Just east of the Rockies is this beautiful former frontier town, the old heart of which has hardly changed for more than a century. It’s a fabulous destination for some sightseeing, fine dining, shopping and nightlife. Not just North Colorado’s cultural capital, Fort Collins today is a major beer town with 20 breweries, so if you’re a connoisseur you can spend your days on tours and sampling the great range of ales and beers that originate here. In the foothills of the Rockies there are also some striking landscapes to cycle, hike or paddle through.
1. Historic Old Town
The handsome brick buildings of Fort Collins’ Old Town remain intact and a stroll along these streets will put you in the shoes of a 19th-century settler. In all there are 28 historic buildings to see, today housing cafes, boutiques and galleries. If you’ve ever been to Disney World you’ll notice Fort Collins’ resemblance to Main Street USA, which was modelled on Fort Collins. One of Fort Collins’ ensemble of beautiful old buildings is the art deco Armstrong Hotel, built in 1923 and preserving its original interior fittings. The Old Town is also sure to entice diners, with more than 80 restaurants spread across a few city blocks.
2. Anheuser Busch Brewery
There no doubt that Budweiser is one of the world’s most famous beer brands, even if it’s not strictly the world’s favourite beer. Still, it’s a good idea to visit one of the brand’s largest breweries and distribution centres in America to experience the spectacle and scale of the corporation. Fort Collins brews Budweiser for all the western and south-western states. You won’t need to book ahead to join general tour, but if you’re really curious about how Budweiser is made you can sign up early for the Beer Master Tour to sample the beer at each stage of its fermentation process.
3. Odell Brewing Company
It’s a good idea to reserve a place for a visit of this brewery in advance, but if you’re lucky you can simply turn up and make up the numbers in a group. Odell is the oldest craft brewery in Fort Collins and makes English-style ales that are served in restaurants and bars throughout the Rocky Mountains and south-western states. Odell’s tap room is always a fun place to be, with live music throughout the week, and each day a different food cart pulls up to the patio outside. These are provided by local restaurants so it’s a fine way to get a taste of Fort Collins’ culinary scene while you sip one of Odell’s eight different ales.
4. New Belgium Brewing Company
This famous brewery on the edge of the old town opens its doors seven days a week for tours or simply to serve its Belgian style brews. New Belgium is the third-largest craft brewery in America, distributing across the western and southern United States. The tour takes 90 minutes, and will lead you through a brewery that employs more than 450 staff, creates $200 million in revenue and brews nine different beers. You’ll get the inside track on the brewing and fermentation process, and see huge conveyor belts in action at the bottling plant. The tasting room is open daily until eight and has all nine year-round beers on tap, as well a number of limited edition brands.
5. Budweiser Events Center
If a major recording artist or comedian is coming to the Fort Collins area you can be certain that they’ll be performing at this arena a couple of miles away in Loveland. In the winter the Ice Hockey season is also underway, and the Colorado Eagles call this venue home. They play in the EHCL, which is the level below NHL, and despite only starting out in 2003 have won several division and conference titles. You could also catch an Indoor American Football game in the spring and summer, when the Colorado Crush take part in the Intense Conference of the IFL (Indoor Football League).
One thing that makes Fort Collins so liveable is the profusion of independent or locally-run shops downtown. If quaint and quirky is your thing, try Curiosities, where they have curios and antiques, from old-fashioned toys to oddball home decorations. The Cupboard is every foodie’s dream and has been in business for more than 45 years. It’s a kitchen shop, with almost everything a self-respecting chef could need. The store also includes an in-house kitchen where cookery classes are held in the evenings.
7. Colorado Brewers’ Festival
It makes sense that Fort Collins should host one of the USA’s premier celebrations of the brewing craft. On the last weekend of June the event brings together more than 40 Colorado-based breweries and features 90 beers. It’s an event that educates, setting up an interactive beer school that provides demonstrations and tasting sessions. Part of the fun are the live music stages, while Fort Collins’ downtown eateries whet the appetite with food trucks. Admission is completely free – all you have to do is purchase a sampling ticket, which comes with your own tasting tankard.
