Craft beer. Ghost stories. College football. A Disneyland-esque Main Street. Fort Collins – or as both hip people and wannabe locals call it, FoCo – sits about an hour north of Denver and is home to Colorado State University (go Rams!). But it’s also known as the craft beer capital of Colorado AND one of the most haunted cities in the country – plus, its charming Old Town inspired Disneyland’s Main Street USA!
Add that together with Colorado’s stunning surroundings and the neighboring Rocky Mountains, and you’ve got one fantastic place to visit for a weekend getaway (and yes, it made the list on our Colorado weekend getaways guide!)
Although Fort Collins is a year-round destination, the combination of ghost stories, craft beer, college football, and colorful foliage puts Fort Collins squarely in the “fall destination” category for me. But hey, I’m not the expert here.
We’ve tapped a Fort Collins local to write this guide to things to do in Fort Collins. Ali is the girl behind Inspired Lifestyle Blog and a Fort Collins local. She’s lived in Fort Collins for close to 10 years, and today she’s sharing all of our top tips for visiting. Take it away, Ali!
Psst: Planning a trip to Colorado? Here are some other posts that you might find helpful:
- The 14 Best Weekend Getaways In Colorado
- 8 Amazing Day Trips From Boulder, Colorado
- The 8 Best Day Hikes Near Denver, Colorado
- The 8 Best Campsites in Colorado
History of Fort Collins
One of the most interesting parts of visiting Fort Collins is learning about its storied history, The Fort Collins area is rich with Native American history, wild west lore, badass women, and even a legend of a giant.
As European-Americans pushed west, many of these tribes were decimated by disease and the encroachment of their lands in northern Colorado. After the Colorado War in the 1860s – during which an alliance of Native American tribes fought against US encroachment, culminating in genocidal massacres of Native Americans in Colorado and Wyoming – many Native American tribes left the area or were forced onto reservations in neighboring states.
Fort Collins itself was founded in 1864 as a military fort and originally called “Camp Collins,” after Lt. Col. William Oliver Collins, a Union cavalry officer and one of the commanders of the Colorado War. Camp Collins was built to protect the Colorado section of the Overland Trail, a prominent wagon trail for settlers traveling out west and that was originally Native American hunting and traveling routes.
The camp was washed away within a year during a flood and the fort was built on higher ground at what is now Old Town Fort Collins.
Later the same year, European-American settlers began to arrive, including 64-year old Elizabeth “Auntie” Stone, the only European-American woman in the camp for a whole year, who ran a mess hall and eventually opened the city’s first hotel, first grit mill, and first brickyard. Auntie Stone is now known as the Founding Mother of Fort Collins since she was instrumental in starting the first school, advocating for women’s rights and encouraging other European-Americans to settle in the city.
When Auntie Stone passed away at 94 years old, all business closed during her funeral and the firehouse bell tolled 94 times in honor of her life. You can visit her original cabin at Heritage Courtyard in Library Park.
Fort Collins ultimately developed as an agricultural city thanks to the Colorado Central Railroad. In 1879 the Colorado Agricultural & Mechanical College, now known as Colorado State University, began building the school. In fact, if you visit CSU today, you can see the railroad cutting through campus. It’s even made me late to class a few times!
You can learn more about the history of the area, including more about the first peoples who call the area home over 13,000 year ago, at the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery.
Things to Do in Fort Collins
My city has many perks that you just can’t find anywhere else! We also are very close to the mountains and have our own beautiful reservoir, hiking trails, and many vibrant businesses. Have I convinced you to visit, yet?
If you are taking a trip here, I’m going to share with you a local’s guide to the best places and activities you HAVE to do when visiting.
Explore Old Town
Old Town Fort Collins is one of the prettiest and best-preserved downtowns you’ll find anywhere in the country, with wide European style walkways strung with lights and surrounded by charming facades. In fact, Old Town’s historic buildings along Walnut Street served as the inspiration for Disneyland’s Main Street!
