Road Trip: Salt Lake City to Glenwood Springs

 

There are few places where you can take a road trip that includes world class whitewater and scenic rafting, gold medal fishing, award winning wine tasting, relaxing natural hot springs, and a mountain top theme-park, all within a relatively short distance from home. For anyone who may feel as though they have not squeezed enough ‘summer’ out of summer, a road trip from Salt Lake City, UT to Glenwood Springs, CO may be the perfect way to complete the summer season before the snow starts flying. This is a trip that can be easily accomplished as an overnighter, extended weekend, or over several days if time allows.

This short, 6ish-hour drive has a little something for everyone – including for those who are looking for adventure, or for those looking for a more relaxed pace.

The Journey.Quaking Aspens with leaves changing color.

There are two main routes from Salt Lake City to Glenwood Springs. The first takes you along I-80 up Parley’s Canyon and near Park City, where you will eventually take US-40 to Colorado. When you cross the border, the road turns into US-64 until you get to the town of Meeker where you will go south on CO-13. This road eventually intersects with I-70 where you head east out of Rifle for another 30 minutes to Glenwood Springs. This is a beautiful route that passes several large reservoirs including Jordanelle, Strawberry Reservoir, Flaming Gorge, and others where you can find great camping, boating, and fishing. On Google maps this route is timetabled to take 5 hours and 45 minutes, however the actual travel time will most likely be over 6 hours. If you decide to go this way, be aware that there are some stretches of desolate areas where you may be out of cell phone range, so be prepared with plenty of water and other essentials just in case. Also, be on the lookout for animals on the road if you’re traveling at night.

The second route is slightly longer by miles, but shorter by time due to faster speed limits and more time spent on the interstate. This path will take around 5 ½ hours to get to Glenwood Springs if you drive straight through. The route takes you south from downtown Salt Lake City until you get to Spanish Fork, which is about 45 minutes away. Spanish Fork is one of the best/last spots to get some food or pick up any last-minute supplies until you get to Price, UT – which is just over an hour away. From Price you’ll continue south, eventually getting to I-70. Green River, UT is a short distance from the merge onto I-70 and is just over the half-way point to Glenwood Springs. From there you simply continue along the interstate for ~2 ½ additional hours.

Not only is this second option faster, but if your road trip allows for some extra time, this route includes some unique things to see and do along the way.

Stops Along the Way.

If hot springs in the great outdoors is on your road trip itinerary (and you aren’t saving yourself for the world-famous Glenwood hot springs), then one of the first opportunities for a short side trip to some incredible natural hot springs comes up quickly after exiting from I-15 into the town of Spanish Fork and onto US-6. At around 11-miles from downtown Spanish Fork, you will come to a road on the left called Diamond Fork Road. To get to the hot springs, turn left and follow this road for about 10 more miles. You will eventually get to a parking lot where you will find the trailhead. From there it’s about a 2.5-mile hike to the hot springs. A good website with some additional directions, pictures, and information can be found here.

Dog among the Aspen trees

For those traveling with dogs, or kids, you may be inclined to plan your rest area stops strategically. Your first opportunity for a developed rest area is about 30 minutes along the US-6. This rest area has a small fenced area where you can let your dogs out, a large indoor bathroom facility, and plenty of parking. Keep in mind, this rest area does come up quickly and if you pass or miss it, the next opportunity for a “real” bathroom would be in Price. 

A great spot for taking a break as well as taking in some great views can be found at Price Canyon Recreation Area. This generally quiet campground is about an hour from Spanish Fork, or 12 miles north of Price, and offers some great tent or RV camping as well as some good hiking. The campground itself does offer typical amenities, but it is a good idea to bring plenty of water and other essentials. Depending on the time of season, water may not be available.

A few miles east, after merging onto I-70 from US-6, you will come to Green River, UT. This small town offers one of the last chances you will have for a while to get food or other road essentials – not from a gas station, that is. The town also touts itself as the home of the “World’s Best Melons.” If your travels take you through Green River in September, it may be worth stopping in for Melon Days where you can golf, dance, run a 5k, take in a parade, go skeet shooting, or take your kids for a ride on a unicorn. And of course, pick yourself up a couple of those delectable melons for the road!

