Glenwood Springs: spelunking and splashing
August 10, 2005
There’s a lot of magic hidden in the terra firma around Glenwood Springs. If it isn’t bubbling out of the earth, its tumbling over a postcard-worthy waterfall or decorating a cavern in breathtaking fashion.
Down the highway from Aspen, Glenwood Springs anchors the lower, or northwest end of the Roaring Fork Valley. Aspen locals head to Glenwood to hit the discount shopping stores, but the town has plenty of attractions in its own right, from the Hot Springs Pool to the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park.
The Caverns has added several new, breathtaking attractions ” the Canyon Flyer, for one. It’s the nation’s first alpine coaster, taking one or two visitors racing down 3,400 feet of mountainside. Riders can control their speed, making for a great hands-on experience.
For the truly daring, there is the Swing Shot, a butterflies-fully-in-the-stomach ride in which you soar 1,300 feet above the majestic Colorado River at speeds reaching 50 miles per hour. A sure adrenaline rush.
But for sheer awe, it is hard to beat the Fairy Caves. Families and others looking for a mellow outing will not be let down by the cave tour. It offers The Barn and King’s Row ” gigantic rooms filled with soda straws, stalactites, stalagmites and cave bacon ” mind-boggling formations that must be seen to be believed.
The demanding and rewarding Wild Tour is a three-hour excursion into one of the state’s most spectacular caves. It involves tight spaces, kneepads and plenty of belly crawling as you see pristine areas of caves that are seldom visited.
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Along with the Wild Tour and the Cave Tour, there is now the Adventure Tour. This trip is less strenuous than the Wild Tour, but offers more thrills than the Cave Tour. It takes two hours and involves some belly-crawling and tight spaces.
A tramway carries visitors from town to the Glenwood Canyon Adventure Park. There’s a restaurant at the park, in addition to its other attractions.
Prefer the outdoors? One of Glenwood Springs’ most famous attractions is the Hot Springs Pool. The pools are one of the town’s historic amenities, having opened in 1888. Whether it’s lap swimming, relaxing in the therapy pool or just a good ol’ splash fight, there’s fun in the sun to be had here. There’s also a waterslide, a diving pool and a pool just for the kids. Using water from a natural spring, the main pool ” the world’s largest outdoor mineral hot springs pool ” contains a million gallons that are kept at 90 degrees. The smaller therapy pool is kept at 104 degrees, perfect on a cool day or a great way to warm up at night.
But you might as well work your muscles before you soak, and a hike to Hanging Lake should do the trick. A close drive east of town on Interstate 70, this is one of the best hikes around. Those coming from town, heading east, can drive directly to the trailhead parking area ” the exit is well marked in stunning Glenwood Canyon. Westbound drivers must take the Grizzly Creek exit, a few miles west, then double back to the Hanging Lake exit.
The trailhead is only about a half-mile from the parking lot on a paved bike path, and then it’s time to climb. The hike is moderately strenuous, rising about 1,100 feet in just over a mile, so it’s steep, but short. Near the lake, a steep staircase is carved into the mountain.
There is plenty of shade along the route, though, and the reward is breathtaking. Hanging Lake is a wonder of blues and greens ” almost hinting of the tropics ” with a large waterfall and plenty of trout that are easily visible from the viewing platform. No fishing or swimming is allowed, and dogs are also prohibited.
Here’s a little local secret: Just when you hit the planks of the viewing platform, look for a small trail to the left. Follow that and you’ll eventually end up behind and above the Hanging Lake waterfall. What you’ll find up there depends on the season, but it ranges from a large ice formation to another spectacular waterfall, called Spouting Rock, which you can actually walk behind.