Our family likes to visit one of Colorado’s many wonderful mountain towns in August, and this year we settled on Glenwood Springs, mainly so that we could hike up to Hanging Lake, an iconic Colorado destination that none of us had actually been to.
Hanging Lake is a lovely little lake, a pond really, fed by mountain springs that cascade into a rock cavity nestled in Glenwood Canyon, 20 minutes east of Glenwood Springs, just off I-70. The hike to the pond is short (1.3 miles), steep (a gain of 1200 feet in elevation), rocky, narrow, and gorgeous, following Dead Horse Creek, which occasionally shows off with a waterfall here and there. I walk daily, weather permitting or not, and feel like my legs are relatively strong. After only 10 minutes, my face was so red my daughter thought I might be having a stroke, so I slowed down to a crawl and at that pace did make it to the top, stopping first at Spouting Rock, a wonderful waterfall that drops in front of a cave so that you can walk behind it and enjoy it from all angles. We rested for about 20 minutes, scarfing down granola bars and water, before heading back down the trail.
If you decide to visit Hanging Lake, be forewarned that reservations are required. The ticket taker at the gate said he turns away roughly 100 cars a day that arrive without planning ahead. Also be aware that the forest service that protects Hanging Lake has spent a lot of time and resources cleaning it up—apparently it used to be pretty trashed even a few years ago—and fines for even touching the water, much less swimming in it, are steep enough to dissuade even the most hardened idiots. Hanging Lake was named a National Natural Landmark in 2011.
One of Glenwood Springs’s claims to fame are its many hot springs that soothe aching muscles after hiking, cycling, skiing, or just living. We had fully intended to partake of one of the many pools after our hike and then the requisite lunch (we had an 8 am reservation so that we could hike in the cool of the mountain summer morning) but discovered that even the big public pool in town was charging $50/person. I’m not cheap as a rule, but $50 for a soak in a hot pool for 30 minutes (which is all I can really take) was just not worth it. I would rather spend that $50 on books!
Both Doc Holliday and Theodore Roosevelt famously loved Glenwood. Doc lived and gambled and drank there for a few years before he eventually died of tuberculosis and is buried somewhere in the town—apparently the headstone in one of the graveyards does not in fact mark his grave. Roosevelt visited so often that the Hotel Colorado (where we stayed!) was dubbed the Western White House.
If you go, here are some travel tips:
- Visit Bullock Western Wear on Grand Avenue and try on the $900 turquoise lambskin jacket. You will look fabulous and will get your fix of western clothing until your next trip.
- Avoid the underpass where I-70 crosses Grand Avenue on Friday evenings when there are tables set out and the music is blaring from the bars—the acoustics are such that you will lose your hearing. Every other time of day or week, this is actually a really nice place to congregate, meet friends, find some shade in the summer, but watch out on Friday night!
- Bring walking shoes—the trails along the Colorado River, especially through Two Rivers Park, are relaxing and enjoyable. You can watch rafters coming down both the Colorado from the east and the Roaring Fork from the south. Also, make sure you find the monument to the 12 firefighters who lost their lives battling the Storm King fire in 1994.
- If you are heading down to Denver after your trip to Glenwood, plan on heavy traffic from the Eisenhower tunnel all the way to highway 6. We decided to use the toll lane and pay the $9 or I think we would still be sitting in traffic.
- Don’t stay at the Hotel Colorado over the weekend if you don’t want to be inconvenienced by the many weddings that are held there year-round. I completely get why couples want to get married there—the setting is really beautiful, and the courtyard is charming, but we wanted to enjoy a drink in the courtyard before heading out to dinner, but it was closed for a wedding. Call me a curmudgeon, but it was a bit annoying. The bride was beautiful, but the bridesmaids were in gray, which I thought was a bit of a weird color for a summer afternoon wedding. See, there was a silver lining. My daughter and I got to critique wedding party attire!
- Don't stay at the Hotel Colorado if you are afraid of ghosts. We didn't see or hear any, but it is on the list of most haunted hotels in Colorado.
Glenwood is a charming western Colorado town, near to the Colorado wine, peach, and corn country. The Colorado and Roaring Fork rivers offer fun for fisherfolk, rafters, canoeists, photographers, and walkers. There are lots of restaurants featuring ranch food like smoky BBQ, beans, steaks, and Tex-Mex. Family friendly and with a certifiably good history pedigree, it is downstream from Aspen and is a much more enjoyable town to visit, according to this Colorado native.