Forest bathing. Bird watching. Fishing. Bison spotting. Stargazing. These are just a few of the things you can do at Fort Collins’ plethora of Natural Areas. At Visit Fort Collins, we’ve been extra grateful for the 50+ protected areas that encompass more than 36,000 acres and more than 100 miles of trail in our city. These special areas provide plenty of space to take a breath, soak up a little nature, and improve your mental health — extra important endeavors of late. This Thanksgiving, start a new tradition and spend the holiday in Fort Collins where you can easily soak up nature either pre or post-turkey. Here is just a sample of what you can experience at Fort Collins’ Natural Areas, perfect for a late fall or early winter nature adventure.
1. See/celebrate: Bison in pristine grassland. Where: Soapstone Prairie Natural Area.
For thousands of years, the iconic American bison roamed the Great Plains by the millions until overhunting brought the species to near extinction. As part of a nationwide recovery effort, this keystone species was reintroduced to Soapstone Prairie Natural Area and Red Mountain Open Space five years ago. You can visit the bison in their enclosure March-November. Learn more about visiting the bison here.
2. See: Wildlife in the center of a city. Where: Gustav Swanson Natural Area.
Located just blocks from downtown Fort Collins, Gustav Swanson Natural Area is a hot spot for birds (over 45 species, including green-winged teal, great blue herons, Bullocks orioles and more) as well as bats, foxes and even deer from time to time. Gustav Swanson Natural Area is home to 180 plant species, 46 bird species, nine mammal species, four amphibian species and three fish species – not bad for a little under 12 acres in the middle of downtown Fort Collins
3. Spot: Majestic eagles. Where: Fossil Creek Reservoir Natural
Experience the beauty and enjoy outstanding birding at the peaceful Fossil Creek Reservoir where you'll find rolling prairie uplands, wetlands, and a tree-lined reservoir. Designated an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society, it provides crucial habitat to bald eagles (in the winter) and other types of raptors, and many species of shorebirds, songbirds, and waterfowl.
4. See: deer and a historic fire tower. Where: Running Deer Natural Area
Watch for mule deer and whitetail deer bedded down or bounding through this Natural Area come dusk. The historic fire tower at Running Deer Natural Area is an interesting and nearly solitary destination, featuring a flat, easy trail and expansive views of the Front Range.
5. Do: Row a boat. Where: Natural areas and ponds around Fort Collins allowing non-motorized boating include Arapaho Bend, McMurray Natural Area, Prospect Ponds, Gateway Natural Area, North Shields Ponds, Riverbend Ponds, Kingfisher Point, and Pineridge Natural Area.
Canoeing and kayaking are popular ways to quietly enjoy the wild and calm waters dotting the Fort Collins’ Natural Areas. Many of the ponds also allow electric-trolling motorboats where fishing is allowed.
6. Do: Catch a fish. Where: Arapaho Bend, Riverbend Ponds and Prospect Ponds Natural Areas all offer easy fishing access.
Fishing is permitted in 14 Fort Collins’ Natural Areas. Arapaho Bend is good for boating; Riverbend Ponds features an ADA-accessible pier; and Prospect Ponds features ponds with river access southeast of the natural area. Colorado Parks and Wildlife stocks most ponds periodically with bass, wiper, bluegill, crappie and catfish. Other pond fish include carp, perch, bullhead, shad, and sucker. Please respect other anglers, the regulations, and no fishing areas. For more information, visit fcgov.com/fishing.
7. See: Full moon. Where: Coyote Ridge Natural Area.
Coyote Ridge Natural Area, known for its excellent mountain biking, horseback riding and long distance hiking opportunities, is also a great spot to check out the full moon.
8. Do: Skygazing. Where: Fossil Creek Reservoir Natural Area.
When it comes to astronomy, cold means clear. Join volunteers from the Northern Colorado Astronomical Society on Dec. 19 at 7 p.m. at Fossil Creek Reservoir Natural Area to view star clusters, planets and more through their large telescopes and learn more about the night sky. Just be sure to dress for cold temperatures. While registration isn’t required for the event, you can sign up for reminders and updates.
Curious about what else you can spot at a Natural Area? The Natural Areas Visitors Center is located in the lobby of the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery, 408 Mason Court. Play with the interactive map and watch live endangered black-footed ferrets. Pick up a map or other Natural Areas information while you’re there with no admission fee!