Even Charles Dickens might agree — in Fort Collins, it’s most definitely the best of times.
It’s one city, certainly, but this Northern Colorado hotspot offers fun winter experiences that fall into two distinct categories: outdoor adventures and urban escapades.
Our favorite way to experience the city is to combine the two — spend the morning fat biking atop snow-packed trails at Lory State Park followed by a craft brewery tour and tasting at one of the nearly two-dozen craft breweries in the area. Or opt to cross country ski at Horsetooth Reservoir or one of 40-plus nearby Natural Areas, and then check out some of the art museums in Old Town. Spend a few hours birdwatching at the Pawnee National Grasslands before heading back to Old Town for a carriage ride and a meal at a new must-visit restaurant.
Here are a few of our favorite outdoor adventures, followed by some fun urban escapades. Pair a few together for the perfect Fort Collins getaway.
Abundant outdoor adventure heavily factors into Fort Collins’ reputation as a top destination for visitors. The city boasts 50 parks, 280-plus miles of trails – including paved and unpaved walking and bike trails. Add in Horsetooth Reservoir, the Poudre Canyon and acres of Natural Areas, National Forest and surrounding National Park lands and let abundance inspire adventure.
Explore a Natural Area
Speaking of the Natural Areas, Fort Collins is home to four new sites, bringing the total to over 40 that are open to the public. Tanglewood, a 10-acre site on Spring Creek (west of Taft Hill Road), is now open, as is the four-acre Goose Hollow. Natural Areas offer exceptional bird watching, and many enable regular raptor and wildlife viewing (Master Naturalists and staff offer free Eagle Watches in the winter). Bison watchers can catch another glimpse of the genetically pure plains bison herd, including this summer’s calves, at Soapstone Prairie Natural Area March through November each year. There are also monthly programs offered at select Natural Areas throughout the year.
Fat Bike at Lory State Park
Just a 15-minute drive from downtown Fort Collins, Lory State Park boasts 26 miles of hiking and biking trails. If you would like a little guidance on your first adventure, Front Range Ride Guides leads full and half-day tours in the Fort Collins area, which include lunch and a video of your tour. Fort Collins-based Beer & Bike Tours is also ready to take you on your first fat-bike adventure. Be it on a snow packed trail or single-track, atop one of their bikes or your own, there will be much to talk about at the end of the day when you sip a craft beer at one of the local breweries.
Snow Tube (and More!) at Beaver Meadows Resort Ranch
Beaver Meadows Resort Ranch, located near Red Feather Lakes, offers lodging as well as many activities. In the winter, enjoy the cross-country ski and snowshoe trails, ice skating and ice fishing but it’s the snow tube park that really gets folks excited. Beaver Meadows Resort Ranch is home to the oldest and longest running snow tube park in Colorado. There are 12 snow tube runs that range from gentle to extreme, and on any given day you can expect to get about 5-10 runs in per hour. Kids under 36-inches can enjoy the free kiddie hill (must bring your own sled), and everyone can enjoy the warming shed with fireplace at the bottom of the lift in-between runs.
Snowshoeing and Skate Skiing Abound
Fort Collins offers great cross-country skiing and snowshoeing both in and around town. West of Fort Collins, Lory State Park has lots of trails that range in difficulty but all with beautiful views. Likewise, Horsetooth Reservoir, which is open year round and located west of Fort Collins, offers trails that are perfect for winter recreation. The Inlet Bay Trail, which connects the Blue Sky Trailhead and Soderberg Trailhead, includes 2.7 miles of easy trails perfect for snowshoeing or cross country skiing if snow conditions allow, or hiking, trail running and fat tire biking when there’s less snow. Venture up Poudre Canyon to discover a plethora of trails perfect for winter excursions. The four-mile long Mineral Spring Gulch Trail is great for beginner snowshoers, while the Little Beaver Creek Trail is slightly more challenging as it gains 1,500 feet in elevation. Meanwhile the Big South Trail, located in the upper reaches of the canyon, is a 6-mile moderate trail with great views of frozen waterfalls. Cross-country skiers should check out Meadows Trail to Zimmerman Lake, which has two trails to choose from. The Zimmerman Lake Loop Trail is popular as it tends to get great late season snow and offers some good downhill areas. In town, check out City Park Nine Golf Course, perfect for beginners. Click Here for more information.
Spot Eagles and Other Feathered Friends
Bird watching is the second-fastest growing hobby in the country, and the area around Fort Collins is a hotbed for birders, boasting nearly 500-recorded species, including the rare American Woodcock spotted at Bobcat Ridge Natural Area.
Visit Fossil Creek Reservoir Natural area to see bald eagles; they make the cottonwood trees their home during the winter months. During the winter, volunteer master naturalists are stationed at the pier to explain the eagles’ history and help visitors view them through spotting scopes and binoculars. The programs are free and no registration is required. Visit www.fcgov.com/naturalareas. Or, find them on Facebook and Twitter by searching FCNaturalAreas.
