By Emma Livingston, Staff Writer
Glenwood Springs, Colorado is finally coming into its own. Long overshadowed by Aspen, home of multimillion-dollar mansions where the rich and famous come to play just one hour to the south, Glenwood Springs is becoming a tourist destination in its own right. That’s just fine, according to Greg Greer, an attorney who’s lived in the town for over 25 years. “Tourism is the life blood of these small mountain towns,” he says. For a local, tourism means that a town with a population of under 10,000 can support a wide variety of restaurants and entertainment options while still maintaining a small town feel.
Glenwood Springs, located at the western end of the Glenwood Canyon and the confluence of the Colorado and Roaring Forks Rivers, was founded in 1883 and was originally known as Defiance, Colorado. After the name was changed to the more palatable Glenwood Springs, and after the development of the Glenwood Hot Springs Bathhouse in the late 1880s, the town began to establish itself as a tourist destination. The original tourists were convalescents, people like Doc Holliday, who suffered from tuberculosis, and US president Teddy Roosevelt who suffered from chronic asthma. They came to this Colorado mountain town to breathe the “healthy mountain air” and bathe in the healing waters of the hot springs.
Today, many people still come for the hot springs, but the town has revamped its image to a place where visitors can “stay and play.” White water rafting companies, mountain bike rental companies, horseback riding companies, ATV and snowmobile rental companies abound, and in the winter, businesses catering to the ski industry pop out of the woodwork to rake in their share of the tourist dollars. The town even has an Adventure Park at the top of a mountain, complete with roller coaster, giant swing, zip lining, and swing ride.
Increasing tourism is not all fun and games for the locals. The cost of living in Glenwood Springs is extremely high. Rent and mortgages are nearly twice the US average, traffic jams on Grand Avenue, the town’s main street, and through the Glenwood Canyon are a daily irritation, and the trail up to Hanging Lake, the town’s most famous hike, is packed from bottom to top with tourists who litter the trail with candy wrappers and plastic water bottles.
Still, the town is surrounded by hundreds of hiking trails, ATV roads, and bike routes and there is plenty of opportunity to get off the tourist track. I lived in Glenwood Springs for the entire summer and each day I woke up with my picturesque view of Red Mountain, wondering what new adventure awaited me in my little mountain town.
IF YOU GO:
HOW TO GET THERE
By Car: Glenwood Springs is 3 hours west of Denver along the main east west interstate, I-70
By Train: Take the Amtrak California Zepher train west from Denver or east from San Francisco. See the beautiful mountain scenery and pull into the historic Amtrak station in downtown Glenwood, just across from the river from the famous hot springs.
WHERE TO EAT
Glenwood Canyon Brewpub, 402 7th St. 970-945-1276; A staple of Glenwood Springs since 1995, this restaurant located in the historic Hotel Denver serves “American cuisine with a worldly flair” as well as delicious handcrafted beer with cute local names such as “Grizzly Creek Raspberry Wheat,” “Hanging Lake Honey Ale,” and “No Name Nut Brown Ale.” Dinner for two with two beers, around $40.
Rivers, 2525 South Grand Ave. 970-928-8813; Serving fine beef, game and seafood with a beautiful patio overlooking the Roaring Fork River. Live music on Friday nights. Try their Sunday brunch, offering a variety of eggs benedict, crepes, and even smoked trout. Brunch for two, about $30.
WHAT TO DO
Swimming: The spa that started it all is Glenwood Hot Springs, which opened back in 1888 and is still going strong today. Featuring the largest hot springs pool in North America, the “big pool” is 90-93 degrees Fahrenheit all year long and has a water slide and diving board, while the “therapy pool” is a steaming 104 degrees. Cost for a day pass is $20 per adult. In July, 2015 a new hot springs opened. Iron Mountain Hot Springs is located right along the Colorado River and has a family pool and 15 small pools ranging in temperature from 98 degrees to 105 degrees. This new hot springs offers a quieter atmosphere than the more family oriented Glenwood Hot Springs.
Rafting / Tubing: Late August and the Colorado River is running low? Buy an inner tube from Walmart or any gas station, put in at Grizzly Creek, and float through the Glenwood Canyon down the Colorado River. Have a car waiting for you in West Glenwood or New Castle, or you can even catch a RFTA bus back into town. Best time for rafting? Late June, when the water is running fast, but not so fast that the massive Shoshone Rapids are closed to the public. I recommend going with White Water, LLC. They’ve been in business since 1974, and T-Bird alum Bob Morse works as a raft guide there. You can rent an inflatable kayak for $35 or take a guided half-day raft trip through the Shoshone Rapids for $52 a person.
Biking: Glenwood Springs features an impressive number of long distance bike trails. My favorites are the Glenwood Canyon Bike Trail, which starts in Glenwood Springs and zigzags along the Colorado River through the canyon 20 miles east to the small town of Dotsero, passing by the Hanging Lake trail head. I also highly recommend the Rio Grande Bike Trail, running 42 miles along the Roaring Fork River, starting in Two Rivers Park in Glenwood Springs and ending in the town of Aspen. It is a 2200 foot elevation gain from Glenwood Springs to Aspen, so if you are new to biking or just want to enjoy a pleasant downhill trip, take a RFTA bus from Glenwood to Aspen, and then bike the 42 miles downhill.
Hiking: Hanging Lake Trail is an absolute gem. 1.6 miles of rocky, steep terrain, it’s a definite workout, but at only 2 – 2.5 hours round trip, perfect for intermediate hikers who haven’t adjusted yet to the high elevation. The lake at the top of the trail is well worth the trip. It appears to be suspended on the cliff side and has a unique ecosystem found nowhere else in the world. Located off of exit 125, 9 miles east of Glenwood Springs, get there early (before 7am) or late (after 6pm) to ensure you get a parking spot and to avoid some of the massive crowds. Red Mountain: If the crowds at Hanging Lake depress you, head to Red Mountain, towering over West Glenwood with trail heads just east of the Glenwood Meadows Mall. Climb high enough up this mountain and you are rewarded with incredible views of the Flat Tops to the north, the Glenwood Canyon to the east, the town of Glenwood Springs beneath you, and beautiful Mount Sopris and the Maroon Bells to the south.
Have you been to Glenwood Springs? Is there another mountain town you would like to recommend? Leave a comment below and join the conversation!