Insider’s Tour of Fort Collins, Colorado, USA

These past two weeks I’ve found myself in a delightful situation—being a visitor in my own city.  Between visits with friends both in and out of town, I only had time for a couple of Fort Collins’ famous bars and restaurants and a handful of my favorite local hikes and activities.  I decided to pass my Must See list on for others to use!

Fort Collins is a vibrant town of 152,000 souls, many of whom attend the local college, Colorado State University.  Most of the action takes place in Old Town, a cute central neighborhood of businesses, restaurants and tree-lined streets.  The city is situated in Northern Colorado right where the plains meet the mountains, providing easy access to some beautiful wilderness.

ACTIVITIES

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Red-tailed hawk at the Environmental Learning Center

Birds of Prey:  The very first thing I did when I arrived in Fort Collins was visit the birds of prey at the Environmental Learning Center.  These birds are educational ambassadors for a great local nonprofit, the Rocky Mountain Raptor Program, which rehabilitates and releases several hundred injured raptors each year.  The birds on display at the ELC are permanently disabled and non-releasable.  You can check them out in their spacious cages, or, if you’re lucky, you’ll arrive when the birds are brought out for their daily enrichment and feeding.  While you’re at the ELC, take a stroll on their nature paths.

Cost: Free, but if you like what you see please put a donation in the donation tube!
Opening hours:  Dawn to dusk every day of the year
Location information

Biking:  The next thing I did was pick up my bike from storage.  Fort Collins is a town of bikes—they’re as common as cars.  Drivers are conscientious of cyclists, and a network of bike trails and bike lanes connect every corner of the city.  Best of all, you never have to worry about parking!  For some scenic exercise, try riding the bike path down the Cache la Poudre River and up Spring Creek (click for a map).  For something different, ride what we used to call “The Trifecta”, a fun and responsible way to connect beer tastings at three of Fort Collins’ original breweries: New Belgium, Odell, and Fort Collins (click for a map).

Bike rentals: Fort Collins bike library has free bikes with a deposit

Fort Collins bike library (credit: pulse.8z.com)

Fort Collins bike library (credit: pulse.8z.com)

Hiking:  My favorite trail, Greyrock, is thirty minutes outside of town.  The trail climbs pretty steeply up through the forest, then pops out in a beautiful meadow containing, you guessed it, an enormous grey rock.  Despite appearances, you can ascend the rock on a non-technical path around to the right.  The view is great—you can see everything from Fort Collins to the Continental Divide.  Head back down to your car along the same route you came up, or complete the loop. NOTE:  the elevation ranges from 5500-7500 ft.  Bring plenty of water, wear sturdy hiking shoes, and bring a raincoat.  Lightning is quite a danger in Colorado, so get off the rock if you see storms rolling in.

Cost:  Free
Length:  5 to 7 miles, round trip
Website

365thingstodoinfortcollins

Greyrock hiking area, Fort Collins. (Credit: 365thingstodoinfortcollins.com)

Movie:  No trip to Fort Collins is complete without seeing a film at the Lyric Cinema Café.  They only show amazing movies, though they’re not the normal blockbusters you’re used to.  Instead of pop and packaged candy, watch a movie while sipping a glass of beer or wine and munching on a cheese platter.  Everything is locally sourced and delicious.

Cost:  Tickets range from $5-$9.  Menu is here.
Website

FOOD AND DRINK

Breakfast:  Try Lucille’s, a local place in a cute yellow house.  The menu is Creole influenced, but they have great traditional food as well.  The patio is a lovely place for brunch.

Beer selection at Tap and Handle (credit: feastingfortcollins.com)

Beer selection at Tap and Handle (credit: feastingfortcollins.com)

Lunch:  My favorite place is Tap and Handle.  It’s primarily a beer pub with roughly 50 brews on tap, but they also have a small selection of ciders, wines and soft drinks.  Best of all, their food menu is delicious and cheap.  Try the grilled cheese with tomato bisque.

Dinner:  Two great places come to mind.  Austin’s food is truly delicious, but isn’t often within my budget.  Try the amazing stuffed avocado appetizers.  Restaurant 415 also serves great food, but for a little less money, and their cocktails are t die for.

Coffee and tea:  The Bean Cycle serves great coffee, tea and juices, and I love the environment—the whole back half of the place is a used bookstore.  Tea snobs should head to Happy Lucky’s—there’s enough tea there to keep anyone contented for years.

Dessert at the Chocolate Café (credit: heiditown.com)

Dessert at the Chocolate Café (credit: heiditown.com)

Dessert:  Heaven exists in a tiny place called the Chocolate Café.  Everything on the menu is amazing.  If you order a hot cocoa, be sure to get the small—it’s so rich it’s practically a dessert in itself.  The best ice cream in town can be found at Walrus, where the line often extends out the door.

SOME OTHER TIPS

I don’t know a thing about Fort Collins hotels, but I do know we have a thriving Couchsurfing community, so check it out!  Public transportation is limited here, but there is a new frequent bus called MAX that connects north and south Fort Collins along our main road, College Avenue.

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