At first, we were torn by whether to go all the way to Glenwood Springs on our first tour of Colorado, due to it being the furthest point west of Denver that we considered. In the end, we couldn’t pass up on the main attractions there, and I’m so glad we didn’t.
While every part of Colorado we saw and didn’t get to see yet have their unique beauty and charm, Glenwood Springs ended up being one of the main highlights of our adventures in this marvelous state.
Our 12-day Itinerary
To summarize our trip, we did a big loop clockwise starting with Denver and drove over 500 miles.
Here’s how our itinerary ended up. We only booked the first four nights in hotels before arriving, and played the rest by ear based on our tentative plan.
Location (by letters on map)
|1-3||A, G) Denver – starting and ending point|
|3-4||B) Colorado Springs|
|4-6||C) Buena Vista|
|7-9||E) Glenwood Springs|
This city revealed several hidden gems and I can’t recommend them enough. Without further ado, here are top reasons you should add this place to your travel bucket list!
1. The scenic drive to Glenwood Springs is part of the experience
Getting to Glenwood Springs
We came to Glenwood Spring from Aspen/Snowmass via Route 82, but you can also get there from Denver via I-70. This seems to be a trend across Colorado: the journey to your destination is often as beautiful as the destination itself.
This trip was no exception, as Route 82 winds through beautiful mountains and makes you want to stop and take in the views along the way. And, guess what, there are plenty of safe shoulders where you can.
2. FI-friendly lodging is plentiful
It was hard to tell through online research which side of the river it’s better to stay on. The good news is that it’s a fairly small downtown, so you are never too far. We ended up staying south of the Colorado River, which worked well for us.
Initially, we planned for two nights in Glenwood Springs, but after a bad budget hotel experience in Colorado Springs, we only booked one night at Caravan Inn at $99 per night (taxes included) to test it out. We figured we could stay the second night elsewhere, if it wasn’t a good experience. Thankfully, we were pleasantly surprised with the cleanliness, comfort, and friendly service of this family-run inn. Even the continental breakfast was good and had decent coffee. We ended up booking a second night the next day.
This hotel is about a five-minute drive from downtown Glenwood Springs, where many restaurants and shops are located. Since we had free parking at the hotel and even street parking was free on some blocks downtown, it worked our really well.
There was also a laundromat nearby, which was perfect, as by this point, our cute hiking apparel needed a proper wash. We did a lot of hand-washing at first, but it can only work so well after wearing our clothes on long, sweaty hikes. 🙂
The neighborhood itself was nice and safe. Along Route 82, you’ll find businesses and hotels, as well as residential streets. There was a City Market only a few blocks away, which was great for getting some easy-to-prepare meals. We had a mini fridge in the hotel and a microwave, which enabled us to make a few meals without having to eat out.
Room tip: ask for a first floor room to avoid logging luggage upstairs. You can be in and out, easy and breezy. 🙂
3. The Hanging Lake Trail nearby will make your jaw drop
There are plenty of outdoorsy things to do in Glenwood Springs, especially if you come in the warmer months. As our time was limited, we focused on the main attraction in the area – hiking to the gorgeous Hanging Lake.
Hanging Lake Trail
Getting to this lake is easy from Glenwood Springs, as an exit off of I-70 East drops you right in front of the entrance. It only took us about 15 minutes to get there from our hotel. If you are coming down I-70 West though from Denver, you’ll need to do a bit of a loop, since there isn’t a direct exit from that side.
The trick to coming here is to avoid peak times of year and day because the parking lot gets full. If it does, you essentially have stand in a car line and wait for someone else to leave. There were only 50-60 spaces or so, but we got lucky and found a spot right away. It’s also free to park there, which was an FI-friendly bonus. We decided to come around 10:30 a.m., to miss the early bird crowd and to beat the midday one. If you come here during warm months, keep in mind that it gets pretty hot, so you may want to avoid hiking around 12-3 p.m. when the sun is strongest.
Readiness tips: There are restrooms near the parking lot, as well as water fountains. Be sure to bring plenty of water bottles, as you’ll need them! And, wear hiking boots as the trail is uneven and rocky. Also, I found this post really helpful in preparing for the hike.
Difficulty level for this hike is medium, although that’s subjective. I was impressed to see folks over 60, as well as families with young kids make the trip. It’s not a very long hike at 2.4 miles round trip, but it’s all uphill and at steep angles. The hike is mostly in the shaded part of the forest, along the creek that comes from the waterfall. So, it was quite nice to pause along the way and take mini breaks to catch our breath.
It took us about an hour and forty minutes to ascend with a few short stops along the way. The descend was a lot easier, as always, and only took about 40 minutes. There are seven bridges you will cross on your ascent and descent, so keep a count of those to have a sense of how far you have made it. Maybe do a little bridge dance for every one you cross. 🙂
The last part of the hike is the most intense one, as the path narrows and is made up of tall stone steps. You often have to pause and let others pass, as you can’t both fit. If you are afraid of heights, this is a good place to remind yourself to look towards the mountain and not the cliff. This part of the trail has railings for a reason. Just know that after you pass two landings, you’ll have reached the final destination.
