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Colorado’s Most Instagram-Famous Lake is Closed Indefinitely

After mudslides cover the Hanging Lake Trail, officials say rebuilding could take a year.

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Just three and a half months after reopening to the public, Colorado’s Hanging Lake is once again closed due to a mudslide that partially obliterated the trail to it, the U.S. Forest Service announced today.

In a news conference, White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said a mudslide in the burn area left by last year’s Grizzly Creek Fire’s left much of the trail to the popular lake under a debris field and damaged or completely washed out multiple bridges. As a result, he said, Hanging Lake would be “closed for the foreseeable future.”

“This is not a minor trail reroute or something like that,” Fitzwilliams said. “It’s really a complete reconstruction that’s needed.

debris covers the trail to Hanging Lake
Photo: U.S. Forest Service

For years, Hanging Lake has been a popular destination for tourists and local hikers, who make the steep, 1.2-mile hike up to the lake’s cliffside perch to admire its clear, turquoise waters. In 2020, the Grizzly Creek Fire scorched 32,000 acres of the surrounding forest, forcing the Forest Service to close the trail and bar access. Miraculously, the lake itself escaped the fire, and on May 1, it once again opened to hikers on a reservation basis. However, the fire left the surrounding slopes destabilized, and in July and August, a series of mudslides hit the area, closing I-70, covering the trail, and turning the lake’s normally-clear waters into an opaque, chocolate-milk-like liquid.

There is no timeframe for Hanging Lake’s reopening; before beginning to rebuild, the agency will need to assess the damage and arrange a budget to pay for it. Fitzwilliams said that while he and the Forest Service are committed to reopening the trail, the lake will remain closed through the fall and winter, and likely well into next hiking season.

“If I had the money today, it would take a year to do that. It’s a huge project, it will take a whole new redesign of that trail. We have a new landscape,” Fitzwilliams said. “I would be very surprised if that trail is passable next year at this time.”