The Fort Collins Audubon Society offers free birding field trips throughout the year (www.fortnet.org/Audubon). And, The Nature Conservancy’s 1,700-acre Phantom Canyon Preserve, located 30 miles northwest of Fort Collins, is open to the public only through The Nature Conservancy guided hikes and volunteer outings, which include birding hikes. Phantom Canyon is home to an estimated 100 or more species. For a checklist of local birds visit here.
Along with being a jumping off point for plenty of outdoor adventure in the northernmost part of the state, Fort Collins is also a craft culture hub. This unassumingly hip Northern Colorado college town is home to entrepreneurs and craftspeople at the top of their trade, including craft beverage brewers, third wave coffee shops, homegrown bands, food fanatics and fine artists.
A New Music Hall with a Long History
Fort Collins is consistently recognized as a hot spot for creative music and talented new musicians. The Music District is a dynamic gathering hub, workspace, and creative playground for the music community. For the novice or pro, it’s a place where anyone can hone their craft, learn the business, and share skills and passions with musicians and music lovers.
And the big news of late is Washington’s, a Fort Collins landmark with a storied history. The sports bar was purchased by the Bohemian Foundation and renovated with a state-of-the-art sound and lighting system. Now the 900-capacity venue is focused on bringing live contemporary music to the region.
Adventures in (Eclectic) Dining
After a busy morning or afternoon pursuing an outdoor adventure, grab a bite at one of Fort Collins many restaurants. With more than 400 options serving up everything from ethnic specialties to farm-to-table fare, choosing just one eatery might be the hardest decision you make all day. Stop by the Visit Fort Collins dining guide to search for restaurants by cuisine as well as experience type (fine dining to family friendly).
There are a few new options worth checking out. Tuck into a tasty meal (or just share a slice of pie) at the new Ginger and Baker, which opened just under a year ago. Located at 359 Linden Street in the carefully renovated Northern Colorado Feeders Supply Building, a 110-year-old grain mill listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the State Register of Historic Properties. Ginger and Baker boasts two restaurants: The Cache is a more intimate dining experience with elevated offerings like beet and goat cheese raviolis, hard cider braised pork belly, house-made pasta. At The Café, you’ll find comfort food like five types of pot pies, country fried chicken, and all things pie for dessert — apple, coconut cream, chocolate moon or caramelized banana cream.
The Gold Leaf Collective is Fort Collins’ first 100 percent vegan restaurant serving up inventive, delicious plates of buffalo cauliflower “wings”, Thai broccoli noodle bowls and much more.
For after dinner drinks you have to experience the Sunset Lounge and The Magic Rat, which are both inside Downtown Fort Collins’ luxury hotel The Elizabeth. The Sunset Lounge offers incredible views of the Fort Collins skyline paired with live piano and jazz. The Magic Rat, named after a lyric in the Bruce Springsteen song Jungleland, adds to downtown’s live-music scene and hosts all types of bands throughout the year.
Ready to find out why Fort Collins has been called the Napa Valley of beer? Check out one of the nearly two dozen breweries that call Fort Collins home. Visit one of the newest options, like D.C. Oakes Brewhouse & Eatery, which features its own crafted suds (try the Belgian Strong Gold or the Coconut Almond Porter) as well as rotating taps from fellow Colorado craft brewers. Or, if it’s Friday, Saturday or Sunday, swing into Purpose Brewing & Cellars, which has a tasting room at 4025 South Mason. The brewery doesn’t replicate any beers, but plans to continuously experiment.
If you’re curious about the inner workings of the brewing process, sign up to take a free brewery tour. Odell Brewing Company, Funkwerks, New Belgium Brewing Company, Horse and Dragon Brewing, and Anheuser-Busch Brewery all offer free tours, while Purpose Brewing offers tour reservations available for purchase. You’ll learn about everything from sustainable practices to water and green energy initiatives on the tours.
For History Buffs/Art Lovers
If you like museums, you’ll love Fort Collins, which has the largest concentration of art galleries in Northern Colorado. Learn about the area’s unique history and see why Fort Collins is considered an art mecca for folk, contemporary, landscape, and still-life work by visiting one of the more than 15 local museums, many of which can be found in the downtown area. Each Friday, you can soak in some art at the First Friday Art Walk, a self-guided walking tour of some of Fort Collins best art galleries. To see a map of the participating galleries, visit here
For a more hands-on experience, visit the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery, which blends science, history and culture into an experience the whole family appreciates.
Calling all Foodies
If you fancy yourself a foodie, check out the Fort Collins Foodie Walk, a self-guided tour that takes place on the third Friday of every month from 5 to 8 p.m. in Old Town. Meander into places like Nuance Chocolate, where they might do a “Show and Smell” demonstrating how they make single-origin chocolate from raw cacao beans. The best part? It’s free! Visit here for the scoop on each participant and what they’re offering at the next event.