Glenwood Caverns and the Historic Fairy Caves
Originally discovered in the 1890s and reopened to the public in 1999, the cave remains the park’s top attraction.
Tours of Glenwood Caverns and the Historic Fairy Caves
- Historic Fairy Caves Tour — Newly expanded in 2013, this 40-minute guided walking tour takes guests through the discovery and development of the Fairy Caves, with recreated period lighting from when the caves were originally lit in 1897. It includes a stop at Exclamation Point overlooking the Roaring Fork Valley. The rich colors in the ceiling of the Register Room and the pendants, boxwork formations, reflecting pools and stalactites covered in cave popcorn are visible only on this tour.
- King’s Row Cave Tour — This 40-minute guided walking tour of the lower section of the cave begins in The Barn, a large fiery red chamber, and takes guests down 127 stairs into Iron Mountain on lighted walkways into King’s Row, the most highly decorated cave room in the state. A staged lighting show highlights formations including stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws and cave bacon.
- Wild Tour — The Wild Tour, a two-hour guided tour, gives visitors the opportunity to explore the rarely visited areas of Glenwood Caverns. Experienced cavers outfit each participant with a lighted helmet and all the necessary equipment. Wild Tour participants visit areas preserved in their natural state deep within the cave. This is an exciting belly-crawling and walking experience. Reservations required.
Glenwood Caverns and Historic Fairy Caves, a living cavern system that is a part of Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park near Glenwood Springs, Colorado, contains hundreds of cave formations ranging from tiny to gigantic. Visitors to Glenwood Caverns can see the formations and learn the scientific theories of the creation of the formations, known as speleothems.
- Stalactites, the most well-known formations, hang down from the ceiling, are usually carrot-shaped, and are the result of billions of droplets of calcite-bearing water. As each drop runs down to the tip of the Stalactite, it leaves a minuscule bit of calcite. The calcite sticks to the Stalactite, adding one tiny building block to the formation.
- Stalagmites are the mirror opposites of Stalactites; they grow up, not down. Stalagmites generally are shorter and thicker than their companion Stalactites on the ceiling above. They are thicker because the falling water droplets tend to splash and spread out as the Stalagmites gradually build up from the floor of the cave. Both Stalactites and Stalagmites grow at an incredibly slow rate, roughly the width of a human hair each year. The Stalactites and Stalagmites visitors see in Glenwood Caverns are hundreds of thousands of years old, maybe even millions.
- Soda Straws are a type of Stalactite that hang from the ceiling in long, hollow tubes which look very much like a soda straw. The water drops deposit calcite around their outer edges, forming a ring on the ceiling of the cave. As the rings lengthen, they form hollow tubes. Each drop of water travels down the inside of the soda straw and deposits calcite on the open end of the straw. When a Soda Straw becomes plugged, the water continues to drip from the ceiling, gradually covering the long, slender straw and building up the calcite deposits to become Stalactites.
- Cave Bacon is formed when the water drops flow down a sloped ceiling and build up calcite in a thin line before dropping to the floor. As the formations grow, the new rock folds and curls, creating graceful curves. Some of these thin formations are colored by stripes of iron oxide or other organic solutions giving them the look of gigantic strips of bacon. The Cave Bacon formations in Glenwood Caverns are very realistic and look good enough to eat.
- Cave Popcorn is formed by the slow seeping of water from the walls of the caverns. The knobby formations resemble popcorn or clusters of grapes. Because Cave Popcorn is one of the few cave formations that can form both in the open air and under water, the current scientific theory is that the calcite-laden water is forced out of the walls from internal pressure.
- Flowstone formations are created when water oozes over the cave walls or floors and the calcite in the water gradually hardens into a smooth, shiny surface. Hardened calcite itself is colorless, but Flowstone can be colorful if minerals from the soil and rock add new hues. Flowstone formations look like melted cake icing or a frozen waterfall.
