For bikes, beer and outdoor adventure, head to Fort Collins

For bikes, beer and outdoor adventure, head to Fort Collins

Every summer, weary from the heat, droves of Texans pack up their hiking boots and a sweatshirt or two and head to the mountains of Colorado.

Most travelers think of the usual hotspots to get their fix of chilly mornings, aspen-shaded trails, and alpine lakes. But I just spent five days in Fort Collins, a bike-and-beer crazy town – and the inspiration for Disneyland’s Main Street USA – which offers plenty of action without the crowds, all within an hour’s drive of the Denver airport.

Here’s my list of a dozen things to do in FoCo:

 

Rafters make their way down the Poudre River with A Wanderlust Adventure. Pam LeBlanc photo

 

  1. Raft the Poudre River. I climbed aboard a bucking yellow bronco of a rubber raft for a half-day trip through class three and class four rapids with names like Cardiac Corner, Pinball, Roller Coaster and Pine View Falls with A Wanderlust Adventure
  2. Rent a bike and hit the trail. Fort Collins is one of just five platinum-level Bicycle Friendly Communities in the country, according to the League of American Cyclists. You can bike to breweries, museums and restaurants via paved trails and bike lanes in town, or head to the city’s outskirts to access gravel roads and perfectly paved routes.

A cyclist tackles a hill during the Foco Fondo bike event in Fort Collins. Pam LeBlanc photo

3. Visit a brewery. Fort Collins is the Craft Beer Capital of Colorado, with 25 breweries churning out everything from sours to hoppy IPAs, German lagers, and pale ales. Among my favorites? Purpose Brewing, founded by former New Belgium brewmaster Peter Bouckaert, who is widely credited with bringing sour beers to America. The brewery specializes in small experimental batches that change weekly. Some of the most memorable include Floof, a lager crafted with two types of French hops, to Street Taco, inspired by Mexican food. “People still talk about that. It knocked a lot of people’s socks off,” says taproom manager Kyle Boerger, who moved to Fort Collins from Austin, where he worked at now-defunct Skull Mechanix Brewing. “Really, keeping people guessing is our main purpose.” For more information go to purposebrewing.com.

 

Kyle Boerger mans the taps at Purpose Brewing in Fort Collins. Pam LeBlanc photo

4. Check out the pair of black-footed ferrets, once believed extinct, that now reside at the City of Fort Collins Museum of Discovery.  A population of the endangered animals was reintroduced to nearby Soapstone Prairie Natural Area in 2014.

Visit the Trial Gardens at Colorado State University to see what horticulturists are developing. Pam LeBlanc photo

5. Visit the Annual Flower Trial Gardens at Colorado State University, where you can ogle more than 1,000 different cultivated varieties of annuals. It’s free to visit the gardens, which bloom May through October, and you can vote on your favorites.

Katy Schneider hikes up to Arthur’s Rock at Lory State Park in Fort Collins. Photo by Pam LeBlanc

6. Hike to Arthur’s Rock at Lory State Park. You’ll have to scramble the last quarter of a mile of the 1.7-mile out-and-back trail, but at the top you’ll be rewarded with sweeping views of Horsetooth Reservoir and beyond.

7. Visit Horsetooth Reservoir, where you can rent a standup paddleboard from What’s SUP, which has locations at South Bay, Sunrise Swim Beach or Satanka Cove (which doesn’t allow motorized traffic.) You can also launch your own kayak – or go for a swim in one of the designated areas. (I swam at sunrise, and I’m still swooning.)

Katy Schneider paddles a kayak at Horsetooth Reservoir. Pam LeBlanc photo

8. At the Otter Shop, 151 W. Mountain Ave., you won’t find any frolicking semi-marine mammals, but you can buy a custom crash-proof phone case imprinted with your favorite photo.

9. Tour Morning Fresh Dairy farm in nearby Bellvue, where Noosa yogurt is made. Tours cost $5 and includes samples of fresh milk and yogurt. For information go here. 

10. Enjoy a scoop of ice cream at Walrus Ice Cream, 125 Mountain Ave. They serve 29 flavors every day, including a joke flavor like backyard barbecue. (On Sunday your pup gets a free treat, too.)

