Glenwood Springs, Colorado

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Glenwood Springs, Colorado

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Glenwood Springs, Colorado
Home rule municipality[1]
View of Glenwood Springs from Lookout Mountain.
Location of the City of Glenwood Springs in Garfield County, Colorado.
Glenwood SpringsGlenwood SpringsLocation of the City of Glenwood Springs in the United States.
Coordinates: 39°33′2″N 107°19′29″WCoordinates39°33′2″N 107°19′29″W
Country United States
State Colorado
CountyGarfield County seat[1]
IncorporatedSeptember 4, 1885[2]
 • TypeHome Rule Municipality[1]
 • Total5.844 sq mi (15.136 km2)
 • Land5.836 sq mi (15.114 km2)
 • Water0.008 sq mi (0.022 km2)
Elevation[4]5,761 ft (1,756 m)
Population (2020)[3]
 • Total9,963
 • Density1,707/sq mi (659/km2)
 • Metro79,043
 • CSA134,774
Time zoneUTC−07:00 (MST)
 • Summer (DST)UTC−06:00 (MDT)
ZIP codes[5]81601, 81602 (PO Box)
Area code(s)970
FIPS code08-30780
GNIS feature ID0204659

Glenwood Springs is a home rule municipality that is the county seat of Garfield CountyColorado, United States.[6] The city population was 9,963 at the 2020 United States Census.[3] Glenwood Springs is located at the confluence of the Roaring Fork River and the Colorado River, threading together the Roaring Fork Valley and a series of smaller towns up and down the Colorado River.

Glenwood Springs is a historic destination for vacationers with diverse natural amenities, most particularly the hot springs.



For centuries the area that is now Glenwood Springs was populated by indigenous people before the colonization of the Americas.[7] The oral history of the Kapuuta and Mouache bands recall that Glenwood Springs is located within the “traditional Nuuchiu tuvupu (The People’s Land) of the Subuagan and Parianuche bands.” Fred Conetah’s History of the Northern Utes[8] states that the Yampa or White River bands used the area, which is now in the Ute ancestral jurisdiction.[9] The Utes were nomadic hunter-gatherers who seasonally used the natural hot springs in the area. The U.S. government surveyed the land in the mid-19th century, although they had no claim on the land. An 1868 treaty negotiated by the Tabeguache Ute Chief Ouray preserved the hunting grounds in the area of present day Glenwood Springs.[10]

For a short time in the 19th century, Glenwood Springs was known as “Defiance”, a name sometimes still used by local teams or businesses. Defiance was established in 1883, as a camp of tents, saloons, and brothels with an increasing amount of cabins and lodging establishments. It was populated with gamblers, gunslingers, and prostitutes.[citation needed] Isaac Cooper was the founder of the town. His wife Sarah was having a hard time adjusting to the frontier life and, in an attempt to make her environment somewhat more comfortable, persuaded the founders to change the name to Glenwood Springs, Colorado, after her hometown of Glenwood, Iowa.[11]

Glenwood Hot Springs Bathhouse, Glenwood Springs, built c. 1888

Glenwood Springs, then a small encampment, was not the original county seat of Garfield County. Rather, a larger mining town that had been seeded with silver in order to attract miners on top of the Flat Tops mountains named Carbonate was the original county seat. Carbonate briefly had a post office, but the mail courier who won the contract to deliver mail to Carbonate found only one miner living there on his first delivery, which took 65km horizontally and 1.5km vertically. In the end, the courier paid the miner $100 in 1880s dollars to move out so that the post office could be closed and he would not have to make the journey again. Carbonate remained the county seat for only four months before Glenwood Springs was selected by voters as the new location.[12]

The location of Glenwood Springs, and its railroad stop, established a center of commerce in the area. The city has seen well-known visitors, including President Teddy Roosevelt,[13][14] who spent a summer vacation living out of the historic Hotel ColoradoDoc Holliday, who was known for the O.K. Corral gunfight, spent the final months of his life in Glenwood Springs and is buried in the town’s original Pioneer Cemetery above Bennett Avenue. Kid Curry is buried in the same location. The serial killer Ted Bundy was imprisoned in the Glenwood Springs jail until he escaped on the night of December 30, 1977, an escape which went undetected for 17 hours.[15]

Grand Avenue, Glenwood Springs

Glenwood Springs was one of the first places in the United States to have electric lights. The original lighting was installed in 1897 inside of the Fairy Caves in Iron Mountain. Later, a dam was built in Glenwood Canyon, providing water for the Shoshone power plant. The plant began producing power on May 16, 1909, and retains the largest and oldest water rights to the Colorado River,[16] the “Shoshone Call”,[17] which is valuable for the protection of Colorado River water rather than the minimal electricity produced.[18]

In 2015, the town was named the “Most Vibrant Small Town Arts Environment in the United States”[19] by Southern Methodist University and the 5th Best Place to Live in America[20] by Outside magazine. It was named the “Most Fun Town in America” by Rand McNally and USA Today in 2011.[21]


Looking west from Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park above Glenwood Springs

Glenwood Springs is located in the narrow mountain valleys that host the confluence of the Colorado River and the Roaring Fork River. The surrounding terrain is steeply contoured on all sides, containing several caves.[22] The geology of the area includes geothermal activity, such as the local hot springs, but it is also evidenced through other features such as the Dotsero maar. Occasional proposals to leverage the geothermal energy for other purposes arise.[23] Glenwood Springs has experienced several mudslides throughout its history, a threat mitigated somewhat by public works.[24]

Reddish colored sandstone cliffs surround the city.

