Best place to retire. Best small-town living. Best places for women. Not to mention one of the happiest pockets in the U. S. of A. In Choice City and all the towns around, it’s a pretty sweet quality-of-life bubble, and we’re place proud—can you blame us? With some of our favorite writers, we compiled some of our favorite reasons to love Northern Colorado.
The Poudre Runs Through It
I fell in love with a raft guide. The river-stenched, never-really-dry, pony-tailed, PBR-drinking 24-year-old whitewater junkie is now known as my husband, Doug, a tie-wearing high school vice principal. Nearly two decades and three zip codes later, we hold the Poudre River close to our souls. We take our boat out every June, preferably during high water (I have an inkling that’s so he can prove he’s still got it and show the rooks how it’s done) with our rowdiest friends. We camp near it, we dance under the summer stars on its banks, show our 2-year-old son the rapids safely from the shore (for now; he’ll be paddling his heart out in a few swift years). We almost—edged away by that close-call forest fire in 2012—said our vows on it. Rafting the Poudre is a rite of passage, a way of life and something we hope to be squeezing into dry suits for when we’re 70. —Lisa Blake
We Have Hunting Liberals and Gay-Loving Evangelicals
Inside the upper latitudes of this, the purplest state in the Union, we proudly shade toward a hue of independence. When it comes to things like Poudre River conservation, local ag producers and equality for every stripe, political allegiance holds little sway. I have a number of conservative friends that don’t mindlessly reject tax hikes to improve public schools, and know many evangelicals that coexist quite peacefully among their same-sex couple neighbors. Likewise, I am one unequivocal Lefty for whom cutting corporate tax is not a wholly doom-and-gloom proposition, and I would need your fingers as well as mine to count the registered Dems I know that safely operate the legally purchased firearms they use to bag elks each year. “Independent thinkers” is not merely a metaphor for NoCo residents: our lives demand that it be true. —Andrew Kensley
It’s So Easy Being a Locavore
Farm-to-table eating minus the farm? Sure! Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), allows smaller, local growers, to offer shares of their bounty throughout the growing season by collecting an investment upfront—you pay a flat rate for a season or the year (or put some muscle into your veggies with some sweat equity on the farm), and collect produce weekly at a designated site. In addition to produce, some CSAs offer eggs, honey, meat, chicken and fresh flowers. Or perhaps you’d like to grow your own food and know your neighbors better? Many neighborhoods (like Rigden Farm, Buckingham Park, Rolland Moore, and English Ranch Park) have centrally located gardens in the infrastructure. Homeowners pay a nominal fee for some water, dirt and fellowship with other growers. It’s a great way to learn tips and tricks, and weeding is far quicker work when there’s company and conversation! And nothing is more satisfying than a giant, homegrown salad with tomatoes still warm from the sun, or tiny, super-sweet strawberries in your morning yogurt. Check out nearby CSA options at localharvest.org. —Shawna Jackson
Dog is Our Copilot
If ever there was a place whose residents could be considered slightly obsessed with their canine companions, it’s Northern Colorado. Our laid-back attitude, world-class veterinarian hospital and outdoorsy way of life has created such a strong dog-friendly culture, you might feel you’re missing out if you aren’t a dog owner. Dogs at work? Yep. On brewery patios? Always. In dog parks? Of course. On trails and at campsites? Check and check. We “employ” countless canines—with search-and-rescue operations, police departments, paramedic teams, ranchers, as service animals and even literacy assistants. (At Irish Elementary School, therapy dogs help kiddos reducie their anxiety when learning to read.) In fact, we love human’s best friend so much we’ve created dog-only events like the Pooch Plunge at City Park Pool to cap off summer and the annual Tour de Corgi, a carnival parade of corgis through Old Town in the fall. Not a dog person? That’s rough. —Stephanie Powell
A Big Screen Under the Stars (Plus Funnel Cake) is Still Boss
Summer nights, first dates and new-release double features make this Fort Collins icon a timeless tradition. Northern Colorado’s sole operating drive-in is one of just eight left in the state. The same guy—Wes Webb—has owned it since ‘79, maintaining that small-town feel with low ticket prices ($8, ages 10 and up; $5 for kids and seniors) and classic snack-bar yumminess that includes funnel cakes, corn dogs and cotton candy in a field against the western foothills.
