An overhead view of Hanging Lake in Glenwood Canyon, Colorado.

Forest Service seeking Hanging Lake Trail repair, redesign comments

January 26, 2023

The USDA Forest Service is soliciting comments on a project to redesign, repair and reconstruct portions the Hanging Lake Trail. Located on the Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District of the White River National Forest (WRNF), Hanging Lake is one of the most popular hiking trails in Colorado and is beloved by local, national, and international visitors for its beautiful and rugged canyon leading to a rare example of a lake formed by travertine deposition on the side of a cliff. The trail corridor was burned in the 2020 Grizzly Creek fire and then damaged by flooding and debris flows in 2021. Temporary trail improvements to address immediate debris flow damage and safety hazards allowed the trail to reopen in summer 2022, however, impacts from the fire, debris flows, as well as decades of heavy visitation are still prevalent along the trail. With funding support from the US Forest Service, National Forest Foundation (NFF), and Great Outdoors Colorado, WRNF now has the opportunity to more comprehensively address damage and improve the sustainability and resiliency of the trail and enhance key points of interest to improve the recreation experience for current and future visitors.

This comment period is intended to provide those interested in or affected by this proposal an opportunity to comment on the proposed action before the Responsible Official makes a decision. The Forest Service would appreciate your input to identify issues that would be addressed in the forthcoming environmental review. Additional project information can be found on the project webpage.

Hanging Lake Trail is located in Glenwood Canyon, nine miles east of the City of Glenwood Springs, Colorado. The trail ascends from the banks of the Colorado River up Deadhorse Creek, traveling 1.2 miles to Hanging Lake and Spouting Rock, located 1,000 feet above the floor of Glenwood Canyon. The trail was originally constructed in the early 20th century and rebuilt in the late 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Hanging Lake itself is a rare example of a lake formed by travertine deposition and is designated as a National Natural Landmark. The trail is located predominantly on the White River National Forest, although the trailhead and approximately first ¼ mile of trail are located on land owned by the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT).

Deadhorse Creek Canyon is steep, rocky, and prone to rockfall, debris flows and floods. The Hanging Lake Trail is located adjacent to the creek and is susceptible to spring flooding and debris flows from drainages concentrated in the canyon. Seven bridges exist along the trail, crossing Deadhorse Creek along the route. Deadhorse Creek Canyon was burned in the Grizzly Creek fire in 2020, and in late July of 2021 a debris flow originating from the burn area significantly damaged the drainage. The debris flow covered major trail sections, swept away and damaged bridges, downed trees, and buried segments of the trail in mud, boulders, and logs. Temporary trail repairs were completed in the summer of 2022 to reopen the trail for visitor access while planning for more extensive repairs occurred.

Purpose and need:
The purpose of this project is to make the Hanging Lake Trail more sustainable, resilient, and safe, and to ensure a world-class visitor experience. This project is needed because the trail was seriously damaged by debris flows in 2021; in addition, years of heavy visitation have also impacted the trail and adjacent riparian areas. The current management plan for the Hanging Lake Trail including the existing permit reservation system will not be affected by this project. Specific goals of the project include:
• Enhance trail sustainability, flood resiliency, aesthetics, and safety for visitors.
• Preserve the rich historic, cultural, and natural features of the site.
• Improve visitor experiences while maintaining the unique character and challenge of the trail.
• Balance development with exceptional natural and cultural resources.

Proposed action:
The USDA Forest Service is proposing a combination of trail reconstruction, improvements, and repairs, along with ecological restoration to accomplish this project. The proposed activities are detailed below and in the attached project map. Project designs were developed in coordination with CDOT, the State Historic Preservation Office, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and informed by field surveys completed in 2022.

Restoration activities are intended to address both visitor-caused and natural disturbances with the goal of stabilizing creek banks, reducing erosion, defining areas where visitors access to the creek, and minimizing stream overflow onto the trail and other infrastructure. Restoration activities would take place in areas where debris flows have impacted infrastructure, where visitors have historically left the trail and trampled riparian areas, at bridge replacement locations, at trail reroutes (to close and restore the original trail), and at the trailhead.

Specific restoration methods along the trail would include minor regrading and rock work, flood debris removal, and native seeding and planting. All restoration work along the trail would be completed by hand. At the trailhead, restoration would be more intensive and would involve the use of heavy equipment. Restoration goals at the trailhead include the removal of flood debris and rebuilding the stream bank and natural stream channel, while protecting adjacent infrastructure such as restrooms, a bridge, the trailhead, and the paved recreation path.

Trail reconstruction, repairs, and improvements
The overall resiliency of the trail would be improved through reconstruction and repairs to keep water off the trail as much as possible and allow water to drain from the trail. Techniques would be utilized like using native rock found on-site to armor or elevate the existing tread; installing rock causeways, terraces, and stepping-stones; building rock drains; and constructing or reconstructing rock steps in steep areas where the trail has eroded away. The proposed work would also include three minor re-routes: two associated with bridge relocations and one to address erosion and create a more sustainable trail segment.

