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.
Easily accessible and just a short 2.5 hour drive west of Denver, the town is 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, fisherman, or cyclists enjoying some of best outdoor recreation 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.
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.
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.
Another thermal wonder are these underground steam baths heated by natural mineral waters. Upon entering, you will walk through a stone corridor and down stairs into the caves. The stillness and water vapor in the air is usually enough to calm the nerves and help the stress melt away.
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 afterwards, you can also enjoy any number of spa treatments such as massage, facials, and beauty therapies.
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.
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 as there is limited capacity during Covid-19, and a mask is required to be worn between pools. But don’t let any of that deter you as this a first-class operation with a little something for everyone including a large family pool for the kids (fresh water) and an onsite café.
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 backwards in the air and then propels you forward at an exhilarating clip. 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!
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 Cave, 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 chess board.
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 in Tombstone, Arizona and has been popularized in many movies since.
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 reportedly, “This is funny,” possibly referring to his dying without his boots on.
Two notable spots in town are keeping the history of this famous gunslinger alive. The Doc Holliday Saloon 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 building houses a nice museum downstairs, and 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 Holliday is buried. Although there is a gravestone marking the location, the exact spot is unknown.
Outdoor Adventures Galore
During the summer months, you can partake of 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, paddle boarding, and fishing are also quite popular, and local companies or your hotel will have information on where and how to book your reservations.
Sightseeing along scenic Glenwood Canyon is best done by bicycle, and several companies offer bikes, including speed assisted e-bikes that make exploring the canyon fun and effortless. The trail also follows the scenic Colorado River, and 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 concentrated along 7th Street, known as Restaurant Row, easily walkable and pedestrian-friendly. Here is a tasty sampling of eateries:
Juicy Lucy’s Steakhouse
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.
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 such a Wagu beef hot dog with his house-made chili.
Once all Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, 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.
Serving approachable, new American cuisine, the Pullman is one of the restaurants seeking to elevate the dining experience in Glenwood and across Colorado. Using locally sourced beef and vegetables, they prepare traditional and adventurous meals to tempt your palate.
During the summer, they might offer a starter made with sweet grilled Palisade peaches, blue cheese, and arugula on flatbread. Large plates include dishes such as their braised pork shoulder with cheesy grits, which you can pair with one of their large selection of wines or sprits.
For dessert, if available, try their salted chocolate with a peanut butter crunch crust and peanut butter anglaise sweet cream– simply fabulous!
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, but their simple hot fudge sundae with sweet cream ice cream, whipped cream, nuts, and a cherry is beyond perfection and not to be missed.
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-10, there may be restrictions that include reduced capacity, wearing masks, and maintaining safe distancing. Consequently, reservations may be required, and some places only accept these online. 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 and is rumored to have built a secret exit in case the Feds came a calling.
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.
If You Go:
FTC Disclosure: This was a sponsored visit, however, all opinions herein are the authors