Rocky Mountain National Park felt like my focus planning a Colorado journey, but Fort Collins captured my attention in the most surprising ways. Here are six of my reasons.
1. A mindful vibe
Willy nilly dominates so many places I go, people whose hurrying feels like a flurry in no direction. Fort Collins folks seemed grounded in their pleasures and their purposes. They live here intentionally. For instance: Lindsey and Brad Modessit and their little kids. They delight in sharing the waters around Fort Collins — whether high adventure rapids or standup paddleboarding even with octogenarians.
“Intuitive,” says Lindsey of using their “thicker, wider” boards. “I see people of all ages able to do this.”
Ask Brad about his experiences paddling 25,000 river miles on four continents and ask the kids about the family adventure sailing 6,000 miles in the Caribbean. Their map is posted on the grounds of Mountain Whitewater Descents.
Not sure you can handle the wild and scenic river known as Cache la Poudre, even with such skilled guides? Then hang out at the Paddlers’ Pub and listen to the stories others tell.
2. Beer and bicycles
Since this city has a fulltime Bike Coordinator, we can trust they’re serious about their pedaling. Borrow one for free for a day if you plan ahead, or $10 on the spot.
Stay awhile because Fort Collins has 280 lanes, trails and paths dedicated to bikes in the city.
Many lead to beer. Seventy percent of Colorado’s craft brews happen here, also the home base of New Belgium. I missed the fat tire tour but maybe I’ll return.
3. Scenic wonders – natural areas
The map of natural areas opens wider than my arm span. 42 of them comprising 32,000 acres, and the city maintains a Natural Areas Department. These taxpayers believe in the outdoors.
They also honor their rangers, master naturalists, free hikes, dawn to dusk hours a few places and 5:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. openings all the others.
Outdoor Fort Collins offers assistance to people with mobility issues and limited English proficiency. How’s that for a caring government?
4. Art and music
Colorfully painted pianos throughout the pedestrian-only city center clued me in to the art, and surprised me about the music.
Curiosities I thought. Wrong. These pianos are tuned regularly. People play them. Shopkeepers and strolling visitors cover them up with the tarp kept under each one if a storm threatens.
The Fort Collins music philanthropist (really, there is one) funds free performances all summer in this brick-pavered city center. Monday’s the only day you might not hear music.
Trimble Court will be open, however, and that’s where the works of 57 Northern Colorado artists can be enjoyed.
5. Food fresh and local
My trip was quick so I can only report on two meals: dinner at Restaurant 415 and lunch at Gravity 1020. Eat in a traditional and familiar way if you like but I branched out with seasonal local produce for dinner after a gin mojito.
Brussels sprouts with orange garlic parmesan, squash casserole with basil, parsley and more garlic and a steak.
Here’s the creative catch—my steak was made of cauliflower roasted with red pepper sauce, sautéed greens and organic polenta. Superb.
Four chefs pooled their talents to form Restaurant 415, all embracing what they call earth friendly practices.
Drink some beer at Gravity1020, and watch the brewmasters at work behind walls that are windows.
This is a production brewery filling big orders, and it’s a full restaurant with no walk-in freezer, no microwave, no steam tables. Owner Jessica Quinn says they take farm-to-table philosophies seriously.
“Everything is made to order, we maintain a rooftop garden and a greenhouse. Very, very local is our personal requirement,” Quinn says.
6. Museums and gardens
The community botanic garden calls itself the Gardens on Spring Creek and you might pack a picnic and spend the day.
Just plan to play with the kids in the interactive children’s gardens because they won’t want to leave.
Sustainable edible gardening fills the Garden of Eatin’ section and the outdoor kitchen is the site of culinary classes. Local citizens cultivate plots in the community garden and landscape designers maintain a xeric garden.
Rock gardens, wetland sites, sustainable backyard styles, massive plans for the future and plenty of benches for lingering and gazing add to the pleasures.
The Fort Collins Museum of Discovery is a merging of science and history, remarkable collaboration under one expansive roof.
Hands-on, visual, musical, experiential throughout 100 exhibits. Check the schedule because nighttime special events happen too.
Of course it’s always night in the planetarium, a 36 foot, 360 degree dome with surround sound.
Drive from Denver airport to Fort Collins is one hour
Drive from Cheyenne, Wyoming airport to Fort Collins is 45 minutes