Old Town is where the original business center of Fort Collins popped up around the fort way back in the 1860s, and modern-day Old Town is a still the heart of the city. On weekends you’ll find street performers, musicians, and just generally a good time. And in the summer, there are live performances and music in the Square!
The many Ghost Signs – faded, hand-painted advertisements of stores long out of business – found in Old Town demonstrates how old Old Town is and makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time.
Fort Collins also has a claim to Hollywood fame with the childhood home of Hattie McDaniel, the first African American to win an Academy Award (Gone With the Wind in 1940), to be found on Cherry Street in Old Town Fort Collins.
- Stop into local shops: Old Town is lined with charming locally-owned shops and boutiques. I love The Cupboard, a kitchen store full of cute decor and fancy kitchen gadgets – and yummy chocolate! And I really like Wear It Again Sam, a thrift store full of awesome vintage finds.
- Grab a beer: You’re never more than a few steps away from a brewery in Old Town! Equinox Brewing, Coopersmith’s Brewery and Pub and Pateros Creek Brewing Company are all centrally located.
- Get some dessert: Kilwins. They sell chocolate, delicious fudge, ice cream, and many more desserts. I also recommend Old Town Churn. Old Town Churn is the sister store to Little Man Ice Cream in Denver. They make homemade ice cream and always have different flavors and different combos for you to try! Try Salted Oreo and Foco Choco!
Fort Collins is home to and well known for its many breweries. From big names such as New Belgium, to smaller local breweries like Zwei Brewing Co, there’s a brewery here – or nearby – for every palate.
It’s hard to narrow down the top breweries in Fort Collins – here’s a complete list of them – but these are the top 3 that I’d recommend to a first-time visitor:
- New Belgium: Best known for Fat Tire Amber ale – which, fun fact, is a certified Carbon Neutral beer – the brewery here is also home to the largest small-batch sour beer barrel aging program in the country. Yum! Not only does New Belgium have delicious beer, but they also regularly host events and have a great outdoor area to enjoy your drink. New Belgium is also home of the Tour de Fat, which is inspired by the Tour de France – only a lot more drunk and a lot more fun! Once a year, at the end of summer, the roads around Old Town are closed for drunk people in costumes, riding their bikes to the bars. It’s quite a sight and quite a lot of fun! If you’re in Fort Collins for this event, I highly encourage you to participate.
- Odell Brewing: Fantastic beer and, in my opinion, the best brewery patio in Fort Collins. They also often have food trucks and live music outside too! Try their flagship beer, 90 Shilling.
- Prost Brewing: A German-style brewery and biergarten! Try their Helles for a light beer or Dunkel for a dark beer – and of course, a giant pretzel. They’re super yummy.
Not sure where to start? How about doing. them all, in order? This brewery hop guide from Eater organizes each stop geographically into an epic bikeable or transit-able brewery hop.
If you really want to experience Fort Collins like a local, book a Bike and Brewery tour! Go on – it’s local tradition.
Explore Colorado State University’s Campus
CSU has a rich history to match the history of Fort Collins. Established in 1870 as an agricultural college (hence the giant white letter ‘A’ proudly displayed on the western hillside of Fort Collins – it’s a yearly tradition that CSU freshmen repaint the ‘A’ into the hillside ), Colorado State University has many engineering and architectural examples of the late 19th century.
This includes the picturesque Oval Drive, which was designed by civil engineering students and faculty as a model to demonstrate how roads could be built from native materials. And speaking of which, that’s the first place we recommend visiting on campus!
Stroll through The Oval
The Oval at Colorado State University is a hidden gem in Fort Collins. It’s a beautiful and serene place filled with grass and 100-year-old Elm trees. It’s a lovely place to have a picnic or take an autumn stroll in the cold crisp air surrounded by colorful fall foliage!