I love the sound of gravel under car tires as we pull in and cruise for the perfect perch. We get there before 7 p.m. on weekends to snag a prime front-ish spot. Films begin rolling on two screens once the sun is asleep behind the mountains. Snuggling up with blankets, pillows and the dog (leashed pets are allowed) in the back of a Subaru, we settle in for the perfect slice of nostalgia.
If you go: Double features appear on two screens at dusk, seven days a week, Memorial Day through Labor Day. Look for weekend films in the spring and fall. Buy tickets in advance online (holidaytwindrivein.com) or bring cash to the box office. —L.B.
Even Our Festivals Raise Us Up
One of the things that makes summer in Colorado so awesome is the abundance of festivals. And one of the best—and the fastest growing—is ARISE Music fest, the hippy, happy three-day event held at Sunrise Ranch in Loveland (August 3–5). It’s not just craft beer and tunes, though—enjoy music, art, film and yoga by day, dance all night, then retreat to your tent and start it all again tomorrow. ARISE is home to interactive “villages” on property, including including a Children’s Village, Healer’s Village, a Wisdom Village and Hemp Village. Food trucks and a farmers market on site ensure no one goes hungry, and artisans, performance artists, and panel discussions cater to all the conscientious shopping and culture you could desire. Now in its sixth year, ARISE strives for more of an impact culturally than simply music and fun, though there’s plenty of that to be found. Part of the mission is to raise environmental consciousness with a leave-no-trace ethos and by planting a tree for every ticket sold. If camping isn’t your thing, buy a day pass, or find packages on the website for hotel and shuttle options. arisefestival.com —S.J.
Music Sounds Better in a Canyon
It’s the gritty history and biker bar vibe. The tucked-away I-just-discovered-a-secret giddy feels you get when you crunch across the sacred pebbly grounds. And the incredible musicians that have crossed its splintered-log stage. There’s no doubt The Mishawaka Ampitheatre is a Colorado live-music legend. Dancing to an about-to-blow-up-big bluegrass, jam or rock band under a heavy moon between two craggy canyon walls with the rustling river steps away—that’s pure mountain joy. —L.B.
We’re Lucky Enough to Live with Eagles
NoCo has eagles coming and going—in winter, they fly down from the northern U.S. and Canada to warm up in our milder climate and, in summer, they nest in abundance (there’s a reason there’s an Eagle’s Nest open space). Eagles are protective of their nests and getting too close causes the birds to become anxious, but you can still get a good look at these amazing raptors with a decent pair of binoculars or a spotting scope. Stay on designated trails and enjoy some spectacular viewing in your city’s own backyard. On a spring break hike with my daughter and a friend, I was fortunate enough to see a golden eagle and its nest, viewable from the Horsetooth Falls trail at Horsetooth Mountain Park. Magical! The nest rests in an outcropping of red rock face visible to the east, near Towers Road. Bald eagles are even more plentiful in our area, with great viewing at the Fossil Creek Reservoir natural area (I-25 and Larimer County Road 32) or Prospect Ponds (east Prospect and Sharp Point Drive). —S.J.
