I've been working through a backlog of photos from 2019, and I swear I still want to get a trip report going from TPR's awesome trip to Europe. But how can I resist doing a TR from one of the most scenic parks in the US? Especially when it's one that so few park enthusiasts have been to? Here's Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park -- a park on a mountain in beautiful Glenwood Springs, Colorado.
In mid-September, I took a 5 day trip to Colorado with my friend and sorta-coworker John. John lives in central Pennsylvania, and while he's not a theme park guy, he's been to Knoebels with me and had a great time. He knew going into this trip that a visit to Glenwood Caverns was going to be on the agenda. He's also afraid of heights. How would it go? Read on to find out!
We visited Glenwood Caverns on Tuesday, September 17, driving in from the Denver metro area in the morning. On a weekday after the end of the summer tourist season, the park was almost completely empty, leaving absolutely no problem with getting on all of the rides -- multiple times, if desired. In all honesty, I would be surprised if there were more than 150 guests in the park. You'll see a few guests appearing in multiple pictures throughout the trip report, including John -- who I had to ask nicely, on multiple occasions, to get on a ride by himself so I could actually get pictures of it operating!
We spent about 5 and a half hours at Glenwood Caverns, which included quite a bit of time for photography. This was part of a longer visit to the area, so as I normally do, I'll include an addendum to this trip report in a few days -- other things to do near Glenwood Springs.
Haunted Mine Drop: This ride is quite the experience. It's the first drop ride in the world that was built into the ground rather than into the air. It's a Stan Checketts creation, so you know there's a little bit of crazy going into it, including the seatbelts-only restraint system. It's also heavily themed, mostly in the dark, and includes some fun / slightly-creepy show scenes. The 110-foot drop is very sudden, and provides the kind of sensation you get from those Larson / ARM drop towers. I won't spoil the story, but there's a bit of family betrayal, and somebody ends up underground. This is a fantastic ride, and deserves all the positive attention it received when it opened in 2017. Here's the one problem: it seats 6 people, with a ride cycle time of probably around 5 minutes. It would be a capacity nightmare if the park was busy. On the day we visited, however, we were the only ones on the ride.
Alpine Coaster: It was just about a week ago that I posted a short photo review of the new Georgia Mountain Coaster, and hinted that while I liked it, I'd found a new favorite not long after. Well, here's the new favorite. This Wiegand alpine coaster is outstanding in so many ways, but we'll start with the setting -- it traverses down the side of the mountain that the Glenwood Caverns park is built on. The views are simply stunning the entire way down. It's also a fairly long alpine coaster, with a total elevation change of about 320 feet, and a length (per RCDB) of 3199 feet. That's longer than all the other Alpine coasters I've been on except for the Smoky Mountain coaster in Pigeon Forge. It also makes good use of its length, with lots of tight turns and a few little drops. It's not quite as intense as the best moments on the Georgia or Gatlinburg coasters, but again -- the view!
Cliffhanger: The claim to fame with this coaster -- the larger of the two coasters at Glenwood Caverns -- is its 7,160 foot height above sea level. They claim it's the highest elevation full-circuit roller coaster in North America, and I can't argue with that. (edit: as pointed out by thrillseeker4552, Six Flags Mexico has it beat) Of course, the ride isn't anything too special -- it's an S&MC Hurricane, which there aren't many of, but it's basically a slightly-better Pinfari or Windstorm type of coaster. It's also the highest ground-based attraction in the park, though I think the zip line gets higher at the top of its lift. Fun fact: this ride formerly operated at Celebration City as Thunderbolt, before re-opening at Glenwood Caverns in 2012.
Wild West Express: Your basic small Zierer Tivoli. I got the credit. Actually, I got the credit six times, because they sent us around over and over and over. John got the credit twelve times, because I needed pictures.
Giant Canyon Swing: It's one of the small S&S Screamin' Swings, but oh, does it have a setting. This is probably one of Glenwood Caverns' most famous attractions, because the backswing on this ride faces you straight down the side of a 1300-foot cliff. I'm not joking -- I looked up the elevations. It's that big of a drop. I enjoy Screamin' Swings, especially if they have decent views like at the two at the Herschend parks. This one, however, is in a class all on its own.
