To locals, Fort Collins and Boulder are rival cities. They’re home to Colorado’s two main universities, Colorado State University and the University of Colorado, respectively.
But for travelers visiting Boulder and locals who can manage to pause the rivalry for a few hours, Fort Collins makes for a wonderful day trip just more than one hour northeast.
As a fellow college town, it’s full of that same inspirational, upbeat, fresh, creative energy as Boulder. As another destination on the Front Range, that means a different slice of the Rocky Mountains, but plenty of hiking trails, a great lake and river and fun outdoor activities.
Yet the two cities are distinctly different from one another in many ways that warrant spending time in both.
If you’re headed north, here’s our favorite way to do a day trip in FoCo.
1. Start With Craft Coffee
Start your day with a cup of coffee at one of Fort Collins’ many coffeehouses. But not just any coffee. Craft coffee or third-wave coffee from some of the best roasters in the country. A no-fail place to caffeinate for your adventurous day ahead: Harbinger Coffee.
2. Get Out
Spend the morning exploring Fort Collins’ natural areas. There are 42 of them, including huge Horsetooth Reservoir, a popular place to go boating, and the Poudre River, which can be a blast to tube down if the conditions are safe. The Poudre was named Colorado’s only National Wild and Scenic River.
Or just go for a hike on the hundreds of miles of trails along the foothills and beyond. Here, expect to see plenty of wildlife, including a group of genetically-pure bison that live in the area. If you spot them, please, for the love of all that is holy and smart, use your common sense and don’t try to take a selfie next to one.
3. Grab a Waffle
There are many incredible restaurants in this foodie-friendly paradise, but for a casual brunch that is totally novel and fun, head to the Waffle Lab. Here you can find all kinds of crazy, creative waffles topped with just about everything you can think of. Avocados. Nutella. Bacon. Eggs. Smothered in cheese. Not all on the same waffle. Well, not unless you ask. The Waffle Lab is nothing fancy. It’s casual, quick and cheap, but it’s one of those restaurants you just have to check off your bucket list.
4. Explore Downtown
After filling up on waffley goodness, head to Old Town Fort Collins, which is so picturesque that Disneyland’s Main Street USA was actually modeled after it. Here, you can find quirky shops, beautiful art installations (including interactive musical displays), water features and some fun snack stops, if you have a hankering for something sweet. Get a handmade popsicle at Revolution Artisan Pops or head to Nuance Chocolate, the best chocolate shop in Colorado.
Nuance boasts the biggest selection of single-origin chocolate in the world, which refers to chocolate made out of beans from one location, not blended with beans from around the world. This is extremely rare. Learn more about how cocoa beans’ flavor varies from location to location by ordering a flight of chocolate. This tray of chocolate from different regions allows you to compare flavors and determine your favorite.
Another fun stop in downtown is at the Artery, a co-space for 16 different local artists. Browse the gallery, catch a performance or yoga class and get a drink in the bar or cafe. If you have fallen so in love with Fort Collins that you want to stay the night, ask about the Artery’s two B&B rooms for rent.
5. Tour New Belgium
It’s not a visit to Fort Collins without visiting New Belgium Brewing Co., one of the world’s top microbreweries. If you’ve done a beer tour before, this is not like any other brewery. There’s a sprawling lawn out front where tons of people gather and play yard games, surrounded by food trucks. It feels like a festival, right in town. It’s always packed and is a real local hang-out.
The tours are fun, too. Snag a free tour (complete with free samples of lots of brews) every half hour until 4:30 p.m.
6. Get Dinner at Jessup Farm
The coolest place to get dinner is at Jessup Farm’s Farmhouse, which serves up delicious comfort food made from scratch in a cozy, quaint, 130-year-old historic house. The Farmhouse’s location is fun to walk around, too. It’s a historic neighborhood in town converted into modern shops, a barrel house, coffee shop and more. This is a little pocket of Fort Collins many visitors miss because it’s outside of downtown, but it’s one of our favorite, lesser-known destinations. Not to mention the pork belly slider appetizers are worth the drive from Boulder, in and of themselves. It’s the perfect way to end your day in Fort Collins.