Fort Collins is an excellent base-camp to visit many of Colorado’s top attractions. These day trips will get you out and about to explore Colorado without spending too much time in the car.
Pawnee National Grasslands & Pawnee Buttes
TIME: Full Day MILEAGE: 160 – A unique part of the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forest is the vast open prairie east of Fort Collins, called the Pawnee National Grasslands. Camps of nomadic Indian tribes lived throughout these grasslands until the late 19th Century.
The Pawnee National Grassland includes 193,000 acres of public land in two areas located 30 miles east of Fort Collins. Crow Valley Recreation Area provides opportunities for bird watching, picnics and camping. Pick up your Auto Bird Tour map at Crow Valley and learn why this is an internationally known area for viewing birds of prey and other unique high plains species – don’t forget your binoculars!
At the eastern section of the Grasslands, the Pawnee Buttes sedimentary rock formations stand one half mile apart and rise 350 feet above the plains. An easy one-and-a-half mile trail provides an opportunity to view the Buttes up close. Please remember to keep your distance from nesting birds and wildlife. On your return to Fort Collins, circle back through Raymer, Fort Morgan, Kersey, and Greeley. These towns are part of a thriving agricultural community and are rich with history of the Old West. DIRECTIONS: Follow Colorado Highway 14 east to Briggsdale. Watch for the Pawnee National Grasslands signs. To reach the Crow Valley Recreation Area, take CR 77 north 1/4 mile. To reach Pawnee Buttes, take Highway 14 east, turn north on CR 103. Take CR 103 to Keota follow the signs to Pawnee Buttes. Continue on CR 105, turn right on CR 104, then left on CR 111 to reach the Buttes. When leaving the Buttes, return to CR 111 and turn left on CR 110, then right on CR 127. Follow CR 127/129 into Raymer. From Raymer, take Colorado Highway 52 south to Fort Morgan. Travel west on Highway 14.
Rocky Mountain National Park
TIME: Full Day MILEAGE: 80-180 – Just 35 miles from Fort Collins, the peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park soar to more than 13,000 feet and form the Continental Divide. The town of Estes Park sits at the eastern edge of the park. Rocky Mountain National Park covers 410 square miles, and includes Longs Peak (14,225 feet tall), 18 named peaks above 13,000 feet, 150 named lakes, and the highest continuously paved highway in the U.S. – Trail Ridge Road. The road is usually open from Memorial Day until early October. However, the park is open year-round, and lower elevation roads are open during the winter. The visitor’s center provides information on the history, environment and recreational opportunities in the park. Give yourself plenty of time for this trip. An early start is advisable. Expect traffic and slow travel in the park during summer. DIRECTIONS: From Fort Collins, travel south on Taft Hill Road to County Road 38E. Turn right. You will follow the southern edge of Horsetooth Reservoir and continue west to Masonville and County Road 27. Turn left. Drive south to U.S. Highway 34. Turn right. Follow the Big Thompson Canyon to Estes Park. As you pass through Estes Park, take Highway 36 to the Park Headquarters/Visitor Center. Tour the park as you wish. Leave the park on Highway 34 via the Fall River Entrance. Take the Highway 34 by-pass and drive by the historic Stanley Hotel. Turn left on MacGregor Avenue. Proceed down Devils Gulch Road to Glen Haven. Continue on and the road will merge with Highway 34 at Drake and take you back to Loveland. Rocky Mountain National Park Headquarters, 970-586-1206.
Colorado’s Trout Route
TIME: Half to Full Day MILEAGE: 60-80 – Colorado Highway 14 along the Cache la Poudre River is one of Colorado’s premier scenic highways. Enjoy spectacular scenery as you drive west into the Poudre Canyon. There are plenty of places to stop for a picnic or watch the river roar past. This area is especially popular with rafters and kayakers. If you like to fish, this is one of the West’s finest trout streams. Hiking and mountain biking trails along the way, including Grey Rock and Young’s Gulch, offer pleasant trips into the the distinctive ecosystems of the foothills. Continue up the canyon to Stove Prairie and on to Buckhorn Mountain, for a sweeping panorama of the high plains to the east and the Rocky Mountains to the west. Make your way back to Fort Collins through Rist Canyon. DIRECTIONS: Take U.S. 287 north of Fort Collins to Colorado Highway 14, turn left (west). This intersection is commonly referred to as “Ted’s Place”. Approximately 15 miles up the canyon is Stove Prairie Road (County Road 27), turn left. At the top of Stove Prairie Hill, turn right on CR 41 to reach Buckhorn Mountain. Retrace your route back to Rist Canyon Road, turn right and travel east to Bellvue. Continue east to reach Highway 287 again.
Into the High Country
TIME: Half to Full Day MILEAGE: 90-120 – As you head up the canyon, you leave behind the short grass prairie and enter the mountain scrubland. In the winter, bighorn sheep live on the shrubby northern side of the canyon from below the Narrows to Rustic. Pingree Hill Road takes you from the Rustic to Red Feather Lakes, an area settled as a mining camp in 1871. No minerals were found, but people were attracted to the scenic beauty and the high alpine lakes. Today, Red Feather attracts anglers, mountain bikers, hikers, and four-wheel drive enthusiasts. Stop at any of the many lakes in the area, such as Bellaire Lake, to cool off. The Deadman Fire Lookout, constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the early 1930s, is now a favorite climb for tourists. From the lookout you can see the Mummy Range to the south, Rawah Wilderness and Medicine Bow Range to the west, and the Snowy Range to the north. Also take some time to visit the Great Stupa at Rocky Mountain Shambhala Center. The 108-foot-tall memorial is the most significant example of Buddhist sacred architecture outside of Asia, and hosts thousands of visitors from around the globe annually. DIRECTIONS: Take U.S. Highway 287 north to Colorado Highway 14. A little over 29 miles up the canyon on the east edge of Rustic, turn right on the Pingree Hill Road (CR 69). At Goodell Corner (3 mi.), turn left on Manhattan Creek Road (County Road 162). You will pass Bellaire Lake Camp Ground on your left before the road meets Red Feather Lakes Road (CR 78E). Turn right and the village of Red Feather Lakes will be on your left. To reach Deadman Fire Lookout, drive west on County Road 162 for approximately 11 miles to Deadman Lookout Road (FR170). The lookout is at the end of the road. To return to Fort Collins, drive east on Red Feather Lakes Road (County Road 74E) to U.S. Highway 287, turn right and drive south.
Cache la Poudre-North Park Scenic Byway
TIME: Full Day MILEAGE: 110-220 – Only the most beautiful roads are selected as Scenic Byways, and the Colorado 14 from Fort Collins to the town of Walden in North Park is deserving. The beautiful Poudre Canyon, the Poudre River, vast forests and high peaks mark this route. Stop at the Home Moraine Geological site, an area carved by glaciers, and keep an eye out for Bighorn Sheep. About 50 miles up the canyon, the road drops more than 10,000 feet down Cameron Pass in the vast North Park Valley – you will want to stop a moment and admire Nokhu Crags. This beautiful high ranch country is filled with cattle, wildlife, rivers and lakes. Check the status of the area’s moose viewing at the State’s Moose Visitor Center, just four miles west of Cameron Pass on your left. Don’t forget your camera! DIRECTIONS: Take U.S. Highway 287 north to Colorado Highway 14. Take Highway 14 to Walden, then Colorado Highway 125 to Cowdrey. North of Cowdrey, take Colorado Highway 127 and Wyoming 230 to Laramie. At Laramie, take Highway 287 and drive south to Fort Collins.