jewel lake in rocky mountain national park lake in foreground with morning light breaking onto mountain in middle ground and tall grey craggy mountain in background

Lake Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park is riddled with lakes. Some, like Sprague Lake and Bear Lake, are easily accessible from the trailhead. Other, such as Solitude Lake and Sky Pond, require a demanding hike on sometimes steep trails. Each of the trail profiles for these 20+ lake hikes, provides important information for planning an adventure into Rocky Mountain National Park: trail distance and difficulty, maps, driving directions, trail descriptions and tips. Take your time and find the perfect lake hike destination for your adventure in RMNP.

bear lake with mountains of glacier gorge in background along bear lake hike in rocky mountain national park

Bear Lake Hike at Rocky Mountain National Park

From Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park (just 2 hours from Denver), you can launch out on dozens of hiking adventures, trails that range from less than a mile to full day treks back into Glacier Gorge or Andrews Creek. If you are visiting Colorado and looking for a high variety of trails or just a good place to
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Bierstadt Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Bierstadt Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Bierstadt Lake is a short destination hike in Rocky Mountain National Park to a sub-alpine lake with great panoramic views. At Bierstadt Lake, the trail forms a 1 mile loop along its shores, making it a perfect leisurely hike with friends. Bierstadt lake can be accessed from several different trailheads with differing terrain and demand. Explore the full Bierstadt Lake
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black lake rocky mountain national park header

Black Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Black Lake is among the most spectacular lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park. The journey to Black Lake is a strenuous, 10 mile, round-trip hike with significant elevation gain--but both the destination of Black Lake and the several waterfalls along the way make it more than worth the effort. Explore the full Black Lake hiking trail profile for trail map,
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bluebird lake rocky mountain national park-header

Bluebird Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Bluebird Lake is a 6 mile hike to an alpine lake surrounded by craggy peaks in the Wild Basin of Rocky Mountain National Park. Add an additional 1/2 mile spur trail to reach great trout fishing at Ouzel Lake. Hikers will enjoy panoramic views of the Wild Basin and the sites and sounds of several cascade waterfalls along the way.
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Cub Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Cub Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Cub Lake, in Rocky Mountain National Park, is known for its unusual halo of lily pads. The 4.6 mile, roundtrip hike dazzles with its variety - especially the wildflowers. You'll pass through wetlands, glacial formations, and meadows before arriving at the lake. Explore the full Cub Lake hike profile below for trail map, driving directions, and all the details you
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cub lake loop rocky mountain national park header

Cub Lake Loop in Rocky Mountain National Park

The Cub Lake Loop Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park is a great alternative to the an out-and-back hike up to Cub Lake. Along the way, hikers will pass by Windy Gulch Cascades, travel alongside the Big Thompson River, cross over an area called The Pool, journey through wetlands, and will be surrounded by sights of a glacial-shaped landscape. Explore
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dream lake at sunrise in rocky mountain national park with mountain face of hallett peak in background

Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

The hike to Dream Lake is one of the popular destination hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park--and for good reason. In the early morning hours, Dream Lake is a vision straight out of a fairy tale. This 2.2-mile, out-and-back hike begins at the Bear Lake trailhead, and passes Nymph Lake along the way. Explore the full Dream Lake hike profile
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emerald green lake surrounded by mountains in rocky mountain national park emerald lake hike

Emerald Lake Hike Rocky Mountain National Park

Emerald Lake is one of the most accessible hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. If you are visiting RMNP, and have limited time to visit, the trail to Emerald Lake is an excellent option. You'll pass both Dream Lake and Nymph lake before you end your hike at Emerald Lake and it's stunning views of Hallet Peak. For more information
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Fern Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Fern Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

A hike up to Fern Lake begins at the Fern Lake Trailhead on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park. Along the Fern Lake Trail, hikers pass through Arch Rocks, over a bridge at The Pool, and by three cascade waterfalls. Near the, you'll gain spectacular views of The Gable, Knobtop Mountain, Notchtop Mountain, and Little Matterhorn from its
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finch lake rocky mountain national park header

Finch Lake Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

Finch Lake is a 4.5 mile hike through pines, aspen glades, and wildflower laden meadows to a sub-alpine lake where the forest surrounds its shores. The Finch Lake trail is a great choice for those who prefer solitude as it's one of the lesser traveled trails in the Wild Basin region of RMNP. Explore the full Finch Lake hike profile
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jewel lake in rocky mountain national park lake in foreground with morning light breaking onto mountain in middle ground and tall grey craggy mountain in background

Jewel Lake Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

Jewel Lake is a 6.4 mile round-trip hike into Glacier Gorge in Rocky Mountain National Park. This hike in RMNP takes you first past stunning Mills Lake. Less than half a mile beyond Mills you'll discover Jewel Lake under the shadow of the jagged eastern ridge known as Keyboard of the Winds. Explore the full Jewel Lake hiking trail profile
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lake haiyaha rocky mountain national park header

Lake Haiyaha Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

Lake Haiyaha, in Rocky Mountain National Park, is tucked away in the recesses of a large valley, and its shoreline is surrounded by stacks of massive granite boulders. This relatively easy, 4.2 mile round-trip hike can be a quieter retreat on the busy east side of RMNP, especially if hikers arrive during the early morning hours. Explore the full Lake
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lake helene rocky mountain national park header

Lake Helene Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

The hike to Lake Helene is a popular lake hike beginning at the Bear Lake Trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park. Lake Helene is situated in a bowl beneath Flattop Mountain, Ptarmigan Point, and Notchtop Mountain. The trail weaves through aspen groves and pine forests with scenic mountain views at almost every turn. Explore the full Lake Helene hike profile
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lawn lake rocky mountain national park header

Lawn Lake Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

The hike to Lawn Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park follows the course of the Roaring River for 6.2 miles to a stunning high mountain lake with great fishing. This demanding hike takes adventurers into the heart of the Mummy Range, a lesser visited region of RMNP. Explore the full Lawn Lake hike profile below for trail map, driving directions,
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lion lake 1 rocky mountain national park header

Lion Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

The Lion Lake #1 in Rocky Mountain National Park boasts a dramatic alpine landscape hidden away in the northwestern corner of the Wild Basin. The trail to this high-mountain lake passes several waterfalls and offers access to other lakes and surrounding peaks. Because the Lions lake is more remote, a trip to it may require an overnight stay at one
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reflection of keyboard of the winds in mills lake in rocky mountain national park

Mills Lake Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

The hike up to Mills Lake is a steady, uphill, 5.6 mile trek into the breathtaking Glacier Gorge trail system of Rocky Mountain National Park. You'll be entranced by spectacular views of mountain ridges, rugged peaks, and the color of wildflowers along the trail. Glacier Gorge provides surprises at almost every turn. Explore the full Mills Lake hike profile below
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Nymph Lake Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

Nymph Lake Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

In Summer, Nymph Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park blooms with the yellow blossoms of the lily pads that cover its surface. It's a short easy hike from the Bear Lake Trailhead to Nymph lake. Most hikers will want to make the journey beyond Nymph to Dream and Emerald Lakes. Explore the full trail profile below for all the destinations
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odessa lake rocky mountain national park header

Odessa Lake Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

Odessa Lake is one destination you shouldn't miss in Rocky Mountain National Park. The alpine scenery is striking as towering mountain peaks seem to rise right out of the Lake. Odessa offers great views of Joe Mills Mountain, The Gable, and Little Matterhorn. This hike described here begins at the Fern Lake Trailhead, but a second route is possible from
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pear lake rocky mountain national park header

Pear Lake Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

Pear Lake is a great destination for solitude, fishing, and mountain views. It's a 6.5 mile, demanding hike through some of the best wildflower country in Rocky Mountain National Park. After passing Finch Lake, the trail makes its way to the higher, Pear Lake where Copeland Mountain appears to shoot straight from its shores into the sky. Explore the full
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sandbeach lake rocky mountain national park header

