40°35'6.94" N -105°05'3.91" W
So let me start by saying, I (Madalyne) grew up in Fort Collins - an awesome city located along the Front Range of Colorado. So I might be a tad biased... But plenty of articles have also stated just how wonderful this cute Colorado town is. And once you have spent a bit of time in Foco (as we locals call it), you will quickly see why.
Beer. Bikes. Awesome downtown that even Disney found inspiring (it’s true). And just a fun, chill atmosphere all around. While there is a lot to do (and too many breweries to check out in 72-hours), this three-day off-the-beaten-path itinerary will surely make you consider moving to Fort Collins full-time (that's how my parents got there).
So without further ado, here is the perfect (adventurous) 72-hour itinerary for Fort Collins.
There is no better way to start the day than a nice, casual breakfast at Lucile’s, a Foco mainstay* and home to possibly the best beignets west of the Mississippi. Fill up on tasty Cajun food, including their humongous biscuits, scrumptious grits and spicy sausage. You will leave satisfied and very full.
*this is actually the second Lucile’s cafe in Colorado (the first is in Boulder), but it has been serving delicious breakfasts in FoCo since 1996
After that hearty breakfast, why not start the digesting process by taking a nice walk around downtown. Lucile’s is located right on the edge of the “downtown” or Old Town district of Fort Collins - a picturesque set of historic buildings, kitschy locally owned stores, delicious restaurants and cafes. Speaking of which, if you didn’t fill up on coffee at Lucile’s make sure to quench your caffeine thirst at The Bean Cycle, a bicycle themed coffee shop that is also home to Half Crown Creative and Makerfolk.
The Bean Cycle has been located in Old Town since 2004. The founders, three siblings that graduated from Colorado State University, focused heavily on building an “ecological, social, and economical responsible business” and selling really good coffee. Stop in for a cup of joe, chill out for a bit in the comfortable chairs and check out the local art and handmade goods.
While Fort Collins is very walker friendly, it really shows its true colors when it comes to biking. In fact, in May 2018, the town was named The Best City in America for Cycling by PeopleForBikes. And with the incredible number of bike paths and trails within city limits it is easy to see why.
One of the best places to bike is along the Poudre River Trail, a wide, paved trail that parallels the Poudre River. There are plenty of places to hop on it, especially from downtown (just head north and you will meet up with it). Once on the trail, either head west towards Laporte for great scenery (lots of large cottonwood trees) or east towards the southern part of town (where there are more restaurants, shops, etc.). If heading west, the trail eventually ends near Watson Lake - a nice lake with good fishing, great views of the mountains and picnic tables.
Another great stop along the route is the uber-famous New Belgium Brewery. As one of the first microbreweries in town, New Belgium kind of set the tone for the town's beer-centric culture. While today there are tons (and we mean tons) of breweries in FoCo, not to mention the Budweiser plant north of town, New Belgium is still definitely worth checking out. And there is no better way to do that, than taking one of their free tours (you just have to sign up beforehand).
Once you have gotten your fill of biking, and beer drinking, head back to Old Town for a quick, early dinner.
We recommend checking out Slyce Pizza Co., right on the corner of Mountain Ave. and Mason St. (near the MAX bus line). While Beau Jo’s Pizza might be the more “famous” pizza spot in town, Slyce is locally owned and operated (again by three guys who met at CSU… hmm sensing a trend here…).
If you aren’t feeling pizza, then consider checking out Comet Chicken, located right across the street (on Mountain Ave. near Austin’s). They serve up delicious house-made fried chicken, fries and special sauces (and plenty of alcohol). Grab a Tender Pack for the whole gang (plus some sides) and head out to the west side of town for a pretty unique experience.
One of the coolest things about Fort Collins is that they still have a working (and thriving) drive-in movie theatre. While many of these old time-y standbys have disappeared, the Holiday Twin Drive-In is still going strong.
Spend the evening watching one of the newest blockbuster films (or some awesome throwbacks), buy some candy and popcorn at the concession stand, and just hang out with your favorite people. Check out the movies showing here (and some of their new offerings).
Start day two quite early, just so you have plenty of time to check out the sites along your drive. Begin the drive by heading out of town on Highway 287 (College Ave.) until you get to County Road 54E (you will see a sign for Howling Cow Cafe).
Stop in at Howling Cow for a quick breakfast (their bagel sandwiches are super tasty), coffee, milk (it is a working dairy) and yogurt - this is the home of noosa Yogurt. Fill up on the tasty treats (and maybe bring some with you) and then hop back in the car*.
*you will be camping tonight, so make sure to bring plenty of food for lunch and dinner. There is a small, but stocked grocery store in Laporte and a large King Soopers grocery store on the north side of town (off College Ave.)
Right after the cafe you will see a sign for Highway 14 - Poudre Canyon (towards the town of Walden). Turn left here (but stop at Ted’s Place first - it is really the last (cheap) option for gas and snacks). Then head up the canyon, where you will follow the Poudre River the whole way (and see lots of great spots to pull over for photos and/or exploring).
