The first thing I noticed was the smell.
Co-worker Rachel Sauer and I had barely exited our car when the intoxicating scent of evergreen trees mixed with fresh mountain air after a rain shower welcomed us with open arms.
“I’m so happy,” we each said at the same time.
Although Rachel and I love living in Grand Junction, we also enjoy places where morning temperatures stay below 70 degrees and tree cover dampens the sun’s intensity.
Hanging Lake east of Glenwood Springs is one of those places.
Since Rachel and I hadn’t taken an adventure in a while, we decided it was time to flee our inferno cars and sweating and traveled on a recent Friday morning to Hanging Lake, a place I had never been but always wanted to see.
Located about 90 miles east of Grand Junction right off Interstate 70, Hanging Lake was as easy a place to find as any in the state. A huge parking lot and large restroom greeted us at the exit.
Rachel briefed me on what to expect from the hike: it’s short, but tough, and very popular.
We arrived about 8:15 a.m. and there were already two dozen cars in the lot.
After a stop in the glorious bathrooms with flushing toilets and hand soap, we made the flat, half-mile walk to Hanging Lake trailhead, passing two signs that said, to paraphrase, “No Dogs.” (See column.)
Although the trail immediately went up — you’ll gain about 1,100 feet in roughly 1.2 miles — I knew I would love everything about hiking to Hanging Lake and Bridal Veil Falls.
1. The sound of rushing water? Check. The trail followed Dead Horse Creek from bottom to top, making conversations nearly impossible as the water tumbled over rocks to create one of my favorite sounds on earth. Rachel and I could only talk during one of our frequent water and photograph breaks.
2. Lush vegetation? Check. There were so many shade trees I took my sunglasses and hat off. Moss, ferns and other ground cover lined the trail and rocks. It made everything cooler and smelled wonderful.
3. Well-marked? Check. I’m not a fan of guessing where to go on trails. I’m also not a fan of wondering how far I’ve gone and how much farther I have to go. Signs every quarter-mile kept me on target, making all the switchbacks and tough inclines easier because I knew that once I hit the mile mark I had little left.
4. Balance assistance? Check. I can be unsteady, so I loved the large rocks and trees along the trail that helped me stay upright, particularly because the trail was basically an ascent over rocks and some tree roots. I really liked the handrails at the end when the trail narrowed into one large rock after another. It had recently rained so things were a little slick.
5. Waterfall and mountain lake? Check and check. Hanging Lake and Bridal Veil Falls were spectacular. The benches and walkway around the lake to keep people away from the edge were wonderful, too. Rachel and I stayed up there for nearly 30 minutes to take photographs and just breathe.
The walk back down was nearly 45 minutes. By the time we returned to our cars at 11:15 a.m., the parking lot was full and about 100 people were still on the trail.
So, yeah, it’s a popular hike, but I can see why. I loved this hike. I miss it already.