Glenwood Springs is considered a walkable town by PBS[25] and Walking Magazine,[26] including in the Walking Town Hall of Fame.[27] Though the town’s geography makes it a natural environment for pedestrians and cyclists; there are also trails running throughout[28] and around the city[29] that resulted from planning efforts that began in the 1980s in response to congestion and traffic.[30]

Due to civic planning during the early years of the city, Glenwood Springs owns some senior water rights to tributaries of the Colorado River.[31] Glenwood Springs water supply is sufficient for its population, unlike some areas of the American West, conservation plans have been enacted anyway for largely environmental reasons.[32] The town’s drinking water is supplied primarily through senior rights to major watersheds in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area, and the tap water is generally of safe quality.[33]

Mineral deposits exist further up the Crystal River and in the Roaring Fork area, and petroleum resources are ample in western Garfield County,[34] which brings tax revenue to Glenwood Springs. However, the town itself lies outside of the Colorado Mineral Belt, and there are no mineral or oil and gas sources near Glenwood Springs proper or its watersheds.[34] While the paucity of minerals and oil was disastrous for early miners hoping to strike it rich, modern Glenwood Springs has none of the typical Colorado mountain town legacy of resource extraction,[35] generally good air quality,[36] water, and land.[37] however, Valley inversions and heavy traffic to Aspen can lead to air quality problems during exceptionally cold spells of winter.

At the 2020 United States Census, the city had a total area of 3,740 acres (15.136 km2) including 5.4 acres (0.022 km2) of water.[3]


Glenwood Springs has a generally continental steppe climate, much more consistently stable than that of the Front Range and most of Colorado, though still decidedly continental and prone to periods of extreme weather. Microclimates dominate Glenwood Springs, with areas close to the rivers often much more damp and cool than hillsides.

hideClimate data for Glenwood Springs (1981–2010 normals, extremes 1893–present)
Record high °F (°C)60
Average high °F (°C)35.5
Average low °F (°C)13.4
Record low °F (°C)−38
Average precipitation inches (mm)1.49
Average snowfall inches (cm)17.9
Average precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in)87887568766884
Source: WRCC (temperature and precipitation data 1981–2010, snowfall 1893–2012)[38]


Local food production has seen a revival in recent years.[39] While not as consistently fecund as the extensive agricultural and viticultural areas at lower altitude such as Palisade, most types of fruit and vegetable grow well in the light and soil if well watered. Stonefruit such as cherriespeaches, and plumspomaceous fruit such as apples and pears, and grapes are suited to the climate and terrain.

In 1904, apples and peaches from the nearby town of Silt won first place at the St. Louis World’s Fair,[40] and strawberries did so well in Glenwood Springs that it first hosted a festival in 1898, Strawberry Days, which is Colorado’s oldest festival and the oldest continuously held civic celebration west of the Mississippi River.[41] Nearby, Carbondale became known for its potatoes.[40]


Historical population
U.S. Decennial Census

Glenwood Springs is the principal city of the Glenwood Springs, CO Micropolitan Statistical Area.

As of the census[42] of 2000, there were 7,736 people, 3,216 households, and 1,926 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,611 people per square mile (622.3/km2). There were 3,353 housing units at an average density of 698.5 per square mile (269.7/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 90.42% White, 0.23% African American, 0.71% Native American, 0.80% Asian, 0.08% Pacific Islander, 5.82% from other races, and 1.94% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 13.30% of the population. 13.9% were of German, 13.3% English, 12.9% Irish, 7.6% American and 7.0% Italian ancestry according to Census 2000.

There were 3,216 households, out of which 30.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 47.7% were married couples living together, 8.5% had a female householder with no husband present, and 40.1% were non-families. 29.7% of all households were made up of individuals, and 8.5% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.37 and the average family size was 2.97.

In the city, the population was spread out, with 23.1% under the age of 18, 9.5% from 18 to 24, 33.3% from 25 to 44, 24.9% from 45 to 64, and 9.2% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females, there were 103.5 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 100.7 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $43,934, and the median income for a family was $52,903. Males had a median income of $38,506 versus $29,272 for females. The per capita income for the city was $23,449. About 3.5% of families and 7.9% of the population were below the poverty line, including 6.0% of those under age 18 and 5.5% of those age 65 or over.

Despite being an expensive area in which to live, Glenwood Springs has the highest life expectancy in America for 40-year-olds making working wages.[43][44]


Historical image of Glenwood Springs, Colorado, Its Baths and Hotel Colorado

Glenwood Springs’ economy has centered on hospitality for vacationers since its foundation, unlike many of Colorado’s mountain towns, which were generally settled for mining or railroad purposes. While early railroad access and inclusion on main lines and proximity to Aspen catalyzed the city’s growth, Glenwood Springs continued to attract visitors, and thus has not experienced the bust or quiet years most mountain towns endured.

Much of the tourism, particularly during the summer months, typically involves local outdoor sports or the amenities of the town. In the winter, the proximity of Glenwood Springs to multiple major ski resorts and its hot springs draw visitors. Autumn is scenic as the gambel oaks studding the hillsides change color, and spring brings a tide of violas and other flowers, particularly bulbs, from traditional daffodils to native sego lilies.

Glenwood does not primarily serve as a bedroom community. In 2020 it received stimulus money.[45] Due to severe geographic constraints,[32] if further population growth is to be accommodated, it must come primarily from multifamily infill development.[46][47]

Bloomberg Business named Glenwood Springs the 7th wealthiest small town in America in 2015,[48][49] due principally to the influence of Aspen.[citation needed] Glenwood Springs and Aspen share a micropolitan statistical area, and businesses often serve the entire Valley. Many small businesses start in the area due to the ambient wealth and a strong preference for local business, but they typically relocate to larger metropolitan areas after successful growth leads to needs for more affordable labor and physical resources.[50]

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