Crystal Geyser in Utah from riverbank view

But Green River isn’t just a great place to find amazing melons, it also has a hidden gem just outside of town that is definitely worth a look. Out in the desert, off of the last exit (exit 164), and down a frontage road called ‘New Area 51 Rd’, you can find an improbable cold-water geyser on the banks of the green river called Crystal Geyser. This place is wild. Due to the various minerals that occur within the water, it has created one of the most unique landscapes found anywhere. These minerals have built up around the geyser to create a medley of orange, red, yellow, green, and blue colors that blend together to form smooth land contours, which seem to melt into the nearby green river. The land is also public land, making it a spectacular place to camp off the grid for the night and gaze at the stars. Remember to practice leave no trace, as there are no amenities there. Please keep in mind that this area is very fragile and driving on the mineralized surface will damage it. Nevertheless, there is plenty of space to camp near the river and miles of dirt road to explore in the surrounding area.

As you continue east along I-70 you will eventually get to Palisade, Colorado. Palisade is one of the best fruit regions in the west and is becoming well-known internationally as a premier wine region. One of the newest wineries, called Ordinary Fellow, has already begun to attract a lot of attention from novices to connoisseurs – and for good reason. They are creating some of the best wines in the area, as well as one of the best places to enjoy their wines in their comfortable tasting room. The atmosphere is casual and welcoming, and is a place where you will find passionate people who are excited to share their knowledge about their amazing varieties. 

Glenwood Springs Destination Activities.

For any road trip, the experience is about the journey rather than the destination. With so much to see and do along the way, it may be tempting to call it good at one of the aforementioned spots. However, with a destination like Glenwood Springs, the journey is worth continuing.

Guided raft going through Entrance Exam rapid in Shoshone.

One of the main draws to the area is the Colorado River. The Shoshone and downriver sections of the river in Glenwood Canyon respectively provide great class III whitewater action, and a scenic float through spectacular scenery. This section has some of the oldest water rights and is therefore kept at splashy flow rates all summer long and into the fall. While there is great whitewater rafting to be found in Southern Utah, the Colorado River sections near Glenwood Springs are not much of a secret for many living in the Salt Lake City area. The relatively short drive, more moderate temperatures, and the plethora of other activities in the area have made Glenwood Springs one of the more accessible ‘quick vacations’ for families, and for others looking to get out of town for a few days. For these groups, many have found their way to Defiance Rafting Company, which is based right in Glenwood Canyon at the Glenwood Canyon Resort

The resort offers a variety of different accommodations and amenities, making it an ideal setting to relax near the river before or after taking a rafting trip with Defiance. Defiance also offers bike rentals during peak season where you can get onto the nearby bike path and cruise along next to the river, while riding up or down scenic Glenwood Canyon. Defiance offers the ultimate location for your stay and rafting adventure, as well as a firm commitment to providing guests with a hassle-free booking and rafting experience from beginning to end. For any questions about trips, drop them a line!

While there are many reasons to visit Glenwood Springs (such as the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, Hanging Lake, and various hot springs options), many visitors and locals alike are drawn to the cooling waters of the Roaring Fork and Colorado rivers. For many, traveling with or owning a raft or kayak might not be a possibility. For those who would like to get onto the water in an inflatable kayak (aka a ‘duckie’), stand-up paddleboard, or raft but may not have the access to this type of equipment, Defiance River Outfitters (DRO) offers a full rental fleet and transportation to the put-ins and take-outs if needed.

Surfing Glenwood Springs Play Wave

DRO is located on the west side of town – a short distance from the Glenwood Whitewater Park where you can try surfing or kayaking on the man-made wave that spans the river, with gear from DRO. Their location offers convenient river access and everything needed to get you onto the water. The location is also home to Canyon Crepes, which offers sweet and savory crepes so that you can gear up and fuel up before you hit the water.

Wrap Up.

Late afternoon float on the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon.

When you combine affordability with accessibility, and consider the variety of features and activities found in and around Glenwood Springs, you might be hard pressed to find a better place to go on your next road trip. 

When you get to Glenwood Springs, you will be surrounded by natural beauty and an unpretentious vibe that attracts people to the area, and keeps them coming back to continue exploring all that there is to do.

 

Glenwood Canyon Half-Day

Difficulty
Class I–III
Duration
Half-Day
Price
$67
$57 for Happy Paddlers* 12 & under
Learn More
BOOK NOW

Scenic Canyon Float

Difficulty
Class I–II
Duration
Half-Day
Price
$57
$47 for Happy Paddlers* 12 & under
Learn More
book now

Shoshone Rapids Short Trip

Difficulty
Class I–III
Duration
1 Hour
Price
$57
Learn More
book now