Water and good health grew this mountain town at the nexus of the Colorado and Roaring Fork rivers, a spot famed for its mineral hot springs and as a destination for outdoor enthusiasts of all stripes.

Given that, I guess it’s only fitting that city ordinance forbids smoking downtown between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m., so as I stood on the sidewalk of Restaurant Row, not smoking, I had an unpolluted view of the many ways in which Glenwood Springs has capitalized on and paid homage to the terrestrial forces that put it on the map.

To my right, on the north bank of the Colorado, is Glenwood Hot Springs Pool, opened in 1888 so the public could reap the benefits of “Big Medicine,” or Yampah, in the native Ute, the largest of a network of naturally-occurring hot springs and steam- fueled vapor caves that began drawing visitors to this valley centuries before the first European settlers arrived.

Visitors can ride the gondola to the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park above Glenwood Springs. Photo Credit: Christian Murdock, The Gazette
Visitors can ride the gondola to the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park above Glenwood Springs. Photo Credit: Christian Murdock, The Gazette

In fact, “Yampah is the largest mineral hot springs pool in the world,” said Lisa Langer, vice president of tourism marketing for the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association.

The liquid panacea is heated by underground magma flows, “which means, obviously, there’s volcanic activity somewhere in the area,” Langer said.

Yampah bubbles forth at a blistering 125 degrees, so at the bathhouse it is served up with a mixer of cooler water to make the temperature tolerable for human skin. The hottest of a trio of springs feeding the 16 soaking pools at nearby Iron Mountain Hot Springs arrives at 108 degrees, which is “really at the top of where you would want to be sitting at, in a pool,” Langer said.

Scalding, however, is a real hazard for those seeking a dip in one of the wild hot springs that surface along the banks of the Colorado.

“I’ve seen them on whitewater rafting trips, when the waters are lower, and sometimes people will build up rocks and make little pools,” Langer said. “If it joins with river water you’re probably OK, but don’t just go sit in that source water of a hot springs. You don’t want to melt yourself.”

At Yampah, the town’s earliest entrepreneurs moved water in the name of water, permanently diverting the path of the Colorado River to the south to create enough ground to build the hot springs pool and bathhouse. A century and a half later, water continues to define and reshape things here, with an ongoing $125 million transportation project set to overhaul the main corridor and freeway access through a town that’s home to fewer than 10,000 but annual host to 2.3 million, according to one recent study.

Pedestrians walk past the man restaurants along 7th street in downtown Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Photo Credit: Christian Murdock, The Gazette.
Pedestrians walk past the man restaurants along 7th street in downtown Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Photo Credit: Christian Murdock, The Gazette.

Soon, Glenwood Springs’ legendary mineral spring complex will mark the northern end of a pedestrian and bike bridge that’s part of a “monumental legacy project” of Grand Avenue bridges.

By spring, a glass-walled elevator tower is expected to be whisking pedestrians and cyclists from Seventh Street up to a new and improved corridor linking the north and south sides of the Colorado River. A subsequent bridge construction phase will reroute and tidy up downtown access to and from Interstate 70.

“They say about 5,000 cars a day pass by that couple-block area, and it’s kind of chaotic for business, not to mention that people who are walking from the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool to their accommodations a block and a half away are having to walk along sidewalks with lots of traffic,” Langer said. “We’re really, really excited about this project, which will alleviate a lot of the traffic and make that area much more visitor and pedestrian friendly.”

Re-envisioned public areas are planned for both sides of the river, and, to the southwest, at the confluence of the Colorado and Roaring Fork rivers, “they’re talking about a complete redesign with a river walk area of interest, parks, retail space and probably living space as well,” Langer said. From there, cyclists can take the bike path to Two Rivers Park, and points beyond, through Glenwood Canyon – home to Hanging Lake, a unique and postcard-perfect destination that draws locals and tourists alike.

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