For centuries the Ute Indians, first inhabitants of this part of western Colorado, knew about the natural hot springs that still bubble to the surface. They came to heal their wounds and take the vapors in the natural saunas of nearby caves. Whites arrived in the 1880s after the discovery of gold and silver nearby, and the “spa in the Rockies” was born. European royalty came to take the waters, Hollywood discovered it, Teddy Roosevelt designated the local Hotel Colorado his summer White House. Today Glenwood Springs has preserved the air of an old-fashioned spa town with easy access to great skiing (Aspen and Vail are both within an hour’s drive) and has the distinction of being the burial place of Wild West legend Doc Holliday.
The Utes called the local hot water pools Yampah, or Big Medicine Springs. The town claims that the main pool, at 405 by 100 feet, is the largest in the world. It holds 1,071,000 gallons of water maintained at 90°F and is big enough to fit a diving area and lanes for lap swimming. There’s also a “smaller” pool that is slightly hotter (104°F). Massages, facials, and cleansing sweats are available next door at the Yampah Spa and Vapor Caves, the only natural vapor caves in North America. Mineral hot springs keep the three caves at 115°F and 100 percent humidity year-round.
East of Glenwood Springs is Glenwood Canyon, a deep, 15-mile gorge carved by the Colorado River. At the western end of the canyon is kitschy Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, where you can ride European-style gondolas up 4,300 feet to Glenwood Caverns and Historic Fairy Caves. Once promoted as the Eighth Wonder of the World, the caverns are tilled with fantastical natural formations and are one of the few places in the country where you can go spelunking at over 7,000 feet. Choose from a moderate half-mile, one-hour guided tour or the more challenging three-hour “wild tour” (be ready to crawl on your stomach). Also in Glenwood Canyon are the starts of a number of trails, including Hanging Lake Trail (2.4 miles round trip), a popular hike that climbs a side canyon past numerous falls to a hauntingly gorgeous little green pool.