5 things to do in Fort Collins

This post on 5 things to do in Fort Collins was first published in April 2012. It updated and republished on 8/20/2016

Fort Collins, Colorado is a friendly town. We know this from experience; we lived there for eight years. It’s changed a lot since we moved to Santa Fe over 12 years ago; mostly for the better. The brewery industry is thriving there and tourism is on the rise. Whether you go for the brew or the mountains or an entirely different reason, here are five things to do in Fort Collins.

Things to do in Fort Collins

Visit a brewery

What to do in Fort Collins Brewery photo Steve Collins

Odell Brewing Company one of Fort Collins craft brewers, photo/Steve Collins

Fort Collins is a center for micro and craft brewers and hence, beer tourism or as someone we know calls it, “beerism”. The 3rd largest craft brewer in the USA, New Belgium Brewing Company (the folks behind Fat Tire), is based in Fort Collins as well as a host of micro-breweries. Some offer tastings, some tours and at least at one you can dine on fresh and local fare. The town hosts the annual Colorado Brewers’ Festival at the end of June and Fort Collins overflows with cerevisaphiles (a fancy name for beer lovers) before and after the annual Great American Beer Festival held in Denver each fall.

Pianos About Town

What to do in Fort Collins play a piano photo Steve Collins

Painted pianos are scattered around town, sit down and play awhile photo/ Steve Collins

The City of Fort Collins’ Art in Public Places, the Bohemian Foundation and the Downtown Development Authority have joined together to create Pianos About Town.  They have scattered upright pianos throughout Old Town and other selected areas and invited artists to paint them. About every two weeks, each piano will get a new mural by a local artist. These whimsical instruments  sit on the street inviting passers-by to tickle the ivories. Sit and play awhile. When you’re done, to preserve these vintage uprights, close the keyboard lids. The project is a bit of a scavenger hunt. Have fun wondering around Old Town Square, stay alert.

If you want to ride around town looking for pianos or for any other reason, bike-friendly Fort Collins has a free bike loaner program.

Poudre Canyon

Things to do in Fort Collins - View of Poudre Canyon shot from the front of a raft, photo/A Wonderlust Adventure courtesy of Visit Fort Collins

View of Poudre Canyon shot from the front of a raft, photo/A Wonderlust Adventure courtesy of Visit Fort Collins

Take a ride up this rugged canyon that runs along the Cache la Poudre River (locals pronounce it Pooder) and ooh and ah over the views and the rushing river. Long Draw Reservoir almost to the Continental Divide and the top of the canyon is the first place I saw a moose up close after a long and dedicated search. I actually saw my first one though binoculars in Rocky Mountain National Park, but it was REALLY far away. We’re seen bighorn sheep on the hills in the canyon and a bear once ran across the road in front of our car (the only one I’ve ever seen outside a zoo). There are picnic and camping areas along the river. If you love thrills, raft the white water in the Poudre. Go early in the season if your want a challenging rafting adventure. The greater the runoff, the wilder the ride! There are a lot of great hiking trails up in Poudre Canyon, too.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Things to do in Fort Collins - Sprague Lake Rocky Mountain National Park photo Steve Collins

Sprague Lake Rocky Mountain National Park photo/Steve Collins

Drive up US Route 34 along the Big Thompson River to Estes Park (home of the Stanley Hotel where Stephen King wrote the shining) and into the park. Rocky Mountain National Park offers visitors over 415 square miles of hiking trails, fishing horseback riding, campgrounds and cabins. It’s a popular place to view wildlife. Elk abound and you can also see Big Horn Sheep, moose and other critters. From Memorial Day to mid-October, depending on snowfall, you can drive up Trail Ridge Road to the Alpine Visitors at the road’s highpoint (12,183). The road, not for the faint of heart, is full of twists and turns, breath-taking views, pull-offs and hiking trails. At the top, you can continue on to Grand Lake on the western side of the park, or descend on Trail Ridge. The one way, unpaved, Old Fall River Road opens July 4th weekend and closes when snow starts to fall in September or October. It can be accessed at the eastern end of Trail Ridge. It’s a great ride, but the views are not as spectacular as Trail Ridge. . If you’re there between when Trail Ridge closed for the season and Memorial Day or you have issues with height, there’s a lot to explore inside the park. We love Bear Lake and the Moraine Park, which is a place to view elk and hear them bugling during mating season (September and October) on the east side of the park. In fall, elk mating season. people come at dusk to hear the bulls bugling . What do these sounds mean? Here are a few theories.

