of Glenwood Springs have finalized a deal for the city, in contract with H2O Ventures, to provide shuttle services to and from the Hanging Lake Trail area as part of a new management plan set to take effect this spring.

The new permit-based shuttle service, aimed at limiting the number of daily visitors at the popular attraction within the White River National Forest, will launch May 1 and run through Oct. 31.

Residents and tourists alike will need to make a reservation online at http://www.visit​, or in-person at the Hanging Lake Welcome Center, in order to visit the nationally designated natural landmark.

The online Hanging Lake reservation system will go live April 1, while the Hanging Lake Welcome Center, located at 110 Wulfsohn Road in Glenwood Springs next to the Community Center, will open May 1.

Between May 1 and Oct. 31, Hanging Lake’s peak visitor season, the parking area in Glenwood Canyon will not allow personal vehicles. However, in addition to the shuttle service, guests may still bike to the trailhead via the Glenwood Canyon bike path and hike to Hanging Lake.

All users will still need to secure a trail permit reservation in advance. The price for a peak-season reservation costs $12 per person.

“What really kicked this whole effort off was overcrowding and over-visitation at Hanging Lake, and all the myriad problems that came with that,” Eagle-Holy Cross District Ranger Aaron Mayville said of the project, which has been in discussion since 2012.

According to Mayville, the reservation system will cap the number of Hanging Lake visitors to 615 per day. In recent years, Hanging Lake has seen upwards of 1,000 to 1,200 visitors per day.

“The city used to own (Hanging Lake) many, many years ago,” Glenwood Springs City Manager Debra Figueroa said of the historical significance of the new partnership.

“It is a win-win for us, because not only do we get to partner with the Forest Service to protect a place that is so special to us, but we are also helping our local economy,” Figueroa said of all the of the Hanging Lake visitors who will undoubtedly spend time and money in Glenwood as a result of the Hanging Lake shuttle service.

Guests who make a reservation online will meet at the Hanging Lake Welcome Center where a H20 Ventures shuttle will pick them up and transport them to the drop-off location in the Hanging Lake parking lot.

“Based on studies that have been done in the last few years, we based it on a three-hour time frame,” H20 Ventures co-owner Ken Murphy said of each visitor’s approximate Hanging Lake trip length.

“So, they will be guaranteed a shuttle seat back three hours later,” he said. “On their ticket, they will have their departure time, and they will arrive back at the bottom and be shuttled back to the welcome center.”

Murphy also owns Glenwood Adventure Co., which offers a variety of recreational activities in and around Glenwood Springs, including rafting and bicycle tours.

In addition to Forest Service rangers assisting visitors, educational signage has also been placed in areas along the Hanging Lake trail aimed at further enhancing the visitor experience.

Once in operation, the first shuttle will depart Glenwood Springs at 6:45 a.m., and the last shuttle will head back to the Hanging Lake Welcome Center at approximately 8 p.m.

“That is spreading out the time frames per every 45 minutes,” Murphy explained.

The drop-off and departure times make it to where no more than 168 people can access the trail at any one time, to prevent overcrowding along the trail at the delicate lake feature.

“That is 168 people from the point of drop off to the top, so it is not 168 people up at the lake at any one particular time,” Murphy further explained.

During the off-peak season (Nov. 1 to April 30), when the Hanging Lake shuttle will not run, visitors may drive their own vehicles and park at the Hanging Lake parking lot. However, they will still need to make a reservation via the same permitting system. The price goes to $10 during the off-peak season.

“Shared stewardship keeps coming up in my mind because it is really just that,” Mayville said of the partnership between the Forest Service, Glenwood Springs and H20 Ventures to provide the Hanging Lake Shuttle.

Figueroa said the Hanging Lake Shuttle service will be here to stay for the foreseeable future, and that enhancements and improvements to it would be made accordingly.

“As a community that relies heavily on the visiting public, we are elated that the Forest Service and the city of Glenwood Springs have partnered to help Visit Glenwood welcome guests to this national, natural landmark, Hanging Lake,” said Lisa Langer, director of tourism promotion for the city, via the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association.