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:
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.)
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.