Sandbeach Lake Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

Sandbeach Lake features great fishing and a beach! The lake got its name from its sandy shore that resembles that of a beach--making it one of best camping spots in Rocky Mountain National Park. It's a 4.5 mile moderate hike that climbs Copeland Moraine and crosses two creeks before arriving at this beautiful subalpine lake. With several reservable campsites along
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shelf lake rocky mountain national park header

Shelf Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

This demanding hike in Rocky Mountain National Park takes you off the beaten path to two high-mountain lakes, and grants views of several waterfalls along the way. This trail profile provides helpful details for making the journey to Shelf Lake, Shelf Lake Falls, and Solitude Lake. Because the hike to Shelf Lake requires travel on unmaintained trails, it is best
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jagged rock with green lake of sky pond snow fields and sun behind clouds sky pond hike in rocky mountain national park

Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park

Situated above Timberline Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park are two spectacular lakes. The highest of the two is Sky Pond, and the lower is called The Lake of Glass. This demanding hike begins at the Glacier Gorge trailhead and takes you past at least three waterfalls and a beautiful set of cascades. Rewards await those who hike all the
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lake helene rocky mountain national park header

Lake Helene Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

The hike to Lake Helene is a popular lake hike beginning at the Bear Lake Trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park. Lake Helene is situated in a bowl beneath Flattop Mountain, Ptarmigan Point, and Notchtop Mountain. The trail weaves through aspen groves and pine forests with scenic mountain views at almost every turn. Explore the full Lake Helene hike profile below for trail map, driving directions, and more of the details and tips you need to enjoy this adventure in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Trail Snapshot: Lake Helene in Rocky Mountain National Park

Parking & Trailhead Information for Lake Helene in RMNP

The trail up to Lake Helene begins at the Bear Lake Trailhead (driving directions). In the event the parking lot at Bear Lake is full, you'll then need to park at the Park & Ride near the Bierstadt Trailhead and take the bus into the trailhead. This service runs 7am to 7PM and more information on the RMNP shuttle bus routes can be found at this link.

The Hike: Lake Helene in RMNP

The trail to the is located along the perimeter trail of Bear Lake, and on the northeastern end of the lake. This short .4 mile trail will connect up with the Flattop Mountain trail. After hiking .5 mile on the Flattop Mountain Trail, the trail will fork. The trail to the left, leads up to Flattop Mountain. The trail to the right leads to the lake, and then on to Odessa and Fern Lake.

It's a moderate ascent as the trail climbs approximately 2 more miles up to Odessa Gorge. At this point there is an unmaintained trail off to the left that leads hikers to Lake Helene. Because this spur trail travels over quite a bit of rock and becomes difficult to discern, the route is marked by a series of cairns (stacked rocks).

After enjoying time at the lake, hikers may want to go 1.1 mile further north on the main trail to Odessa Lake.

Tips & Resources for Hiking to Lake Helene in Rocky Mountain National Park


Map & Driving Directions

Click for Driving Directions
ouzel falls waterfall in rocky mountain national park wild basin hike with text overlay explore more hikes in rocky mountain national park

Monarch Lake Loop Hike

The Monarch Lake Loop is a perfect family hike that leads 4 miles through shaded forest, across creeks, and along the shore of the lake. It's one of the more diverse, but easy, hikes in the area. Monarch Lake is a popular destination for canoeing, kayaking, and access to the Indian Peaks Wilderness area. Explore the full Monarch Lake Loop hike profile below for trail map, driving directions, and many of the details you need to enjoy this adventure in Grand County, Colorado.

Trail Snapshot: Monarch Lake Loop, Colorado

Parking & Trailhead Information for Monarch Lake, Colorado

Following the driving directions in the above trail snapshot for Monarch Lake, the road will end at the Monarch Lake Trailhead. Here, you'll find parking spaces for about 40 vehicles. The parking area fills fast and cars and trucks often line both sides of the road to the trailhead. An Arapahoe National Recreation Area day use pass is required and can be purchased at the kiosk at the Arapahoe Bay Pay Station. This pay station is located shortly after you turn onto County Hwy 6 and before crossing over the dam. While Monarch lake is open in the winter, and Hwy 6 is plowed, the approximately 1 mile final segment of road that leads into the trailhead is closed from Nov. 15 to June 15. Because of this, hikers will have to park and snowshoe, cross-country ski, or hike in to the trailhead.

The Hike: Monarch Lake, CO

From the trailhead, a shaded tunnel of trees leads down a short gravel path to the Wilderness Information Cabin. Here you can pick up trail maps and information about hikes up into the Indian Peaks Wilderness area. The trail description here is of hiking the Monarch Lake Loop in a clockwise fashion. Begin on the Cascade Creek trail #N1. This will follow the shoreline of the lake and soon enter the forested area along the Northern end of the lake. After approximately 1 mile, the landscape changes and enters a wetland marsh. Keep your eyes peeled for moose and other wildlife here.

Wilderness Info Cabin at Monarch Lake

After 1.5 miles on the Cascade Creek Trail, the loop will be continued by taking a right onto the Arapaho Pass Spur Trail. This will head south, crossing Buchanan Creek, then Arapaho Creek. Here, after .8 mile, the spur trail ends and the Arapaho Pass trail begins. This last segment on the Arapaho Pass trail #N6 is 1.7 miles long.

Because of the pine beetle kill, there are many dead trees throughout the Monarch Lake Loop hike. Be alert for falling trees, especially when gusts of wind blow through. Hikers may also encounter deadfall across the trail. Be careful going under any fallen trees as they are often unstable and may only be supported by a few small, dead branches.

The hike continues on the south shore of the lake, passing an old, rusty steam engine. These "steam donkeys" were used to pull logs down out of the mountains back in the logging camps of the 1800's. After the steam engine, the trail will cross two more creeks, and finally make its way across the dam at the northwestern end of the Lake.

Because this hike is so perfect as a family outing, or for visiting family and friends, we recommend the following day trip:
1) Leave early (take breakfast with you) and arrive at the trailhead at or before 8AM (better chance of seeing wildlife and better parking)
2) Hike Monarch Lake
3) Drive over Trail Ridge Road (fee required--but worth every penny)
4) Eat a late Lunch in Estes Park (so bring snacks)
5) Head back home or drive in to Moraine Park in Rocky Mountain National Park.


Tips & Resources for Hiking the Monarch Lake Loop

  • Fishing: Monarch Lake is a popular fishing spot for trout. Colorado State fishing regulations apply.
  • Falling Trees: Because of the amount of dead trees in this area, hikers should be on alert for falling trees.
  • Trail Map for Monarch Lake Area: Trail Map Link
  • Packing List: Always pack the 10 Essentials. Download our Hiking Guide to get list and dayhiking packing checklist.
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • After the Hike: Mavericks Grill in Granby, CO


Map & Driving Directions

Click for Driving Directions

baby mountain goat on mount evans colorado more easy hikes

maroon bells reflected in crater lake near Aspen Colorado Maroon Bells Hikes

Ultimate Guide to Maroon Bells in Colorado

The Maroon Bells offer several hikes and some of the most beautiful scenery in Colorado. It's a Rocky Mountain landscape painted with cascades, lakes, golden aspens, and all against the backdrop of the peaks of the Maroon Bells. This guide to the Maroon Bells features 5 different hiking trail options, spanning from easy hikes to moderately demanding.

We've attempted to create the definitive guide to hiking from the Maroon Bells Trailhead. In this guide, you'll find: Driving directions to Maroon Bells, Trail Maps, Important Shuttle Bus information, Photography tips, Camping information for the Maroon Bells area, and Tips & Resources for planning your Colorado Vacation. This guide to Maroon Bells is extensive, so we have created a table of contents to help you navigate. Have fun exploring!

Maroon Bells Hiking Guide Contents

1. Trail Snapshot
2. Driving Directions
3. Parking & Trailhead
4. Hiking the Trail
5. Maroon Lake Trail
6. The Scenic Loop Trail
7. Maroon Creek Trail
8. The Crater Lake Trail
9. The Willow Lake Trail
10. Photography
11. Hiking with Kids
12. For Out-of-State Hikers
13. Things to Do Nearby
14. History and Geology
15. Protect Maroon Bells

Maroon Bells Hike Snapshot

Driving Directions to Maroon Bells

Because the Maroon Bells trailhead is one of the heaviest used recreation areas in the state of Colorado, there are some driving and access restrictions during the busy summer months. That's why it's important to carefully read these details before you plan your trip. There are three different sets of driving directions that you may find helpful.