Andy Warhol signed this giant soup can at Colorado State University. Katy Schneider photo

11. Check out the giant Campbell’s tomato soup can at 1400 Remington Street on the Colorado State University campus. The red and white can was created under the instruction of Andy Warhol for an exhibit about the artist in 1981. It still bears his signature.

12. Stroll Old Town, where you can people watch, admire public art, dine al fresco or shop in buildings whose bones date to the 1880s.

Sculptures and murals brighten Old Town in Fort Collins. Pam LeBlanc photo

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Arctic Cowboys’ expedition through Northwest Passage postponed until 2022

Arctic Cowboys’ expedition through Northwest Passage postponed until 2022

 

West Hansen, who paddled the entire Amazon River in 2012, pulls on the top of his dry suit. Pam LeBlanc photo

Endurance paddler West Hansen has officially postponed the Arctic Cowboys kayak expedition through the Northwest Passage this summer.

 

Hansen, who paddled the entire Amazon River in 2012 and the entire Volga River in Russia two years later, had planned to lead a three-man crew as they attempted to become the first to kayak 1,900 miles between Tuktoyaktuk and Pond Inlet in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. But the Canadian government’s announcement this week that it will open the border to vaccinated Americans on Aug. 9 comes too late for Hansen, who said he needed to launch his boats by Aug. 1 to make it through the passage before cold weather hit.

 

“Given last year’s postponement and the fact that Canada started vaccinating late in the game and has low supplies of the vaccine, I was pretty realistic about the chance of a postponement, so it wasn’t a huge surprise,” Hansen says. “I was hoping, given the relatively sparse population of Nunavut, that their vaccination efforts would have been more successful by now.”

 

The expedition is now scheduled for summer 2022.

 

The postponement is the third for the expedition, originally planned for the summer of 2019. Weather and funding issues delayed the original trip, and the Canadian border closed to visitors in March 2020 due to the Covid pandemic. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, about 51 percent of the total population of Canada has been fully vaccinated as of July 20.

 

The Arctic Cowboys pass the tall ship Elissa in Galveston in summer 2020. Pam LeBlanc photo

Although the Arctic expedition was put on hold, the team has put in miles on the water. Last spring, they paddled the length of the Texas coast from South Padre Island to the Louisiana border. And in February, when a storm blanketed Austin with snow, they donned dry suits and cold water gear for a shakeout run on Lady Bird Lake while temperatures hovered in the 20s.

 

While that gave them a taste of the cold, the Arctic Cowboys haven’t had any practice fending off polar bears, which they’ll likely encounter in the Arctic. Polar bears can smell prey a kilometer away and swim 6 miles per hour.

West Hansen, who paddled the entire Amazon River in 2012, and Jimmy Harvey paddle Barton Creek in downtown Austin on Feb. 15, 2021. Pam LeBlanc photo

The paddlers will also face challenges such as orcas, storms, and cracking sea ice during the expedition, which Hansen predicts will take about two months.

 

“The delays give me more time to hone in on details and to apply for more sponsors,” Hansen says. “The level of determination hasn’t changed. Thus far, we are self-funded, so this gives us more time to put money towards the expedition.”

 

Hansen has stashed his food and other gear in his storage room for now. While the big expedition is on pause, he says he’s spending more time training.

 

Hansen and the two other members of the Arctic Cowboys, Jimmy Harvey and Jeff Wueste, finished eighth overall and sixth in the unlimited category at the 2021 Texas Water Safari, a 260-mile paddling race from San Marcos to the Texas coast last month.

The Arctic Cowboys, when here at Cottonseed Rapid, placed eighth overall in the 2021 Texas Water Safari in June 2021. In front is West Hansen, who paddled the entire Amazon River in 2012. Pam LeBlanc photo

“After several years away from regular canoe and kayak racing, I’m slowly starting to get back into it and do some training,” he says. “I’ve taken a lazy month off since the Texas Water Safari, (and) now I’m easing back into running and paddling. I’ll enter some of these short races as incentive to work out.”

