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Glenwood Springs, CO: Land of water and wonder in the Rocky Mountains

Written By | Jul 23, 2020

GLENWOOD SPRINGS: Known as The Land of Water, Glenwood Springs, Colorado has three separate, world-class mineral hot springs making it the idyllic respite to soothe your soul. Add to that a mountaintop park with one-of-a-kind attractions, outdoor adventures, as well as a cornucopia of dining options, and you have all the elements for the perfect Rocky Mountain vacation.

Glenwood Springs, Colorado, CO

Glenwood Canyon at night near the Glenwood Hot Springs. @Ron Stern, all rights reserved

Easily accessible and just a short 2.5-hour drive west of Denver, the town is situated roughly halfway between Vail and Grand Junction.  This is one of the most beautiful sections of the interstate highway system. You will wind your way through towering sandstone canyons and past mountainous groves of pine and aspen trees and shimmering lakes and streams. As you make your way through Glenwood Canyon alongside the Colorado River, you might spot white water rafters, fishermen, or cyclists enjoying some of the best outdoor recreations this area has to offer.

Three Mineral Hot Springs in One Location

Between lakes, rivers, and underground thermal springs, much of Glenwood’s history is based around water. The Ute Indians named one of these springs Yampah, meaning big medicine, as they believed the healing waters made them better hunters. You can enjoy all three springs as they are within close proximity to the center of town.

Glenwood Hot Springs Pool

Located just across from the historic Hotel Colorado, the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool is the world’s largest outdoor mineral hot springs and one of the loveliest. Unobstructed views of the entire complex are visible from the newly constructed pedestrian bridge connecting to downtown shopping and restaurant venues.

Travelers come from all over the world to take the waters, rich in 17 minerals coming from an underground spring that produces 3,500,000 gallons of water. There are two pools kept at temperatures of 90F and 104F degrees, which many claim have healing properties for various ailments.

Shoshone Chutes white water open-air tubing experience. @Ron Stern, All rights reserved

The Sopris Splash Zone is a new addition featuring child-friendly mini-water slides and a waterfall. Kids will also love the Grand Fountain, a huge splash pad by day that is transformed into a colorfully lit fountain by night.

Hop onto an inflatable tube for a thrilling white water experience at Shoshone Chutes, all without leaving the grounds. Prepare for an adrenaline rush as you twist, turn, and splash your way downhill as the waters cool you off— the perfect counterpoint to the hot thermal pools.

Yampah Spa–The Hot Springs Vapor Caves

Another geothermal wonder are these underground steam baths heated by natural mineral waters. Upon entering, you will walk through a stone corridor and downstairs into the caves. The stillness and water vapor in the air are usually enough to calm the nerves and help the stress melt away.

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Sit and relax on some benches while you deeply inhale the vapors with temperatures running between 110F-112F degrees. There is a cooling room or solarium in which to rest, and afterward, you can also enjoy any number of spa treatments such as massage, facials, and beauty therapies.

Iron Mountain Hot Springs

This newest venue, the Iron Mountain Hot Springs, is arguably one of the most beautiful in the world. Situated right alongside the Colorado River with views of red-hued mountains, 16 soaking pools are set along a terraced hillside among rock formations, colorful flowers, trees, and water features. Relaxing acoustic guitar music creates a tranquil ambiance that will help refresh your spirit.

One of the 16 thermal mineral pools at Iron Mountain Hot Springs. @Ron Stern, All rights reserved

The healing power of mineral waters has been known for thousands of years. You can choose from pools of various sizes that range in temperature from 98F to 108F degrees. Fourteen minerals, each with known medicinal qualities include boron, calcium, iron, lithium, sulfate, and zinc.

As with other attractions in Glenwood Springs, you will need to make reservations.  COIVD enforcing capacity limits and mask requirements when not in the pools. But don’t let any of that deter you. This is a first-class operation that includes a large family freshwater pool for the kiddies and an onsite café.

Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park

Located atop Iron Mountain, this is the only mountain-top theme park in America and attracts visitors from all over the world. Access is via the colorful orange gondolas at the base that will elevate you a world away from the city below.