Directions to Maroon Bells in the Summer

From about the mid-June until early October, you can drive Maroon Creek road to the Maroon Bells trailhead before 8am and after 5pm. There is a $10 fee for driving the road, which--especially in Autumn--is one of the more beautiful drives in the country. From 8am to 5pm, visitors must take a 10-15-minute shuttle bus ride to the trailhead. The shuttle lot with free parking is located at Aspen Highlands, a local ski area (here is a link to a Google map and driving directions). However, there is a cost for the bus ride, and beginning in 2016, there a parking fee will be assessed at the Aspen Highlands lot. You can purchase your bus ticket for the Maroon Bells shuttle at Four Mountains Sports, located near the parking area at the base of the ski mountain. The best resource for shuttle information can be found at the RTF Maroon Bells Shuttle page or by calling the USFS Maroon Bells Hotline at (970) 945-3319.
If the Aspen Highlands lot is full--which happens during Summer months--or if you are in Aspen, but without a vehicle, you can take the free Castle/Maroon bus from Ruby Park in Aspen to Aspen Highlands, where can pick up the Maroon Bells shuttle (link and map for directions to Ruby Park).

There are a few exceptions to the 8am-5pm shuttle rule: 1) Handicap registered vehicles, and 2) Vehicles with 11 or more people ($3 fee per person), 3) Vehicles with children age 2 and under, 4) If you are camping at some of the Maroon Bells campsites: Silver Queen, Silver Bar, or Silver Bell, 5) If you are towing a horse trailer.

Even if you fit one of the exceptions, it's important to remember that the Aspen Highlands lots fill up during the busy summer months. Your best bet is simply to get to the trailhea early and to take in the scenery of Maroon Bells in the cool and quiet of the morning, before visitors begin to stream into the area. It's also important to note that if your plans are to backpack and camp in the Maroon-Snowmass Wilderness, you will not be given a parking exception, but will need to take the bus in from the Aspen Highlands lot during the 8am-5pm timeframe.

Another option is to cycle the 8 miles, one-way from Aspen Highlands up to the Maroon-Snowmass trailhead. There is no fee for cyclists, only vehicles. However, it's important to remember that the road is still very busy, even during the 8am-5pm hours when the driving restrictions apply. As with hiking the area, plan to bring proper gear for the frequent afternoon thunderstorms--yet another reason to go early.

Driving Out: It's important to note that if you drive in to the trailhead, you may drive out at any time.

Getting to Maroon Bells During the Rest of the Year

In Late-Spring: From when Maroon Creek road opens, which is historically mid-May, and until mid-June--when the shuttle bus service starts--you are allowed to drive the road from 8am-5pm. Of course, the access fee does apply.

Early October to Mid-November: You can drive Maroon Creek road to the trailhead any day and any time of the week. Again, the access fee applies. Historically, this has begun on Oct. 5th but this is subject to the forest service decisions and weather.

Maroon Bells During the Winter Months: Winter comes in early at this elevation and it holds on well through April. Maroon Creek road is closed during the winter months, beginning in mid-November. Until the road reopens around mid-May of each year, the trailhead is only accessible by hiking in, cross-country skis, or via snowmobile tours. Snowmobile tours can be booked through T-Lazy-7 Ranch. From the gate, the hike/ski in is about 6 miles one-way, and from Aspen Highlands, it's about 8 miles one-way.

Parking and Facilities at the Maroon Bells Trailhead

The Maroon Bells Trailhead--officially titled the Maroon-Snowmass Trailhead--has limited parking and no facilities, except for restrooms. There is plenty of space to lock up your bike on the provided bike racks. There are 35 parking spaces designated for backpackers who are overnighting in the wilderness and you may park for up to 5 consecutive nights in those designated spots. These fill up during the busy season, so be sure to have the shuttle as your plan-b. If you get to Aspen Highlands after the last bus, then you will need to have a plan-c: take a taxi (expensive) in or ask a friend to drive you into the trailhead. Overnight backpackers are not allowed to park in the day-use area.

Guide for Hiking at Maroon Bells

Trail Option #1 - The Maroon Lake Trail at Maroon Bells

  • Distance: Less than One Mile
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trail Type: Out & Back
  • Elevation Gain: Nominal

The Maroon Lake Trail heads out from the trailhead to the northeast side of Maroon Lake (elevation 9580’) where hikers can take in iconic views of the peaks of the Maroon Bells reflected in its mirrored waters. Fishing is allowed at Maroon Lake, but a Colorado fishing license is required. Be sure to follow limits and regulations. Bring a picnic lunch and soak in the scenery, which includes aspen groves, Maroon Creek, and surrounding meadows. Do be mindful to stay to the trail as the high amount of foot traffic has a profound impact on the environment. For tips on taking a great photo of the Maroon Bells, check out the Photography at Maroon Bells section below.

Trail Option #2 - The Scenic Loop Trail at Maroon Bells

  • Distance: 3 Miles
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trail Type: Lollipop Loop
  • Elevation Gain: Approx. +120'
  • Dogs are prohibited because of Moose inhabiting this area.

The Scenic Loop Trail is probably the most popular trail at Maroon Bells, and for good reason: the views are incredible, the loop takes you along the cascades of Maroon creek for much of the hike, and wildflowers spring up at your feet along the trail. A lollipop loop is a hike that begins with a straightaway (part of the out & back hike above), which takes you to a loop on the end. The Scenic Trail Loop begins at a footbridge on the far/west end of the lake. A way up the trail, hikers will notice another footbridge on the right. This can be taken to shorten the trip by crossing the creek then turning right to head back to Maroon Lake and the trailhead. However, the loop trail actually goes further and past some exceptionally beautiful cascades before turning back toward Maroon lake.


Trail Option #3 - The Maroon Creek Trail

  • Distance: 2.5 or 3.5 Miles - One-Way
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trail Type: One-Way
  • Elevation Gain: -870'
  • Maroon Creek Lake Trail Map: Map Link

If you are looking for a less crowded option, the Maroon Creek Trail may be the best choice. The Maroon Creek Trail winds downhill alongside Maroon Creek for 3.5 miles. Being near water, the chances of seeing wildlife are pretty good. Maroon Creek Trail begins at Maroon Lake and the trail can be picked up by hiking across the footbridge, turning left, then following the trail down into the valley (away from the Maroon Bells). The trail offers two options.

#1 - 2.5 Mile Hike:

Hikers will encounter and cross a bridge at about 2.5 miles into their hike. At this point, a trail off to the left can be taken across the meadow and up to the road where they can catch the bus back to Aspen Highlands or back to the trailhead. Of course, be mindful of the traffic.

#1 - 3.5 Mile Hike:

The second option is to continue on the trail, cross another bridge, then to stay left onto the East Maroon Trail. This will wind downhill a bit further to another area where you can catch the bus along Maroon Creek Road. As you hike, don't forget to stop occasionally to take in the views behind you of the Maroon Bells.


Trail Option #4 - The Crater Lake Trail at Maroon Bells

  • Distance: 3.6 Miles Round Trip
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trail Type: Out & Back
  • Elevation Gain: +500'
  • Crater Lake Trail Map: Map Link

The Maroon/Snowmass trail (right of lake) will lead hikers through a meadow and to a forest service bulletin board at the far end of the lake. From this point the correct trail is the West Maroon/Crater Lake trail which leads up through meadows, aspens forests, and scree fields. The trail can be extremely rock, so be sure that you have excellent footwear. The trail will split at about 1.7 miles where the correct trail to follow is the West Maroon/Crater Lake Trail. At this point, Crater Lake is not far away. The trail will eventually dip down into a beautiful basin that holds Crater lake and incredible views of the Maroon Bells. Crater Lake is not stocked or fishable as it is a dead lake. It is also an area that has been negatively impacted by heavy use and poor camping practices. Because of this, camping is now prohibited and great care should be exercised to keep human and canine impact to a minimum.