Swetsville Zoo

things to do in Fort Collins

A dinosaur at Swetsville Zoo, photo Steve Collins

Swetsville Zoo 4801 E. Harmony Road (970) 484-9509, is a quirky sculpture garden created by former farmer, Bill Swets. He recycled old car parts, pieces of farm and other machinery and scrap metal to make his whimsical sculptured. It feels like you’re walking in a world of friendly aliens. From music-playing creatures to dinosaurs to a VW Bug shading a picnic table, each whimsical creation will make you smile. Swetsville Zoo used to front on a quiet country road (one side runs along I-25). That changed when to paraphrase Joni Mitchell, they paved Paradise and put up a big Walmart. In the process, the road was widened and the Swets’ lost some of their land. The family still lives here and while a recording says they’re open in daylight hours, the gate is sometimes locked. If you’re coming into, or leaving town via the Harmony Road access to I-25, it’s just to the east of the highway and worth the detour. Admission is free and donations are accepted.

We spent eight years in Fort Collins and try to go back to visit at least once a year. It’s a wonderful town. If you go, tell them Billie and Steve say, “Hi.”

What are your favorite things to do in Fort Collins?


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17 Responses to “5 things to do in Fort Collins”

  1. Payje
    April 23, 2019 at 2:44 pm #

    I love Fort Collins! I haven’t been back there since I graduated CSU about 2 years ago, but it was such a great place to go to college. The list of things to do are great, I have been to the Swetsville zoo about a million times! Most people have never heard of that place!
    Payje recently posted..Hitting the roadMy Profile

    • Billie Frank
      April 24, 2019 at 7:15 am #

      Didn’t know you went to CSU. Great town for college. We’ll have to chat sometimes. We love sharing the quirky and unknown with our readers and love discovering those under-appreciated spots.

  2. Charles Higgins
    April 23, 2019 at 9:18 pm #

    All inspiring photos, but Bear Lake is particularly inspiring..thanks..


    • Billie Frank
      April 24, 2019 at 7:15 am #

      Those our from our friend, Ron Maurer, a VERY accomplished photographer.

  3. Ron
    May 23, 2019 at 3:47 am #

    Nice article guys!
    Thanks again for your interest & support…
    Wanted to comment personally to Charles to thank him for his nice words on my Bear Lake photo… My goal is to inspire people to “get out there”! It’s good to actually see a comment about that.


    • Billie Frank
      May 23, 2019 at 7:46 am #

      Thanks again Ron for letting us use the photo. We love it!

  4. Carole Terwilliger Meyers
    August 22, 2019 at 2:07 pm #

    I do remember driving by Fort Collins in Colorado on my way up to Rocy Mountain National Park. Next time I plan to allow time for a brewery tour.

  5. Donna Janke
    August 23, 2019 at 9:11 pm #

    Fort Collins sounds like an interesting place to visit. Beautiful scenery and quirky art - right up my alley.
    Donna Janke recently posted..Making a Difference with Community English in the Dominican RepublicMy Profile

    • Billie Frank
      August 26, 2019 at 4:11 pm #

      We loved living there and it’s great to go back and visit. It’s an interesting city.

  6. Vicki Winters
    August 24, 2019 at 11:20 am #

    I’ve always heard great things about Fort Collins. I had an old BF who went to school in CO and lived there. NIce and close to skiing!
    Vicki Winters recently posted..Should Bloggers Do Instagram/ Snapchat Takeovers For “EXPOSURE”My Profile

    • Billie Frank
      June 18, 2019 at 11:07 am #

      Not so close to skiing but lovely all the same. Good skiing is probably 3 hours away. The closest above Boulder- about 2 hours isn’t so great.

  7. Irene S. Levine
    August 28, 2019 at 7:44 pm #

    Thanks for this introduction to Fort Collins…never been there yet, but these are great suggestions for when I do get there!

    • Billie Frank
      August 28, 2019 at 9:19 pm #

      It’s a cool place- not yet on too many people’s radar unless they’re into beer. We loved living there.

  8. David
    January 7, 2019 at 12:52 am #

    Hi Billie!

    Loved reading your blog!, I have never been to fort collins, but seeing your post, I think of having a vacation there myself. What I enjoy would be the brewery tour. What else would you recommend?

    Thanks for sharing

    • Billie Frank
      January 19, 2019 at 4:54 pm #

      If you love brews you’ll love Fort Collins!

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