You can easily spend the entire day among the various diversions. Let’s start with the thrill rides, including the first alpine coaster in America. You will scream down the 3,400-foot mountain with hairpin turns among the trees, shrubs, and some truly spectacular scenery.

There are many other rides such as the Cliffhanger Roller Coaster, the highest elevation coaster in the U.S.; the Giant Canyon swing suspending you 1,300 feet above the Colorado River, and the Soaring Eagle Zip Ride. The latter pulls you 600 feet backward in the air and then propels you forward at an exhilarating clip.

Diving under ground

Then, there is the newest hair on fire ride— the Haunted Mine Drop. The first of its kind in the world, this exhilarating experience starts above ground and then quickly drops you 110 feet underground inside Iron Mountain—brilliant!

Plenty of rides for adults and kids are here at the top of Iron Mountain, @Ron Stern, all rights reserved

Of course, there are many other things to do at the park, including a 4D Theater that features moving seats, music, lights, sounds, and whiffs of air and water. The park also has a climbing wall, child-friendly rides, food, and entertainment.

No trip here would be complete without a tour of the historic Fairy Caves, discovered by accident in the 1880s and dubbed The Eighth Wonder of the World. The 40-minute tour will reveal a red chamber known as The Barn as well as the pièce de résistance— the King’s Row. Laden with stalactites and stalagmites adorning the floor and ceiling, the formations reminded the discoverer of pieces on a chessboard.

Doc Holliday Comes to Glenwood–to Stay

Many historical figures visited Glenwood including Doc Holliday. Holliday was famous (some would say infamous) as being a friend of Wyatt Earp and survivor of the OK Corral Gunfight. The ill-fated gun battle against a group calling themselves The Outlaws occurred at 3 pm on Wednesday, October 6, 1881. The event, happening in Tombstone, Arizona, has been popularized in pop culture and movies.

Holliday eventually came to Glenwood Springs in 1887 seeking a cure for tuberculosis, which was known as consumption in his day. Unfortunately, the disease got the better of him and he died at the Glenwood Hotel the same year. His last words were reported to be, “This is funny,” possibly referring to his dying without his boots on.

Historical actors portraying Doc Holliday on the right and Kid Curry on the left.

Two notable spots in town are keeping the history of this famous gunslinger alive.

The Doc Holliday Saloon and Restaurant on Grand Ave. is a popular watering hole for food and drinks with memorabilia adorning the walls. Then, just a couple doors down is a cooperative gallery on the former spot where the Glenwood Hotel stood and where Holliday stayed. The original building caught fire and burned to the ground. The current structure houses a nice museum downstairs. For a small donation, you can watch a video about Holliday and see some of the tools of his dentistry trade as well as other items of historical interest.

A half-mile walk uphill will bring you to Pioneer Cemetery where Doc Holliday rests. Although there is a gravestone marking the location, the exact spot is unknown.

Outdoor Adventures Galore

During the summer months, you can partake in any number of recreational activities such as white water rafting on the Colorado River. If you stand on the pedestrian bridge, you can watch these rafts passing underneath toward various degrees of rapids.

Kayaking, paddleboarding, and fishing are also quite popular, and local companies or your hotel will have information on where and how to book your reservations.

Cycling beautiful Glenwood Canyon by bicycle. @Ron Stern, all rights reserved

Sightseeing along scenic Glenwood Canyon is best by bicycle. Several companies offer bikes, including speed assisted e-bikes that make exploring fun and effortless. The trail follows the scenic Colorado River, Packing a picnic lunch would be a picture-perfect way to explore the trail.

 Gateway to the Foodie World

You might think that a mountain town wouldn’t be a hotspot for dining, but that isn’t the case. With more than 80 restaurants, you have your choice of cuisines such as Asian, barbecue, Japanese, Jamaican, and American. Most of these are along 7th Street, known as Restaurant Row, easily walkable and pedestrian-friendly. Here is a tasty sampling of eateries:

Juicy Lucys Steakhouse

One of the most popular eateries in Glenwood. @Ron Stern, all rights reserved

Located across from the train depot in a circa 1800s building, this was named after the owner’s daughter and is a local favorite. If you crave premium meat, this is the place to order a steak, elk, or lamb. They source locally and have seafood delivered fresh six days a week.  Rooftop dining is available with shady umbrellas and grand views of the city.