Trail Option #5 - The Willow Lake Trail at Maroon Bells

  • Distance: approx. 13 Miles Round Trip
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Trail Type: Out & Back
  • Elevation Gain: +3020' to Willow Pass
  • Willow Lake Trail Map: Map Link

The Willow Lake trail is demanding and may require an overnight. The trail begins at Maroon Lake and follows the same trails that lead to Crater Lake. At the Crater Lake bulletin board, the trail forks to right and makes its way up through Minnehaha gulch, through alpine meadows and eventually to a trail sign for Maroon-Snowmass/Willow Lake Junction. Here the trail goes to right. Switchbacks lead to top of Willow Pass. After making it over Willow Pass, Willow Lake is a more gradual 1.5 miles further down the trail. This hike is difficult, steep, and more exposed to the regular thunderstorms that form in the afternoons. Camping is prohibited in the meadow near Buckskin Pass, and camping is discouraged at Willow lake. The best option is to camp in the established sites in Minnehaha Gulch.

hikers in snow with evergreen trees in foreground and snowcapped mountains in background this is the cover of a hiking guide

Get our Dayhikes Near Denver Hiking Guide. It includes our favorite hikes near Denver, packing lists, hiking food and snack ideas, and tips for hiking the Front Range of Colorado.

Photography: How to Get Great Photos of the Maroon Bells

We would like to thank photographer Jerry Blank for the stunning photo of the Maroon Bells at the top of this post. We asked him for a few photography tips and he emphasized the importance of arriving early in order to 1) get a parking spot, and 2) to get a shot of the water before the wind kicks up ripples on the early morning mirror surface of the lakes. More of his photos can be viewed and prints can be ordered from his galleries at this link.

  • Fall is the Best Time for Photos: The changing aspens peak in their golden hues during the latter half of September. However, this is just a rule of thumb because much depends on the changing temperature, so it varies from year to year.
  • Sunrise Shots are Primo: We all have our best side, and the Maroon Bells' best side faces east. This means that the morning sunrise provides the best opportunity for photos.
  • What Time Should I Get There? Earlier than you think. The shoreline of Maroon Lake fills up fast with tripods, so you'll want to get there well before sunrise.
  • Dress for the Occasion: Wear your down coat and bring a thermos of hot coffee. The morning breeze and cold temps will conspire to make the wait for sunrise a cold one.

Hiking with Kids at Maroon Bells

  • Hydrate: We hike a lot with our kids and it's easy for them to get dehydrated, especially in the dry climate and at high altitude in Colorado. Bring water bottles full of water for everyone.
  • Pack Snacks or Bring a Lunch: The drive back to Maroon Bells takes you pretty far out of town and you'll want to stay a while. Bring snacks or a picnic lunch to refuel while you are exploring.
  • Choose a Hike with Options: If your children are younger then you may want to begin with the Maroon Lake Trail. If you are still feeling adventurous after that, you could add on all or part of the Scenic Loop. Be aware of Moose and keep your distance from them.

Visiting Maroon Bells From Out-of-State

  • Download our Hiking Guide for a list of hiking tips, 10 essentials that everyone should pack for their dayhike, and recommended hiking snacks.
  • Take it Easy: Hiking at altitude (almost 2 miles above sea level at the Maroon Bells trailhead) can be really demanding. Choose a trail that matches your physical shape and be prepared to go at a slower pace.
  • Don't Drink from Streams or Lakes: There is a misconception that drinking from a mountain stream or lake is the purest water in the world--it's not! Mountain streams and lakes are watering holes for wildlife, especially rodents that carry parasites like giardia and other waterborne infectious diseases that can completely ruin your vacation. All water from these areas should be properly filtered and/or purified.

Camping Near Maroon Bells

There are three established USFS camping areas along Maroon Creek Road on your way in to the Maroon Bells Trailhead. These three are some of the more popular campsites in the state during the summer and fall, so you will want to reserve them well ahead of time. You'll find profiles for the three camping areas below. Reservations can be made at all three campgrounds by calling 1-877-444-6777 or by reserving online at
Crater Lake Campground has been closed because of bear activity in the past, so be sure to check to see if it is currently open. However, there are about 20 USFS campgrounds in the White River National Forest area near Aspen. The USFS has a handy camping brochure that can be downloaded at this link.

Silver Bar Campsite

  • Driving Directions to Silver Bar Campground: Click for Directions
  • Four primitive walk-in campsites only
  • Elevation: 8500'
  • Drinkable water and toilets, as well as picnic tables and fire-grates are available.
  • Five-day camping limit with 2pm checkout.
  • Eight-person, two car limit per campsite.
  • Pets allowed but must be leashed at all times.
  • Reservable Dates: 5/26 - 9/13
  • Fees: Camping Fee + Vehicle Fee

Silver Bell Campsite

  • Driving Directions to Silver Bell Campground: Click for Directions
  • Fourteen campsites
  • Elevation: 8350'
  • Drinkable water and toilets, as well as picnic tables and firegrates are available.
  • Five-day camping limit with 2pm checkout
  • Eight-person, two-car limit per campsite.
  • Pets allowed but must be leashed at all times
  • 30' RV limit
  • Reservable Dates: 5/26 - 9/13
  • Fees: Camping Fee + Vehicle Fee

Silver Queen Campsite

  • Driving Directions to Silver Queen Campground: Click for Directions
  • Six campsites
  • Elevation: 9100'
  • Drinkable water and toilets, as well as picnic tables and firegrates are available.
  • Five-day camping limit with 2pm checkout
  • Eight-person, two-car limit per campsite.
  • Pets allowed but must be leashed at all times
  • 30' RV limit
  • Reservable Dates: 5/26 - 9/13
  • Fees: Camping Fee + Vehicle Fee

above bear lake in rmnp looking to glacier gorge hike finder

Backcountry Camping in the Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness

  • Camping is allowed within the Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness area. Be sure to follow all the Wilderness Use Regulations and Practice Leave No Trace principles.
  • Camping at the designated spots at Crater Lake is currently allowed, but has been closed in 2014-2015 because of increased bear activity in the area, which is due to poor camping practices. The USFS will close the area again if bear activity becomes problematic.
  • Bear canisters are required
  • Self-registration required at the trailhead
  • Pets allowed but must be on a 6' leash at all times in the wilderness.

Things to Do Near Maroon Bells

History and Geology of Colorado’s Maroon Bells

The brick red color of the Maroon Bells is created by the oxidation of iron in the ancient sedimentary rock that makes up the mountains. They were formed when ancient granite mountains eroded, then were thrust toward the sky in a later mountain building event. Glaciers then cut valleys and cirque lakes, like Maroon Lake and Crater Lake. The Maroon Bells are considered Colorado Fourteeners with North Maroon at 14,014' and the summit of South Maroon Peak at 14,156'. They are called "the bells" because the shape of the mountains resemble church bells. The surrounding Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness area was one of the first US Wilderness areas established in 1964. The ruins of mine riddle the landscape from the silver mining activity of the late 1800's.

The sedimentary siltstone that makes up the Maroon Bells and nearby mountains, like Pyramid Peak, makes them very dangerous to climb. It's described by climbers as "rotten" rock and very unstable. In fact, in 1965 there were five different climbing accidents on the Maroon Bells, taking the lives of eight climbers. This gave the Maroon Bells the new monicker, the "Deadly Bells". There are yearly accidents and usually deaths on the Bells. Because of this, we recommend that those contemplating an ascent of the Maroon Bells should contact a professional guiding service.

