Cross-Country Road Trip: Colorado’s Hanging Lake

Previously: Cross-Country Road Trip: Watching the Rockies Rise

One of the great things about an epic cross-country American road trip is that you get to visit friends you might not otherwise see very often. Mike planned our route with a stop in Golden, Colorado, to visit his friend Steve, who’d recently moved there for a new job.

Steve and his kids love to hike, and they’d explored dozens of great trails in and around Denver. His favorite of these was Hanging Lake in Glenwood Canyon. As the story goes, the lake was discovered in the 1800s by a man who was searching for gold. He came across a dead horse at the opening of a gulch and went looking for its owner. After climbing the steep hillside through the canyon, he discovered this incredible lake clinging to the cliffside.

We’d packed a picnic lunch and were looking forward to a great day under the bright blue Colorado sky. Steve’s brother, Brad, joined us for the hike, and the trail started off easily enough with paved sidewalks from the parking area.


Steve, Ben, and Zack setting out on the Hanging Lake hiking trail with Brad in the lead

Soon enough, however, the sidewalks ended. It turned out to be a pretty steep hike and gave us a great opportunity to stretch our legs after a couple of days on the road. We were grateful for our hiking poles as well as the shade trees that kept us out of the hot summer sun.


Hanging Lake is one of Colorado’s most popular hikes, and the trails could be crowded at times. The entire hike is approximately 2.5 miles round trip, much of which is at an incline. It’s worth the effort, however, when you round the corner at the top of the trail and see the stunning blue and green lake.


Steve silhouetted in front of Hanging Lake in Glenwood Canyon

A boardwalk surrounds the edge of the lake, leading to a fallen tree that bisects the water nearly to the center of the lake. Despite the prolific algae and moss that give the lake its vibrant colors, the water is oddly clear and allows you to easily see rocks and logs at the bottom of the shallows.


Behind Hanging Lake, a side trail takes you to Spouting Rock, a waterfall that flows from holes in the limestone cliffs of Dead Horse Canyon.


Spouting Rock in Dead Horse Canyon

After we enjoyed our lunch of sandwiches and fruit, Mike, Ben, and Steve did some bouldering along the side of the lake before we returned to the trail to descend into the canyon once more.

It was the first of many hikes we would do on this trip and one of the most memorable of the summer. As an added bonus, Mike got another great view of the Rockies on the trip from Golden and back.


We spent one more night in Colorado before hitting the road for Moab, Utah, to visit Arches and Canyonlands national parks. Join us for the journey!

Next up: Cross-Country Road Trip: Arches National Park, Done Three Ways