The town of Glenwood Springs has been a destination for those in the know for years now, and people outside of Colorado and finally starting to catch on. It has a stunning mountain location with incredible hikes and outdoor fun all around, boasts a collection of mineral hot springs, comes with a rich Wild West history, has grown an awesome arts and culture scene... it's basically the perfect small town.
Glenwood Springs has been special since its early days. It started off as a Wild West tent city known for gambling, drinking, and gunslinging, and was originally named "Defiance". The new name came from the wife of the town's founder; she thought a more pleasant name would help her adjust to the rough-and-tumble frontier life, and came up with Glenwood Springs after her hometown of Glenwood, Iowa.
Unlike most Wild West towns, Glenwood Springs didn't die out after a few years. A railroad passing through town made it into a a hub for commerce and travel. The new name has served the town well as it transitioned from a boomtown to a destination for those looking to escape to the mountains.
Just outside Glenwood Springs is Hanging Lake, one of the most breathtaking hikes in the state... and since this is Colorado, that's saying something. But check out just how stunning the lake is. The lake itself is a striking shade of turquoise, thanks to carbonate minerals that have dissolved into the water. The edges of the lake are formed by travertine, deposits of limestone that were once dissolved in the water. Because of all the minerals, the lake is home to a delicate ecosystem and is sort of fragile, so swimming in it is no longer permitted. But honestly, it's easier to appreciate the beauty of the surroundings from the edge of the lake anyways! No wonder it was declared a National Natural Landmark.
To get there, you'll have to hike up Hanging Lake Trail in Colorado's White River National Forest, along Dead Horse Creek. It's about two and a half miles, round trip, and the trail features more waterfalls, hanging gardens, scenic views above the canyon, and woodland beauty along the way. To get there, exit Interstate 70 (which meanders through the stunning Glenwood Canyon) at the Hanging Lake Rest Area and set off on the nearby trailhead.
Doc Holliday was a famed Wild West gunman best known for his role in the legendary Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. As a gambler, a gunfighter, a lawman, and a dentist roaming the rowdy American West in the mid-19th century, he lived a fascinating life. What a lot of people don't realize is that the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral didn't start with that shootout, and it certainly didn't end there either. Doc Holliday and his friends, the Earp brothers, confronted rowdy cowboys all across the West, from Arizona and New Mexico to Colorado and Kansas.
Holliday had originally moved West in search of a better climate for his tuberculosis, from which he had suffered since he was 15. His condition slowly grew worse throughout his gunslinging years, but before long, he was too sick to continue fighting. He made his way to Glenwood Springs, hoping the mineral waters would help... but by this point, the sulfurous fumes did more harm than good. Allegedly, as he lay sick, he glanced down at his bare feet and said, "This is funny." He had always assumed he'd die in a gunfight, "with his boots on", as it was said. These were his last words before he died... at the shockingly young age of 36.
You can see his grave at the town's historic Linwood Cemetery. There are several other graves in the area, and the trail up to the cemetery is well marked. Many people like to bring along playing cards or coins to leave at his headstone.
For a taste of what life was like for the early settlers of Glenwood Springs, stop into the Frontier Historical Society and Museum. They have a replica pioneer house that gives a good look at what it was like back in the day. The museum also has displays on the Ute tribe, who lived here before, as well as information on ranching and mining. The museum offers a great look at how the town grew from its Wild West days into a destination that has attracted "entrepreneurs, presidents, outlaws, gangsters, movie stars and more."
Enough history; time for some food. The Pullman is a local favorite for adventurous and inventive cuisine served small plate style. From wild twists on old favorites (think, celery root tater tots and veal sweetbread nuggets with plum ketchup) to insanely delicious pastas, steaks, salads, and burgers, there's plenty to choose from here. They even offer a mouthwatering brunch, with tasties like fried french toast, maple duck sausage, salmon pastrami with hash, and more.
The springs have played a huge role in the history of Glenwood Springs, but they don't just take the form of pools. The Yampah Hot Springs Vapor Caves are natural, subterranean steam rooms where you can work up a sweat while soaking up the natural mineral goodness from the steam. The caves, which are heated naturally, average around 110 -112 degrees Fahrenheit, so it's suggested you take a break in the cooling room, or refresh yourself with cool water every 10 minutes or so. It's only $12 for an all-day pass to the caves, but you also get the pass included if you take advantage of any of their other spa treatments as well. They offer massages, facials, mineral bath soaks, wraps, and more.
Glenwood Hot Springs Lodge has been home to the world's largest hot spring pool since 1888. The main, big pool is a staggering 405 feet long and 100 feet wide at the widest point, with 1,071,000 gallons of water inside. This pool is usually a lovely 90 degrees Fahrenheit and has lap lanes and a diving area. There's also a smaller, warmer, pool that's kept at a toasty 104 degrees. All of the water comes from the Yampah Spring and is loaded with about 15 different minerals. The Lodge is a great place to stay to take full advantage of the incredible pool, offering some pretty comfy room options, along with shopping and a nice restaurant. The spa is also top-notch, offering luxurious facials, wraps, massages, and other treatments.
But if you're looking for a hotel that's all about the history and aesthetics, the famous Hotel Colorado can't be beaten. Built in Grand Hotel fashion in 1893, it was the pinnacle of style and luxury. It attracted Presidents in the late 19th century and high-rolling Chicago gangsters in 1920s, so it was definitely the place to be seen in town. Today, you can appreciate the Grand Lobby, the lush grounds, and the onsite spas and dining while still enjoying free wifi, pet-friendly rooms, and other modern-day conveniences.
And, since it's so historic, it's got a few ghost stories attached as well. Some claim to see the spirit of a young girl in Victorian dress playing with a ball, a female entity that likes to watch men sleep, and the presence of a male ghost on the fifth floor, and the screams of a woman, possibly a murdered chambermaid who had been entangled in a love triangle, can be heard. Mysterious smells, elevators moving on their own, and bizarre sounds have also been reported.
There's a definitely Bavarian vibe in Glenwood Springs as well. Immerse yourself in the European atmosphere and check out Polanka, the town's Polish eatery. Pierogi, pork chops, blintzes, potato pancakes, Kielbasa, stuffed cabbage, and more make for a hearty and delightfully homecooked meal. Order a combo plate and try as much as you can... it's all authentic, and it's all delicious.
One of the most unique attractions in town is Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, the country's only mountaintop theme park. It's home to the Glenwood Cave, the largest show cave in Colorado, boasting flowstone, stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws and cave bacon on the King's Row tour, and a room on the historic Fairy Cave tour lit with replica Edison and Marconi-style light bulbs.
And then there are the thrill rides. Staples like an alpine coaster and a gondola tramway make for easy adventures, but they also have some real adrenaline-rushing experiences. The Cliffhanger Coaster is positioned on the edge of the mountain, and is designed to offer riders views down into the canyon for a terrifying ride. They also have the Glenwood Canyon Flyer, a swing ride right on the edge of the cliff, and the Giant Canyon Swing, a pneumatic swing that launches you over the canyon 1,300 feet above the Colorado River at 50 MPH. You'll also find kid-friendly rides, shows and performances, music, shopping, food, and tons of other fun.
Glenwood Springs is also home to Iron Mountain Hot Springs, another great spot for a relaxing soak. 16 natural hot springs for soaking, a whirlpool with a calming waterfall, and a freshwater family pool make this a great option for anyone and ensure that there's plenty of room to unwind. There's also a bathhouse, onsite cafe, and more, so it's not hard to spend a day here. It's $25 a person for a day pass during peak season ($20 in the offseason), a small price to pay for relaxation and rejuvenation.