How You Can Protect the Maroon Bells Area

  • Camp in Designated Spots: Camping has been prohibited at many of the high-mountain lakes in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass area in order to protect these overused and highly impacted environs. The USFS has inventoried over 700 campsites, that have impacted the equivalent of 35 football fields of land. So, be sure to use established camping areas in both the wilderness and along Maroon Creek road.
  • Keep Out of the Water: People and Dogs can greatly disturb fragile ecosystems in streams and lakes because of detergents and oils on our clothing and skin. The water sources around Maroon Bells are at a much higher risk because of the sheer volume of hiker and backpacker traffic.
  • Keep Dogs on a 6' Leash: I have regularly hiked with my dog for years, and have often let her off the leash. But in the last few years, I've become much more aware that man's best friend has a significant impact on the wildlife that make our wilderness areas their home. Even in areas that don't require leashes, I now leash our dog. As much as you would love for your dog to run free, it's important to remember that both we and our dogs are guests in this place and we want to leave the least amount of impact possible. Of course, this is a 6' leash required area. The Ranger District is now giving special attention to unleashed dogs and writing tickets.
  • Pack Out All Trash: It should probably go without saying, but be sure to pack out your trash, including both human and dog waste. In 2015 alone, forest rangers packed out over 500 pounds of trash left by visitors to the Maroon Bells-Snowmass area.


Map & Driving Direction

Click for Driving Directions

hanging lake waterfall flowing over verdant cliff face into turquoise pool on hike near glenwood springs colorao

Guide for Hiking Hanging Lake in Colorado

Hanging Lake is a short hike to two waterfalls and one of the most beautiful lakes in Colorado. On the same hike, you can explore Spouting Rock Falls, and even walk behind the waterfall. Reservations are required to hike Hanging Lake so don't leave home without booking (see info in trail snapshot below). It’s not a day hike near Denver, but it’s definitely worth the nearly three-hour drive to the Hanging Lake Trailhead just outside of Glenwood Springs.

We've attempted to create the definitive guide to hiking the Hanging Lake Trail. In this guide, you'll find: how to make reservations for hiking hanging lake, 10 hiking tips, notes on driving directions to Hanging Lake. You can download the Hanging Lake trail map, find tips on photography at the lake, and some notes on hiking this trail with kids. If you are planning a Colorado vacation, there is helpful information for planning both your hike and trip to this Colorado destination. This guide is extensive, so we have created a table of contents help you navigate your way around.

Hanging Lake Guide Contents

  1. Trail Snapshot
  2. Reservations and Permits
  3. Driving Directions
  4. Parking & Trailhead
  5. Hiking the Trail
  6. At Hanging Lake
  7. Spouting Rock Falls
  8. Photography
  9. Hiking Hanging Lake with Kids
  10. For Out-of-State Hikers
  11. Ten Hiking Tips
  12. Fishing Prohibited
  13. Dogs Prohibited
  14. Camping Nearby
  15. Lodging Nearby
  16. Things to Do Nearby
  17. Proposing at Hanging Lake
  18. History and Geology of Hanging Lake

Trail Snapshot: Hanging Lake Trail

Hanging Lake Reservations and Permits

Year-round, permits are required to hike Hanging Lake. You can purchase your permit and schedule your reservation slot online at the Hanging Lake Shuttle site.

You might be wondering why permits are necessary? The trail receives over 100,000 visitors each year, which is common for some areas in the National Parks system, but there are two other factors at play: first, hanging lake is a sensitive area and because of the sheer volume of visitors, the ecosystem was becoming threatened by the impact; second, the trailhead parking area is in a canyon alongside interstate 70, so it would be incredibly difficult and expensive to expand the parking and trailhead facilities. Not to mention that by expanding, we would end up expanding the problem of impact. In short, Hanging Lake was getting loved to death. Now the city of Glenwood Springs and the Forest Service have teamed up to preserve this natural wonder, so that future generations will get to enjoy it, too.

Hanging Lake Driving Directions

Hanging Lake Driving Directions - May 1 - Oct. 31 - Peak Season

During peak seasons, Park at the Hanging Lake Welcome Center in Glenwood Springs to access the shuttle. From Denver, take interstate 70 West to Take exit 116 for CO-82 East toward Glenwood Springs/Aspen. You'll stay on 82 as it wraps back around to the South and becoming Grand Avenue. After going over the bridge, take 8th street west/right. After about 0.4 mile, take a right onto Midland Ave. Go about 0.5 mile and turn right onto Wulfsohn. The Hanging Lake Welcome Center is just up the road on Wulfsohn next to the Glenwood Springs Community Center. Check up-to-date maps via the links above, as construction may change driving directions.

The Return Shuttle: The hanging lake return shuttle is on a 3-hour schedule, meaning that it will be ready to take hiker back after three hours from their drop-off. Hikers who stay longer will be on standby, so plan accordingly.

Hanging Lake Driving Directions - Nov. 1 - April 30 - Off-Peak Season

These directions to the Hanging Lake Trailhead are only for those visiting during the off-peak season (Nov.1 to April 30th). The trailhead is closed to vehicles during the peak season. Driving to Hanging Lake from Denver (the east) can be a bit confusing. Here’s why: you have to drive past the trailhead because there is not westbound exit, then take exit 121, go under interstate 70 and get back on eastbound I-70. Then you’ll take exit 125 to the Hanging lake Trailhead. I’ve posted a map below that shows all this in detail.


When leaving the Hanging Lake Trailhead, you can only exit onto the Westbound lane of interstate 70. So, you’ll have to do the same thing and take exit 121 again to double-back and head back to Denver. If you are coming from Glenwood Springs or the west, then things are pretty straightforward. Driving from Denver, this maps out as a 2.5 hour drive using Google maps, but be sure to add time for construction.

Parking and Facilities at Hanging Lake Trailhead - Nov. 1 - April 30

We arrived at the Hanging Lake Trailhead parking lot at 8AM on a Saturday morning in July. The first parking lot was full, and by 8:30, the second lot was nearly full. Beginning in 2015, a gate has been installed to close the lot when it is full.The restroom facilities were large enough to serve the number of people who frequent this popular Colorado hike, and were well kept. This is important: if you get there when the lot is full, you will either need to try again later, or make other plans. An alternative is to rent bikes in Glenwood Springs, to bike in, and lock up your bikes at the trailhead (be sure to get locks at the rental shop).

There were a few shaded picnic areas near the parking area, and some unshaded ones along the river. On our way out, the parking lot was at full capacity with cars having to turn around and leave because there was no place to park. Parking is prohibited along the the I-70 exit ramp, so if the parking lot is full, your best bet is to drive into Glenwood Springs, grab something to eat, and try back later. Don't wait idling or clog the ramp, it prevents emergency vehicles from accessing folks who really need their help. It's also important to note that recreational vehicles and trailers are prohibited from parking at the hanging lake parking lots as there is not sufficient space to turn around.


Hiking the Hanging Lake Trail

The Trailhead begins along the Colorado River with a paved bike path surrounded by the banded rock walls of Glenwood Canyon. The morning air was cool, and steam was lifting from the warm surface of the Colorado River. After about a quarter-mile you’ll see a bike rack and the Hanging Lake Trail on your left. This is the beginning of Dead Horse Creek Canyon, the canyon that you’ll follow for about 1 mile up to Hanging Lake, then to Spouting Rock Falls.

Depending on your pace, it may take you anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour and a half to get to the top.Though the prize at the end of this hike are two breathtaking Colorado waterfalls, one of our favorite features of the Hanging Lake trail is that it follows and crosses a mountain stream all the way up to the lake. In fact you’ll cross seven bridges on your journey up to Hanging Lake. You’ll be refreshed by the sights and sounds of cascades and the cool air of the canyon.


Most of the hike is in the shade of towering spruce, cedar, and fir trees. You’ll find several benches and rocks where you can stop and rest. If you are acclimated to the altitude, the hike up the Hanging Lake is relatively easy and short, but it is steep and there are a lot of rocks to negotiate, so we have categorized the Hanging Lake trail as a moderate hike.