Glenwood Canyon Brewpub Company

This is a family-friendly restaurant inside the historic Hotel Denver serving up tasty pub fare as well as year-round and seasonal brews such as Black Diamond Imperial Stout. There is a shady outdoor dining courtyard with burgers, sandwiches, and light meals on the menu. The strawberry salad with mixed greens, blue cheese crumbles, almonds, and a citrus poppy dressing is quite good.

Riviera Supper Club and Piano Bar

This iconic landmark has had a couple of iterations and is now part upscale restaurant and part musical theater. Chef/owner Travis Owen loves to prepare dishes using locally sourced suppliers and seasonal ingredients. He has both traditional dishes like Colorado beef stroganoff and others that use his foodie talents. During the summer that might be a starter made with sweet grilled Palisade peaches, blue cheese, and arugula on flatbread.

Glenwood Springs, Colorado, CO

Fresh and colorful starters at The Riviera using local ingredients such as these Palisade Peaches. @Ron Stern, all rights reserved

Once all Covid-19 restrictions lift, they plan on returning to their musical roots with complete theme-based meals. In the past, they have run Valentine’s Day, Phantom of the Opera, and Moulin Rouge themed celebrations.

The Pullman

Serving approachable, new American cuisine, the Pullman is one of the restaurants seeking to elevate the local dining experience. Using locally sourced beef and vegetables, they prepare traditional and adventurous meals to tempt your palate.

. Large plates include dishes such as their braised pork shoulder with cheesy grits. Plates pair easily with any of the wines or spirits they offer.

For dessert, if available, try their salted chocolate with a peanut butter crunch crust and peanut butter Anglaise sweet cream. Simply fabulous!

Sundae in Glenwood

With four locations in Colorado mountain communities, Sundae artisan ice cream prepares everything on-site in small batches. The results are creamy, smooth, sweet confections that usually draw lines out the door.  Some of their combinations include Cookie Jar, Malted Mint, and Caramel Brownie. It may be hard to choose from so many flavors. However, the simple hot fudge sundae with sweet cream ice cream, whipped cream, nuts, and cherry is beyond perfection.

Try their simple but delicious hot fudge sundae that is all prepared by hand. @Ron Stern, all rights reserved

Glenwood is a walkable town with most restaurants and attractions close or within just a short drive. During warmer months you will feel comfortable dressing informally while strolling or dining. During COVID-19, there may be restrictions that include reduced capacity, wearing masks, and maintaining safe distancing. Consequently, make a reservation online to make sure they have a table for you.

Even with these inconveniences, Glenwood‘s watery pleasures and other wonders await those looking for a safe and endearing vacation destination.

Where to Stay

The historic Hotel Colorado is one of Glenwood’s most enduring landmarks. Having opened their doors in 1893, they have played host to presidents and celebrities. The infamous gangster Al Capone even stayed here. Rumors are that the gangster built a secret exit. Just in case the Feds came to call.

One of the most beautiful historical hotels in America. @Ron Stern, all rights reserved

The beautiful exterior is hard to miss and many of the hotel’s interior decorations and paintings are original. They offer comfortable rooms and exceptional service and are conveniently located directly across from the Glenwood Hot Springs.

Plan Your Trip to Glenwood: 

Visit Glenwood Springs

Glenwood Hot Springs

Glenwood  Caverns Adventure Park

Yampah Spa- The Hot Springs Vapor Caves

Sunlight Ski and Bike Shop (e-bikes)

Ron Stern

Ron Stern aka "The Global Gumshoe," I am a travel photojournalist and the author of hundreds of international and domestic travel articles. I am the Denver City Guide Editor for The Daily Meal, and a staff writer for Communities Digital News. My articles have appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, San Diego Union-Tribune, Sun Sentinel, Yahoo News, MSN, and others. Magazines include Shape, Cruise, AAA Motorist, Visit Los Cabos Guide, Destinations West, Key Biscayne and La Jolla Today. My contributions have been noted by PBS, Mobil Travel Guides and my photography/ videography has been used extensively by entities such as tourism boards and public relations firms.