9 Fantastic Things to do in Fort Collins, Colorado: A Local’s Guide

February 20, 2021

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Craft beer. Ghost stories. College football. A Disneyland-esque Main Street. Fort Collins – or as both hip people and wannabe locals call it, FoCo – sits about an hour north of Denver and is home to Colorado State University (go Rams!). But it’s also known as the craft beer capital of Colorado AND one of the most haunted cities in the country – plus, its charming Old Town inspired Disneyland’s Main Street USA!

Add that together with Colorado’s stunning surroundings and the neighboring Rocky Mountains, and you’ve got one fantastic place to visit for a weekend getaway (and yes, it made the list on our Colorado weekend getaways guide!)

Although Fort Collins is a year-round destination, the combination of ghost stories, craft beer, college football, and colorful foliage puts Fort Collins squarely in the “fall destination” category for me. But hey, I’m not the expert here.

We’ve tapped a Fort Collins local to write this guide to things to do in Fort Collins. Ali is the girl behind Inspired Lifestyle Blog and a Fort Collins local. She’s lived in Fort Collins for close to 10 years, and today she’s sharing all of our top tips for visiting. Take it away, Ali!

Psst: Planning a trip to Colorado? Here are some other posts that you might find helpful:

View from above of Old Town Fort Collins
Old Town Fort Collins

History of Fort Collins

One of the most interesting parts of visiting Fort Collins is learning about its storied history, The Fort Collins area is rich with Native American history, wild west lore, badass women, and even a legend of a giant.

The area which is now Fort Collins has been the traditional homelands of many Native American cultural groups, including the tribes today known as the Ute, Comanche, Cheyenne and Arapaho.

As European-Americans pushed west, many of these tribes were decimated by disease and the encroachment of their lands in northern Colorado. After the Colorado War in the 1860s – during which an alliance of Native American tribes fought against US encroachment, culminating in genocidal massacres of Native Americans in Colorado and Wyoming – many Native American tribes left the area or were forced onto reservations in neighboring states.

Fort Collins itself was founded in 1864 as a military fort and originally called “Camp Collins,” after Lt. Col. William Oliver Collins, a Union cavalry officer and one of the commanders of the Colorado War. Camp Collins was built to protect the Colorado section of the Overland Trail, a prominent wagon trail for settlers traveling out west and that was originally Native American hunting and traveling routes. 

The camp was washed away within a year during a flood and the fort was built on higher ground at what is now Old Town Fort Collins.

Later the same year, European-American settlers began to arrive, including 64-year old Elizabeth “Auntie” Stone, the only European-American woman in the camp for a whole year, who ran a mess hall and eventually opened the city’s first hotel, first grit mill, and first brickyard. Auntie Stone is now known as the Founding Mother of Fort Collins since she was instrumental in starting the first school, advocating for women’s rights and encouraging other European-Americans to settle in the city.

When Auntie Stone passed away at 94 years old, all business closed during her funeral and the firehouse bell tolled 94 times in honor of her life. You can visit her original cabin at Heritage Courtyard in Library Park.

Fort Collins ultimately developed as an agricultural city thanks to the Colorado Central Railroad. In 1879 the Colorado Agricultural & Mechanical College, now known as Colorado State University, began building the school. In fact, if you visit CSU today, you can see the railroad cutting through campus. It’s even made me late to class a few times!

You can learn more about the history of the area, including more about the first peoples who call the area home over 13,000 year ago, at the  Fort Collins Museum of Discovery.

Things to Do in Fort Collins

My city has many perks that you just can’t find anywhere else! We also are very close to the mountains and have our own beautiful reservoir, hiking trails, and many vibrant businesses. Have I convinced you to visit, yet?

If you are taking a trip here, I’m going to share with you a local’s guide to the best places and activities you HAVE to do when visiting.

Shop storefronts in Old Town Fort Collins
Charming storefronts in Old Town Fort Collins, which served as the inspiration for Disneyland’s Main Street! Original photo credit

Explore Old Town

Old Town Fort Collins is one of the prettiest and best-preserved downtowns you’ll find anywhere in the country, with wide European style walkways strung with lights and surrounded by charming facades. In fact, Old Town’s historic buildings along Walnut Street served as the inspiration for Disneyland’s Main Street!

Old Town is where the original business center of Fort Collins popped up around the fort way back in the 1860s, and modern-day Old Town is a still the heart of the city. On weekends you’ll find street performers, musicians, and just generally a good time. And in the summer, there are live performances and music in the Square!

The many Ghost Signs – faded, hand-painted advertisements of stores long out of business – found in Old Town demonstrates how old Old Town is and makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time.

Fort Collins also has a claim to Hollywood fame with the childhood home of Hattie McDaniel, the first African American to win an Academy Award (Gone With the Wind in 1940), to be found on Cherry Street in Old Town Fort Collins.

  • Stop into local shops: Old Town is lined with charming locally-owned shops and boutiques. I love The Cupboard, a kitchen store full of cute decor and fancy kitchen gadgets – and yummy chocolate! And I really like Wear It Again Sam, a thrift store full of awesome vintage finds.
  • Grab a beer: You’re never more than a few steps away from a brewery in Old Town! Equinox BrewingCoopersmith’s Brewery and Pub and Pateros Creek Brewing Company are all centrally located.
  • Get some dessert: Kilwins. They sell chocolate, delicious fudge, ice cream, and many more desserts. I also recommend Old Town Churn. Old Town Churn is the sister store to Little Man Ice Cream in Denver. They make homemade ice cream and always have different flavors and different combos for you to try! Try Salted Oreo and Foco Choco!

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