If you are not acclimated to the altitude, or not a regular hiker, this Colorado hike will be a real workout, so you may classify it as difficult. If this is you, then be sure to read our Tips for For Out-of-State Hikers. The piece you may find most challenging is just how slippery some of the rock can get. I hiked this in Chaco sandals, which had great grip, but I got a few blisters on the descent. I’d recommend wearing a shoe or a boot that you know won’t be prone to slipping.The piece you may find most challenging is just how slippery some of the rock can get. I’d recommend wearing a shoe or a boot that you know won’t be prone to slipping.


At bridge three you’ll come across a beautiful cascade. The canyon soon opens to display clifftops that look like the ancient ruins of some abandoned castle. In areas where the sunlight breaks through, you may find raspberries along the trail in the latter half of the Summer. You’ll find more cascades near bridge number five. Dead Horse Canyon is a particularly lush ecosystem packed with spruce trees, moss, lichen, ferns, and sweet woodruff. As our six-year old daughter hiked into this part of the trail, she looked up to me and said, “It’s a rainforest, Dad!”


Close to the one-mile point, you’ll climb a steep staircase of rock complete with handrails. While the handrails are helpful, it would be easy for a child to slip over one.So, we’d recommend that you keep smaller children on the inside of the steps as you ascend and hold their hand. It’s a sheer drop on the other side of the handrail.At the top of the stairs follow the path about 100 yards to Hanging Lake. On the way, just before Hanging Lake, you’ll notice a sign to Spouting Rock. We’ll detail this trail in a moment, but you absolutely must hike this short 200 yard trail to this waterfall hidden behind Hanging Lake.


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At Hanging Lake

Hanging Lake is a masterpiece of the natural world. You could spend the entire morning staring into its waters and discovering new things. We spotted trout in its green and blue waters, and dippers, little birds that create nests right on the rocks along the water. There are a variety of moss, ferns, and wildflowers all along the lake. Because of all the traffic at the lake, we saw a bit of trash floating at the base of the waterfall. Dayhikes Near Denver would like to challenge you to look for a piece of trash at the lake and to pack it out with you. Of course, don't go in for it, but pick up what is along the trail and edge of the lake. If we all do this, we can do a little part to help keep this natural wonder beautiful. With over 130,000 people visiting a year, the impact adds up fast.


The back side of Hanging Lake was my favorite spot. The light play and the water spray made for great photos (see our photographing hanging lake tips below), and it gives you a real stunning perspective of the waterfalls pouring into the lake.

You may notice what looks like a huge chain-link cage along the canyon wall above Hanging Lake. It’s there to hold back the rocks that are prone to pile up and roll downhill toward the lake.

Stay off the Log

There is a log that stretches out into the lake, and its tempting to walk out onto it. However, it’s important to know that the oils and detergents on our bodies and clothing--even our shoes just touching the water--can damage the sensitive ecosystem of Hanging Lake. So, as cool as it might be to get that pic of you out on the log, it’s even cooler to help preserve this place for the next generation who gets to see it.

So, as cool as it might be to get that pic of you out on the log, it’s even cooler to help preserve this place for the next generation who gets to see it.

Spouting Rock Waterfalls

On your return, be sure to hike the short spur (about 200 yards) up to Spouting Rock Falls. That’s right, it’s plural--there are multiple falls. This set of waterfalls is much higher than the Bridal Veil falls at Hanging Lake, and instead of pouring over the cliffside, the falls shoot out from holes that the water has carved through a sheer wall of limestone. When the water is really flowing (which is most of the time), an additional gusher of a falls spills out from the heights above Spouting Rock, creating a breathtaking series of waterfalls.

Photography: How to Get Great Photos of Hanging Lake


The key to getting the best photos of Hanging Lake is to go very early or later in the afternoon when the sun is close to setting. We hit the trail around 8:30 AM, and by the time we got to the lake, there was direct sun on the waterfalls pouring into Hanging Lake.

The real problem is that part of the waterfalls and lake are in direct sun and part in in the shadow of the canyon walls. This makes for two very different exposures within the same frame. So, that’s why we recommend that you go earlier or much later when the sunlight is still indirect and diffused. For some incredible shots, be sure to walk over to the back side of hanging lake where you can take photos that reveal the area carved out under the falls--but be sure to keep out of the water.

You will find the light at Spouting Rock Falls much more forgiving. Spouting rock is shaded more by both the canyon walls and trees that surround it. However, I would expect that light might be a bit harsh around midday.

Hiking with Kids at Hanging Lake


The trail is steep and the rock steps are high, so if you are bringing your kids, be prepared to hike at a slower pace and for a lot of people to be passing you. Be aware that there is a lot of slippery rock along the trail, so both good hiking shoes with grip and close supervision of kiddos are important. We brought our 4-year old and 6-year old with us and they did fine. Take into account that we have been hiking with our kids since they were a few weeks old, so this is more normal for us. We read an online comment where another family recommended this hike only for kids 10 and up. If your kids are young, I wouldn’t recommend this as a first hike.

The experience of hiking the Hanging Lake trail with our four-year old was a bit like hiking with a marionette. A lot of the rock steps on the trail were above her knees, so we were helping her up most of the way. This eventually turned into a game of leapfrog, as there were a lot of folks visiting from out-of-state who quickly became winded and needed to take stops, too.

The trail got busy quickly, so we found ourselves stopping often and stepping aside to let others pass us. Our children were particularly taken with the snails we found along the trail when we took breaks. The snails are easy to miss, but if you just stop and look around for a moment, they seem to appear from out of nowhere.

Visiting Hanging Lake From Out-of-State

  • Be ready to feel winded by the altitude change. You can help yourself adjust to altitude and to have a successful hike up to Hanging Lake by getting a good nights rest, drinking lots of water, and by going at a slower pace than you may be used to. This is good basic advice for anyone vacationing in Colorado.
  • As I mentioned earlier, the rock on the trail can be wet and slippery, so make sure that you have footwear that can grip the rock.
  • If you are overweight or have knee or ankle problems, then trekking poles are an absolute necessity. Coming down the trail is tough on the joints, and you’ll be weary at that point, so it’s easy to turn an ankle (I did, but that was probably because I was wearing Chaco sandals).
  • Don’t give up. We saw several people about 400 yards shy of the lake talking about turning around and heading back. They were so close. Of course, if you think that your health would be compromised by continuing, or if a bad lightning storm is rolling in, then it’s always wise to turn around.
  • If you are from out-of-state, or just not in the best of shape, plan for your hike to take longer. And definitely get to the parking lot early, 7AM, to avoid the heat and crowds. If you would consider yourself very out-of-shape, I’d recommend building up to this hike. See our Easy Hikes Near Denver or Short Hikes Near Denver pages for a good place to start.

waterfall in canyon with bridge in foreground fish creek falls waterfall in colorado

Ten Hiking Tips for Hiking Hanging Lake

Because there are a lot of first-time hikers on this trail (and you might be one), we wanted to share a few tips.

  1. If you find that you are going at a slow pace, step off to the edge of the trail to let other groups pass.
  2. If you are going at a faster pace, simply say, “Pardon us as we pass on your left.” Just like driving, always pass on the left.
  3. Take your time and don’t pass folks on the handrail section. It gets crowded here, but it’s just a short jaunt, so take your time so that everyone can make a safe passage of it.
  4. Don’t feed Bucky: We encountered one woman who had tried to feed an almond to a squirrel, but the squirrel mistook her finger for the nut. As a rule, you don’t want to be feeding wildlife because it makes them dependent upon an unnatural food source (especially fingers), but it’s also not a good idea because you could get bit.
  5. Make sure to bring a snack and some water. Be sure to pack out your plastic water bottles and other trash.
  6. Hike the Hanging Lake Trail early in the morning, not just because of parking and traffic, but to cut down on the heat and humidity of the day. Depending on when you hike this trail, it can feel like two completely different experiences. If you hike in the early morning, the canyon is cool and refreshing. Hike it after 11am in the summer and it can feel more like a sauna.
  7. This is one of the most popular if not the most popular hike in Colorado, so avoid holiday weekends. Or go very early, by 7am, if you want a parking spot.
  8. Don't forget to bring a camera.
  9. There will likely be snow on the trail in the Spring, Fall, and of course Winter, so we advise bringing a traction device like YakTrax and trekking poles.
  10. Don’t cut through the switchbacks, these are here to cut down on erosion, which can be significant with around 130,000 visitors hiking the trail each year.