Glenwood Canyon Flyer: This is a basic swing ride -- SBF/Visa Custom Swing -- that just happens to also be built over the edge of the 1300-foot cliff. When the swings get going, they really do extend out beyond the edge of the ride platform, leaving completely unobstructed views down to Interstate 70 and the Colorado River below.
Soaring Eagle Zip Line: You'll see these small zip lines at various parks, usually as up-charge attractions due to their low capacity. This one is included with the full park admission. It offers perhaps the most expansive views at Glenwood Caverns, though the ride isn't really particularly thrilling -- it actually feels fairly controlled.
Mine Wheel: A very small Ferris wheel located near the park's entry plaza. I would have loved to see this ride built near the cliffside like some of the others, because its position near the entrance actually doesn't offer up too many good views.
The Caverns: The cave tours at Glenwood Caverns are what started the whole thing -- in particular, they were the starring attraction when the current version of Glenwood Caverns opened in 1999. The caves aren't as expansive or magnificent as Marvel Cave at Silver Dollar City, but that's just nature -- Colorado's caves are naturally more cramped and small. For their size, these caves are magnificent, and definitely worth seeing. There are two main cave tours -- the Historic Fairy Cave Tour and the Kings Row Tour. I'll explain a bit more about the caves in the photo captions. There's also a 2-hour Wild Cave Tour, which is a longer experience for those looking to crawl through some really tight spaces and get a bit dirty. You have to book that one in advance.
Overall Thoughts: I'm finding it hard to find anything negative to say about Glenwood Caverns. I guess it's a little bit expensive for a small park, with a summer ticket price of $58 -- which also includes your ride on the gondola to get up the mountain. Having just been in the Alps this past summer, I was paying similar prices just for a Gondola ride up a mountain -- without the benefit of having a park at the top! I like mountains, so I'm fine with that, but it makes Glenwood Caverns actually seem like the price isn't all that bad.
The other thing, of course, is that it's a small park -- there just aren't that many attractions. The current incarnation of the park has only been open since 1999, so they're growing at a sustainable pace, and I appreciate that for sure. A mid-size thrilling coaster would really round things out, and I think there's probably room behind the current attractions, further north on the mountain. But there's no point in thinking of this park as a credit run -- that would defeat the purpose. I'm excited to see whatever they build next, because the park's setting is going to make just about any type of ride a whole lot better.
This is a park that is really about the whole mountain experience, and the attractions are very well rounded. Where else can you get on a roller coaster, an alpine coaster, a Screamin' Swing, and tour inside a cave at the same place? Nowhere that I can think of. So be sure to enjoy all of it when you visit. Do the cave tours. Take some time to enjoy the views. Ride the alpine coaster over and over. This is one of the most unique theme parks in the US, and even if it's small and out of the way, it's easily a place I'd recommend to visit.
A tip of the hat to our cave tour guide, Ken Newton, who was fantastic. Also, my thanks to John for joining me on this park visit and conquering ... for the most part ... his fear of heights.
Here's the lower gondola station, which is the start of the journey to Glenwood Caverns. There's plenty of parking, a nearby affiliated hotel, and the ticket booths that lead to the gondola.
You'll also have to sign a waiver before they let you go up, which is interesting. Perhaps it's for the sake of the cave tours, but none of the park attractions were any more "risky" or unsafe compared to any other theme park.
This gondola system was installed in 2019, replacing an older system that had been operating for many years.
Heading up, and looking back down at the station and the parking lot.
A view on the way up -- the city of Glenwood Springs.
A view to the west -- following the Colorado River through the commercialized part of the city.
On the way up, the gondola passes over the alpine coaster track several times. I never saw anyone riding either on the way up or the way down, which is a sign of how light the crowds were.
Approaching the top of the gondola, and the park's main building.
Here's the view above the upper gondola station.
So get out of the car, and...
...welcome to the park!
