The northern most city in Colorado’s Front Range, Fort Collins is known for being home to Colorado State University. It’s a growing city, but with all the charm of a smaller town. Whether you are visiting, or moving here, there are plenty of trails and good food to be had. Along with the first part of this series, this guide will fill you in on where to hike in Fort Collins and a short series of food reviews for spots in town. Come with us to get an idea of new spots to check out for food and nature.
Where to Hike in Fort Collins
Fossil Creek Reservoir Regional Open Space
Fossil Creek showcases a grand lake, and many birds utilize this habitat throughout the year. Along with trails, there are a couple of bird watching blinds, picnic areas, and a ranger station with a full bathroom. If you are thinking about where to hike in Fort Collins, and you are looking for a spot that is family friendly, Fossil Creek is a great option for where to hike in Fort Collins. The parking lot is between two main trail options.
The Cattail Flats Trail a 1.6 miles lollipop trail, and is the longer of the two options. It is a mostly flat trail that crosses the grasslands of the park, before stopping by the shore of the lake. This trail is closed in winter, so if you are set on seeing it, make sure to visit during any other season.
However, if you do stop by in the winter, the shorter Sandpiper Trail is available year-round. This is a 0.8 mile out-and-back that also goes to the lake.
I really enjoyed visiting this spot, although we had a bit of an interesting experience with the local insects. Towards the end of the summer, there were some beautiful thistles along the side of the trail, but every time I stopped to take pictures, we would be swarmed by gnats and flies.
Address: 3340 Carpenter Rd, Fort Collins, CO 80525
Maxwell Natural Area
Of the trails on the Where to Hike in Fort Collins list, the Maxwell Natural Area has become one of my favorites for training. That’s because the trail from the main parking lot, up to the summit of A Mountain is about 4 miles long with about 700 feet elevation gain. It’s just long enough for a nice work out, but short enough and accessible enough to do during the work week.
The views are also pretty nice. You start the trail by crossing the flat grasslands and then heading up towards the foothills. In this flat area, it isn’t always the most interesting, but there is a local colony of prairie dogs. And they can be very fun to watch. As you start climbing, you will get to enjoy the beautiful slopes of the hills, and get some nice views of the city as well. You will come up into a small pass as you continue along. From here, the trail crosses into a small valley, where you will temporarily forget that you are tucked between the city and the Horsetooth Reservoir. It’s very peaceful in here and I’ve seen deer in this area multiple times.
After crossing the fields, you will climb again for a little before summiting right above the white A (for the “Aggies” – CSU). Here, there are amazing panoramas of the lake and the city. To get back, you will go right back the way you came.
My one complaint about this trail is that it is VERY popular for a small, city trail. There are lots of hikers, runners, AND bikers. In fact, I would say that I have never hiked a trail that is quite as popular with mountain bikers before. The key for everyone is to be polite and patient. While technically bikes are meant to yield to hikers- I generally get out of their way. Most people are very nice, but some do come down quick. So, be sure to pay attention.
Address: 3502 CR 42C, Fort Collins, CO 80526
Environmental Learning Center
The Environmental Learning Center is an area with trails and beautiful views of the Poudre River. This area is managed and run by Colorado State University, and puts on a variety of environmental programs (living up to its name!). The only thing that I have done in this area, is hike, however. And I think it is a great spot for a nice, flat walk on some trails when considering where to hike in Fort Collins. There is some information on the ecosystems of northern Colorado along the way and plenty of lovely views.
This park is open 7 days a week, from sunrise to sunset, and it is free! The trails will provide you with about a 1.5 miles (give or take) to explore, and there is the main Wilcox trail and some side trails as well. For the most up-to-date information about the trails here, check out the maps when you park at the trailhead.
These trails will take you across the beautiful bridge, into the wild forest that surrounds the river. The trek through this park isn’t long, so I would highly suggest taking your time here. Observe the plants, the river, and all the animals that you might be able to see that call this place home. It’s really magical and a great place to come with kids or friends who aren’t into hiking but who are interested in connecting with nature.
There IS a bathroom (vault toilet) at the trailhead!