8. Fort Collins Museum of Discovery
This is a combination of two museums, one devoted to the natural and social history of Fort Collins and another introducing children to scientific principles in an entertaining way. So you can get to know the natural history of the region and get an overview of the plants and animals of the local countryside, or see how Fort Collins developed from a military camp into the flourishing city you see today. But kids can also find out everything they want to know about dinosaurs, or how light and colour function, with the help of hands-on experiments.
9. Hiking and Biking
The hiking routes in and near Fort Collins are as tough as you are. Within the city limits there’s patches of rugged country and the local trails are well-maintained and even cleared of snow in winter. Just beyond the city you have the option of big adventures in the wilderness, or simple walks to local beauty spots for a picnic. Bikers are in luck in Fort Collins as the terrain is mostly easy-going and the city does all it can to provide an infrastructure for those on two wheels. Of course, if you want to push yourself you can set a course for the hundreds of miles of trails that twist through the Roosevelt National Forest, just west of the city.
10. Horseback Riding
If you’re on holiday in Colorado there’s no excuse not to experience the backcountry on horseback the way real pioneers did in the 1800s. One of the best local spots for this is Poudre Canyon, which isn’t as precarious as it sounds: These are mostly light riverside trails shaded by forest in the foothills of the Rockies a short way northwest of Fort Collins, and the walls of the gorge are easily accessed on foot or horseback. There are three ranches around Poudre Canyon where you can a horse, or take part in organised trail rides.
11. Water sports
The Poudre is also great news for thrill-seekers: You can test your mettle on a white water rafting trip down class III-IV rapids. There are a couple of businesses in Fort Collins with the gear and knowhow to make this happen for you. If you’ve already got some experience you can also try a single-seater vessel,by paddle boarding or kayaking through these wild waters. What completes the adventure is the scenery – many parts of the canyon have tall cliff-faces and deep pine forest comes down to the water’s edge.
12. Shambhala Mountain Center
An hour west of Fort Collins is this retreat that covers 600 acres in valley within the Rocky Mountains. People have been coming here for 40 years to study yoga and take part in 100 different programs that include mindfulness, body awareness, contemplative arts, meditation as well as the teachings of America’s indigenous cultures. The centre offers a variety of accommodation with views out over wooded mountainsides. The symbolic landmark here is the Great Stupa, 30 metres high and built to inspire compassion and peace.
13. Fort Fun
If the younger members of your group have ants in their pants then Fort Fun is the best place to let them run wild for a few hours. The attraction has a mountain frontier theme and there’s plenty going on to keep kids entertained. The centre has two mini golf courses, laser tag, a go-kart track, bumper cars, batting cages, a video arcade and several rides for smaller children (these are only open during the summer months). Many of the games try to educate children about Fort Collins’ most noteworthy residents during the pioneer days.
It’s not called the Mile High City for no reason: If you visit Denver’s State Capitol building you’ll be exactly a mile above sea level when you reach the 13th step of the West Entrance. Denver is a modern city that is still faithful to its frontier roots. Many of the older neighbourhoods like Highlands, Baker and Capitol Hill have been well looked-after and still have grand Victorian buildings. For an in-depth understanding of Native American art the Denver Art Museum has a collection of more than 16,000 items from 100 tribes across North America. More in our Denver Guide.
Hop over the border with Wyoming to see the state capital, a city of 50,000 amid sweeping natural landscapes of snow-capped peaks and Great Plains grasslands. Cheyenne was born in 1867, positioned where the Union Pacific Railroad would traverse Crow Creek. Even today the city still is steeped in the Old West, especially during the Frontier Days Festival in July. This event goes right back to 1897 and is crammed with exhilarating rodeo action, paired with carnival fun and pancake breakfasts, saloons, a native American village and even a chuck wagon cook-off.