The current trail has areas that are widened past a desirable point due to visitors looking for places to rest, pass each other, or to view adjacent natural features such as waterfalls. Several of these existing wide areas would be enhanced to formally establish hardened “rest area” points for pausing or passing, and to provide additional opportunities to enjoy the scenery along the route. Wayfinding and interpretive signage along the trail would also be replaced or installed to enhance the recreation experience by allowing visitors the opportunity to learn more about the area’s natural and cultural resources.

Bridge improvements:
The seven existing bridges along the trail were constructed decades ago and were nearing the end of their serviceable lifespan prior to the 2021 debris flows. The 2021 debris flows damaged, destroyed, or caused the creek flow around bridges 1, 2, 3, and 5 (as counted from the bottom of the trail).

Bridges 1 through 6 would be reengineered to better accommodate high water and debris flows and replaced. In addition, bridges 3 and 5 would be relocated slightly to adjacent crossing locations that provide better stream clearance. Restoration of stream banks that were damaged by debris flows would take place adjacent to bridges to protect the bridges and the stream bank and address any construction-related impacts; these activities would be conducted by hand. Bridge 7 crosses a dry creek bed that rarely carries water – this bridge would be removed.
Although they have been altered and maintained over time, some existing bridge abutments may have originally been constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Original abutments would be retained and re-used wherever possible, and current construction attributes would be matched with new design components. Interpretive signage would include information on the Civilian Conservation Corps, and abutment work would be completed in consultation with the Colorado State Preservation Office to mitigate and minimize effects of new construction on the historic landscape.

Trailhead improvements:
The Hanging Lake trailhead is located on land owned by CDOT. Current facilities at the trailhead suffered damage from the debris flows and include picnic tables, creek access, restrooms, signs, bicycle racks and a bridge for the paved recreation path. The proposed trailhead improvements would continue to provide a space for visitors to gather before and after their hike. Improvements would include an accessible plaza with seating, a shelter for shade and weather protection, bicycle racks, picnic tables, and directional and interpretive signage.

The trailhead area would be expanded slightly within the existing constraints of the site (steep hillside, creek, recreation path). Restoration would take place along the section of the creek adjacent to the trailhead between the picnic tables and the restroom, as this area was impacted heavily by debris flows. Debris flow material would be removed, native riparian vegetation restoration would take place, and the stream channel would be reconstructed to protect the surrounding infrastructure, while allowing public access and seating near the creek to continue.

Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) structure:
The historic CCC structure on the Hanging Lake Trail was likely constructed around 1935. This shelter structure is one of the few remaining examples of accomplishments of the CCC era in the Glenwood Springs area. The site retains its historic integrity; however, weathering, vandalism, and overdue maintenance make it one of the areas of focus for the redesign effort. The shelter itself would be stabilized in consultation with the State Historic Preservation Office to ensure the longevity of this historic resource. The immediate area surrounding the CCC structure would be revitalized to include a more robust rest area with seating, interpretive information, and restoration along the creek where the bank is currently compacted.

Spouting Rock:
The trail’s end at Spouting Rock is a waterfall destination, directly above Hanging Lake and Bridal Veil Falls, where impacts of high visitation are evident. Currently, the end of the trail at Spouting Rock is not well defined, resulting in erosion, trampled vegetation, and meandering social trails beneath and around Spouting Rock. The proposed redesign would establish a designated loop pathway to view the falls and interact with Spouting Rock in a way that minimizes damage to the natural resources. A boardwalk would be constructed to enhance views and create the opportunity for visitors to loop around the falls without walking through the creek, addressing current eroded conditions.

Categorical exclusion
Based on resource information gathered to date, it is anticipated that these projects fall within a Forest Service category of actions under 36 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) § 220.6 that may be excluded from further documentation in either an environmental assessment or an environmental impact statement, and that no extraordinary circumstances exist that would preclude its use. Scoping comments along with a complete resource analysis will determine whether these projects can be categorically excluded. The proposed projects are consistent with category 36 CFR § 220.6(e)(1): “Construction or reconstruction of trails.”

Responsible official
The district ranger of the Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District is the responsible official for this trail reconstruction project.

How to comment and timeframe:
This scoping period is intended to provide those interested in or affected by this proposal an opportunity to comment on the Proposed Action before the Responsible Official makes a decision. Comments will be accepted at any time but will be most helpful if submitted prior to February 25, 2023. Comments should include: 1) name, address, email, telephone number and organization represented, if any; 2) title of the project (Hanging Lake Trail Redesign), and 3) specific facts, concerns, or issues, and supporting reasons why they should be considered.

Comments can be submitted electronically through the Comment and Analysis Response Application (CARA). Written comments may be submitted to: Leanne Veldhuis, District Ranger, c/o Colleen Pennington, Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District, PO Box 190, Minturn, CO 81645. Names and contact information submitted with comments will become part of the public record and may be released under the Freedom of Information Act.

For additional information please contact Colleen Pennington at