- Helictite formations are created similarly to Soda Straws, from water flowing through a small central channel. However, pressure and air movement cause these formations to twist at odd angles. The word Helictite comes from the Greek word helix, which means to spiral. (e.g., the diagram of DNA is a spiraled double helix.) Helictites are crystalline and cream-colored or white. They can be very fine, almost hair-like, or thicker, branching out like elk antlers. Sometime Helictite formations resemble a bowl of spaghetti.
- Frostwork (Aragonite Crystals) is created when calcite-laden water that holds a high concentration of magnesium evaporates. The magnesium inhibits the buildup of calcite, thus allowing Frostwork to form. The crystalline formation grows needles in random directions, resembling the naked branches of a tree or cactus. The glittery Aragonite Crystal formation resembles Rocky Mountain frost on a pine tree. Frostwork formations are the most intricate and fragile of all cave formations.
- Gypsum Flowers grew on the walls of Glenwood Caverns when water pressure within the walls forced its way into the air of a dryer portion of the caverns. The calcium sulfate in the water is deposited and hardens into gypsum. Changes in the water flow rate cause the Gypsum Flower petals to curve.
- Moonmilk is a combination of carbonate materials, including calcite and gypsum, which form very fine crystals. These crystals are a semi-liquid, cheese-like substance and Glenwood Caverns has Moonmilk on the floors, walls, and ceilings of the big rooms. This white formation is pasty when wet and crumbly and powdery when dry. Because it breaks easily, visitors and cavers can easily damage Moonmilk Visitors to Glenwood Caverns are cautioned not to touch anything, because the slightest touch will harm the delicate formations, especially Moonmilk. Legend says that the Native American inhabitants of this area used Moonmilk for medicinal purposes, making a poultice to stop bleeding, to bring down fevers, to cure diarrhea, and to ease upset stomachs.
- Cave Clouds are smooth layers of minerals that coat boulders on the walls and ceilings of the caverns and create fascinating formations that resemble puffy clouds. The Cave Clouds in Glenwood Caverns cover a portion of the walls and ceilings in the historic section.
Visitors can see many of these cave formations within Glenwood Caverns. Throughout Glenwood Caverns’ history cavers, owners, and tourists have named some of the specific formations visitors enjoy.
- Jabba the Hutt is a fat round Stalagmite that resembles the Star Wars character. Jabba the Hutt holds court near the visitor platform in King’s Row. Perhaps he is squatting beside the platform to keep his guard up in case Luke Skywalker should be among the tourists.
- The Wedding Cake is a Stalagmite festooned with icing and frills with a covering of Flowstone that resembles a multilayer white wedding cake.
- The Bedroom is a large room that is a favorite place for cavers to sleep when they are exploring and restoring the caverns.
- The Chess Pieces in the King’s Row Room are enormous standing Stalagmites that look like the King, a Pawn, and a Rook in a row on a chessboard. Visitors, who are more than 158 feet underground at that point, can see the Chess Pieces from a safe platform with hand railings.
Alpine Coaster — America’s first Alpine Coaster features individual cars on tracks that race 3,400 feet through the trees and down the mountainside. The ride is exciting and varied, with bumps and waves to add to the thrill. Unlike an alpine slide, the Alpine Coaster makes hairpin turns and can operate year-round due to its track system. USA Today and Park World Magazine named it one of the 10 Best Roller Coaster Rides of Your Life.
Cliffhanger Roller Coaster — The thrills and excitement of this mountain-top roller coaster are heightened by cliff-side curves and heart-stopping drop-offs. The Cliffhanger Roller Coaster is located above the rest of the Adventure Park at an elevation of 7,160 feet, making it the highest-elevation, full-sized roller coaster in the U.S.
Giant Canyon Swing — For the truly adventurous, the Giant Canyon Swing launches riders out over Glenwood Canyon, 1,300 feet above the Colorado River. Both the ride and the views of the Canyon are breathtaking as riders soar through the air. The swing accommodates up to four riders, so friends can share the adrenaline rush of floating with zero Gs.