Take a seat in the Big Mountain Chair -- at 7100 feet above sea level.
For a quick overview of the entry area, let's head to the tiny Ferris wheel.
The cars are themed to mining, and each one is named after a type of gem or precious metal.
Here's the main building, which houses the gift shop, fluffy, fluffy bunnies filled with medicine and goo, restrooms, restaurant, 4D theater, and laser tag arena.
Also near the main building is the group events / picnic area.
A look at the facade near the entrance.
Glenwood Caverns' only restaurant, the Lookout Grille, is located inside the main building. It's a simple menu, mainly sandwiches. We were happy with it.
A seating area inside...
...and a seating area on the patio.
You've got great views of the park...
...and even down from the mountain.
On the upper level of the building is an outdoor patio.
The word "views" is going to appear in this trip report a lot.
I just can't help it, because the views are that good. Unlike anything from any amusement park I've been to.
Hey, it's even educational -- you can learn a bit about the geography and geology of the area.
If the rocks start talking to you, though, try lowering your dosage of medication.
Since you're right above the gondola station, you'll have a nice view of the bright orange cabins on their way up and down.
The city (and the river) are far below. I'll share some better pictures of the views later in the set.
With such a quiet day at the park, several of the attractions were operated on an alternating schedule. The 4D theater was closed for the day, and the Haunted Mine opened late due to maintenance.
Had the 4D theater been running, I might have been able to see Mack's "Happy Family" in English. I've only seen the German version while at Europa Park with TPR in 2016.
Just a reminder that we're in Colorado...
The picnic area looks like a good spot to hold a gathering.
It's set up in a mini-fortress, so there are towers built at the four corners!
Enough of the entry area, though. Let's head over to the left side of the park (from the entrance) and start in on the rides.
To begin -- the fantastic alpine coaster. Even USA Today said it's one of the best, and they're always right.
Here's the station for the alpine coaster. It's not even a 60-second walk from the main building.
This alpine coaster starts at the top, works its way down, and then takes a lift back up. It's sort of an inversion of the typical coaster layout.
Thumbs up, and you're good to go.
Do not lose your innocence on the alpine coaster. You will not get it back until the next morning.
A wider look at the big curve at the start of the ride.
Riders in the station, ready to descend.
Off to the races.
Do you focus on the views? Or do you focus on the coaster? It's a very distracting ride.
There are corners.
There are more corners.
This is way near the bottom of the course -- tough to get pictures of.
There are a couple of speedy straight bits near the end, including this one heading into the brake run.
This is about the end of the ride, before turning right and heading up the very long lift hill.
A rider returns to the top of the alpine coaster lift.
Oh, and here's John, who ... was probably just relaxing, because I'm pretty sure he loved the ride!
Continuing our tour of the left side of the park, here's the Soaring Eagle zip line.
This is what happens when you hit the brakes at the end!
Though the wires get in the way, the views from the top of the lift are awesome.
And then you just get to enjoy a gentle ride down to the bottom.
I've seen this attraction as an up-charge with long lines at other parks. This was a great chance to ride one without a wait.
Enjoying the ride.
Alright, while we're on this side of the park, how about some views? TIP: the best views to the west are from the queue to the zip line.
Looking out at the Colorado River, as Interstate 70 heads westbound.
Mountains of all shapes and colors.
Heading into another canyon.
The scenery was fantastic. This was my first time in western Colorado, and it was quite a bit different from what I've seen before closer to Denver.
I do have to post about this eyesore -- a mine that is being built just northwest of the amusement park. There have already been protests and efforts to stop it, as it carves up a part of the mountainside that is visible not just from the park, but from many other places in the city. Not sure if they'll be successful, so we'll see how that goes.
Alright, back to the rides -- and ready for the kiddie credit.
John is super excited to take his 7th-through-12th laps on the Wild West Express!
If you've seen one small Zierer Tivoli, you've seen them all.
John is not a big coaster guy. This is about the extent of his thrills. Cut him a break.
A more acceptable level of excitement.
There is also a climbing wall on this side of the park. I didn't climb it, because it looked too easy.