Our Kids Fit Our Lives, Not the Other Way Around
Fort Collins is a great place to raise a family. Yawn. But beyond the usual stuff, parents here get that life doesn’t grind to a halt with diaper changes and midday naps. If anything, that’s when the excitement really begins. Like those summertime work FACs at Odell’s to soak in some late afternoon sun with an IPA or two, live music and a food truck dinner…with our toddlers and golden retrievers chasing each other in the grass. How about a sunrise hike up to Horsetooth on that absurd, random teacher workday on a mid-November Friday? Set the alarm for oh-four-thirty, pack the juice boxes and go crazy on the selfies. Bike paths and Pleasantville-level neighbors and Vitamin D are great and all, but if kids and dogs weren’t welcome to any and all activities, we’d have expatriated to New Zealand a long time ago. —Andrew Kensley
There’s Power in Numbers
Cycling is an empowering undertaking, but much of my riding confidence was born on group rides where more experienced cyclists taught me how to navigate traffic, flat tires and wind so fierce we feared we’d blow over. Group rides inspired me to push harder, ride farther and get tougher—both mentally and physically. Sometimes I challenged myself by heading out with stronger riders, knowing I would get “dropped” at some point and lose the group, pushing myself each week to stay with the peloton just a little longer. And I’ve forged deep friendships on more mellow, recreational rides where we talked about our kids, job changes, new loves or marriage trouble—solving all of our problems one mile at a time.
When I was training for LOTOJA, a 206-mile race from Logan, Utah, to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, group rides broke up my long training days, and my cycling friends buoyed my spirits with scenic routes and ample inspiration. And on race day, I bonded with strangers who, over the course of a very long day, became friends—sharing pulls, jokes, food and encouragement until we crossed the finish line, spent and deliriously happy.
Northern Colorado group rides are for everyone—beginner to experienced. There are road rides, mountain bike rides, and gravel rides as well as women’s rides, lunchtime rides and weekend-warrior rides. Find your group at yourgroupride.com. —S.J.
We Have Our Own Fairy Godmother
Not many small cities have a local billionaire, and even fewer have a billionaire who acts as a philanthropic fairy godmother, turning pumpkins into horse-drawn carriages (or old dive bars into beautiful music venues). Pat Stryker, the reserved philanthropist who founded the Bohemian Foundation in 2001, sits at number 248 on Forbes’ list of wealthiest Americans, tying President Donald Trump. Their money is likely where their similarities end. Stryker, an heir to the Stryker medical supply fortune, is known for supporting Democratic causes and candidates. Over the decades, she has given to Colorado State University, to hurricane relief and, recently, to a national memorial to the victims of racial terror lynchings, among others. Her Bohemian Foundation focuses on community, music and global and civic giving, providing grants locally and internationally, hosting events (ahem, Bohemian Nights) and supporting everything from the Bell Policy Center to Cache La Poudre Middle School. Not only does she give, she encourages others to as well, with matching gifts. While you probably wouldn’t know her if you saw her, you’ve likely benefited from her generosity. —Andra Coberly
Our Youth Rises Up
Perhaps it’s because we’re a highly educated community. Or perhaps it’s just part of our vibe. Whatever the reason, service and engagement seem ubiquitous. Take the spring walk-out to protest school shootings, organized by a small group of students at Poudre High School. The rally turned into a city-wide event, with an estimated crowd of 1,500 crammed into Old Town Fort Collins, all learning a lesson in democracy and civil liberties. But these kids are not afraid of long-term commitments either: Poudre High School is known for its “Feed Our Family” program, which provides 900 boxes of food and supplies to students and their families, now in its twelfth year. Rocky Mountain High School’s major project is “Adopt a Family,” going strong for 22 years, helping an average of 80 families with everyday needs, holiday meals and gifts through the holiday season. Fort Collins High School is known for its “Spread the Love” campaign, where activities during Valentine’s week raise funds for the local Make-A-Wish chapter. The list could go on. Part of growing up here, it seems, is living beyond the place. Well done, youth. —L.P.