 

The newly freed-up schedule will also allow Hansen to do some hiking – and perhaps a trip to the Azores with his wife to celebrate the couple’s upcoming 30th anniversary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Stay in a cabin, a safari tent or an Airstream trailer at North Shore at Lake Bastrop

Stay in a cabin, a safari tent or an Airstream trailer at North Shore at Lake Bastrop

Pam LeBlanc soaks in a hot tub outside the cabin at North Shore at Lake Bastrop Park. Cristobal Gomez photo

I love camping under the stars, but sometimes a soft bed, air conditioning and – a hot tub? – sound really appealing.

I zipped out to North Shore at Lake Bastrop Park yesterday to check out some of the new glamping options at the 182-acre, pine-studded property.

Jessica and Diego Viera hike the trail between North Shore and South Shore park. Pam LeBlanc photo

The Lower Colorado River Authority, which manages the park, recently teamed with GLAT to install a new upscale cabin that sleeps six people, plus six safari-style tents, and one bell-shaped tent. All the options are air conditioned, and all have their own firepit and chairs out front.

It’s part of a trend that started at the park a few years ago, when it wheeled in five shiny new Airstream trailers and opened them for rental. (You can read about my experience staying in one here.

The cabin, though, is over the top. Slide open the wooden, barn-style doors and you’ll find a queen-sized bed and two trundle beds, plus a full bathroom and shower, a microwave and mini fridge. Outside you can pull up a chair around the fire pit or soak in the bubbling hot tub. You can even arrange to inflate a portable screen and watch a movie outdoors.

I’ve always been a proponent of backpacking and setting up a tent because it makes me feel self-reliant and it gets me to remote places that most folks never see. But I love the idea of an easy night in the woods, too, and that’s what this offers. No trailer to back in, no tent to unfurl, and no cooking utensils to haul along.

“It’s all about providing different ways to have fun. Visitors tell us they want a variety of opportunities in our parks, and we’re listening,” says Margo Richards, vice president of community resources for the LCRA,which operates more than 40 parks along the Colorado River between San Saba and Matagorda Bay. In recent years, it’s added a slew of recreational attractions to those parks.

“Previously, people visited LCRA Parks to camp, hike, fish, or maybe launch their boat, and that was the extent of our offerings. Now, it’s a different world when you enter one of our parks.  At some, you can zip line, drive a UTV, play mini golf, rent a watercraft, mountain bike or bring your horse on our multiuse trail system.”

Paddlers enjoying Lake Bastrop. Pam LeBlanc photo

The park rents kayaks, sups and more. Pam LeBlanc photo

Oliver Yang cruises Lake Bastrop on a rental fishing vessel. Pam LeBlanc photo

The setting at Lake Bastrop is beautiful, with the safari tents arranged near the lakefront, in a cleared area with a few tall trees for shade. Visitors can head to the nearby dock to rent a kayak, standup paddleboard or a groovy round motorized fishing vessel. Nearly 10 miles of trails beckon, too, including the short and snappy Buzzard Point loop adjacent to the campground or the longer lakeside trail that leads all the way to the south side of the lake.

“Nature – it’s not a bad idea,” Cristobal Gomez, one of the founders of Glat, which installed the cabin and tents, told me as we walked through the shady campground, peeking our heads into the accommodations.

This bell-shaped tent has two single beds inside. Pam LeBlanc photo

He says glamping options like these have boomed in popularity since the pandemic, because people want a safer way to travel. The company plans to install two more cabins here and hopes to expand into other LCRA parks in the future.

Rates range from $150 per night for the bell-shaped tent with two single beds to $450 a night for the cabin on busy summer weekends.

To book a cabin or tent, go here.

Peeking through the tent flaps at North Shore at Lake Bastrop. Pam LeBlanc photo

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The park rents kayaks, sups and more. Pam LeBlanc photo

 

 

 

 

 

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Sunday’s trash haul on Lake Austin included Styrofoam, cans – and a giant bottle of whiskey

Sunday’s trash haul on Lake Austin included Styrofoam, cans – and a giant bottle of whiskey

 

We picked up a partially full bottle of whiskey on Lake Austin on Sunday. Pam LeBlanc photo

Maybe it’s weird, but I pick up trash.