Alright -- we've cleared out the left side of the park. Now, we'll head up the Iron Mountain Trail, which heads to the two attractions at the park's highest elevations.
John did not beware of the Man-Eating Chicken. I am a little concerned.
There are some displays on the trail, including an old stagecoach...
...and a pair of outhouses.
Much of the trail, though, looks like this. It's kind of a nice path for an amusement park. I like it, though it does take a few minutes to get up to where the attractions are.
The path diverges here -- we'll head left for the coaster.
Here's Cliffhanger! It's built at 7,160 feet, which is the highest publicly accessible part of the park. For the sake of completeness, I'll note that the actual highest point on Iron Mountain is at about 7,260 feet, and is in a backstage part of the park -- so I didn't try to visit it.
I didn't see a ride sign for Cliffhanger, so this will have to do.
The Cliffhanger ride vehicle.
With so few guests in the park, this is one of the rides I was worried I wouldn't be able to get pictures of anybody riding. Thankfully, a couple people were just getting on as we got to the top of the trail.
If you've been a coaster enthusiast for more than 5 minutes, you know what to expect from rides like this.
There will be some quick transitions.
Some sharp drops.
Some tight turns, with a bit of intensity.
The views are nice, but since this ride is set back on the mountain a bit, they aren't as stunning as on some of the other rides.
This picture was taken from a bit further away -- on one of the rare occasions I saw Cliffhanger running later in the day.
The other attraction on the Iron Mountain Trail is the Glenwood Canyon Flyer.
It looks like a pretty basic, low-impact set of swings. Right?
Well, here's the ride platform. There's basically nothing behind it, except a drop of over a thousand vertical feet.
The Glenwood Canyon Flyer in action! I like the paint job -- it looks like a tree.
I rode twice, and John rode three times -- enabling me to get some more pictures.
I think this was his favorite ride at the park, actually.
One thing I can't properly communicate through these pictures is the way it feels to come around this part of the ride and spin out over the cliff. It's breathtaking, actually.
Magnificent views, which is pretty much the story all over this park.
The river is way, way down there.
A look at the Glenwood Canyon Flyer seats from a little further away.
With the park as quiet as it was, I was able (with permission) to get pictures from the edge of the ride platforms for both swing rides. Here's one looking up at the Glenwood Canyon Flyer, from the Screamin' Swing platform.
This angle makes it clear just how much exposure you get on the swings.
Yep, it's really swinging out there.
This is a good spot for views off to the east -- into the famous Glenwood Canyon. The best spots for views in this direction: the Screamin' Swing platform, and the ob deck just above it.
Looking down at the Colorado River and I-70.
A wider view to the east.
There are several tunnels on this part of I-70. There's also a trail / bike path that goes through the whole canyon.
Looking further east into the canyon.
Glenwood Canyon is one of the most scenic stretches of interstate highway in the entire US. When I do the little addendum to this TR, I'll post some pictures from inside the canyon.
More great views!
And now, the Giant Canyon Swing.
As with the Cliffhanger coaster, I didn't find a ride sign for this attraction.
Capacity would be an issue on most days, since this ride only seats 4 people at a time. It was probably running more consistently than any other ride at the park, which gave me plenty of photo opportunities.
Here's the ride platform, which is built over the edge of the cliff, just like the other swing ride.
It's literally built on uneven ground.
Here is another view of the platform, looking down from the observation deck.
If you've got a fear of heights, this angle may be giving you some problems.
The ride experience is like any other Screamin' Swing. It's fun, there's air time, and some weird upside-down views at the top.
The real kick with this one, of course, is looking straight down off the edge of the cliff.
That's approximately the view these riders are experiencing right here.
Is it fear, or is it adrenaline?
Probably enjoyment, also.
The low crowds meant that most guests were getting immediate re-rides on this...
...even if they didn't want a second go!
The height of the swing is a little more apparent from the ob deck.
I have to admit -- it takes some guts to build a ride in a setting like this.
Yep, we're way up there.
Swinging back down.
Swinging some more.
