Glenwood Canyon, Colorado

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As you travel across Colorado on Interstate 70, you’ll find several scenic rest stops, which don’t have facilities, but do provide a nice view of the mountains, and perhaps a lake.  But in my opinion, there’s only one place along the highway where a stop is mandatory: Glenwood Canyon.

Day 3 will be spent cutting across Colorado via Interstate 70.  Between Idaho Springs and the Avon-Vail area, the landscape is mountainous and green, with tall pines lining the roadside.  After you pass Avon, everything changes.  Suddenly you’re in a mountainous desert, where brush covers the ground, and rock outcroppings are no longer hidden by trees.

Don’t plan on maintaining a steady 65 MPH as you drive I-70.  Even though it’s an interstate, it’s not immune to steep hillsides and sharp turns, requiring lots of braking or gearing-down.  One of the most noteworthy locations along the highway is reached after climbing a steep 7% grade: the Eisenhower Tunnel, which crosses (or more accurately, passes under) the Continental Divide about 60 miles West of Denver.  Here are some more fun facts:

-The tunnel is just under 1.7 miles long
-The east portal is 11,158 feet above sea level, making it the highest vehicular tunnel in the world
-52 full time employees keep it operating year-round.
-The average snowfall in the area is 26 feet!

CDOT’s website has much more trivia.

Glenwood Canyon Colorado, Interstate 70

I really should have taken more pictures of Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon.  It’s one of the most remarkable stretches of scenic highway in the world–not only because of the landscape surrounding it, but also because of what it took to build it.  This section of I-70 was one of the last segments of the country’s interstate system to be completed, and one of the most expensive.  In some places, the westbound lanes are almost directly above the eastbound lanes, and both are perched on the side of the canyon, on a viaduct that’s suspended above the river.

In the photo above, you can see where the highway enters the Hanging Lake Tunnels.

The technology that went into making the Glenwood Canyon viaducts and tunnels is astounding.  For example: inside the Hanging Lake tunnels, local radio stations are rebroadcast, so you don’t lose your signal.  If there’s ever an emergency, crews can override the rebroadcast, and pass along important information. 

Glenwood Canyon Colorado, Hanging Lake Trail

The highway may be remarkable, but the destinations you can reach on foot are incredible.  The path you see above runs the length of the canyon, and allows for a leisurely walk or bike ride along the Colorado River.  The paved trail also allows access to the Hanging Lake Trailhead, about 1/4 mile from the rest area at exit 125.

To access the Hanging Lake Trail: if you’re headed eastbound, you can turn off the interstate at Exit 125.  If you’re westbound, you’ll have to continue a few more miles, then exit and double back to Exit 125.  The trail is well known, and well marked along the interstate.

Glenwood Canyon Colorado, Hanging Lake Trail

Here’s a look back at the canyon, and the Colorado River, from just a short distance up the Hanging Lake Trail.

Hanging Lake Trail is 1 1/4 miles, one way… and uphill the entire way.

Note: This trip was first published in 2005.

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