The Oval is located on the CSU campus but is super easy to get to and is in an area that isn’t usually very populated. I recommend going on the weekend or after 4 PM, when parking on campus is free! If you go earlier, you can park on a public street nearby and walk over if you want to avoid paying for parking.
- Local Tip: If you walk over to the oval, stop by Mug’s Coffee Shop and grab a mug of fair-trade coffee to sip as you stroll.
Watch a Football Game at CSU’s New Stadium
If you’re visiting during football season, one of the best things to do in Fort Collins is to go to a game and cheer on the CSU rams!
The CSU Canvas football stadium is a beautiful football stadium, and I’m not just saying that because I’m biased. Most students (myself included) were actually a bit grumpy about the stadium being built on campus, mostly because it resulted in less parking than we already had.
The stadium was finished when I was a senior and I got to be one of the first people to see football games there. And let me tell you, it’s gorgeous! It’s a much more professional and modern stadium than the one being previously used.
If tailgating is more your style – or more in your budget range – the free Coors Light Ram Walk Tailgate has everything from live music to beer to big screen TV’s. Just be sure to wear green! You can enjoy the tailgate for several hours before the game starts.
- Just a warning: if CSU scores, they set off a cannon and it can be a little surprising at first. It always makes me jump! So if you hear cannons and it’s football season … you know why. Go Rams!
Meet a Ghost
Fort Collins has a storied and complex history, and that means one thing: host stories, Fort Collins has been rated as the third most haunted city in the U.S. (behind Savannah and New Orleans). There are plenty of spooky spots to go in search of Fort Collins’ most infamous deceased residents!
Here are a few places where you just might get a creepy encounter from beyond the grave:
- Walrus Ice Cream in Old Town has its own cheeky ghost, a charming businessman from Fort Collins’ past named Charles Dinnebock (now known as “The Walrus Man.”) But that’s not all: tunnels beneath Walrus reportedly served as the underground entrance to the shop’s neighboring morgue, mausoleum and crematorium. Ooooh, spooly! Even if you don’t meet the seductive Walrus Man, you might as well visit for some ice cream.
- The Avery House: Built for one of Fort Collins’ most prominent families in 1879, The Avery House is now a history museum and National Historic Landmark with a beautiful historic costume collection and restored rooms that allow visitors to step back in time. But beware: you might just counter the unhappy spirit of a child in the middle upstairs bedroom…
- Nature’s Own is one of my favorite shops to explore in Old Town Fort Collins. It’s a nature and science store full of different types of rocks, geodes, and fun things to look at. But beware: there’s a resident ghost immortalized in one of his paintings in the back of the store…. but as you approach, he disappears.
- The Fort Collins Museum of Art: You’ll find more than collections of art here – the museum was built at the site of Camp Collins’ first cemetery back in the 1860s. Nobody knows how many bodies are still buried underneath, but at least one – nicknamed George – still haunts the basement.
For true ghost hunters, the comprehensive guide to the Ghosts of Fort Collins is written by a tour guide who led ghost tours through Old Town.
The book tells the stories of the haunted corners and dark history of the city, known as one of the most haunted cities in the country. Read it before your trip and you just might find yourself recognizing creepy haunts all around town!
Visit Horsetooth Mountain & Reservoir
When visiting Fort Collins, look West, and if you see a huge rock (basically the top of the mountain) that looks like a horse’s tooth, that’s it! At its base you’ll find Horsetooth Reservoir, a six and a half-mile long reservoir just eight miles west of downtown Fort Collins.
The reservoir is named after nearby Horsetooth Mountain, a craggy rock outcropping just west of the reservoir. You can hike to Horsetooth Mountain and enjoy the expansive views of the reservoir, Colorado Front Range, and Fort Collins via trailheads at the reservoir.
According to Arapaho legends, this iconic rock formation is the body of a slain giant, who used to watch over the ‘Valley Of Contentment,’ the valley that is now flooded by Horsetooth Reservoir. The giant prevented the tribes from hunting in the Valley of Contentment, causing the people to starve.