And perhaps the most telling angle of all -- yep, just a 1,300-foot drop from the ride platform to the river way down there.
So ... how did John do? He didn't. I got him on the zip line, the other swings, and even the Cliffhanger coaster. But he would NOT ride the Giant Canyon Swing. Even at his bravest... even at his best attempt to overcome the fear of heights... this one was just too much.
So I rode it twice by myself!
The Giant Canyon Swing is at the far end of the right side of the park. Just a bit down the hill from there is the Haunted Mine Drop.
That's the name.
USA Today really likes this place.
That's OK, because I do too.
Sorry ... we are open.
The queue is themed, and quite nicely. The Glenwood Mining Corporation is hiring!
The little details add to the experience.
There's a video with some ... safety instructions? A recruitment pitch? Mining advice? I can't remember. But it was probably bad news.
A hole in the floor with one of those "infinite mine shaft" lighting tricks.
That is not a lot of days without an injury.
Here's the six-seat ride vehicle. I won't tell you how it works. I'll just tell you that there's no lap bar.
Oh, and when this thing releases, have fun!
John is not much for drop rides, but I got him on this one twice! It's that good!
If the Haunted Mine Drop is too much for you, perhaps the horse-themed frog hopper is more your style.
With all the rides out of the way, now it's time to start the cave portion of this trip report.
May I interest you in the SpeleoBox?
The SpeleoBox is one of the strangest things I've seen at a park. It's basically a wooden box built like a very tight cave, which supposedly takes 15 minutes to crawl through.
I have absolutely zero fear of heights, to an unhealthy extent.
But just looking inside of this thing made me realize I'm claustrophobic.
This attraction -- if you can call it that -- was a hard pass.
Caver's Corner is the section of the park with the entrances to both of the main cave tours.
Even on a slow day, the cave tours are offered frequently. They recommend doing the King's Row tour if you only have time for one, but we had time for both, so we started with the Fairy Cave Tour.
In fact, our Fairy Cave Tour was a private tour, with no one but the two of us and the cave guide!
We were actually lucky enough to get the same guide -- Ken Newton -- on both tours. Ken was fantastic. If you ever visit this park, I hope you also get to meet Ken.
Here's the modern entrance to the Fairy Cave. It's a door.
Here's the old entrance to the Fairy Cave. It's a pile of rocks.
Here's what the old entrance looks like from the inside. It's sealed off now, which allows them to control things like ... visitors.
One of the first things that was pointed out to us is that roots from trees atop the caves actually grow down /into/ the caves. This is one of the larger examples we saw.
I'm going to have a hard time remembering all of the formations and things we saw in the cave, so I'll share some basic information as best I can.
The caves on Iron Mountain were first discovered well over 100 years ago.
People toured the caves shortly after they were discovered, and enjoyed the sights. However, public tours ceased in the 1910s.
This one looks like a heart!
Electricity was still a new thing, but lights were put up in the caves even way back then -- which made the caves accessible.
Several light bulbs, including this one, are made in the same style as the bulbs used over 100 years ago.
The Fairy Cave Tour is pretty tight, similar to some of the tighter passages on the Marvel Cave tour at SDC. Backpacks are not allowed in the Fairy Cave.
Yes, that's what they call it.
Cool stuff on the wall.
This cave has an absolute plethora of random holes, passages, and places that look almost too small to fit through. Nonetheless, many of them have been explored.
This is very interesting. I wish I remembered what it was called.
I'm not sure if this is it, but there's one hole in this cave called Jam Crack Passage. It's a very narrow segment of the original cave that was quite a jam to get through.
Of course, since this is now a show cave, floors have been created with concrete in order to help tourists make their way through.
Some formations have survived, but others (see the top right of this picture) have been damaged by years of tourism and irresponsible people. The current system in place, with tour guides who'll make sure you don't mess anything up, should alleviate that concern going into the future.
That's one cave tour done -- and the King's Row tour is up next.
The King's Row tour takes place in a much larger setting, so backpacks are allowed, and there's more room to breathe. They also use an airlock tunnel to keep wind from entering the cave.