Can I Fish at Hanging Lake?

There are trout at Hanging Lake, but fishing is NOT allowed because of the lake’s unique and fragile ecosystem. However, if you would like to add fishing to your day, I’d recommend fishing the Colorado River along the Hanging Lake trailhead. I’ve not fished this section of the Colorado River, but I saw trout rising while we were walking past, and there looks to be some pretty good access to the river banks.

Are Dos Allowed at Hanging Lake

You’ll have to leave Fido at home for this one because dogs prohibited on the Hanging Lake Trail and at Hanging Lake. In fact, the forest service sites that dogs, and the trash left by visitors, are biggest threat to the sensitive environment of Hanging Lake. A lot of people ask if you can swim in Hanging Lake, and for the same reasons swimming is prohibited. In fact, the US Forest service details that there is to be "no bodily contact" with the water.

Camping Near Hanging Lake


We decided to camp with our family on Friday night, then to get up early on Saturday to do the Hanging Lake hike. I was surprised by how difficult it was to find a campground near Glenwood Springs.

However, we eventually found and reserved amazing campground. In fact, it’s so good that I’m hesitant to share it. We booked a campsite at Bogen Flats Campground along the Crystal River. It was a 1 hour drive from the campground to the hanging lake trailhead. Though, not as beautiful, you could camp at Redstone Campground, which is a bit closer. We would also recommend (if you have a good clearance 2WD vehicle), the Avalanche Creek site--no reservations required. There is a KOA near Glenwood Springs that gets great reviews, too.

Lodging near Hanging Lake

If you don’t want to rough it, there are plenty of lodging options in Glenwood Springs and great places to stay.

Other things to Do in Nearby Glenwood Springs

If you are driving from the east, there is a good chance that you may want to spend the weekend or a couple vacation days in Glenwood Springs. If you are looking for some things to do, here are a few suggestions.

  • The Hot Springs at Glenwood Springs - Sit back and soak in the main attraction and namesake of Glenwood Springs, Colorado. This is a perfect way to recover after your hike up to Hanging Lake.
  • Glenwood Caverns Cave Tours and Adventure Park - Go on one of the many different cave tours, or seek some above ground thrills on the parks many rides and attractions.
  • Rafting - There are a ton of rafting outfits in the Glenwood Springs area. Check out this Glenwood Springs page for a listing of Colorado guided rafting tours.
  • A Whole Lot More - Glenwood Springs was voted as one of the best vacation spots in the West--there is just a surprising amount of fun to be had in this Colorado town. The best place to really explore and find out more about the area’s attractions, see the Visit Glenwood site and begin planning your trip.

Proposing at Hanging Lake

Hanging Lake is a picture perfect place for an engagement. The downside is that there is a lot of traffic on this popular Colorado trail. So, here are three tips that should help you out.

  • Go early on the weekend, on a weekday, or off-season. By early, I mean parking the car by 6:45 AM.
  • Hanging Lake is great, but Spouting Falls is, in my opinion an even more spectacular spot for an engagement, especially because you can walk underneath the waterfall.
  • There are some rocks on the back side of Hanging Lake that you could scramble up with your significant other and get engaged under the spray and sound of the waterfall along Hanging Lake.
  • For a great example of engagement photos, check out Kristen Hakes Photography's photo shoot at Hanging Lake and Spouting Rock.


History and Geology of Colorado’s Hanging Lake

Hanging Lake was formed in a really interesting way. At some point in it’s geologic history, about 1.5 acres of the valley floor dropped out and formed the bed of the lake. This happened because it sits right on a fault line. The blue and green colors in the lake is a result of the carbonates, minerals that have dissolved in the water. Most of the rock in this area is travertine, a kind of limestone that often precipitates out of hot springs and mineral springs.

It was supposedly first discovered by an early pioneer prospecting for gold in the area. He and his family lived on the real estate near Glenwood Springs for some years before the city of Glenwood Springs purchased it as a park. Hanging Lake is now under the authority and management of the White River National Forest. In 2011, Hanging Lake was declared a National Natural Landmark.

Links & Resources for Hiking Hanging Lake :

hiker and child on mt bierstadt trail with mountains in background hike near denver

Mt. Bierstadt Trail on Guanella Pass

Summit a Fourteener, Mount Bierstadt, or go for an easy hike with your family high in Colorado's Rocky Mountains. In short, you've got options on this trail near the top of Guanella Pass. You can choose an easy stroll or a difficult hike. Explore the trail snapshot and profile below for hiking, camping, and trail map info.

Trail Snapshot: Mr. Bierstadt Hike at Guanella Pass

You've got options with the Mount Bierstadt trail. First, we'll profile the hike to the summit. Below that, you'll find some information on how to just explore the area with your family or friends, making this an easy hike high in the Colorado mountain.

Climb Your First Colorado Fourteener

Mt. Bierstadt is popular, not just because it's so close to Denver, but it's also one of the easier and more accessible of Colorado's 54 fourteen thousand foot peaks. The Mount Bierstadt trail can be accessed on the south side of Guanella Pass from the Mt Bierstadt trailhead (click here for map and directions from Denver). It's important to be aware that the weather can change in an instant in the mountains, and that snow can come in fast even in the late Spring and early Fall. As with any Day Hike, be sure to (at least) pack the 10 Essentials.

The Bierstadt trail is well marked; you'll follow signs down to a boardwalk, then to Scott Gomer Creek. After crossing the creek, the trail will become more steep, and the steepness will increase as you make your way to the summit. The trail winds gently through the tundra until you are about three miles in when the green and brown gives way to rock. Follow the west ridge up to the summit of Mount Bierstadt. For a detailed trace and profile of the Mt.Bierstadt route, see this Route #1 Bierstadt profile on

hiker crossing creek below mt bierstadt near guanella pass with child in backpack carrier

Make it an Easy Family Hike

Hiking Colorado's Bierstadt trail doesn't mean that you have to summit. In fact, the first mile of trail is really tame. It takes you over a creek, through willows, and by two small high mountain lakes. If you want to gain additional views, you can add another half mile of moderate hiking that will take you above the valley floor.

We took our 4 1/2 year old, 2 year old with us in the Fall and they loved it. Dog's on the Mount Bierstadt trail must be kept on a leash and need to be kept 100' from water sources (in short, they aren't allowed to play in the lakes and streams). In fact, because we'd recommend that you leave Fido at home because of the fragile alpine tundra ecosystem. In August of 2012, Missy, a German Shepherd, was rescued after being stranded on the peak for eight days. You can read more about her ordeal and the rescue in this Denver Post article.

lake along bierstadt trail on guanella pass colorado hike

Camping Near the Mt. Bierstadt Trail

There are a lot of campground sites along both sides of Guanella pass that are managed by the forest service (fee required) and dispersed camping is allowed on US Forest and wilderness areas. Below you'll find a few important links to camping information for the Mt. Bierstadt and Guanella Pass Area.

Tips & Resources for Hiking the Mt. Bierstadt Trail:

  • TIP: Go Early; the parking lot at the Mt. Bierstadt Trailhead fills fast.
  • TIP: If you've never summited a 14er before, be sure to read this great article by Lindsey Koehler of 5280 Magazine.
  • TIP: If you plan to summit Mount Bierstadt, start early so that you can be back at the trailhead before the almost daily summer thunderstorms role in. I'd recommend starting around 6am, so that you're back at your car around 11am.
  • TIP: Hiking times vary. Those who frequently make the assault on Mt. Bierstadt (even trail run it), can make it up and back in 3 hours. The average is 5hrs, but adjust for experience and how good of shape you're in
  • After the Hike: Tommy Knocker Brewery
  • TIP: The weather will be cooler at the trailhead than the posted Georgetown, Colorado temperature below. It will be even cooler at the summit of Mt. Beirstadt.
  • Trail Map for Guanella Pass: Trail Map Link
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions


Map & Driving Directions to Trailhead for Mt. Bierstadt

Click for Driving Directions

above bear lake in rmnp looking to glacier gorge hike finder

Forgotten Valley Hike at Golden Gate State Park

Can you think of a more mysterious name for a hike? Colorado's Golden Gate State Park has many trails, and the Forgotten Valley is a great place to start discovering this gem that is tucked between Golden and Boulder, Colorado. Get all the details on hiking the Forgotten Valley by scrolling down to the hike snapshot and hiking tips below.

