• Glenwood Canyon near Glenwood Springs, Colorado

Glenwood Canyon & The Colorado River

Glenwood Canyon, the gateway to Glenwood Springs, was carved over 3 million years by the power of the Colorado River. This 16-mile canyon provides endless opportunities for recreation including hiking, biking, river rafting and more. In addition to endless fun, this natural beauty if a geological and engineering feat, learn more below.

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.

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 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. Many canyons in Colorado have proven difficult to navigate. This 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.

Glenwood Canyon Fast Facts

The facts & figures that continue to make this engineering feat & natural beauty an astounding place to visit or drive through!

  • 40 bridges within Canyon
  • 15 miles of retaining walls
  • 2 - 4,000-foot-long tunnels
  • 12.5 miles of driveable road
  • 4 full-service rest areas providing access to trails & the CO River
  • Hanging Lake was designated a National Natural Landmark in 2011
  • The project won more than 30 awards, including the 1993 Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement Award from the American Society of Civil Engineers
  • The CDOT traffic management facility in the Hanging Lake Tunnels also monitors the conditions in the Wolf Creek Pass Tunnel approximately 200 miles away
  • 150,000 new trees & shrubs planted
  • $490.3 million final cost of construction
  • Canyon walls over 1,300 ft high
  • 30,000 tons of structural & reinforcing steel used
  • 810,000 tons of concrete used
  • 2 million tiles in Hanging Lake tunnels
  • 300 engineers consulted on the project
  • 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
  • Glenwood Canyon is home to a thriving wildlife population including bighorn sheep, marmots, raccoons, birds, bears, deer, mountain lions & coyotes

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