Hanging Lake an incredible spot along I-70 south of Glenwood Springs that is perfect for an afternoon photo shoot. The whole of the experience is enjoyable and fits that rare category of being just the right amount of effort to be physically satisfying but not exhausting. The trail starts next to a stream and it is uphill continuously from there for 1.25 miles. Around you are tall trees in a deep narrow canyon, accompanying you for the duration is the stream that is fed by Hanging Lake and Spouting rock.
Once, with another photographer, I hit the trail an hour before sunrise just after a rather nasty little snow storm. To our somewhat sheepish horror, along the trail going in the same direction as us for about 1/2 mile were mountain lion tracks. We could see in the tracks where it came right up the stream at one point, presumably to get a drink.
While in the summer the trail is relatively easy footing that becomes rather less true in the winter. The trail becomes a well-worn rut in the deep snow that people smooth to a perfectly terrible sheen by sledding down in parts, making it rather maddening if you don’t have metal spikes on your shoes. The last little bit that curves around a tree sprouting up out of the rock, where they have rough steps and placed a crude and seemingly not quite substantial enough banister, can also be rather nervous in the winter if it has just snowed. The whole thing can turn into a nasty slick. Bring some snow-shoes with spikes for grip if you make a winter go!
Once you have made it up, you get a fantastic view of the canyon. The canyon faces south-east making morning light better than evening for photographing the lake, but even then the lighting is not fantastic. The lake itself is just past the view point and is rather unfortunately bridged by a wooden walkway to allow access to both sides of the shore. From the far side you can gain access to a rather tempting-looking downed tree that has a flat side facing up. I would avoid this unless you are truly the surest of foot. The water all times of year will be in the least brisk and that rather stable-looking tree is deceiving you. The further out you go on it the more you will find it is actually swaying back and forth from the flow of the falls making balance difficult.
Rather than falling into the lake at the wrong time of year and having a right bad time of it, make your way up to Spouting Rock behind the lake and further up the trail. You can go up from either side of Hanging Lake really, but the left is usually easier depending on the snow. In the summer either is fine. Up there you will find a stream that leads up to a small pool being fed by yet another waterfall. If you make your way behind these falls you will notice that below them out of the rock face is another much smaller water-fall that jets water. This formation can really shine in the winter when the upper part of the falls is frozen and just Spouting Rock is flowing.
There are no fees for the park and its proximity to I-70 makes it a popular spot to go. In my experience on early mornings you can enjoy the place by yourself until normal day hikers come and ruckus up the place.
For more photos of the area, refer to: