Fort Collins offers myriad opportunity for family adventures. To build your perfect itinerary, pick a theme — the great outdoors, music or STEM — or pair a few options from each. No matter how you spend the day, you’re definitely in for a memorable experience.
For the Outdoor Lovers
You Can’t “Beet” a Good Playground
Sugar Beet Park is slated to open late this summer in east Fort Collins. The new park will feature a playground centered around a 12-foot-tall wooden sugar beet play structure featuring climbable slats, a rope ladder, slide and more. Catch a sneak peek of the structure at the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery where it’s currently on display through May 26 as part of the exhibit “Once Upon a Playground.” Additionally, the 5.3-acre park will feature a multi-use turf field, native grasses, a park shelter and a pollinator garden. For more stand-out Fort Collins’ parks that deserve a spot on your family’s summer bucket list, check out our recent blog.
Explore Old Town
Old Town Square is a great place for families to explore. Kids love to play in the splash park and enjoy live music atop the big stage during the summer outdoor concert series. There’s also large kid-friendly animal sculptures like a bear and a fish to climb upon. Keep your eyes open for one of the brightly painted pianos that’s part of the Pianos About Town project. You might even spot an artist in action painting a piano. Positioned throughout town, these still working instruments are a big draw for kids young and old.
Hop on Your Bikes
Fort Collins is consistently named one of the country’s most bike-friendly towns, and for good reason: The city has a 280-mile network of paths and bike lanes, an innovative bike share program, and miles upon miles of mountain biking trails in the surrounding plains and mountains. No wonder it's a certified platinum-level Bicycle Friendly Community. Road cyclists appreciate the more than two hundred miles of relatively flat, wide bike lanes, trails and paths, including three main bike trails offering 19 miles of paved surface: the Poudre Trail that follows the Cache La Poudre River; Spring Creek Trail following the creek; and Fossil Creek Trail covering miles of open prairie. The Spring Canyon Mountain Bike Skills Park, which is an area within the much larger Spring Canyon Park, is another family-friendly area. It includes short sections of skills features similar to those encountered on area trails, such as rocks and ledges. The sections are all progressive, meaning there are similar features built for beginner, intermediate and advanced level riders, including toddlers on strider bikes. This is the perfect spot to gain the needed comfort-level on the bike before hitting the trails.
Hike, Bike, Swim, Skate
Abundant outdoor adventure heavily factors into Fort Collins’ reputation as a top destination – it’s a great way to encourage family connection disguised as fun. The city boasts 50 parks, 280-plus miles of trails – including paved and unpaved walking and bike trails, four recreation centers and swimming pools, three public golf courses and a racquet sports complex, two sheets of ice for hockey and free skating, and skateboard and dog parks. Add in Horsetooth Reservoir, the Poudre Canyon and acres of Natural Areas, Roosevelt National Forest and surrounding Rocky Mountain National Park lands and let abundance inspire adventure for explorers of any age or size.
Fan the Musical Flame
Bohemian Nights at NewWestFest is a free, family-friendly music festival slated for Aug. 9-11. More than 90 bands performed at last year’s festival; this year’s lineup will be announced in early June. There’s a kids-specific, interactive section of the festival, dubbed Kids’ Music Adventure where kids of all ages can play real instruments, make their own tambourines and rain sticks to take home, and participate in a variety of other music workshops. A plethora of musicians appealing to the younger set will perform on the Kids’ Music Adventure Stage in the same area.
There are plenty of daytime or early evening concerts taking place this summer, perfect for young music lovers:
— Music lovers gather at Oak Street Plaza for the intimate Noontime Notes Concert Series, live concerts that take place on Tuesdays from June through August.
— Over at Colorado State University (CSU), The Lagoon Series is a free summer concert series slated for Wednesday evenings June 19-Aug. 7. Catch well-known (mostly) Colorado bands including South to Cedars, The Jakarta Band and The Wendy Woo Band.
— The Thursday Night Live free summer concerts take place in Old Town every Thursday night May 30 through Aug. 1. Highlights include Gasoline Lollipops on June 20, the Railbenders on June 27 and SolPride on July 11.
— On First Fridays, catch the free Downtown Sessions concert series in Old Town.
Great Music on the Great Lawn
Music lovers of all ages will enjoy the new outdoor gathering space at The Gardens on Spring Creek. The Great Lawn is a 2-acred garden featuring a ½-acre lawn with a stage surrounded by beautiful and education themed gardens. Watch the website for information on upcoming events.
For the STEM Seekers
A Hand’s On Museum
The Fort Collins Museum of Discovery is a beloved stop for children and parents. The museum’s hands-on, interactive exhibits incorporate a mix of science and history. There are activities for all ages, including sensory exhibits, scavenger hunts, a Tornado Tube and the area history display. The Music & Sound Lab explores the physics of sound, the history of the Fort Collins music scene and some of the technology behind everything from Edison wax cylinders to iPods. While the museum is ticketed, there’s a free zone that includes: the Griffin Piano Lounge (featuring a restored grand piano from the 1904 St. Louis Worlds Fair); the observation deck, a 42-foot high deck with great panoramic views of Old Town, the Poudre River and the foothills and mountains; and the Natural Areas Visitor Center, where you can get to know the city’s diverse range of natural areas. Use an interactive map to plan your next adventure and visit the museum’s two resident critters: a pair of black footed ferrets.
Fort Collins has three libraries all geared towards families and kids. There are play areas in each and story times every day of the week. Teens and tweens will likely enjoy some of the free classes offered, with fun themes ranging from coding to Minecraft and Legos. Visit www.poudrelibraries.org.
Fort Collins offers exceptional opportunities for bird watching, one of the fastest growing hobbies in the country, at the nearly protected Natural Areas — Soapstone Prairie, Pineridge and Bobcat Ridge Natural Areas are identified as among the best for birders. Local birders also frequent City Park/Grandview Cemetery, Lee Martinez Park, Fossil Creek Reservoir Natural Area and Pawnee National Grassland. Birds to spot: Northern Goshawk, White-Tailed Ptarmigan, Mountain Bluebird, Western Tanager, Sandhill Crane and Burrowing Owl. For a checklist of local birds visit www.fcgov.com/naturalareas/pdf/birdlist15.pdf. The City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Department volunteer Master Naturalists and staff offer a busy schedule of free summer outdoor activities including bird walks and educational presentations: www.fcgov.com/naturalareas.
A Lesson in Bison
Plains bison were reintroduced to Soapstone Prairie Natural Area in 2015 thanks to a partnership between the City of Fort Collins, Colorado State University (CSU), the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service and Larimer County Natural Resources Department. Bison once roamed this area and are integral to its ecology. They were hunted to near extinction in the 1800s and later bred with cattle, accidentally and unintentionally, making bison herds without some level of cattle ancestry rare. With the Laramie Foothills Conservation herd, experts used assisted reproductive technology and processes implemented by CSU’s Animal Reproduction and Biotechnology Laboratory to preserve genetic diversity and mitigate brucellosis, a disease that can harm domestic cattle and infect people. The original herd of 12 has more than quadrupled in size thanks to new calves born each spring. Visitors may see the bison in their 1,000-acre pasture March-November. Visit www.fcgov.com/naturalareas/bison.php.
Fun at the Farm
At The Farm at Lee Martinez Park, kids can pet and feed the horses, goats, sheep, pigs, and chickens. There are pony rides on the weekends and a few indoor areas to explore (a barn, silo, and the visitor building with lots of information about farming). Kids can run out their energy at the small playground in the farm, and atop a tractor that the kids can climb on, and in the much larger playground right outside of the farm fences, called Lee Martinez Park.