It took 60 million years for rain, wind, and the Colorado River to carve the massive, sheer-walled gorge known as Glenwood Canyon. It seems sacrilegious, therefore, to zip through it in a car when you can spend a leisurely morning exploring the canyon on a bike. I choose the easy way: starting just east of Glenwood Springs, Colorado, and heading west toward town on the 16 1/4-mile paved Glenwood Canyon Recreation Path. Rolling gradually downhill as it follows the Colorado River, the trail dips under rocky spires and edges foaming rapids, where bikers sometimes pause to soak up the sounds of the water.
The music of the river still rings in my ears as I roll into Glenwood Springs. It's a fitting way to come into town, since Glenwood grew up on the water. Two rivers ― the Colorado and the Roaring Fork ― divide the town, and this is home to the state's best-known hot springs, where celebrities like Teddy Roosevelt and Doc Holliday took the waters.
The Hot Springs Lodge & Pool is still a big draw, especially after a hike or bike ride. Ease into the therapy pool and you'll quickly loosen up in the 104° mineral-laced waters. Re-energized, you can peel off a few laps in the somewhat cooler large pool (to 93°) or zip down one of two waterslides.
Another natural wonder is nearby. To reach the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, hop onto the Iron Mountain Tramway, about a 10-minute ride. At the high terminus, have lunch on the deck at Exclamation Point, where, at 7,100 feet, you can watch the Colorado River frothing below. You can also join one of the guided tours heading into Fairy Caves, which dazzle with such formations as cave bacon (white-and-red striped stone) and soda straws ― long, white mineral tubes that hang from the ceiling. "If a soda straw drips water on you, we like to say you've been kissed by the cave," the guide tells us. "It's good luck and means you'll come back."
At day's end, stop back in town at Rivers Restaurant. From a deckside perch, you can gaze over the Roaring Fork River while tucking into a tasty trout dinner. Or just sit back with a crisp Chardonnay and listen to the river's song.
Glenwood Springs is 160 miles west of Denver on I-70. For more information, contact the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association ( www.glenwoodcaverns.com or 970/945-6589).
Canyon Bikes. Rentals from $18, $14 ages 12 and under, for four hours; shuttle to recreation path's eastern end is $13. In Hotel Colorado, 319 Sixth St.; www.glenwoodcaverns.com, 800/439-3043, or 970/945-8904.
Glenwood Canyon Recreation Path. The paved trail edges the Colorado River. White River National Forest; 970/328-6388.
Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park and Iron Mountain Tramway. Exclamation Point Restaurant ($$$) open daily. One-hour guided cave tours 8:30 a.m.-10 p.m. daily; tram and cave tour $17, $15 ages 65 and over, $12 ages 3-12; $10, $9, and $7, respectively, for tram only. 5100 Two Rivers Plaza Rd.; www.glenwoodcaverns.com or 800/530-1635.
Hot Springs Lodge & Pool. 7:30 a.m.-10 p.m. daily; $13, $8 ages 3-12 ($8 and $7, respectively, after 9 p.m.). 401 N. River St.; www.glenwoodcaverns.com, 800/537-7946, or 970/945-6571.
Rivers Restaurant. $$$; dinner daily, brunch Sun. 2525 S. Grand Ave.; 970/928-8813.