Last Sunday, during my dawn ski run, I noticed an unusually large amount of trash bobbing on the surface of Lake Austin. Maybe it was the previous week’s holiday, or maybe the garbage had been washed into the lake by recent rains.

Either way, Styrofoam plates, beer cans and tennis balls were spoiling my view. And then, as I was pulling my husband Chris behind the boat, I saw something odd floating in the water. After he dropped off his ski, I decided to go back and pick it up.

It turns out it was a huge glass jug of whiskey – cap off, and about 3 inches of booze still in the bottle.

This is what I’d like to be doing. Instead, I’m picking up trash. Chris LeBlanc photo

We poured the contents of the bottle out, then put it, along with the other trash we’d gathered, into the boat to carry to shore.

I hate to think what would have happened if I’d hit that bottle with the boat’s prop, or if Chris or I had skied over the top of it. I also hate to imagine what the bottom of Lake Austin looks like, with tons of bottles, cans and sunglasses sunk there.

One of my 2021 New Year’s resolutions is to pick up at least three pieces of trash a day. It comes from the mantra “three for the sea.” Pick up three pieces of trash every day to keep them from ultimately winding up in our oceans. If everyone did that, the world would be a far cleaner place.

And I’d be a lot less grumpy.

I love skiing on Lake Austin on weekend mornings. Lately, there’s been a lot of trash. Pam LeBlanc photo

 

 

 

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Like to run? Like beer? Join the Jester King run club

Like to run? Like beer? Join the Jester King run club

Runners enjoy the 2-mile trail at Jester King Brewery. Photo courtesy Jester King Brewery

Do you like to run? Do you like beer?

Do I have your attention?

Jester King Brewery, located at 13187 Fitzhugh Road on the western outskirts of Austin, announced this week that it’s forming a running group, and it’s as much about logging a workout in a beautiful setting as it is sipping a double dry-hopped hazy triple IPA or a Belgian-style Grissette beneath sprawling oak trees.

The group will meet at 6 p.m. Thursdays, starting July 15, to run a 2-mile trail that weaves past frolicking goats and through the rolling Hill Country landscape. Afterward, each runner will get one free – yes, free! – Jester King beverage at the Pasture Bar.

Runners will meet rain or shine. No strollers are allowed (the terrain is rough), but leashed dogs are welcome.

Participants can fill out a waiver ahead of time by joining a Facebook group. Waivers will also be available onsite. T-shirts will be sold for $25.

 

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Live music and yoga on the Butler Trail at Lady Bird Lake

Live music and yoga on the Butler Trail at Lady Bird Lake

Zach Person performs at a pop-up concert on the Butler Trail around Lady Bird Lake in October 2020. Pam LeBlanc photo

Last October, I caught a pop-up concert by Zach Person on the Butler Trail around Lady Bird Lake.

Taking a break during a bike ride to listen to live music felt quintessentially Austin.

This weekend, The Trail Foundation hosts another morning of free music on the trail. Performances run from 8 a.m. until noon Saturday at Lakeshore Park, the grassy space near the intersection of South Lakeshore Boulevard and Pleasant Valley at the southeast corner of the lake in downtown Austin. Besides providing free music, The Trail Foundation will be giving away T-shirts.

Here’s the lineup:

8 a.m. Frederico Do Mar

9 a.m. Sarah Hall

10 a.m. Aubrey Hays

11 a.m. Scott Strickland

More fun is planned the following weekend.

Cynthia Bernard, creator of ATX Yoga Girl, a mobile yoga studio, will lead an outdoor Yoga on the Trail class from 8:30-9:30 a.m. Saturday, July 17, at Butler Shores, between Barton Creek and South Lamar Boulevard.

The class, suitable for all skill levels, includes a swag pack with a t-shirt and koozies. Cost is $20; register here.

The Trail Foundation is a non-profit organization that works to maintain and enhance the 10-mile trail around Lady Bird Lake.

 

About Pam

I’m Pam LeBlanc. Follow my blog to keep up with the best in outdoor travel and adventure. Thanks for visiting my site.

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