Road Trip: Aspen to Glenwood Springs
Searching for the perfect Aspen road trip? Few activities compare to the feeling of excitement you may get when you’re loading your backpack full of camping, hiking, or adventure equipment, snacks and beverages, and getting into the car for a road trip adventure.
As you get on the road and put on your favorite playlist, a whole world of possibilities unfolds in front of you, one yellow line or mile of dirt road at a time. Jack Kerouac may have described this feeling of unbounded freedom the best when he said that “there was nowhere to go but everywhere.”
When looking for your next great adventure, few places offer the number of activities and the level of natural beauty, such as the 41-mile stretch between Aspen, Colorado and Glenwood Springs. By some road trip standards, the distance is relatively short. But often the most memorable adventures are measured not by mile markers, but rather by the experiences with friends and family, and the memories that you make along the way.
The Journey from Aspen to Glenwood Springs
Whether you’ve flown or just ridden into Aspen, you’re an Aspen local, or you’ve arrived in town via the scenic mountain route that takes you over 12,095’ Independence Pass, your starting point on this road trip offers immediate opportunities to take in some of the incredible natural beauty that will be a common theme on your journey. There may be temptations for you to stick around the area such as partaking in Aspen rafting and eating crumpets, visiting bougie boutiques, or hanging around to rub elbows with the celebrities that call Aspen home (ok, whitewater rafting in Aspen does sound pretty cool…). But there are adventures to be had, and opportunities (including more whitewater) waiting around any of the many bends in the road!
Pro Tip: If your travel plans from Aspen to Glenwood Springs have you first going over Independence Pass, be advised that the pass generally opens up for the season on the Thursday preceding the Memorial Day holiday. Also, the pass is closed to any vehicles over 35’ in length (including vehicle/trailer combos), due to the winding curves and steep grades.
To get to Glenwood Springs from Aspen, you take CO-82 for 41-miles. If you were to drive straight through, the trip would take just under 1 hour. The four-lane Colorado highway 82 corridor from Aspen to Glenwood Springs is the main route through the Roaring Fork Valley and can therefore have some heavy traffic at times. You can get any updated traffic issues, closures, and directions from COtrip.org.
Must-see Stops on the Aspen Road Trip to Glenwood Springs
Maroon Bells Scenic Area
Before you set your sights on getting too far down the road, it is worthwhile to take a side trip to visit the iconic Maroon Bells Scenic Area. Located just 10-miles west of Aspen, ‘the Bells’ as they are known locally, are said to be the most photographed place in Colorado. To get there you need to make a reservation, but you can drive, bike, or take a shuttle up Maroon Creek Road to the parking area. During the busiest times of the year (Memorial Day through the end of September), the road is closed to vehicle traffic during the day, but you can still take a shuttle – or get an early/late start and plan on driving up before 8am or after 5pm.
Pro Tip: Families with young children who require a car seat are allowed to drive to Maroon Bells at all times.
Upon arriving, the 14,000’ peaks tower over the reflective Maroon Lake which is a short (wheelchair/stroller accessible) walk from the parking area. From there the area has abundant hiking trails of various lengths and difficulty including the ~1-mile Maroon Bells Lake Trail and the more challenging 3.8-mile Crater Lake Trail. For those who are planning to add some backpacking or camping to their trip, the area also is an access point for the Four Pass Loop and Conundrum Trail which is a 28-mile round trip hike for a rugged, but incredibly scenic backcountry experience.
For those road trippers who have a passion for the transition from 4 wheels to 2, the Roaring Fork Valley offers some of the best mountain biking in the world – according to the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA). The IMBA named the valley a Gold-Level Ride Center (which is a title no other part of the state can claim) due to the 300-miles of mountain bike trails in the area and the related infrastructure. In addition to miles of maintained riding trails in and around Snowmass, Snowmass Bike Park also offers 25-miles of chairlift accessible trails that are well suited for beginners, as well as for the most advanced riders. If you aren’t able to bring your bike with you, Snowmass also offers a full rental shop that includes cruisers, E-bikes, as well as a variety of mountain bikes and downhill bikes.
After you’re done riding, Snowmass Village is a cool self-sustained little community that includes some good spots to have a bite to eat and a drink.
As you dust yourself off and continue your trip towards Glenwood Springs, a 27-mile side-trip up to the town of Marble, Colorado is an excursion that offers not only stunning views of 12,965’ Mt. Sopris, but an abundance of things to see and do along the way. To get there, take the CO-133 S exit when you get to the city of Carbondale. The route will take you through town where you can resupply on snacks and water. However, try holding off eating anything too substantial, there will be other dining opportunities along the way that will be worth the wait…
As the road leads higher into the mountains, it travels next to the path of the appropriately named transparent waters of the Crystal River. This Roaring Fork River tributary is primarily known as a great place to fish for crafty Colorado trout, sightsee, or go whitewater rafting or kayaking in the early part of the season. There are not any commercial guide companies on the Crystal, so if you need any equipment or expertise, check out Defiance River Outfitters located in Glenwood Springs when you get there. If you are so inclined and the river water levels are low enough, you can stop to take a soak at a natural hot spring called Penny Hot Springs – which is situated on the banks of the river.
Continuing up the road, the turnoff from Highway 133 to the town of Marble is well marked and is roughly 21-miles from Highway 82. From there you will travel along CO-3 for about 7 miles until you get to the town of Marble. Along the way, you may notice marble statues and figures that were quarried in the area that give the town its namesake.
Fun Fact: The ‘marble’ from Marble was quarried to build many of the nation’s most precious monuments including the Lincoln Memorial, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the interior of Colorado’s state capitol building.
