There's still time to head to Fort Collins this fall to uncover plenty of fun minus the hefty price tag. Watch an outdoor film with friends under the stars; go biking or bison watching at a Natural Area; soak in nature at Lory State Park or Horsetooth Mountain Open Space trail; explore the local art scene during a self-guided tour; or stop into one of the more than 20 local breweries to sip a seasonal brew. The list goes on. Make a weekend of it and book an affordable lodging option (did you know the average weekend rate is $122/night for a four-star hotel according to booking.com?). 

FREE FUN

1. Get hands-on at the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery:

Fort Collins Museum of Discovery reopening

The Fort Collins Museum of Discovery’s newest exhibit, Mental Health: Mind Matters, opened Oct. 3. On display until Jan. 10, the exhibit aims to build a greater understanding of the importance of mental health and create a safe space for important conversations about mental illness with hands-on experiences. As a bonus, there is no admission charge to the museum during the exhibit’s run. The Museum boasts activities for all ages, including the Digital Dome, an interactive music exhibit, Tornado Tube and the area history display. Visit fcmod.org.

2. See and celebrate the bison: 

bison-herd-calves-May-2016-Credit-John-Eisele-Colorado-State-University-Photography

As part of a nationwide recovery effort, the iconic American bison was reintroduced to Soapstone Prairie Natural Area and Red Mountain Open Space in 2015. This year, 2020, marks the five-year anniversary of the Laramie Foothills Bison Conservation herd’s reintroduction. Visitors may see the bison in their pasture March-November. Learn more about visiting the bison here.

3. Spend time in nature:

ELC

Take a self-guided mindful walk by the Poudre River at the Environmental Learning Center (ELC) using this guide. Research shows that time in nature lowers blood pressure, increases self-esteem, and reduces anxiety. Yes, please!

4. Explore a Natural Area: 

Cattail Chorus Natural AreaFort Collins is home to over 50 protected Natural Areas encompassing more than 36,000 acres and more than 100 miles of trail. Hike, bike, boat and more, all for free. Volunteer master naturalists lead eagle watches, skygazing and other events at the Natural Areas (registration required). For two of the less busy Natural Areas in the network, head to Running Deer Natural Area where you can walk along a flat, easy trail to see the top of a historic fire tower. This interesting and nearly solitary destination features expansive views of the Front Range. Meanwhile, Fossil Creek Reservoir Natural offers outstanding birding in a peaceful setting.

5. Bike or hike Lory State Park: 

Copy of Snow Shoeing in Lory State Park

Pick from one of 11 trails ranging in difficulty but sharing one common theme: beautiful views. The Corral Center Mountain Bike Park, a 70,000-square-foot mountain bike park located southeast of the visitor center, is Colorado’s first official state-sponsored dirt/pump track and offers a comprehensive skills area appropriate for riders of all ages and abilities. Daily entrance fees do apply. 

6. Fall fishing:

Woman Fly Fishing Poudre River

Between the Cache la Poudre River and Horsetooth Reservoir, Fort Collins offers paradise found for fishermen and women. The Poudre is perfect for flyfishing, though there are a few spots where you can bait fish. At Horsetooth, try your hand catching smallmouth bass or walleye from the shore or a boat. Fort Collins also has 15 Natural Areas that allow fishing, including Riverbend Ponds, a popular fishing spot with easy access from the trailheads. 

LOW-COST FUN

7. Visit a brewery (NEW):

Brand new Stodgy Brewing Company (1802 Laporte Ave.) boasts a big front patio and yard area, perfect for social distancing while sipping a Table Saison, Stout or even something from the guest tap, like a gluten-free pumpkin ale courtesy of Holidaily Brewing in Golden. Plus, it’s dog friendly, there’s free WiFi and you can score Waltzing Kangaroo pies everyday or tasty bites from rotating food trucks on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. 

8. Sip a cider (NEW):

Locust Cider & Brewing Co (200 Walnut St.) is slated to open later this fall serving a range of core ciders as well as small-batch and seasonal offerings. 

9. Outdoor films (NEW): 

The Lyric Cinema is showing outdoor movies — current films as well as the classics — that start at dusk. Bring camping chairs or blankets and pick up a snack (Frito pie!) or drink (including canned beers and wines) from the café. 

10. Butterflies abound:

The Gardens on Spring Creek recently underwent an extensive renovation and remodel. Kids and adults alike love the new Conservatory Butterfly House, a 1,500 square foot glass enclosure that's the first and only permanent facility of its kind in Northern Colorado. It features up to 400 free-flying North American butterflies. Admission is $11 for adults and $8 for children and students.

11. Let your worries float away (NEW):

Floating therapy is lauded for lowering cortisol levels and leaving you refreshed and re-energized. At the new Samana Float Center in Fort Collins, guests spend 90-minutes floating in a warm tub filled with water and Epsom salt. Listen to a meditation or your own playlist and let your worries drift away.