Directions from the Environmental Learning Center website: “Head east on Drake Road. Approximately one mile after passing the intersection at Timberline Road, turn left on Environmental Drive. After crossing a one lane bridge, take a sharp left on the gravel road (you will see the ELC sign), crossing the railroad tracks. Parking lot is at the end of the gravel road. Programs meet near the parking lot, at the amphitheater.”
Kingfisher Point is a small, City of Fort Collins open space that is nestled near Riverbend Ponds (my favorite). There really isn’t much to this little corner of wild Fort Collins all by itself. There is a little dirt lot, with no official parking lot or toilets, along Timberline. From there, you have about a 1mile walk along a dirt road that follows the edge of a small pond.
There isn’t really much more to it. However, it can be connected with the surrounding parks for a more substantial walk. AND it is an important habitat for birds and small mammals. So, it might not be my favorite spot for walking, but I am so proud of Fort Collins for protecting places like this. Every natural space plays a role in making space for other species in the city.
Address: 745 S Timberline Rd, Fort Collins, CO 80524
Remember, even if you are hiking in the city, on flat ground, it is still your responsibility to take care of yourself and your safety. This guide is not a guarantee that you will be safe on the trail.
Make sure to follow the tips above, and research any other safety considerations in the area. Also, don’t underestimate any trail just because it seems easy.
Additionally, many of these hiking spots have water bodies – either flowing or still. That means that you need to exercise extra caution, particularly with your kids. These water bodies are not safe for swimming. Observe the water and enjoy it, but stay safe!
Where to Eat in Fort Collins
Totally 80s Pizza and Museum
So, maybe I am deprived, but I have never been to a restaurant/museum before. Totally 80s Pizza is a great mix of both. The first thing you will notice when you get there is, of course, the décor, which serves as the museum portion of the restaurant. All around you, there are wonderful artefacts from the 80s. Some you will enjoy as you enter and walk towards the counter to order. You will order at the counter, and then find your own seating. But you will also get to take in parts of the collection from your table. Especially along the sides, everyone will get a great look at the walls, thick with memorabilia.
The pizza is also really good. So, if you are looking for a slice, and are open to going out to get it, this is a great spot. This is particularly the case if you have time to eat in the restaurant and enjoy everything they have to offer.
It’s a great, unique place on the where to eat in Fort Collins list – if you want to check it out, here is the address: 2567 S Shields St Unit 4C, Fort Collins, CO 80526
They are open every day of the week, but have shorter hours on Monday.
Rise! A Breakfast Place
Rise! is a small, local diner serving up breakfast Wednesday to Sunday. It came highly recommended to us by the folks who lived in our house before us. While it isn’t our favorite place for breakfast fare, I do think it’s a spot worth checking out for anyone who enjoys breakfast.
When we went, I tried two different egg benedicts, and both of them were quite tasty. I also do really enjoy their breakfast potatoes. They are crispy and nicely salted. Good breakfast potatoes are the best.
Least importantly (but still something that I think about when eating out) is the atmosphere of this little place. It’s pretty much standard for modern American dinners – cute but limited by the bounds of the strip-mall building itself.
Address: 2601 S Lemay Ave #31, Fort Collins, CO 80525
Retreat Bakery Bar
Retreat is, hands-down, one of our most favorite places in all of Fort Collins. We’ve gone there at least on a weekly basis since we discovered it. (I will be the first to admit that isn’t entirely healthy!). We love this place because it offers up unique dessert options that are exceptionally good. When we first discovered them, we were primarily going for their tarts. I’ve never been a big tart person, but these are just… *chef’s kiss!* And there are different flavors throughout the year that accompany standard flavors.
Nowadays, we also indulge in Retreat’s opera cakes, cookies, yogurt parfaits, and more. Pretty much everything that comes out of their bakery is A++++. Additionally, they serve up coffees and teas, and they also have beer on tap.
Finally, the vibe and team at Retreat is great. There are often people in there gathering with friends or playing board games or D&D. The staff is friendly and helpful. Just… check it out!!
They are closed on Mondays, but open the rest of the week.
Address: 2601 S Lemay Ave Unit 21, Fort Collins, CO 80525
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