This post on 5 things to do in Fort Collins was first published in April 2012. It updated and republished on 8/20/2016
Fort Collins, Colorado is a friendly town. We know this from experience; we lived there for eight years. It’s changed a lot since we moved to Santa Fe over 12 years ago; mostly for the better. The brewery industry is thriving there and tourism is on the rise. Whether you go for the brew or the mountains or an entirely different reason, here are five things to do in Fort Collins.
Things to do in Fort Collins
Visit a brewery
Fort Collins is a center for micro and craft brewers and hence, beer tourism or as someone we know calls it, “beerism”. The 3rd largest craft brewer in the USA, New Belgium Brewing Company (the folks behind Fat Tire), is based in Fort Collins as well as a host of micro-breweries. Some offer tastings, some tours and at least at one you can dine on fresh and local fare. The town hosts the annual Colorado Brewers’ Festival at the end of June and Fort Collins overflows with cerevisaphiles (a fancy name for beer lovers) before and after the annual Great American Beer Festival held in Denver each fall.
Pianos About Town
The City of Fort Collins’ Art in Public Places, the Bohemian Foundation and the Downtown Development Authority have joined together to create Pianos About Town. They have scattered upright pianos throughout Old Town and other selected areas and invited artists to paint them. About every two weeks, each piano will get a new mural by a local artist. These whimsical instruments sit on the street inviting passers-by to tickle the ivories. Sit and play awhile. When you’re done, to preserve these vintage uprights, close the keyboard lids. The project is a bit of a scavenger hunt. Have fun wondering around Old Town Square, stay alert.
If you want to ride around town looking for pianos or for any other reason, bike-friendly Fort Collins has a free bike loaner program.
Take a ride up this rugged canyon that runs along the Cache la Poudre River (locals pronounce it Pooder) and ooh and ah over the views and the rushing river. Long Draw Reservoir almost to the Continental Divide and the top of the canyon is the first place I saw a moose up close after a long and dedicated search. I actually saw my first one though binoculars in Rocky Mountain National Park, but it was REALLY far away. We’re seen bighorn sheep on the hills in the canyon and a bear once ran across the road in front of our car (the only one I’ve ever seen outside a zoo). There are picnic and camping areas along the river. If you love thrills, raft the white water in the Poudre. Go early in the season if your want a challenging rafting adventure. The greater the runoff, the wilder the ride! There are a lot of great hiking trails up in Poudre Canyon, too.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Drive up US Route 34 along the Big Thompson River to Estes Park (home of the Stanley Hotel where Stephen King wrote the shining) and into the park. Rocky Mountain National Park offers visitors over 415 square miles of hiking trails, fishing horseback riding, campgrounds and cabins. It’s a popular place to view wildlife. Elk abound and you can also see Big Horn Sheep, moose and other critters. From Memorial Day to mid-October, depending on snowfall, you can drive up Trail Ridge Road to the Alpine Visitors at the road’s highpoint (12,183). The road, not for the faint of heart, is full of twists and turns, breath-taking views, pull-offs and hiking trails. At the top, you can continue on to Grand Lake on the western side of the park, or descend on Trail Ridge. The one way, unpaved, Old Fall River Road opens July 4th weekend and closes when snow starts to fall in September or October. It can be accessed at the eastern end of Trail Ridge. It’s a great ride, but the views are not as spectacular as Trail Ridge. . If you’re there between when Trail Ridge closed for the season and Memorial Day or you have issues with height, there’s a lot to explore inside the park. We love Bear Lake and the Moraine Park, which is a place to view elk and hear them bugling during mating season (September and October) on the east side of the park. In fall, elk mating season. people come at dusk to hear the bulls bugling . What do these sounds mean? Here are a few theories.
Swetsville Zoo 4801 E. Harmony Road (970) 484-9509, is a quirky sculpture garden created by former farmer, Bill Swets. He recycled old car parts, pieces of farm and other machinery and scrap metal to make his whimsical sculptured. It feels like you’re walking in a world of friendly aliens. From music-playing creatures to dinosaurs to a VW Bug shading a picnic table, each whimsical creation will make you smile. Swetsville Zoo used to front on a quiet country road (one side runs along I-25). That changed when to paraphrase Joni Mitchell, they paved Paradise and put up a big Walmart. In the process, the road was widened and the Swets’ lost some of their land. The family still lives here and while a recording says they’re open in daylight hours, the gate is sometimes locked. If you’re coming into, or leaving town via the Harmony Road access to I-25, it’s just to the east of the highway and worth the detour. Admission is free and donations are accepted.
We spent eight years in Fort Collins and try to go back to visit at least once a year. It’s a wonderful town. If you go, tell them Billie and Steve say, “Hi.”
What are your favorite things to do in Fort Collins?