Gate goes up this week at Hanging Lake parking area |

Gate goes up this week at Hanging Lake parking area

Randy Essex
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
Hanging Lake is the most popular hike in Glenwood Canyon, meaning you need to be extra careful to respect the trail and the lake itself.
Randy Essex / Post Independent |

A gate is being installed this week at the Hanging Lake rest area to head off some of the parking and crowding problems that have plagued the popular trailhead off Interstate 70 about 9 miles east of Glenwood Springs.

In addition, signs will be posted noting that recreational vehicles and trailers are banned from the parking area.

Crews from the Colorado Department of Transportation and White River National Forest will close the rest area Thursday to install the gate and do other work to prepare for summer visitors. A temporary information kiosk will be erected and the parking area will be restriped.

The gate, just inside the entrance of the parking area, will be closed this summer when the lot is full, a statement from CDOT said. When that happens, visitors will be directed to alternative parking and hiking options in the area.

About 131,000 people a year hike the 1.2-mile trail to the small, postcard-worthy turquoise lake, almost all of them between May and September. More than 200 people a day have been turned away from the trail, vehicles often idle waiting for parking spots and some have parked on the exit ramp and even on the interstate, creating hazards.

The U.S. Forest Service, CDOT and State Patrol have considered ways to take pressure off the small parking lot, including discussion of fees and permits. The gate and kiosk are interim steps to ease crowding.

“We have so many people in here on many days of the summer that some of them are starting to have a bad experience,” said Richard Doak, recreation and land staff officer for the White River National Forest, last fall at an open house in Glenwood Springs on the issue. Some visitors travel from out of state, and a growing number are international visitors, he said.

Besides traffic, the crowds beat up the trail and put at risk the fragile travertine layer that gives the lake its rare color and clarity.

The greatest law enforcement concern is access for emergency vehicles when someone falls on the trail, for example. The lot in recent summers has at times been so clogged that it becomes impassable.

Doak said the plan is for a continuum of changes, with some improvement each year. The organizations involved — which include the Federal Highway Administration, State Patrol, Glenwood Springs Fire Department, Garfield County Search and Rescue, Glenwood Springs Chamber and Resort Association and the Glenwood Springs Tourism Promotion Board — are part of a process being led by the Volpe Center, a U.S. Department of Transportation think tank of sorts that seeks solutions to difficult transportation problems.

This summer, at least three Forest Service staff will be present at the site Friday to Monday each weekend of the summer, now through Sept. 14.

In addition, new striping and signs will assist with traffic flow and notifying visitors of changes. While it is not a new rule, signs will be posted prohibiting semis, RVs and trailers from entering the rest area. The rest area lacks enough room for those vehicles to turn around.

On Thursday, the rest area will be closed to vehicles for the day. Bicyclists and pedestrians will still be able to access the trailhead via the Glenwood Canyon bike path, which will remain open.