Reading is Fundamental
There’s a reason Fort Collins Magazine exists—because we knew that here we could broker not in advertorials or listings or party pics, but in deep, chewy reads. When dreaming up this magazine, we looked at the fertile ground here for readers: Indie bookstores. Poetry readings. Killer school districts. Cutting-edge theatre. Upstart publishing houses. “Fort Collins Reads.” Thriving colleges and a whopper university. And of course, some of our favorite authors and journalists who call the place home. Our audience is a tough one—from poets to Ph.D.s—and we wouldn’t have it any other way. —Cara McDonald
Everyone Longs to Bust Out Chopsticks—or Chopin
There’s nothing better than walking across Fort Collins and hearing tunes, some of them badly played, some startlingly fantastic. Whether a kiddo plonking, teens on an impromptu dare or an aficionado taking a moment to spread the joy, the pianos around here get used. A lot. We have a collaborative project to thank—one between the City of Fort Collins Art in Public Places Program, Bohemian Foundation and the Downtown Development Authority. The pianos are painted by local artists from May through October in Old Town Square, and rotate through different locations. Music is who we are. Whether it’s the New West Fest, the newly renovated Washington’s, or old faves such as Avogadro’s Number and the Mishawaka, we’ll never be in want of a good tune. —Laura Pritchett
Even the Sky Isn’t the Limit
If mountain views aren’t majestic enough, look up. Our city boasts not one, but two observatories—the Sunlight Peak observatory at Front Range Community College and the Stargazer at Observatory Village. Both locations offer free and open-to-the public access to some fancy telescopes (14” Schmidt-Cassegrain Celestron Telescopes on Paramount ME mounts for you gearheads out there) that bring the heavens a little bit closer. The Sunlight Peak Observatory offers a free open house the first Friday of every month from 8-10 p.m. while Stargazer is open the third Saturday of each month, also 8-10 p.m. And if there’s a special celestial event (like the solar eclipse last August), both locations typically open for the public. —S.J.
Our Roots Go Way, Way Back
It’s easy to forget our history, who we are, where we came from, or who shaped and formed this place—but reconsider, because that history is remarkable and deep and diverse. Witness our Russian and Mexican farmers, our French trappers, our homesteaders. But go back even further, back into deep time, and we’re reminded of the vast indigenous heritage of northern Colorado. Ancient peoples of major eras lived in our valley: Paleo-Indian, Clovis, Folsom, Plano, Archaic, Plains Archaic and Ceramic. And it’s not until this last period—2,000 years ago—when cultures transformed into the names we are more familiar with today, which include the Ute, Arapaho, Cheyenne, Lakota, Apache and Comanche—each with their own millennia of rich culture and tradition deeply rooted in this area. The Lindenmeier archeological site, located north of town at Soapstone Prairie, is a must-see local treasure. Excavations in the 1930s by the Smithsonian and Colorado Museum of Natural History uncovered needles, beads and stone tools, making this site the most extensive Folsom culture campsite ever found. A tour there brings this deep past roaring back—and reminds us that diversity has always been a part of the peoples along the Poudre. —L.P.
Our Cravings Get Satisfied
Our indie, seasonal, artisanal, scratch-made, local food product scene is the envy of many—in fact, many foodie-preneurs tell how they canvassed the country looking for a spot to set up shop, and choosing food-centric NoCo was a no-brainer. But for me, as a die-hard green chile fan and Fort Collins newbie, I was initially saddened that the city seemed to be lacking in the green chile department. (Actual tears may have been shed when waiters brought me entrees topped with tomatillo-based “green sauce” rather than the New Mexico–style green chile I adore.) So I was delighted to discover Consuelo’s Express, the tiny mom-and-pop outfit with a drive-through. Consuelo’s green chile-recipe game is on point, with the perfect combination of tomatoes, green chiles and jalapeños. Not only do they offer mild, medium and hot versions on their dishes, they also sell it by the jar as Nanita’s Green Chile in local grocery stores. Amen to being able to get my fix whenever I want. —S.P.
We’re Home to the OG of Craft Beer Makers
Thirty years ago, as the story goes, a guy named Jeff was biking through Belgium when he had an epiphany. It was beer-inspired enlightenment: a recipe for an ale that would start a revolution in Northern Colorado. The man would become the cofounder of New Belgium Brewing Company and the beer recipe would become Fat Tire, which would go from epiphany to homebrew to silver medal winner at the World Beer Cup in less than 10 years. Today, as craft breweries sprout like weeds, New Belgium still reigns supreme, with its iconic Fat Tire the most-consumed craft beer in Colorado. Pay your respects by ordering a pint today. —A.C.