Trail Snapshot: Forgotten Valley Hike at Golden Gate State Park

The Forgotten Valley in Golden Gate Canyon State Park is a step back in time.This day hike near Denver takes you 1.5 miles to an old homestead complete with front porch views of the small lake that sits in the bottom of the valley. From the Bridge Trailhead, take the Burro Trail for approximately 3/4 of a mile to where it intersects with the Mountain Lion Trail. Turn North (Left) on the Mountain Lion Trail, and follow that for about 3/4 of mile to Forgotten Valley and the Tallman Homestead. The pond in the valley is stocked by the division of wildlife. We want to thank Kenny Chaffin for his photo of the Tallman Homestead. You can view more of his Denver area photos here.

forgotten valley homestead hike golden

Tips & Resources for Hiking Forgotten Valley Hike at Golden Gate State Park :


Map & Driving Directions

Click for Driving Directions

man painting red rocks at trading post trail in red rocks park near denver with red rocks in background hikes 30 minutes from denver

chicago lakes from above with storm brewing near mt evans colorado

Chicago Lakes Hike Near Mt. Evans

Want to take in some of Colorado's breathtaking scenery and put some miles under your hiking boots? The Chicago Lakes hike begins at Echo Lake. You'll pass three more mountain lakes as you punch up into the high country of Colorado's Mt. Evan's Wilderness. Explore the full trail profile below for the Chicago Lakes which includes driving directions, map, and tips.

Trail Snapshot: Chicago Lakes Hike Near Idaho Springs, Colorado

Looking for amazing views and some high mountain lakes near Denver? This challenging hike takes you to two high mountain lakes with amazing views of the Mt. Evans Wilderness area. Both lakes can be fished, as well as the lower Idaho Springs Reservoir that you pass on your way. We are not into giving long trail descriptions on Dayhikes Near Denver, but we'd suggest you read the basic one below and check out the trail description and pdf Chicago Lakes map link in the trail profile below.

The Chicago Lakes Trailhead and Trail: Park at the Echo Lake lot, where you'll find the sign for Chicago Lakes Trail 52 on the west side of the lake. That will lead you to another sign about .5 mile later directing you to the trail. The trail will turn into Idaho Springs Reservoir Road, then will return to a normal trail. It climbs through a burn area, the result of a fire in the 1970s, then continues to climb to Lower Chicago lake. The trail has a lot of character: steep areas, massive cliff walls, and expansive meadows. The trail continues, faint at times, up a steeper section to Upper Chicago Lake.

wildflowers in meadow with mountains in background on chicago lakes trail near mt evans colorado

As you'll see in the comments on this hike, people come back with different trail lengths. So, to clear this up: Beginning at Echo Lake, the trail is 4.24 miles one-way to the lake. However, most people don't want to stop there, many continue on to the upper lake, which adds and additional .6 mile to the trail. Then, some people opt to hike around the lake, which adds to the hike as well. You may want to start early, especially in the Summer months so that you have the time to explore and to avoid our famous, afternoon Colorado thunderstorms.

Tips & Resources for Hiking Chicago Lakes Near Mt. Evans, Colorado :


Map & Driving Directions

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above bear lake in rmnp looking to glacier gorge colorado hike finder

crown hill lake trails header

Crown Hill Lake Trails

Jefferson County seems to turn to gold about every park they touch here in Colorado. Crown Hill Lake Park is a prime example. It's an oasis in the midst of the busy city of Denver. The park has beautiful views of the Front Range mountains, including the Flatirons down in Boulder.

Crown Hill Lake Park has three miles of paved trails and .7 of them are considered ADA accessible, all in the heart of Denver. On the northwest side of the park, you'll find a wildlife sanctuary for migratory birds. Explore the full trail profile below for all the details: hiking trails, trail map, and detailed directions to the trailhead.

Trail Snapshot: Crown Hill Lake Trails

Hikes at Crown Hill Park:

  • Loop Trail - 1.2miles - goes around the lakeside
  • Perimeter Trail - 2 miles - goes around the edge of the park
  • Nature Preserve Trail / Wildlife Sanctuary Trail - .7 mile - Hiker Only and ADA accessible trail
  • Link to the Park's Map

Tips & Resources for Hiking Crown Hill Lake Trails :

  • TIP: It's a busy park, so try earlier and later in the day.
  • TIP: The wildlife preserve is hiker only. No dogs in this area.
  • TIP: There is a lot of multi-use traffic on the trails, so be alert and yield when appropriate.
  • Trail Map for Crown Hill Park: Trail Map Link
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • After the Hike: Danny's Carnation Restaurant
  • Photo: We would like to express our gratitude to Kasey Cline for sharing such an amazing photograph of this hike.


Map & Driving Directions

Click for Driving Directions

baby mountain goat on mount evans colorado more easy hikes

Echo Lake Trail Near Mt. Evans

Colorado's Echo Lake is looped by an easy hiking trail and serves as a trailhead to even more classic Colorado hikes. When we have friends and family visiting Colorado from out of town, this is one of best destinations for a great views. Go early to Echo Lake to get perfect photos of Mount Evans reflected in the water. Explore the full hike profile below that will give you driving directions from Denver, a trail map, and all the information you need to launch out on this adventure.

Trail Snapshot: Echo Lake Near Mt. Evans

Echo Lake Area

A great Colorado park to take visiting family and friends. It's an hour from Denver and has very short trail, but it's a great place to introduce others to the beauty of the Rocky Mountains and to take in a high Colorado lake. The trail circles Echo Lake and connects to several other trails: Chicago Lakes, Bear Track Lakes trails, which give you access to Mount Evans Wilderness Area which is full of other great hiking trails,and Mt. Evans summit.

Near the parking area, you'll find a stone picnic shelter which was built in 1937. When the weather is getting hot, it's a great place for a picnic or a wonderful place to break out the hot chocolate on a snowy winter day.

If you are looking for more Colorado lake hikes, be sure to check out our Lake Hikes Near Denver page.

Echo Lake Colorado Camping

There are great camping opportunities at the Echo Lake Campground near the lake. Near the shores is a spruce forest. For detailed information on camping near Echo Lake in Mt. Evans, see the page.

Tips & Resources for Hiking Echo Lake, Colorado :

  • TIP: Early morning means that Echo lake is still, providing no windy weather, and is a perfect time to photograph or just to observe the rocky mountains reflected in the water.
  • TIP: A nice short Colorado hike can be made by parking at the parking lot (see map above & below), and hiking around the lake to the Historic Echo Lake Lodge. Visit there, then turn around and enjoy the lake on the way back again.
  • TIP: When you finish, drive up to the summit and enjoy the view from the top of Mt. Evans. Or visit Summit Lake Park
  • TIP: One of our favorite day-trips with visitors who are not from Colorado, is to take them to Echo Lake, Mt. Evans Summit (by car), then into Evergreen for Pizza at Beaujos Pizza
  • TIP: In regards to driving to the top of Mt. Evans: We avoid bringing friends who are not in good health. Be sure to have your guests drink plenty of water, and make sure they have had a day or two to get used to the altitude in the mile-high city.
  • Weather: The Weather link below is for Idaho Springs. Weather at the altitude of Echo Lake may be very different, and Weather at the summit will definitely be different. Check this National Weather Service Link for more accurate forecasts.
  • After the Hike: After The Hike: Beaujos in Evergreen
  • Looking for something more adventurous? Try the Chicago Lakes Hike. It starts in the same parking lot.
  • Trail Map for Echo Lake Park: Trail Map Link
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions