Mud Season: the period of time after the slopes close to skiers and before the trails are dry enough to hike without looking like a mud monster in 10 minutes.
While the typical visitor tends to shy away during mud season, the true locals know this is the prime time to enjoy Colorado without the crowds. Imagine: hiking and biking trails – empty. The best fly fishing spot – abandoned. Top restaurants – vacant, except for locals enjoying insane discounts and specials. Now is the time to take advantage of approachable prices and avoid the crowds. You’ll need to be prepared for everything Mother Nature has to offer: rain, snow, sleet, sunshine, and 30-70 degree weather, possibly all in the same day. But trust us, it’s worth it.
We’re going to ease you into mud season activities today by starting with a favorite: Hanging Lake. While this hike isn’t right in Edwards or Vail, it’s just a short, scenic drive away in Glenwood Canyon.
Hanging Lake is the stuff of Instagram dreams: multiple water falls, a pristine aqua lake, and the Colorado wilderness as your backdrop. #nofilter.
The trail itself is just 1.2 miles each way, but beware. You’ll gain 1,096 feet in elevation. That boils down to a lot of stairs and a precarious shuffle along a rock shelf (with a fence). You will be rewarded with amazing views and an excuse to skip leg day.
*Tip: Don't be the fashionista hiking in flip-flops. Wear sturdy sneakers. The trail is short, but the climb can be tough and a bit slippery. Don’t forget to bring water, too.
Hanging Lake has become incredibly popular in the last few years. Visitors spiked from 99,000 people yearly in 2014, to more than 150,000 in 2016. That is a lot for a 1.2-mile trail and a parking lot with just 112 parking spaces to handle. The beauty of this lake and the fascinating aqua hue to the water is thanks to a fragile ecosystem, which is at risk due to the sheer volume of visitors. The Denver Post even said visitors who don’t understand their impact or are not careful with their actions are “loving it to death”.
A Few Rules
Locals love to hear visitors gush about the breathtaking sites we visit every day, but want that to be an option for future generations, too. So, we urge you to take in the wonder that is Hanging Lake while behaving responsibly. The National Forest Service has some easy and necessary rules to follow.
No dogs: Your furry friend won’t know to stay on the trail and can introduce harmful elements to the fragile environment.
Stay on the trail: Don’t smoosh the plants trying to grow!
No fishing: Try the Eagle River or Colorado River instead.
Don’t climb on the log or touch the water: We know it’s tempting, but introducing oils from your skin or foreign elements on the bottom of your shoes can disrupt the balance of that pretty aqua water.
Leave no trace: That means packing out everything you bring in and taking nothing but photos and memories. Don’t carve your initials in a tree, leave your granola bar wrappers, or write graffiti on the rocks.
Due to the recent influx of visitors, which does not seem to be slowing any time soon, the National Forest Service has proposed a plan to minimalize human impact on the trail. The plan includes a limit of 615 visitors per day, all of which would need to purchase permits, and a shuttle system to and from the trail head. The plan was originally intended to be put into place on May 1, but action has been postponed. Another meeting will take place on August 25th, 2018 in Glenwood, where plans will hopefully be solidified.
That means that for now, the trail is still open 24 hours to an unlimited number of visitors. If you remember, we mentioned things can get a little crowded. This is where the local advice really comes in handy.
Hike Like a Local
If you can visit during mud season (April-May), you will see minimal crowds and are safe to visit any time of day. Once the summer is in full swing (June-August), you’ll need a game plan. We recommend arriving at the trail head no later than 9am or waiting until after 3pm. If you get there mid-day, you risk not finding a parking spot at all. In recent years, a Forest Ranger will tell you the lot is full and send you straight back to I-70. There are no nearby exits or parking lots in which to wait for a spot to open up, so this is definitely a scenario that is best to avoid.
Arriving early in the morning gives you the opportunity to hike at a leisurely pace and snap pictures as you please. You can breathe in the fresh air, enjoy the roar of the water falls, and revel in the fact that you climbed a small mountain before lunch. After all, experiences like this are why you wanted to visit Colorado in the first place.
*A tip for when you get to the top: hike both trails. To the right, you will see a boardwalk leading to that Instagram famous aqua lake with falls cascading at the back. There are benches and abundant photo opportunities. Make sure you take the steeper trail straight ahead as well. The upper trail doesn’t look like much at first, but you will be pleasantly surprised in just a few dozen feet. It leads to Bridal Veil Falls and the pool which feeds the lake. At the moment, visitors are still allowed to walk behind the water falls for a view you won’t forget.
We hope you have a great time hiking Hanging Lake and remember: please hike responsibly!