We’ve Got Water
I grew up a high-desert girl in windy Wyoming where everything is brown…greenish brown on a good day. Moving to NoCo turned me on to a world of color. When I’m driving south on 287, I don’t need the Welcome to Colorado sign to signify that I’ve come home. There’s a line of green-marcation that reveals our higher rainfall totals. I know we’re technically a semi-arid region here, but 16 inches of annual precipitation is still twice what I grew up with. Those 16 inches mean there are rivers and trees, they mean tourists come recreate here. That pristine snowmelt is more than just the best glass of water I’ve ever had; it’s the basis for our brewing and distilling industry and that coming-soon whitewater park on the Poudre. As our winters grow dryer, I worry about all those molecules, or rather the lack of them. One thing’s a safe bet, though. We’ll always have more than Wyoming. —C.R.
There’s Never Been a Better Time to Need Care
Two decades of health system battles have brought serious medicine to NoCo. When I arrived in FC in 1995, there was a little hospital in town and a bunch of independent medical practices in weird, aging offices. Then Banner Health System started elbowing into the territory, and everybody upped their game. The little hospital merged and morphed and is now one piece in the larger University of Colorado Health system. Fort Collins has two hospitals; three more are a stone’s throw away in Loveland and Greeley. The Orthapaedic and Spine Center of the Rockies just added a new surgery center. We’re pioneering telemedicine, like Miramont Family Healthcare’s new Beam robots that let a remote doc be virtually present in a patient’s room. There are fancy new urgent care centers everywhere and seeing a doctor outside of business hours is easy. Need an x-ray or a blood test? The lab is across the hall instead of across town like the olden days. Want to check the results? They’re online.
None of that would have happened without the backing of the health systems. Plus, all those upgrades drew some serious specialists to NoCo. Oncologists, surgeons, orthopedists, cardiologists, gastroenterologists…. in short, world-class doctors want to be here now because of the quality of life and the standard of care they can offer. Altogether that means most lucky NoCo residents have no reason to seek healthcare south of Highway 34 ever again. —Corey Radman
Sometimes the Local Wildlife is Us
I’m about to say something controversial: In a city home to 40,000 acres of conserved open space, including 56 parks, I still like our oldest one best. The 60 acres established in Fort Collins as City Park in 1907 is our melting pot. It’s old enough for the weirdness to have melded into wonderful. Sure, like all parks there are tiny soccer players, tennis courts and a playground, but no other playground has an actual WWI cannon to climb on. Plus, there are the drum circles, tai chi classes, senior citizens training for Iron Man, scantily-clad young people, a pottery studio, and occasional Quiddich matches for kicks. Where else can you find all that? Nowhere but City Park. —C.R.
People Don’t Seem to Work
Given the number of barstools and coffee shop sofas occupied on any given weekday, you may believe most locals do not actually have jobs. They simply hang out. More likely, it’s Fort Collins’ community-centric business culture. In the morning, freelancers and telecommuters set up shop in cafes, taking advantage of free refills and wifi. Come afternoon, they head to bars and breweries, where they join other professionals who know that meetings, networking and brainstorming are best done with pints in our hands. This may have to do with Colorado being the number one state for telecommuting—with seven percent of the population working remotely full time. “It makes sense that remote-working residents would also be leading the way in creative places to work,” says Brie Reynolds of FlexJobs, a Colorado company that lists remote job postings. She says bars and cafes give remote workers a sense of community. Mike Gutman, director of marketing for Remote.co, telecommutes from his home in Fort Collins. He loves it, but it can be isolating. Once or twice a week, he heads to a local coffee shop. “I like Alley Cat Cafe for working on creative projects since there is often a bunch of others studying and working in there at the same time,” he says. “I can feed off that energy.” —A.C