The looping Defiance coaster sits at 7,132 feet above sea level.Photo credit: Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park
“Oh my gosh, that was awesome!”
“Wait, is it over?”
“We’re going back again — four times in a row!”
Those were just a few of the exclamations I heard while watching guests of Colorado’s Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park exit their 56-second-long ride aboard the mountaintop theme park’s newest roller coaster: Defiance.
The gravity-defying coaster debuted in July 2022 to the delight of local and visiting thrill-ride aficionados. It features a 102.3-degree freefall, which makes it the steepest in the western United States. Sitting atop Glenwood Springs’ Iron Mountain at 7,132 feet above sea level, it’s also the highest looping roller coaster in America.
While I’ve long been a fan of amusement park rides, I ducked out on riding Defiance — a nod to Glenwood Springs’ original town name — not necessarily out of fear of heights and rollicking speed, rather nagging hip pain that meant I probably didn’t meet the rider requirements. Posted ride rules note that folks with “any condition that may be aggravated by this ride” should opt out, along with those who have casts or prosthetic devices, back or neck problems, or abnormal blood pressure.
Instead, I rallied a couple of younger, healthy guinea pigs — my 22-year-old daughter Kaylin and her buddy Stuart — to ride Defiance and report their firsthand experiences, courtesy of Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park.
The Defiance coaster features a 102.3-degree freefall.Photo credit: Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park
‘It’s Only Scary When It Turns Inward’
What makes the Defiance coaster unique is its slow ascent 110 feet into the air, where it hovers at the top of the climb for a split second. Riders in the front row (each car has just two rows of four seats) can take in a stunning vista of the surrounding valley, river, and mountains.
Then, before you know what’s happening, gravity pulls the car downward into a freefall that’s beyond vertical, which my daughter said is the most thrilling part. “It’s only scary at the top when it turns inward,” she reported.
After that, the coaster takes a couple of curves and loops, maxing out at 56 miles per hour before rolling to a controlled stop and a slow entry back to where the ride begins.
“The ride’s so short, your brain doesn’t have time to really process it,” Kaylin reported.
Since they wanted to sit in the front row, where it’s “more roller-coastery,” the pair immediately got back in line for the ride again. “It’s so much better in the front row,” Stuart reported. “The views are great.”
Although I heard guests talk about riding Defiance repeatedly — up to half a dozen times during their visit — just twice was enough for my crew. Kaylin reported feeling a little banged around after a couple rides. “I don’t need to do anything more thrilling for the next 10 minutes,” she said as she massaged her lower back.
See unusual mineral formations on the King’s Row cave tour at Glenwood Caverns.Photo credit: Jack Affleck
Attractions For All Ages And Thrill Levels
Thankfully, Glenwood Caverns offers loads of other attractions besides thrill rides. (Though I will say, I rode the zero-gravity Giant Canyon Swing that hurls riders off a cliff, 1,300 feet above the Colorado River.) Visitors can go underground to tour the otherworldly caverns on guided cave tours offered regularly throughout the day. Then there’s the family-friendly Alpine Coaster, Laser Tag, 4D Motion Theater, and Mine Wheel (ferris wheel).
The enclosed gondola ride up to the adventure park is a fun adventure in itself. Big windows allow for 360-degree valley views as you make the 5-minute ascent to the top of the mountain. If you just want to take in the scenery — and perhaps enjoy a burger and local draft beer at the Lookout Grille — you can book a gondola-only ticket. Other ticket options include a gondola ride with two different cave tours, or the Funday pass including the gondola, cave tours, and rides.
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