Family-Friendly Glenwood Springs: Adventures for Everyone

My heart clutches in my stomach as I watch my husband and two daughters swing 1,300 feet out over the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon.

“Look mom, no hands,” one of my daughters shrieks.

They’re securely belted in, and throwing their hands up in the air while screaming their lungs out is all part of the fun.

We’re at the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, and while the heights of this attraction are enough to make me shudder, the caves that we had just ventured through were one of the highlights of our weekend in Glenwood.

Gondolas transport visitors to the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park.

A family-friendly mountain resort, Glenwood Springs is nestled along the Colorado River about 150 miles west of Denver. Visitors have been coming to this area for centuries; Ute Indians visited the therapeutic mineral springs, and the first white man came through the area in 1860. By the latter part of the 19th century, Glenwood was established as the “Spa in the Rockies,” playing host to Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft, along with Colorado’s own “Unsinkable” Molly Brown (of Titanic fame) and gangster Al Capone.

Now-historic hotels were built, and rail lines ran through the canyon. These days, Amtrak offers a low-stress travel option from downtown Denver into the heart of town, within walking distance of the hot springs, along with numerous hotels, restaurants and shops. The Hotel Colorado, built in 1893, offers luxurious accommodations overlooking the hot springs pool. The hotel’s historic charm was recently augmented by a multi-million dollar renovation. The entire community offers nearly 1,800 guest rooms, with something for every price range.

This trip found us at the Glenwood Suites, a newer property on the west end of town. Our two-bedroom unit came with a full kitchen, Jacuzzi tub and three flat-screen TVs, all of which are welcome amenities with a family that includes two teenage girls. Sure, we could have piled into a hotel room as we have done many times, but the extra elbow room, ability to make a few meals, and the fact that there was no arguing over a remote made it all worthwhile. In addition, a free hot breakfast each morning, along with the manager’s happy hour each afternoon with beer, wine, soda and snacks, made for nice bookends to the day.

We ended up spending an entire day at the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park; this ever-expanding attraction is reached by a quick gondola ride from the center of town, which deposits visitors at the mountaintop facility. Cave tours depart regularly and range from a mild, 90-minute walking tour to a rugged, wet and muddy adventure, complete with coveralls and headlamps. The Glenwood Fairy Caves are the heart of this enterprise, and have been drawing tourists since 1895, when candle-wielding guests paid 50 cents to view the caverns, grottos and corridors that make up the cave system.

The giant swing, an alpine coaster and soon-to-be completed zipline offer plenty for adrenaline junkies, while laser tag, a giant maze, 4D theater (you have to see it to believe it) and climbing wall all add to the fun. Inside, near the gondola station, you’ll find a decent restaurant with a stunning view of the valley, along with the obligatory gift shop. All-day passes let everyone in on the fun without worrying about tickets, with cave tours adding a small amount to the fee. The Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park is open year-round, weather permitting, and with an elevation of just under 6,000 feet, good weather abounds in the area.

The Glenwood Hot Springs pool is one of the largest outdoor pools in the world.

After a hard day of play, it’s off to the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool. At over two city blocks long, it’s billed as the largest outdoor hot springs pool in the world. Temperatures range from 90 degrees in the larger pool to 104 degrees in the therapy pool, and water slides, inner tubes, diving boards and bubble chairs offer a choice of relaxation or rowdiness. The therapy pool and the slide/diving board are on opposite ends of the pool, which seems to make everybody happy. The property includes an adjacent Hot Springs Lodge, an athletic club, the Spa of the Rockies, and a poolside grill. The adjacent Yampah Spa and Vapor Caves are natural underground steam baths; descending a rough-cut stone pathway into the caves, you know you are in for something special.

Back at the pool, my husband and I soak in the hottest water, while the girls swim laps. The vibe is friendly, with every age group represented. We see plenty of couples and families, and chat with a couple of locals to find out where to catch dinner. They recommend Zheng Asian Bistro, and they don’t steer us wrong. This small dining spot, just down the road and across the river from the pool, serves up delicious small plates, wok-fired classics, curries and noodle dishes. After a satisfying dinner, we roll back to our room.

Our first night in town, we had debated chilling out over dinner, or trying a more adventurous (and spooky) event: a ghost walk. This annual fundraiser for the Glenwood Historical Society is held during the weekends leading up to Halloween. We met at the entrance to Linwood Pioneer Cemetery, the final resting place for hundreds of souls including Doc Holliday, a sometime-Glenwood resident and survivor of the infamous Gunfight at the OK Corral.

After a short but strenuous hike up the dirt path to the hilltop cemetery, we were led on a winding path through the dark gravesites to hear tales from re-enactors of famous, and not-so-famous, residents. Doc Holliday’s booming voice and clinking spurs brought chills down my spine, and the story related by a mother who lost her infant and husband before succumbing to illness was a poignant reminder of the realities of pioneer life. The evening concluded with cookies and hot apple cider. It was compelling enough to get a “that was really cool,” from the girls — not an easy endorsement to earn.

Inside the Glenwood Fairy Caves

Glenwood is a true year-round destination. The summer months offer hiking and biking along the 16-mile Glenwood Canyon trail, a paved, level path that runs along the river through the canyon. This also hooks in to the Rio Grande River Trail, a 42-mile path that reaches to nearby Aspen. Rafting, kayaking and canoeing the Colorado River, either privately or with a commercial outfitter, is a classic Colorado adventure. There’s also camping and horseback riding at nearby White River National Forest, and there are eight public golf courses in the area.

When the weather cools off, the winter sports heat up. Sunlight Mountain Resort is a 10-minute drive out of town. The ski area offers all the amenities that the big resorts do, including a 2,000-foot vertical drop and 250 inches of annual snowfall. They also offer affordable lift ticket prices, lessons and rentals for every age. Snowmobiling and snowcat tours are also on the agenda, along with ice skating at the outdoor, NHL-sized rink at the Glenwood Springs Community Center.

Not up for the drive? With a train station in the heart of downtown, Amtrak offers a variety of rail offers. They have packages that include lift tickets, hotel stays and hot springs passes. It doesn’t get much easier.

Our weekend draws to a close, and we tuck in for the three-hour shuffle along Interstate 70 back to Denver. Viewing Glenwood Springs in the rearview mirror is always a little bittersweet.

If You Go

Where to stay
Glenwood Suites
2625 Gilstrap Ct.
Glenwood Springs, Colorado 81601
970-384-4700
ascendcollection.com/hotel/co226

What to do
Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park
51000 Two Rivers Plaza Road
Glenwood Springs, Colorado 81601
800-530-1635
glenwoodcaverns.com

Glenwood Hot Springs
401 North River St.
Glenwood Springs, Colorado 81601
hotspringspool.com

Frontier Historical Society Ghost Walk
glenwoodhistory.com

Where to eat
Zheng Asian Bistro
35 Market St.
Glenwood Springs, Colorado 81601
zhengbistro.com

Getting there
Glenwood Springs is a three-hour drive west of Denver on Interstate 70.

Amtrak offers daily service to Glenwood and a variety of package deals, including lodging, ski and raft packages, and hot springs passes. Call 303-759-4600.

When you go
The town of Glenwood Springs offers a variety of deals and discounts. Go to visitglenwood.com or skiswimstay.com, or call 888-4GLENWOOD (888-445-3696).

Kelly Smith is a freelance writer who lives in Littleton.

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