- Distance from Denver: 65 miles
- Best time: June to August
- Best for: BudgetFood and WineOutdoor
Fort Collins, home of Colorado State University, is much more than a college town. The medium-sized city near the Wyoming border recently emerged as the craft beer capital of Colorado. And that's no small feat. There are more than 100 microbreweries in Colorado, making it the No. 1 state in the nation in terms of microbreweries per capita. In addition to Fort Collins' dozens of breweries and taprooms—many located within walking distance of one another—the city is also the second home of St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch. The Fort Collins facility brews Budweiser, Budweiser Light, Busch, Busch Light, Natural Light, Michelob, Michelob Light, Amber Bach, and a variety of seasonal and specialty beers. For the ultimate beer lovers' weekend getaway, pair Fort Collins breweries with outdoor recreation. –by Jayme Moye
1 New Belgium is the brewery that put Fort Collins on the map, and a fitting start to the weekend. The Fat Tire brand is recognizable across the US and has made New Belgium one of the most successful craft breweries in the country. The tasting room, dubbed The Liquid Center, is open until 6:00 pm and is a jovial place to spend a happy hour, or two.
2 Enjoy dinner inside the Fort Collins Brewing Company at the new Gravity 1020 Modern Tavern, serving its 17 beers on tap. The gastropub specializes in American-style comfort food with a gourmet twist like smoked bacon mac n' cheese and the Colorado buffalo cheesesteak sandwich. The menu is a creative collaboration between brewmasters and chefs, featuring beer as the marquis ingredient in several dishes like the Rocky Mountain IPA-battered onion rings.
3 Every night is a party at the Sundance Steakhouse and Saloon, Fort Collins' landmark country-Western bar and restaurant. Live music on Friday nights starts at 9:00 pm, when the large dance floor fills with a mix of locals and college students. Come early for $5 country line-dancing lessons. In the spring and fall, things get wild on Friday and Saturday nights with live bull riding.
1 The best craft beer towns (and their beers) are fed by pristine river water, and Fort Collins is no exception. The city's resident river, the Cache La Poudre, is a nationally designated Wild & Scenic River, with minimal commercial development along its banks. The Poudre flows through a deep canyon and serves up ample whitewater, with rapids ranging from class II up to IV-plus. Get in on the action with A Wanderlust Adventure; the reputable outfitter guides morning sessions on the river for beginners and intermediates with their Taste of Whitewater program.
2 Downtown Fort Collins is known as Old Town and houses the city's highest concentration of breweries. Take a self-guided walking tour of three standout establishments starting with CooperSmith's Pub and Brewing, Fort Collins' longest operating brewery. Coops has cranked out 147 different types of beers since its inception in 1989, and close to 100 are available for tasting. Stick around for lunch at the Pub, serving all the classic favorites, from bangers and mash to chicken pot pie.
3 Walk off your lunch with a ten-minute stroll north to Pateros Creek Brewing Company, Old Town's newest and most experimental brewery. Pateros' intimate taproom opens at noon on Saturdays and serves their five standard beers, known as The Legends, which are brewed year-round, alongside their seasonal offerings and one-offs, dubbed The Renegades. Ask if there's any Outlaw remaining— a highly experimental keg brewed every Thursday and served until it's gone.
4 Wrap up the walking tour at Equinox Brewing, located two minutes past Coops. Like the name suggests, Equinox's owners strive to balance the elements that make a great beer. The taproom, open daily at noon, calls to mind a library, with books and board games. Here you'll find close to 20 beers on tap, a weekly rotating selection, including a firkin— a 10-gallon vessel of beer that has been naturally carbonated and is gravity-fed into a glass, requiring no artificially introduced carbon dioxide.
5 Re-energize at Expresso at Crankenstein, a bike shop that celebrates Fort Collins' vibrant cycling scene by offering homemade coffee drinks and local craft brews on tap, in addition to being a great place to have your bike tuned up. The local, artsy atmosphere evokes a sense of community, and makes it obvious why so many outdoor adventure-minded folks call FoCo home. You may even catch some live music.
6 Next head to the Odell Brewing Company for an in-depth look at the brewing process. Part kitchen, part lab (part playground), the five-barrel Pilot Brewing System gives brewers the freedom to create and experiment with new beer recipes. The lab is open to the general public and everyone is invited and encouraged to brew. Odell's taproom serves until 7:00 pm on Saturdays, and always has 12 pilot beers on tap. The last brewery tour departs at 4:00 pm.
7 For dinner, get out of town and into the scenic beauty surrounding Fort Collins at the Mishawaka Amphitheater. Located 24 miles northwest of the city in the heart of the scenic Poudre Canyon, this iconic restaurant, bar, and outdoor music venue is just steps away from the Poudre River. Enjoy dinner on the patio overlooking the river, where you can often watch big-horn sheep grazing on the hillside. Mishawaka offers a gourmet pub-style menu accompanied by local craft beers.
1 Lounge over a leisurely lunch on the sunny patio at Lucile's Creole Café. The little yellow house on South Meldrum is a local favorite, serving an eclectic mix of Cajun and comfort foods. You can't go wrong with fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice and the praline waffle, topped with pecans, fruit, and fresh whipped cream.
2 After taking in Fort Collins' best craft breweries, it's time to go big. The Anheuser-Busch Tour Center is located on Busch Drive, just west of Interstate-25 at exit 271. Brewery tours are free and the famous Budweiser Clydesdales, when not on the road, are onsite and available for photos. For a more in-depth experience, there's a two-hour Brewmaster Tour for $10 that covers the brew house, starting cellar, packaging facility, beechwood-aging cellar, and, of course, tasting room. Also for $10 is a 45-minute "beer school" offered four times a day that introduces the different beer styles, ingredients, and proper pouring techniques, along with a tasting.
3 Cap off your weekend in Fort Collins in the great outdoors at Lory State Park, with 26 miles of hiking and biking trails just west of the city. For breathtaking scenery and a hike that's not overly strenuous, try the 1.7-mile Arthur's Rock Trail. You'll traverse both meadow and forest before reaching the Arthur's Rock summit at 6,780 feet. Linger a while over the jaw-dropping views of the cobalt blue Horsetooth Reservoir and 13,000-foot Rocky Mountain peaks.
Where to Stay
The best upscale hotel in Old Town Fort Collins is the Armstrong Hotel (rooms from $109/night). A historic landmark hotel dating back to 1923, the Armstrong was lovingly renovated in 2004, maintaining much of its vintage charm but with all the modern conveniences. Choose from 45 unique rooms and suites, some modern, some antique-styled.
For a deluxe bed-and-breakfast experience, choose Edwards House B&B (rooms from $99/night), located on a residential street three blocks from Old Town. The 100 year-old Victorian Inn is comprised of eight elegant rooms with period décor like claw-foot tubs and writing desks, a classy parlor, a dining room (that serves to-die for breakfasts), and four comfy porches.
When to Go
Fort Collins is a year-round destination with summer as its most popular season thanks to an abundance of white water rafting, biking, and hiking locales. During the last weekend in June, the city hosts the annual Colorado Brewers Festival, the oldest annual brewfest in Colorado, featuring local beer, food, and music in Old Town. This is an ideal time to visit, but book your hotel in advance, as they do fill. Avoid the Back to School Weekend for Colorado State University in late August, when FoCo is overrun with college students getting their last hurrahs before the semester starts.
How to Get There
By car (from Denver): Fort Collins is an hour by car from Denver. Take I-25 north to Fort Collins.