One night, a warrior from one of the tribes took a magical tomahawk and killed the giant while he slept so his people would be saved. The giant’s body turned to stone but you can still see the gashes of the tomahock’s fatal blows on what is now known as Horsetooth Mountain.
There’s a lot you can do at Horsetooth Reservoir: you can drive around it, pull over and watch the views, take in the sunrise or sunset, look out over the city of Fort Collins, mountain bike, paddleboard, swim, hike, kayak, go boating, rock climb, or run on a trail. Horsetooth has it all.
In the summertime, I love going down to the shore and spending the day in the water, or renting a boat from a local marina and going out on the lake with a few friends. You can also hike and mountain bike on the multiple trails in the surrounding 2,000 acres of public lands.
Here are the best things to do at Horsetooth Reservoir & Mountain:
- Watch the sunrise: For the best sunrise view of Fort Collins, go on a hike to the top of Horsetooth rock! For a sunrise hike to the top, you’ll need to leave your house at 3 am, but it’s so worth it to see the sunrise behind the city. You’ll see Fort Collins on one side, and on the other Colorado’s stunning nature that honestly looks like something out of a movie.
- See a waterfall: The hike to the waterfalls is 2.9 miles and is an easier hike than Horsetooth Rock. They’re both beautiful hikes and if you have a few days available to go hiking, I would recommend doing both!
- Go Bouldering: Colorado has incredible rock climbing and bouldering, and Fort Collins is no exception! Check out some of Colorado’s best bouldering areas at Rotary Park.
- Drive to the top: When the weather is cold – or you’re not up for athletic activity – you can take a drive up to the top and check out the views or watch the sunset. It really is something special.
Note that you will need an entrance permit ($9/per vehicle) if you intend to visit!
Go on an Outdoor Adventure
Colorado is best known for two things: beer, and outdoor adventure. Fort Collins has both in spades. In addition to Horsetooth Mountain, here are more opportunities for outdoor adventure!
Pineridge Trail is a 4.1 mile long loop through the rolling foothills of the Pineridge Natural Area just west of the city. The trail is rated as easy, with little climbing or elevation gain, it is mostly exposed and loops around the Dixon Reservoir (and is a great place to spot prairie dog colonies!).
The Pineridge Natural Area was one of Fort Collins’ first protected natural areas and is a great place to see wildlife. I recommend walking up the dam to get a pretty view!
Poudre River Trail
Poudre River Trail is a 21-mile long paved trail that meanders along the Cache la Poudre (pronounced pooh-der) River and through several large parks and wildlife areas.
The Cache la Poudre River (known more simply as the Poudre River) is thought to be named after French-Canadian trappers hid their gunpowder near the river’s banks during a blizzard in the early 1800s.
While exploring the trail, you can also look for wild turkeys at the Kodak Watchable Wildlife Area and learn about the history of the area at the Poudre River Learning Centre. You can also rent a bike or scooter in town and take it for a ride on this path!
Cache la Poudre River Canyon
About 1 hour northwest of Fort Collins, the Cache la Poudre River Canyon is a hidden gem, with opportunities to go whitewater rafting (class I-V rapids) and hiking to explore its distinct cliffs, rock formations, and wide variety of native flora. Many visitors compare the canyon to Rocky Mountains National Park, only without the masses of tourists.
One of the best hikes in the Cache la Poudre River is the hike to Greyrock – pictured above – whose trailhead is less than 20 minutes from Old Town Fort Collins. There are two trail options: the Meadows trail (7~ miles) and the Greyrock Summit trail (6~ miles), which both offer stunning views.
You should know that this hike is a bit challenging: you’ll gain 2,000 feet of elevation to a summit sitting at 7,480 feet, and there’s a little bouldering toward the end. But the payoff is worth it for the amazing views of the Poudre River Canyon!
