Summer Fun 2018: Let’s go! The water’s perfect

Jesse Wilson
May/June 2018

Editor’s note Landlocked Coloradans love water, but navigating summertime crowds at DIA security lines and concourses to reach a distant beach isn’t always the easiest nor quickest way to satisfy the impulse. That’s why EnCompass editors offer this reminder that mountain river towns closer to home present hot-springs and cold-water experiences that are second to none.

Glenwood Springs

This increasingly popular destination—drawing both interstate motorists and internationals seeking the rejuvenating powers of hot springs—grew up around the intersection of two rivers: Roaring Fork, and the mighty Colorado (the same river that carved out the Grand Canyon). Some of the country’s best kayaking is available here, at the Whitewater Activity Area, selected in 2009 as the site for the U.S. Freestyle Kayaking team trials. Test your skills with your own kayak, or rent a duckie (an inflatable kayak) at the nearby Glenwood Adventure Company. If you prefer not to get wet, grab some takeout food with southern soul from The Lost Cajun and the seat yourself for a picnic near the Whitewater Activity area to watch local daredevils hit the waves.

If you prefer life at a more leisurely pace, soak in one of 16 pools, each set at a unique temperature, at Iron Mountain Hot Springs. Relax while overlooking the Colorado River valley.

Regardless of your activities, the historic Hotel Colorado makes the perfect basecamp in town. Explore its rich history of famous visitors including President Teddy Roosevelt (the one with the moustache on Mount Rushmore), the Old West gambler and gunslinger Doc Holiday, and the Unsinkable Molly Brown of Titanic fame. Then make a short walk to Juicy Lucy’s Steakhouse, across the river on the new pedestrian bridge, where you can dine on Colorado beef and elk while enjoying live music performed on-stage above a waterfall.

Before heading home, rent from Canyon Bikes and board their shuttle up to Bair Ranch. They’ll drop you off about 14 miles away, where you’ll begin the gentle downhill bike ride through Glenwood Canyon while taking in stunning views along the river.

Steamboat Springs

The iconic pink-rabbit neon sign outside the AAA Two Diamond-rated Rabbit Ears Motel in Steamboat Springs has greeted visitors since 1952. © Corky Scholl

As the prodigious snows of winter melt in spring, the runoff fills the Yampa River, which flows through a town as down-to-earth as its cowboy history. There are few ways more relaxing to spend a day than casually casting a line out for trout while knee-deep in the Yampa. Steamboat Flyfisher organizes excursions for all skill levels—from “never done it before” to “expert”—and they’ll provide gear, guidance and grub; half and full-day; on both public and private lands.

If standing midstream in rubber waiters isn’t appealing to you, consider dining on the outdoor patio at E3 Chophouse, where you can watch rafters and kayakers while sipping on a delicious hand-crafted cocktail or dining on a certified Black Angus steak from the family-owned farm in Fort Scott, Kan.

After dinner, trade out the cold water for something a little warmer at the Old Town Hot Springs, with eight naturally heated pools that are perfect for warming up after a day on the river. Stay the night just across the street at the AAA Two Diamond-rated Rabbit Ears Hotel, where you can listen to the Yampa flow downstream as you drift off to sleep.

Begin the next day at the AAA Two Diamond-rated Creekside Café and Grill for coffee and an omelet under an umbrella on their outdoor patio adjacent to Soda Creek. You’ll need those early morning carbs to pedal along one of the most beautiful bike trails in all of Colorado—the Yampa Core Trail, a 7.5-mile trail that runs along the Yampa River and through the heart of Steamboat Springs. Bring your own bicycle or pick up a rental from Wheels Bike Shop.

During your ride, stop for a relaxing break at Mountain Tap Brewery. It offers wood-fired eats and cool brews with plenty of outdoor dining close to the Yampa's edge.

Salida and Buena Vista

Concerts in downtown Salida’s Riverside Park amphitheater draw crowds all summer long. © H. Mark Weidman

Two Colorado towns often paired together, Salida and Buena Vista nestle along the banks of the Arkansas River. Rafting companies, such as American Adventure Expedition (AAE) dot this stretch of the river. Join AAE for a full-day trip, with a break for a hearty picnic lunch atop an adjacent boulder. If you want to get soaked, ask about cliff-jumping from river rocks along the way.

When you arrive in Salida, head to Riverside Park—the downtown social hub for both residents and visitors. It hosts a multitude of outdoor concerts and festivals, and sits within easy walking distance of AAA Two Diamond-rated Moonlight Pizza, famous for its chicken pizza, made with onions, green chilies and cream cheese. After dinner, saunter over to Wood’s High Mountain Distillery, a former auto garage turned drinking house, where you can sip on spirits named for some of America’s most famous novels while reclining on a bohemian collection of mismatched furniture.

