Colorado is world famous for skiing, biking, and any number of mountain activities, but the Centennial State doesn’t get much attention for water sports. With no coastline and a bone-dry climate, you’d be forgiven for heading elsewhere in search of a water vacation. But in the heat of summer, Coloradoans who work up a sweat on the trails know all the best ways to cool down afterward. Towns along Colorado’s Front Range boast countless options for mountain fun, water refreshment and après-everything.
A weekend trip to Fort Collins (FoCo, The Fort, or Fort Fun to locals) starts with an easy flight to Denver and a one-hour drive north to this charming, off-the-beaten path city. There are plenty of great places to stay right in Old Town, the lively pedestrian downtown area. With boutique hotels, quiet B&Bs, and hip Airbnb apartments, you can find your niche and get right to business. Settle in and start your walking tour with killer margs and tacos at the Rio Grande. Then cruise the downtown shops and enjoy live music in the square. Before hitting the sack, check out the super-chique, underground cocktail bar Social. Just ask the bartender what to order. It will be fantastic. Trust me.
Wake up early, grab your suit, and head over to Wanderlust Adventure to get a taste of the Poudre River whitewater. Drive up the canyon into the mountains in a funky old bus and spend the morning paddling down the river, navigating rapids, and scoping out the best swimming holes. If you get tossed from the boat, relax and enjoy the ride. Wanderlust stations staff at various points downriver from the biggest rapids to catch clients who opt for the swim lane.
Don’t worry if your budget doesn’t allow for an organized rafting trip. Locals know the river is just as nice on a cheap inner tube. Swing by Walgreens to pick up a couple tubes, get some advice from the experts here, and float down the river at your own pace. Don’t forget to bring a few cans of local brew. You’ll have to hitch a ride up the canyon to get back to your car, but you won’t be the only ones sticking your thumb out with a tube on your back.
Good thing you’ve packed a picnic, because your next destination takes you further into the mountains. Continue driving up the Poudre Canyon on Route 14 until you hit Cameron Pass, and shortly afterward, the parking pullout for Lake Agnes. An easy 1.5-mile hike takes you to one of the most beautiful alpine lakes in the region with dramatic crags in every direction. Scramble around the lake and find your favorite spot to have a bite, catch an afternoon snooze, and jump in for a frigid but refreshing dip.
Drive down at sunset to enjoy the gorgeous views and head back into town. Throw on your super comfy Gansett dress and head over to The Kitchen for the best farm-to-table experience in town. Do some window-shopping in the pedestrian mall and end up at the local scoop shop, Walrus Ice Cream, a Fort Collins institution for almost 30 years. If you’re feeling especially adventurous, you can order one of their joke flavors (Not So Happy Meal, Meat Chip, Pico de Walrus). Catch a concert at the Downtown Artery to maximize the day, or hit the sack for some much needed rest.
The next morning take advantage of the early rays and cool temps by grabbing to-die-for French pastries from La Creperie and heading back toward the river. Enjoy breakfast as the sun climbs in the sky and the air starts to heat up. Throw on your quick-drying Seaside Skirt and dip your toes in the river or play along the shore with your travel companions!
On your way down the canyon, head into Lori State Park for a trail run or hike up Arthur’s Rock for views stretching from Fort Collins across the plains to Wyoming. Cruise on down and hop into Horsetooth Reservoir for a swim before heading back to town.
Time to take a break from all the exertion and enjoy FoCo’s other specialty – beer! Stop by the Fort Collins Bike Library to rent a classic cruiser and spend the afternoon touring the 20+ local breweries and distilleries all over town. Send postcards to your friends while you check out the brews at New Belgium Brewery and make sure you hit the local favorite, Odell Brewing Co., for an exceptional taster tray and a bite from their food trucks. Before you know it, it’s time to pack your bags and head home to dry out before the next adventure.
Hillary Waite Condit is our guest blogger this month. She developed her love of water while spending summers on Lake George. She has surfed, hiked and skied her way across four continents and is currently working on expanding her activities to be mountain-based (and little kid friendly) in her new home in Ft Collins, Colorado.
Photo credits to: Hillary Waite Condit, Brendan Condit