- Outdoor Adventure Tip: One of the best campgrounds in Colorado is about an hour away from Fort Collins along the banks of the Cache la Poudre River! Find out more in our Colorado camping guide.
Driving through the canyon also means you’ll be taking one of Colorado’s many scenic roads! Which brings us to our next thing to do in Fort Collins…
Take a Scenic Drive
The Cache le Poudre Scenic Byway follows a route that was once used to connect the northern plains of Colorado with the Green River settlement in Utah. Today, the scenic drive begins in Fort Collins on U.S. Highway 287, heads northwest until it intersects with Colorado Highway 14 in Bellvue, then winds up the rugged and scenic Cache la Poudre River Canyon.
As you drive, keep an eye out for whitewater swells in the crystal-clear river below and bighorn sheep on the rocky cliffs up above!
If you keep driving up through the canyon, you’ll eventually make it to alpine meadows and Cameron Pass, which sits between the Rawah Wilderness and Rocky Mountain National Park and offers sweeping views of the beautiful North Park basin surrounded by mountain peaks. Turn around and head back to Fort Collins here, or continue on to Walden!
- Travel Tip: If you do drive the full route from Fort Collins to Walden, allow 3 hours each way and give yourself plenty of time to return before dark.
Get Some Delicious Food (& Drinks)
After a long day of hiking and outdoor adventure, hit the town for some delicious food.
- Farm-to-Table: The Farmhouse at Jessup Farm serves perfectly plated, carefully crafted, home-grown deliciousness from their 19th-Century farmhouse in the heart of the beautiful Jessup Farm Artisan Village. Try the green chile mac & cheese, buttermilk battered fried chicken, and truffle-parm brussel sprouts!
- Cheese (& Other Stuff): The Fox and the Crow is a bistro and cheese shop specializing in, mostly, cheese. Head here for twists on delicious cheese classics like mac & cheese (ahem: roasted butternut squash, brown butter, blue cheese, and maple syrup, omg) and grilled cheese (try the Apple Pie grilled cheese).
- Pub Fare & Burgers: Coopermith’s Pub is a FoCo staple, located right in the heart of Old Town Square. Order a burger, fish & chips or bangers and mash with a craft beer and play pub games like billiards and shuffleboard.
- Mexican: Cafe Mexicali makes their food from scratch and their (giant) burritos are phenomenal. Lupita’s is the best budget-friendly place to try a Colorado Southwestern classic: green chile sauce. The chile rellenos, burritos, and chimichangas are best smothered in delicious green chile sauce!
- Pizza: Hey, you’re in a college town, remember? Fort Collins has some AMAZING pizza. It’s my favorite food and I’m picky about my pizza. Krazy Karl’s is well known around town and CSU for having the best pizza in town! For budget-minded folks, Krazy Karl’s does a deal on Mondays and Thursdays where you have to beat the clock. So, starting at 5, if you call and order a 1-topping pizza the time is what you pay. So, for example, if you call and order your pizza at 5:25, your pizza will cost $5.25 plus tax! Whatever pizza you choose to get, make sure you get cream cheese on it. It may sound gross to you, but trust me, it’s actually amazing! Another CSU favorite pizza place is Pizza Casbah. They sell New York-style thin crust pizza and it’s seriously so good – and SO inexpensive.
Visit a Coffee Shop
Nothing goes together more than college & football games, except maybe college & drinking a lot of coffee because you barely got any sleep and you’re going out with friends later tonight. So pretend you’re still a sleep-deprived student (and not just a sleep-deprived adult) and hit up one of Fort Collins’ best coffee shops!
- Bindle is a very cute coffee shop located at Jessup Farm. Don’t worry, it’s not a farm. It’s a quaint shopping area you can visit! They have restaurants, shopping, and my favorite: Bindle. Bindle is a fun place to go for an hour or two and just relax. The coffee shop is very aesthetically pleasing and has really delicious coffee and desserts.