We did mix in with a group of about 10 on this tour. Ken, at right, is explaining our entrance to The Barn -- the large room at the start of the tour.
The clear tube here is part of a system of instruments in the cave that are measuring ... something. Again, another detail I forgot. Sorry. I'll do better next time.
Ken used a black light to show off some features on the rocks. Pretty neat stuff.
The King's Row tour goes through some large rooms, with lots of stairways heading down, down, down.
The bottom of this stairway is about as deep as it goes.
The formations -- stalactites and stalagmites and other stuff -- are very impressive.
Some of them have grown to be quite long.
More cool cave stuff.
At the very bottom of the stairs is this room -- the actual King's Row.
It's named King's Row because some of the formations on the ground reminded people of chess pieces.
It's said to be one of the best cave rooms in all of Colorado, and I'd believe it.
It's a very impressive room.
Frankly, it looks like it would be dangerous to try to traverse it.
Here's one of the best parts of the tour. After the requisite "pitch black" bit that every good cave tour does, the room is then lit -- but only by black light. Some of the rocks even glow brighter in the black light when the tour guide shines a regular light on them for a short period of time.
One by one, rows of standard lighting are flipped back on, starting with the far back of King's Row.
The effect helps to highlight some of the best formations, and makes for some pretty cool pictures.
Here's the view with just about all of the regular lights back on. This is definitely something I've never seen done in any other cave tour, and I loved it.
Of course, we're at the bottom, so now we have to climb back up to the top.
Oh, and then there was ... this formation ...
... does this remind you of anything?
Well, our day is about done, so let's check out the views over the city of Glenwood Springs. The outdoor deck at the main building is the best place to see the city.
Hmm, looks like rain...
...but it cleared up pretty quickly.
Downtown is down there.
It's actually a neat little downtown. There will be a few pictures in the addendum.
There's also a view toward one of Colorado's more impressive mountains -- Mt. Sopris.
Mt. Sopris isn't a 14er. It's not even a 13er. But it's the only mountain anywhere near this high in the vicinity, so it stands out impressively on the horizon.
Yep, there's still snow up there.
I think that about covers it, so it's time to head to the gondolas and make our way back down.
High winds could, indeed, be an issue on any sort of cable car system. Thankfully, we didn't have any problems.
One look back up the mountain, and a wave goodbye to Glenwood Caverns.
Fantastic report per usual, Andy! I always love your structure.
I put this park into Apple Maps just now and realized I drove right by it on I-70 three summers ago. So...that’s frustrating. On the bright side, I’d have had to go back for the Haunted Mine Drop anyway. A drop tower. IN A BOX (kind of)!!! How could it get better than that for me? And can you imagine what it would be like using “the method”?!?!
Speaking of rides in boxes: one of my favorites is Runaway Mountain at Six Flags Over Texas. How does the S&MC model compare to Premier’s take on the layout? I’ve always wanted to try one.
Lots of great pictures and info here! Interested to hear what you did in your visit otherwise.
We had a hell of a day. Drove over from Denver and did the Hanging Lake Hike (were trying to bike down the path you mentioned but they closed it a week before our visit due to peak run off), went to an awesome brewery for a tour, visited the park, and went to the Hot Springs... and drove back to Denver that night, like crazy people.
I really enjoyed my time at Glenwood Caverns and didn't even notice the Speleobox. I would've likely done it! Girlfriend was also terrified of the Screamin' Swing but we had a great time once she got on.
This is quite honestly my favorite report I've read about Glenwood Caverns, anywhere. I really appreciate the amount of detail and photos you put into showing off all this park has to offer. Thank you so much for taking the time to really craft this Andy!
Change the scheme, Alter the mood! Electrify the boys and girls if you would be so kind!
This park is really interesting to me, I love mountain coasters but hate paying $15-$20 a pop to ride them once so having one included with a crazy looking drop tower and some other attractions on top of a mountain is a just a really cool concept. While this place isn't a must see destination for me or anything if I was ever in the area I'd love to spend a day there.
As others have said great report, really enjoyed this.
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