Glenwood Canyon Flyer — The Glenwood Canyon Flyer is perched on the edge of Glenwood Canyon, right between the Giant Canyon Swing and the Cliffhanger Roller Coaster. Riders take their seats and go higher and higher as the ride spins them around, until they are flying out over the Colorado River 1,300 feet below.
Haunted Mine Drop —The world’s first drop ride to go underground plunges riders 110 feet down inside Iron Mountain. Named one of USA Today’s Most Anticipated Theme Park Rides of 2017 and voted the Best New Theme Park Attraction of 2017 by USA TODAY’s 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards.
Soaring Eagle Zip Ride —The Soaring Eagle Zip Ride begins at the same spot as in the past, but nearly everything else about it is new. Guests now board at ground level near the Alpine and are then carried backwards, 600 feet up the mountain. At the top, they reverse direction for a thrilling zip ride back down to the ground. The new configuration provides easier access and increases the efficiency of the ride to reduce wait times during the peak season.
4D Motion Theater — State-of-the-art entertainment in Colorado’s first 4-dimensional motion theater, with interactive seats and special effects that make the audience feel like a part of the show. Featuring “Rats Race,” “Bamboo Express,” “Winter Wipeout” and “Pirates Rapids.”
Climbing Wall — This 32-foot climbing wall features five different routes of varying difficulty, auto belay and a textured surface with fossils for the look and feel of real rock.
Discovery Rock — A geology learning area where guests can pan for gemstones in the running water of the sluice box mining stream. Kids can search for buried treasure in the sand pit fossil dig.
Giddy Up! — This Western-style amusement ride lifts up to seven riders into the air, and then lowers them back down to the ground in a bouncing motion that creates a negative G-force, providing a thrilling ride every time.
Iron Mountain Tramway — The Iron Mountain Tramway is a 4,300-foot-long tram ride originating on the floor of the Roaring Fork Valley, near the Colorado River. The 10-minute scenic ride inside six-person fully enclosed gondola cabins skims over the tops of the trees, with panoramic views in all directions. The cabins are wheelchair-accessible.
Laser Tag Arena — Guests engage in a new-fangled shoot-out in an Old West setting, using the latest in wireless laser tag technology. This is a popular group activity for birthday parties and team building.
Mine Shaft Shootin’ Gallery — An electronic shooting gallery with animated, Western-themed targets that test each shooter’s skills and concentration.
Mine Wheel —This Ferris-wheel-style ride carries guests around and around, with views of the Adventure Park and the Roaring Fork Valley below.
Silk’s Saloon Olde Tyme Photos — Visitors take a step back in time during a visit to the Old Tyme Photography Studio, with costumes to fit shapes and sizes from newborns up, plus props and backdrops to create the perfect souvenir.
Speleobox Cave Simulator — The Speleobox contains 300 feet of crawling cave passages that wind up, down and around inside an 8’ x 12’ structure for a fun spelunking adventure. Suitable for kids and adults.
Wild West Express Coaster — This kid-friendly roller coaster offers curves and hills on a train-themed adventure ride.
Winter on the Mountain — from November to February, the mountaintop sparkles with displays of a half million twinkling lights, lighted nighttime winter rides and fire pits to roast s’mores. During the holidays, a giant Christmas tree with a timed music and light show entertain guests in the plaza, with visits from Santa and carolers.
Dining and Shopping
Snack Shack — Open in the summer months, the Snack Shack offers casual outdoor dining and snacks including sno-cones, ice cream with flavor bursts, hot dogs, cold beer and more.
Lookout Grille — Featuring some of the best panoramic views in Colorado, the Lookout Grille offers burgers, salads, sandwiches, a great kids’ menu and more. Menu varies in the winter months. The bar serves wine, beer and cocktails.
Souvenirs — Guests can take home reminders of their visit from Silk’s Saloon Olde Tyme Photos, the General Store Gift Shop and the Trading Post. Photography packages are also available.
Note: Some attractions are seasonal; have age, weight or height restrictions; or require liability waivers or reservations. Please visit GlenwoodCaverns.com or call 800-530-1635, ext. 0, for more information.