- Alley Cat is a Fort Collins staple. It has a cool bohemian vibe and features artwork from various artists on the walls and ceiling. They are open 24 hours and is a great place to go play cards or a board game and hangout. I highly recommend their chai shake, it’s amazing.
Have Some Old-Fashioned Fun
When it comes to nightlife, some of the best things to do in Fort Collins are good-old vintage fun!
See a Movie at a Drive-In Theater
If you’re visiting in the summer, watching a movie at the Holiday Twin Drive-In Theater is a must! Although the movies that play are usually new releases, it’s a classic drive-in theatre experience: you park your car before the sun goes down, in a row with other cars facing a giant screen, you tune in to the radio to hear the movie, and you get to watch a movie from the comfort of your car when the sun goes down.
Just like a typical movie theatre, there are bathrooms and concessions like popcorn and candy.
I recommend getting there a bit early to avoid the long line. To make things extra-cozy, many people bring chairs, and some make their trunks super cozy – but I typically sit in the front seat of my vehicle with some popcorn, my puppy, and a cozy blanket from home to watch the movie.
Sip an Egg Cream at a Soda Fountain
The Union Bar Soda Fountain may seem a little outdated on the surface, but it’s imbibed (get it) with modern-day class. And yes, what I’m trying to say here is that there are boozy milkshakes.
Split a maple egg cream or root beer float and a plate of green chile cheese fries… or really lean into the college atmosphere and down a cognac, espresso, and oreo shake with a green chile breakfast burrito at 10am like the champion you once were.
Play Vintage Arcade Games
Pinball Jones is one of my favorite date spots in Fort Collins. It’s an arcade and a bar. How much better can that get?
They have several pinball machines, but they also have vintage arcade games you can play! One of my favorite games dates back to the 1960s!
They have two locations, they’re both great, but the one in Old Town Square is my favorite.
Where to Stay in Fort Collins, Colorado
When visiting Fort Collins, the best place to base yourself is in centrally located Old Town. You’ll be walking distance from FoCo’s best shops, restaurants, and coffee shops, and surrounded by Disneyland-esque charm.
Here are a few options for places to stay in Old Town Fort Collins:
- Boutique Hotel: The stunning Armstrong Hotel has been around for 95 years, but it looks incredibly modern. The hotel is pet friendly – they even have an adorable resident cat named Oreo! During your stay, head underground – and step back in time – with live music and craft cocktails at Ace Gillet’s Lounge.
- AirBnB: This charming Old Town Victorian Cottage dates back to 1903 (so, probably haunted?) but has restored from Victorian glamour to cottage-core cute. This cozy tiny house with a mod black-and-white style is located in Fort Collins’ funkiest little neighborhood, Buckingham, and is literally steps away from both Odell’s and New Belgium, while only half a mile’s walk from Old Town. Your stay also includes bikes to get around town! For more options, browse AirBnbs in Fort Collins.
- Hostel: Yep, Fort Collins has a budget-friendly hostel! Although The Solarium looks more like a boutique hotel, with beautiful gardens and a sun terrace.
About Our Contributing Writer: Ali is a lifestyle blogger who is obsessed with all things travel, money smarts, and personal growth! She lives in Colorado and loves seeing the world any chance she gets. When she’s not blogging or traveling you can find her drinking a glass of Pink Moscato and watching Schitt’s Creek and cuddling with her puppy and planning out her next vacation on Pinterest! You can click here to check out Ali’s lifestyle blog for the best travel, money, and life tips, and her Facebook page
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Are you looking forward to visiting FoCo? Which one of these things to do in Fort Collins are you most excited about? Drop us a comment below!
Psst: Planning a trip to Colorado? Take a look at some of our other posts.
- The 14 Best Weekend Getaways In Colorado
- 8 Day Trips From Boulder, Colorado
- The 8 Best Day Hikes Near Denver, Colorado
- The 8 Best Campsites in Colorado
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