As you get into Marble, do yourself a HUGE favor and check out Slow Groovin’ Barbeque. With the combination of lip-smackin’ good food and a beautiful spot in the mountains to unwind, this is a must-do when in the area. For anyone not left in a food coma from the good eats at Slow Groovin’, just 6-miles beyond Marble is one of the other most photographed landmarks in the state, Crystal Mill. This beautiful state landmark nestled in the tranquil forest is worth at least a quick look, and a few dozen pictures or so.
Glenwood Springs Destination Activities
As you near your Glenwood Springs destination, you have an opportunity to celebrate your arrival at one of the local’s favorite watering holes — Ball Brewing. This small and unpretentious brewery offers a variety of beers on tap as well as a refreshing hard seltzer. If you’re anxious to get into town and don’t have a lot of time to make yourself at home at one of the many arcade games inside, have them fill up a growler for you to take with you on your way to the next great spot.
On your way down the Roaring Fork Valley from Aspen, you may have noticed a common theme… a large procession of people rafting, paddleboarding, kayaking, or tubing down the river. That’s because ‘The Valley,’ and specifically Glenwood Springs, offers some of the best whitewater rafting and floating in the west! Glenwood is home to one of the more accessible and affordable sections of the Colorado and Roaring Fork rivers, and Defiance Rafting has become the choice when it comes to providing guests with the ultimate experience on the river.
Defiance is conveniently located a short 2.5-miles (5 minutes) from downtown Glenwood Springs in Glenwood Canyon. Situated on the Colorado River at Glenwood Canyon Resort, the location is ideal for those looking to stay and play, while being surrounded by the canyon’s natural beauty.
Defiance Rafting offers commercial whitewater trips on the Colorado and Roaring Fork rivers. Guests can dial in their splash level by choosing one of the trips on the harder-hitting Shoshone section of the river which offers class III rapids, or by choosing one of the more family-friendly scenic floats on the downriver section of the Colorado or Roaring Fork rivers. Defiance also offers full day and private trips for those looking for a little extra time on the river, or a little extra attention.
If you have simplified life by staying at the resort, or you’re planning on spending some time in the area, swing by the Defiance boathouse to rent a stand-up paddleboard, tube, or inflatable kayak to take down to the private put-in on the river. This is also a great place to wade, sunbathe, or just relax near the water. Defiance has also partnered with Sunlight Ski and Bike in downtown Glenwood Springs to offer rentals on mountain bikes, cruisers, or e-bikes right from Defiance headquarters. The location is perfectly situated to hop on one of the trails that go up or down the canyon, including riding down the riverside trail into downtown Glenwood Springs.
Defiance River Outfitters (DRO)
For those arriving without a boat or maybe even a plan, but still want to get on the water, Defiance River Outfitters offers boat rentals, gear rental and repair, shuttles, and free advice for getting you on the river. Their West Glenwood Springs pro shop also stocks a variety of river equipment available for purchase including Canyon Coolers, NRS straps and dry bags, bow ropes, throw-bags, and so much more. Check in with them if you’ve forgotten something or if you need help organizing your next big adventure!
Upon arrival, you may be anxious to get out and stretch your legs before your trip on the river, or before going to the hot springs. Good news, Glenwood Springs has some great spots to hike! Listed below are just a few examples for the area:
This is one of the best hikes in the state and the most popular in the area. Due to the Grizzly Creek fire that happened in 2020 and ongoing restoration work on the trail due to the subsequent mudslides, the hike was in jeopardy of opening for the 2022 season. However, the trail will be open on June 25th by reservation only. It does cost $12 per person, but it is well worth the effort and experience. This hike is considered to be one of the true jewels in the area.
The Jessie Weaver trail is situated in Glenwood Canyon conveniently located a short walking distance from Defiance Rafting and Glenwood Canyon Resort. The trail can be around 8+ miles, but you can make it as long or as short as you would like. There are a few good stream crossings, waterfalls, and a bridge at about the third mile which crosses over to the east side of the creek and is a good turnaround point for many. The trail also links with the Grizzly Creek Trail creating a loop that covers around 11.5 miles. Because of the 2020 Grizzly Creek Burn scars that impact this trail system, check the weather forecast for rain and flash flood warnings before hiking due to the potential hazards of mud/debris slides, or localized flooding.
The trailhead for this short hike up to Linwood Cemetery where Doc Holiday is buried is located a short distance from the downtown area. Holiday was a well-known American outlaw that gained notoriety after participating in a shootout alongside Wyatt Earp and his brothers at the O.K. Corral in Arizona. Doc relocated to Glenwood Springs during the last few years of his life to try and cure his tuberculosis by visiting the hot springs in the area which were (and still are) rumored to have healing properties. He was unsuccessful and died a short time later at the age of 36.
This 4.2-mile out and back trail exists to memorialize 14 brave wildland firefighters who perished as a result of a blaze that was started by lightning in 1994. The hike is considered moderately difficult but is a worthwhile trip and offers some outstanding views of the area from the top.
Traveling from Aspen to Glenwood Springs undoubtedly offers some incredible scenery to take in and amazing things to do along the way. However, when you arrive in Glenwood Springs you are truly in a full-service location when it comes to big adventures, ways to relax, and everything in-between.
One of the big draws to the area is whitewater rafting on the Colorado River. With many other rivers and sections being affected by historic drought patterns across the Western US, the ways that we create power, water our crops, and recreate are being jeopardized. However, the stretch of the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon has some of the biggest and oldest water rights on the river. This means that water through the Canyon is kept at high enough levels to support rafting, kayaking, fishing, and general relief from hot summer days. So, plan your trip now and come discover all that there is to do in Glenwood Springs!