Salida Circus street performers perform during Art Walk, an annual summer festival in Salida. These two artists walk past the AAA Two Diamond rated Laughing Ladies restaurant along the Arkansas River in downtown Salida. © H. Mark Weidman

Start the morning off right with coffee and pastries delivered to your room at the AAA member-reviewed Palace Hotel as you gaze out upon the morning sun as it causes the Arkansas River to shimmer below. If you thought river rafting was hard, buckle in for a full-day crash course of stand-up paddleboarding with the Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center (RMOC). They’ll show you the mechanics of balancing and paddling on a smooth, calm lake, but the challenge quickly ramps up when you advance to a flowing river later in the day. Staying upright isn’t so easy, but you’ll be laughing and enjoying yourself the whole time.

For those truly gnarly souls, join the RMOC at Buena Vista’s manmade Whitewater Park and its “river waves.” These waves allow skilled paddleboarders and kayakers to surf in the river. Their guides will show you the best way to approach the wave and how to balance, stand up, and ride a wave. You’ll likely get tossed your first few times, but don’t let it get you down as few things are more fun than surfing in the Rocky Mountains.

Jesse Wilson spent his childhood traveling often to Colorado. Now a Denver-based writer, he visits a handful of new Colorado towns every year to discover the state’s known and not-so-well-known locations.

ASK THE EXPERT

AAA Colorado Travel Agent Sandy Gould and her daughter Brittany biking the 42-mile Rio Grande Trail between Glenwood Springs and Aspen. © Sandra Gould

Insider’s guide to Glenwood Springs

Sandy Gould, AAA Colorado Travel Agent

Glenwood Springs is still a small enough town that just about everybody there knows everybody else. And for 27 years, everybody knew Sandy Gould—when she worked at a local bank, and then at a mom-and-pop travel agency.

“People would stand in my line at the bank, even if it was longer, maybe because I would engage with them while I was doing their transaction,” Gould remembers. “Then when I expressed interest in travel, the owner of the travel agency called me into his office and hired me on the spot.”

Gould worked at the travel agency for eight years, helping locals arrange their escapes and fulfill their travel dreams. Several days a week, Gould would get on a road bike and find her own escape, riding many miles on the Rio Grande Trail—taking her from Glenwood to Aspen, with views of Mt. Sopris along the way.

“My daughter would ride with me in the bike trailer,” Gould said, describing the Glenwood Canyon bike path from Glenwood to Dotsero. “We loved seeing the canyon walls, hearing the trains going by, the birds chirping, the echoes of our voices.”

In 2015, Gould and her daughter started a new life in Colorado Springs and soon joined AAA Colorado in the Colorado Springs retail store. She hasn’t been back, but hopes to return to Glenwood soon, perhaps for a spa treatment at Yampah Vapor Caves. Gould said she would be happy to share her knowledge of Glenwood Springs with members, and ensure that they receive all the benefits of AAA membership.

For more information about a Colorado travel adventure that fits your passion, contact your personal AAA Travel Agent.

To reach AAA Colorado Travel Agent Sandy Gould, visit the Colorado Springs retail store, 7330 N. Academy Blvd.; email sgould@colorado.aaa.com; or call 877-246-2154.

Glenwood’s new bridges

View of the new Grand Avenue Bridge in Glenwood Springs on opening day, Nov. 6, 2017. About 3,000 people attended the event. © visitglenwood.com

Visitors to Glenwood Springs may remember its narrow vehicle bridge, with substandard lanes squeezing traffic across the Colorado River, the aging structure creating dark spaces underneath that didn’t feel especially inviting. Last November, 3,000 people celebrated a pair of new bridges, one for vehicles and another for pedestrians. The vehicle bridge includes wider lanes for traffic, and because it is higher than the old bridge, the spaces underneath seem brighter.

“This is one of the most beautiful infrastructure projects in Colorado,” said Tracy Truelove, Glenwood-based communications manager for Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT). “The plaza under the bridge is a great place for concerts.”

Rose flagstone adorns the piers of both bridges, complimenting the look of the Amtrak station and Hotel Colorado, Truelove said.

Access the vehicle bridge from I-70 by taking exit 116. Stay to the right and follow the signage and stripping. The right lane also helps you access the Hot Springs Pool and Lodge. To access historic Hotel Colorado, on the north side of the river, stay to the left, where you’ll encounter a stoplight with a green arrow to protect your left turn onto 6th Street, in front of the hotel.

Work on the project is not yet complete, though. Polyester concrete decking will be added to the bridge surface in May, requiring lane closures. A final celebration and ribbon-cutting, marking the completion of work, is scheduled for June 22.

Jesse Wilson is a Denver-based writer, who visits a handful of new Colorado towns every year to discover the state’s known and not-so-well-known locations.