A lot of people descending would give us encouraging words, as we struggled to ascend this part of the trail. It was quite a communal feeling of cheering each other on. Surely enough, we did the same for people on our descend. 🙂
The final push
After the final push, we arrived at Hanging Lake, and everything became worth it in a second. This was our favorite “rewarding view” during our hikes in Colorado. These pictures don’t do this place justice. We were absolutely breathless, from both physical strain and emotional inspiration reasons.
There is a nice wooden boardwalk along the lake, with benches to relax on and enjoy the view. We also packed our favorite hiking lunch: tuna salad with tomatoes and avocado on croissant, which we devoured like savages. Hiking really brings out the appetite!
Before you leave, be sure to stop by the waterfall just above the lake. Now, learn from our mistake–the path to the waterfall is right where you first enter the lake area. It’s off to the left when you step on the wooden boardwalk. Unfortunately, we missed that little fork on the way out and ended up descending the hardest part of the hike that I mentioned earlier. When we realized there was no fork below, we asked a few other descenders where it was. Imagine how we felt when we learned it was just off to the side of the lake.
We were torn about whether to make the ascent in the toughest part of the trail again. In the end, we bit the bullet, and went back up again. I am glad we did, as this was also a very nice place to see. It was so close from the lake. It could have been an easy addition. We got more of a workout, I guess. Are you picking up a trend with us? Just like during our hike in Maroon Bells, we seem to be looking for new trails and add intensity to our hikes, albeit unintentionally. 🙂
4. The food scene hits the spot
Indulging and savoring
Since this was a relatively small town, I didn’t expect much from the food scene here. I was pleasantly surprised though! I only wish that we were in Glenwood Springs longer, as I would have loved to try some of the other well-rated places I read about.
This American cuisine restaurant was such an unexpected delight. It was well rated on Trip Advisor, which is why we tried, but I was still floored by how much I was licking my fingers and utensils to collect every last drop. We came in for a late lunch, so it was pretty empty.
The service and ambience were great and the food was amazing. We tried the truffle potato pierogies, and the crab cake sandwich. As a Russian, I know what good pierogies taste like and this dish left me in a state of euphoria. It definitely hit my Top 5. The sandwich was yummy as well. We tried a local Colorado beer, and left happy, full and tipsy. A golden combination!
Yumminess score: 9/10, as the pierogies were definitely 10/10 and the crab cake sandwich an 8/10.
This is a very small and casual joint, where you order at the counter, grab one of the six tables, and they bring your food, once ready. We tried two kinds of fish tacos, with a side of fries, and a local beer, of course. While the food was quite delicious, I was surprised it’s the number one restaurant in this town. Between The Pullman and this place, I’d go back to The Pullman in a heartbeat, but not necessarily here.
Yumminess score: 7/10. Everything was pretty good, but I’ve had tastier tacos before. Food porn member standards are high, you see…
5. The hot springs are heaven on earth
Since people tend to do a lot of physically strenuous activities in this town, the local hot springs are a perfect way to end the day. After much research, we decided to go to the Iron Mountain Hot Springs, instead of the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool. Primarily, we chose the Iron Mountain because it’s a newer venue, it has multiple small pools, instead one big one, and there is a cafe and small bar on site.
We came here around 5 PM to avoid the strong afternoon sun. Since the spring pools are located outside, there is no cover at all. The evening session was perfect for us though, as we got to see the sunset over the nearby mountains, and avoid being overheated from both the pools and the sun.
While there are many different pools, we learned after trying a few that they have the same water source. The only difference is that the temperature in each pool varies. We finally found one that was pleasantly warm and hung out there for hours. We met some cool people to talk to, heard some interesting stories about tornadoes in the area, got a few Blue Moons to enjoy once the sun set, and made sure to drink plenty of water. It was such a relaxing and pleasant experience that I can’t recommend it enough! Note: This trip was done last year so no, we haven’t broken our no drinking challenge for this year.
FI tip: bring your own towels. They charge $3 per towel to rent, which you’ll need when you come out of the pools to stay warm and dry. We weren’t happy to fork over the $6 since our hotel had plenty of towels, but made a mental note for next time. The good news is you get a free locker, where you can leave your valuables to keep them safe and dry.
Overall, we felt very safe here as well. The downtown is pretty quiet, even on a Friday night, when we drove through. There are a few bars open late, but since we love to dance, we didn’t have many options there. The town seemed secure and well lit even during late hours though.
There are many reasons to visit this stunning place. This ended up being our favorite spot on this Colorado adventure from a point of well0roundedness. Great hikes, food, beautiful waterfalls and hot springs. What else does one need in life? 🙂