Glenwood Canyon – Colorado’s Version of a Grand Canyon

Tucked away on Colorado’s western slope, visitors will find breathtaking Glenwood Canyon, with sheer walls towering 1,300 feet above the Colorado River below. Glenwood Canyon is Colorado’s version of Arizona’s Grand Canyon only in smaller scale. This canyon is considered to be one of the most scenic sections of roadway found along America’s Interstate Highway System. At an elevation of 5,700 feet the canyon and surrounded by the White River National Forest, it is indeed a masterpiece carved by Mother Nature’s hand. Glenwood Canyon means Glenwood Springs to many visitors and the gateway to a few of Colorado’s great ski resorts such as Aspen and Snowmass but Glenwood Canyon is so much more.

Located ninety miles east of Grand Junction and one hundred fifty miles west of Denver, Glenwood Canyon has historically provided the route for roadways and railways. In 1906, Taylor State Road was just a gravel road but the first route for autos through the canyon and through the Rockies. Over the following years the sixteen mile road through the canyon was widened and paved and in the 1980’s a huge engineering challenge was begun to complete the last piece of I-70 through Glenwood Canyon.


Planners and engineers had to take into consideration the transportation, environmental, recreational and economic impacts of the project before its completion in 1992. With this last section completed, the interstate now connected the towns of Gypsum, on the east, and Glenwood Springs, on the west but more importantly it connected Denver to the Western Slope. The new highway snakes through the canyon along the Colorado River utilizing bridges, tunnels, and retaining walls designed to complement the canyon’s appearance. When the completed dual level interstate was finally opened, the engineers and highway construction workers of the Glenwood Canyon project unveiled a highway engineering work of art.

Glenwood Canyon also offered a viable route for the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad early in the 19th century. The railroad took advantage of the mining boom in Aspen and the coal mining near Glenwood Springs to help fund the new construction that began in 1885. The original railroad through Glenwood Canyon was completed in 1887 and ran along the south side of the river as it currently runs.

Today train travelers on Amtrak’s California Zephyr have front row seats for spectacular views of Colorado’s Grand Canyon. One absolutely great weekend getaway is for travelers to board the Amtrak Zephyr at Denver’s Union Station, ride it up to Glenwood Springs, spend the weekend in Glenwood Springs and return by train at the end of the weekend. The trip takes about five hours and tickets can run as low as $39.00 one way depending on the departure time but once you arrive, the historic district of Glenwood Springs is within walking distance from the train depot. On the trip to and from Denver, travelers can sit in the observation cars watching river rafters, the canyon wildlife, and enjoy the magnificent view of the canyon.


Glenwood Canyon has been sculpted by millions of years of snowmelt from the Rockies and from the erosion power of the Colorado River. As time progressed the White River Plateau continued its rise and the Colorado River continued eroding and digging the river bottom deeper. The results of this process are the rugged cliffs found in Glenwood Canyon. Experts believe that this uplift of the White River Plateau continues, even today, and the Colorado continues to cut the canyon ever deeper. The towering canyon walls and the steep gradient of the river are classic signs of ongoing activity. Very often visitors to Glenwood Canyon are left speechless at the canyon’s natural beauty, with its sheer cliffs, rugged rock formations, and spectacular towering walls.

Glenwood Canyon is home to a wide variety of wildlife such as the mule deer, elk, Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep, Black Bears, mountain lions, coyotes, mink, muskrats, and the skilled aerial hunters like the hawks, falcons, vultures, owls, and the eagles that soar high above the magnificent canyon below.

For those visitors who enjoy walking, cycling, or skating the canyon also offers the eighteen mile long Glenwood Canyon Recreation Trail, with secluded picnic areas, that stretches the entire length of the canyon. The canyon trail is also used by fishermen and kayakers from early spring through late autumn to access the best locations on the river.


With the recreation trail’s proximity to the river, visitors that enjoy the trail have reserved seats to watch the kayakers and river rafters test their skills against the rapids of the Colorado River. Glenwood Canyon offers some of the best white water rafting in the state of Colorado. Deep within the canyon, enthusiasts will find a ten mile stretch of the river that is the most frequented section of the Upper Colorado River. The Shoshone section of the river offers BIG water adventure with miles of action packed white water with no fewer than six challenging class III-IV rapids, including the infamous Man-eater, Tombstone, The Wall, and the Superstitions.

Several rafting outfitters in Glenwood Springs, such as Glenwood Canyon Rafting, Inc., are ready to assist you in your adventures while visiting the Glenwood Canyon area. One canyon side trip that is not to be missed is Hanging Lake. The trailhead is found along the recreation trail where Dead Horse Creek flows into the Colorado River. Hanging Lake is at times referred to as the gem of Glenwood Canyon, with its aquamarine colored water, is another natural wonder that Glenwood Canyon has to offer.

In addition, visitors to the Glenwood Canyon area will have more than twenty seven hiking and biking trails, a few historical museums, the Glenwood Caverns, the Iron Mountain Tramway, the Yampa Vapor Caves, and the Glenwood Adventure Park. Then after a full day of sights and adventures in the Glenwood Canyon area, visitors can end their day with a relaxing dip in the thermal Hot Springs Pool in Glenwood Springs. Visitors should check out the Glenwood Guide website which is a great tool full of information for all the areas activities.

So when you visit the Glenwood Canyon area, plan to stay awhile in order to enjoy the awe inspiring natural beauty surroundings that nature has left along the canyon from Hanging Lake to the hot springs and from the natural rock amphitheater to the rapids on the river. For all of those who visit this magnificent work of nature, this is truly “Colorado’s Grand Canyon.”

Photos by: CFBSr, Sideshow Brucetakfoto

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