Glenwood Canyon Information | Canyons in Colorado

Glenwood Canyon & the Colorado River

A Brief Geologic History

Over time, powerful plate tectonics pushed up the Flat Tops, directing large amounts of water and debris to flow through an ever-narrowing channel known as Glenwood Canyon. As the river dissolved paths through the limestone an intricate network of caves was created, including the present day Glenwood Caverns as well as other canyons in Colorado. Deep beneath the surface of the earth active geologic processes also produced numerous hot springs and seeps that percolated to the surface including those that supply the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool and the Iron Mountain Hot Springs.

Driving through Glenwood Canyon Wasn’t Always Easy

For many visitors traveling to Glenwood Springs, Glenwood Canyon is a scenic drive that provides access to the town’s many attractions, but getting to Glenwood Springs wasn’t always so easy. 

Canyons in Colorado have proven difficult to navigate. The Canyon was so treacherous that the Ute Indians chose to bypass it altogether, going over the Flat Tops instead. In 1887, the railroad completed tracks into Glenwood Springs, opening the area for the travel of people and goods. In 1899, Taylor State Road, a single-lane dirt road, provided a rough passage through the Canyon. Eventually, it became a two-lane state highway, but the road through Glenwood Canyon remained a bottleneck in the federal interstate system.

Engineering a Solution

One of the biggest challenges the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) faced was how to squeeze a four-lane freeway into a gorge barely wide enough to accommodate the existing two-lane highway with minimal impact to the environment. CDOT's solution was clever: construct two roadways, one nearly on top of the other. The final design features an elevated roadway including 40 bridges and viaducts spanning more than six miles between sections. The highway also houses a state-of-the-art traffic management and maintenance facility tucked inside the Hanging Lake Tunnels. From here, CDOT employees monitor road conditions and traffic, and can quickly alert travelers to unexpected weather or circumstances. A fleet of tow trucks, fire trucks, and emergency vehicles are on 24-hour standby if needed. Keeping canyons in Colorado safe is a top priority!

Thanks to the dedication of visionary designers, project managers, engineers, construction workers, landscapers and others, the Glenwood Canyon that travelers drive through today is a smooth, safe and stunning engineering showpiece with extraordinary attractions of its own.

When planning a drive through the Glenwood Canyon or a visit to Glenwood Springs, it is always a good idea to check road conditions prior to traveling. Interstate 70 through the Glenwood Canyon is the only major east/west road through the Colorado Rockies, check in with CDOT before your journey to ensure the best trip possible.

Canyon & River Recreation

Top things to do in Glenwood Canyon include whitewater river rafting, kayaking, canoeing, shore fishing or fishing float trips, hiking, picnicking, cycling and wildlife viewing. Exploring and enjoying this and other canyons in Colorado will give you a different perspective on our mighty rivers and geography.

Four rest areas serve Glenwood Canyon: Bair Ranch, Hanging Lake, Grizzly Creek and No Name. Each one features parking areas, restrooms, interpretive displays, picnic grounds, water fountains, trash receptacles and access to hiking trails. Grizzly Creek has a boat ramp that makes it easy for rafters and kayakers to access the river. Further downriver is the Glenwood Whitewater Activity Area, a manmade, in-river water feature that’s ideal for kayakers and standup paddleboarders to practice and show off.

Glenwood Canyon Fast Facts

  • 40 bridges over 12.5 miles
  • 15 miles of retaining walls
  • 2--4,000-foot-long tunnels
  • 150,000 new trees and shrubs planted
  • 30,000 tons of structural and reinforcing steel used
  • 810,000 tons of concrete used
  • 2 million tiles in Hanging Lake tunnels
  • 300 engineers consulted on the project
  • $490.3 million final cost of construction
  • 4 full-service rest areas that provide access to trails and the Colorado River
  • The project won more than 30 awards, including the 1993 Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement Award from the American Society of Civil Engineers
  • A French-made overhead gantry was used to place 1,751 individual pre-cast concrete segments that make up French Creek and Hanging Lake Viaducts
  • In 2011, Hanging Lake was designated a National Natural Landmark
  • Glenwood Canyon is home to a thriving wildlife population including bighorn sheep, marmots, raccoons, birds, bears, deer, mountain lions and coyotes
  • The CDOT traffic management facility in the Hanging Lake Tunnels also monitors the conditions in the Wolf Creek Pass Tunnel approximately 200 miles away
Hanging Lake in Summer

Hanging Lake is a crystal-clear, travertine lake located high atop the cliffs of Glenwood Canyon. The mile-long hike is steep and rigorous, but rewarding once you see the natural beauty that awaits you at the top.

Grizzly Creek in Glenwood Canyon

Grizzly Creek is one of several tributary streams that feeds into the Colorado River. The out and back trail meanders along the creek for several miles of spectacular, towering cliffs.

No Name Trail Head

In addition to Hanging Lake and Grizzly Creek, this is yet another spectacular trail located in Glenwood Canyon. The trail follows No Name Creek and is horse- and hound- friendly.

Family Biking the Glenwood Canyon Bike Path

The Glenwood Canyon Recreation Trail provides easy access to Glenwood Canyon and the Colorado River, making these natural wonders ideal for people of all ages and abilities to enjoy.

Colorado Zipline Across the River

Soar across the Colorado River or fly down a mountainside with a thrilling zip-line ride in Glenwood Springs. Experience a Colorado zipline adventure through the wilderness!