Highway 14 aka the Cache la Poudre Scenic Byway winds its way west through canyons, open meadows and pine forests. Take your time along this route, and make sure to take in the power of the river (and the people who are conquering it in the form of kayaks). You also have a good shot of spotting the state mammal, the Bighorn Sheep (also the mascot of CSU - Go Rams!). The Poudre River is also a designated National and Scenic River - one of the few rivers with that honor in the whole country.
While there are some great hikes in the lower reaches, some of the best trails can be found up near Cameron Pass - the highest point along the road. Spend some time exploring State Forest State Park, and the entire North Park area - also known as the Moose Capital of Colorado.
For more information on the Cache la Poudre Scenic Byway, check out this article.
After making the long, but beautiful drive up to Cameron Pass, why would you just turn around and head back to town? How about you instead spend the night at Never Summer Nordic, which has various rustic yurts and cabins available, all spaced out within the beautiful forest - the perfect place for exploring the area a little bit longer.
Reserve one of the Never Summer Nordic yurts here (we promise you won’t be disappointed). Just remember to bring food, warm clothes, your camera (you have a high chance of seeing moose) and bug spray.
If you have the gumption, we recommend getting up with the sun and going for a nice morning walk (this is one of the best times to see wildlife). Plus, there is nothing like the crisp morning air to give you a quick jolt of energy.
Once packed up, finally head back down to Fort Collins for some breakfast. While there are lots of awesome breakfast spots in town, we recommend stopping off in Laporte at Me Oh My Coffee and Pie for a quick bite to eat and some coffee (their quiches are quite good).
After that, if you are up for it, head to Lory State Park. This outdoor recreation haven is nestled right into the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, meaning lots of different things to see and do. There are a wide range of trails for hiking, trail running and mountain biking. You should definitely head out there for the last one.
While there are some difficult trails, there are also some solid easy to moderate routes to conquer - including the West Valley Trail (easy, 2.5 miles), the South Valley Trail (easy, 2.5 miles), both of which can be combined into a nice loop. Or go big and hit the Horsetooth Mountain Park/Lory State Park Tour, a whopping 21.7 mile loop that climbs about 3,100 feet. Find these routes and many more at Mountain Bike Project.
Once you get to Lory SP, you can also explore part of Horsetooth Reservoir - a large body of water just on the edge of town that is popular for boaters, stand-up paddleboarders and swimmers. If you are interested in SUP-ing, you can rent boards at the Comedy Overlook on the far north side of the reservoir (near Lory SP).
After a solid morning of hitting the trails, you are probably looking for a nice hearty lunch - and maybe another cup of coffee. Have no fear, Rainbow Restaurant and Alleycat have you covered.
Located near CSU’s main campus, and the very photogenic Oval, is Rainbow Restaurant, a locally owned spot that is often voted the best breakfast in town (and that is really saying something). Some favorites are the sweet potato latkes, Migas (so tasty) and the Pumpkin Bread French Toast.
Once nice and full, simply cross the street and head up Wattles Alley towards Alleycat Cafe, a 24-hour coffee shop popular with college students, night owls, musicians and creatives. While their coffee is very (very) good, you can’t not try their homemade chai - it is heavenly. Get it iced or hot (or even with ice cream) it is all goooood.
While Alleycat has a nice funky atmosphere, if you aren't too tired, we recommend walking around the CSU campus, especially the aforementioned Oval. You are likely to see college students biking to class, laying around on the wide open lawn, or chatting excitedly about something or other.
Now is the time to maybe check out more of the breweries in town - or change it up and head to Scrumpy’s, a local hard cidery with dozens of flavor options. Or stop over at The Reserve by Old Elk Distillery, for some whiskey. See, Fort Collins doesn’t judge if you aren’t into beer.
Finish the night off at one of the many restaurants in Old Town. Some of our favorites are Blue Agave Grill, for refreshing Mexican fare and strong margaritas, Tasty Harmony, for delicious vegetarian food, The Rio, for their outdoor patio and generous margaritas and Blind Pig, for good food and great cocktails.
If you still have room after dinner then don’t miss Walrus Ice Cream, the local ice cream parlor located off Mountain Ave. (right next to The Rio). This shop has been around since 1984*, and somehow they are still coming up with new flavors (all made in house) every day. Stop in to see what is “on tap” today.
*on a side note, if you come to FoCo near Halloween we recommend taking the Old Town ghost tour. It has tons of history, and it will make you just a tad nervous about entering Walrus Ice Cream...
Fort Collins is famous for its beer scene, but in fact it has a lot more to offer. With dozens of trails, both paved and dirt, you can spend all day out on a bike or on foot and not see the same place twice. Foco also has a pretty solid food scene, especially in the downtown/Old Town district. So if you are looking for a good mix of culture, cuisine, outdoor adventure and hidden gems - then Fort Collins is the place to go.
What You Should Bring With You On This 3-Day Adventure
Good walking shoes
A reusable travel coffee cup (Fort Collins likes their coffee)
A mountain bike (doesn’t have to be super nice, just has to get the job done)
Sunscreen (we are at altitude and the sun is very bright) and sunglasses
Your camera (good chance you will see a moose)
Some camping supplies and bedding for the yurts, unless you want to rent bedding for $25 a night
A jacket, it can get cold at night - even during the summer
Plenty of gumption for outdoor adventures, and probably a lot of alcohol...
Have you been to Fort Collins before? If so, what did you think?!