It’s hard to go wrong in Fort Collins, Colorado, repeatedly ranked as one of the best towns in America and known as heaven-on-earth for lovers of beer, bikes, bands, and boats — but it can be tough to narrow down the choices on your offbeat adventure to-do list. Named for an old military camp, the charming city marches to the beat of its own quirky drum and is in the midst of celebrating its 150th birthday year. With New Belgium’s Tour de Fat getting ready to make its way home to where the infamous brewery was born in 1991 — ultimately launching the epic, craft-beer boom that now defines the city — you can count on the fiercely proud and eccentric locals going out of their way to ensure that this is the fattest stop on the tour. Hip and adventurous without trying, once you get a taste of FoCo flavor you won’t want to leave.
Make like a local and follow the river, winding your way several miles up scenic Poudre Canyon to “the Mish.” Enjoy a local brew and a burger on the deck overlooking the Poudre River and wave to the rafters and kayakers paddling past as you soak up the sound and spray of whitewater. Once the sun sets, dance under the stars to renowned musicians playing on a riverfront stage surrounded by breathtaking canyon walls. Take the convenient shuttle from town and enjoy the views and your beverages without worry, or plan ahead and make it into a camping adventure. You may opt to continue up the canyon to Cameron’s Pass to sneak a peek at the first hints of the changing aspen trees’ dazzling fall colors.
Get your vintage on and sift through a dizzying array of funky resale items, antiques, and handmade goods from artsy retailers in the bustling outdoor market. You’re sure to score something distinct and authentic. And because Fort Collins is all about recycling and upcycling in style, check out the “Resale Trail” map, featuring a walking and biking tour of locally owned resale shops, and pick up something new to you.
3. Ghost Tours
Seeking out real ghosts in tunnels beneath bustling city streets is not for the faint of heart — nor is it just for Halloween. Adventurers of all ages can explore the maze of underground tunnels below historic downtown all year long. As you make your way through an old bomb shelter, bunker, morgue, abandoned garage, and the site of the city’s first graveyard, your guide regales you with spooky, but true, tales from the past and uses an electronic voice phenomenon recorder to capture voices “from the other side” on empty radio frequency. Countless visitors claim to have seen, felt, and heard the presence of ghosts during the tour.
While the blatantly obvious thing to do in Fort Collins is to hit up as many of the 13 local breweries as possible, the more offbeat places to sample homegrown libations include the new cideries, distilleries, and wineries that are popping up and staking their own claim in the beer capital. At Blue Skies, where top-notch and delicious handcrafted wines are made on site, folks can taste blends to their heart’s content, take a painting class, or collaborate with the winemaker to make their own wine, complete with a custom label and a bottling party. Admire the local artwork while sampling some of the well-balanced reds, surprisingly dry and drinkable whites, and fun selection of fruit wines like blackberry merlot, green apple riesling, and cranberry syrah, over a plate of specialty cheeses and chocolate truffles.
5. The Morning After
Recover from an unforgettable evening at The Bean Cycle coffee house and gourmet roaster, locally revered for its devotion to bikes (of course) as well all things fair trade, organic, and local. Caffeinate with a cup of the Kerouac on tap; a thick, rich coffee served with Venetian cream, or a pagan mocha made with cinnamon and Denver’s Ritual chocolate, and thumb through off-the-wall titles from Wolverine Farm bookstore in the back of the shop. When you’re ready for round two and something more substantial, walk around the corner and follow the delectable scents across the square to Little Bird Bakeshop, renowned for mouth-watering quiche, scones, croissants, and a rotating cast of seasonal goodies made from scratch. Not the kind of place where people camp out on computers; with its big windows, bright yellow interior, cozy seating, and tantalizing display of gorgeous culinary creations, the ambience is very much about connecting and you’ll feel right at home amidst the hub of pleasant activity. Still hungry? Grab brunch from the Waffle Lab food truck down the street and try the beer brat “Braffle” (made with local beer of course).
6. Take it Outside
Fort Collins residents pride themselves on being outdoor enthusiasts, and play outside like it’s their job. Get off the beaten path, and head north of town to the historic great plains of Soapstone Prairie natural area, where archeologists and historians have been extensively studying 13,000 years worth of artifacts chronicling human activity in the area, from hunter-gatherers at the end of the last ice age to early settlers who arrived in the 19th and 20th centuries. You’ll find a blissfully quiet, magical experience, 50 miles of trails within 19 acres, great views, and plenty of parking. Keep your eye out for elk, pronghorn antelope, mule deer, and prairie dogs.
You wouldn’t know it from the outside, but the bar/restaurant/live music venue lovingly known as Avo’s is your source for the best live entertainment in town. From bluegrass festivals and indie rock to dance parties and burlesque like the regularly featured Cupcake Cabaret dance troupe, Avo’s consistently offers a glimpse of inspiring talent from near and far, and has good food to boot. The tempeh burger, made in house, is to die for (but meat lovers are happy here, too).
Hands-down, the biggest and best party and parade of the year in Fort Collins will take place on August 30th, when Tour de Fat hits Civic Center Park, complete with magicians, a crazy-costume fashion show, dance-offs, and live music galore. Experiencing the energy generated by Tour de Fat in the town where the magic actually happens (where New Belgium Brewery was born and still lives) is unlike that of the parties in any other city — you’ll think you’ve died and gone to a heaven where everyone frolics about with joy in tutus and fairy wings, and bikes and good beer rule. While celebrating in the city where it all began, tour the brewery itself to catch a glimpse of its wood barrel aging room — the largest in the nation. Send a postcard coaster from your table to loved ones back home and check out their outdoor bike-in cinema farewell-to-summer series before you leave town.
Taking a spin on two wheels is highly encouraged in bike-savvy Fort Collins. Check out what’s happening at the Brave New Wheel and chat up the friendly staff at the Bike Coop, a nonprofit that keeps everyone in the community riding. Rent a bike from the Fort Collins Bike Library and hop on MAX, the new rapid transit bus line providing service every 10 minutes along a five-mile corridor through the center of town; bikes are welcome on board! Or, treat yourself to a heritage streetcar experience and hop the trolley for a cruise along quaint Mountain Avenue.