I’ve been wanting to explore more of the U.S. for years, and what better time to travel domestically than during a global pandemic! After months of being quarantined in my hometown, I was thrilled for the chance to take a mini vacation to beautiful Colorado for a much-needed change of scenery. And although we only spent two days in Fort Collins, our meticulous planning paid off and we were able to take two hikes, visit eight restaurants and enjoy many of Fort Collins’ local attractions. Save this post for my ultimate Fort Collins travel itinerary!
The easiest way to get to Fort Collins is by flying into the Denver Airport and renting a car. If you’re too young or opposed to renting a car you can book a shuttle from DEN to Fort Collins through Groome Transportation. And, if you’re traveling during the pandemic, make sure to wear your mask in the Denver Airport (we actually wore two masks the entire time). There were WAY too many people at the airport deciding that proper PPE was optional and not enough employees enforcing the mask rules.
Story time! Since we knew we wanted a car during our trip, we rented a “Toyota Corolla or similar” through Enterprise Rent-a-Car. However, when we went to get on the shuttle to the rental agency, we found it at 100% capacity with only about 20% of the riders wearing proper masks. (Because of this, I would definitely recommend booking with a smaller agency).
After seeing the shuttle situation, we decided to skip the Enterprise shuttle and instead take the shuttle to Hertz, incorrectly assuming that the rental agencies would be easy to walk between. BOY WERE WE WRONG. After a 17 minute walk, dragging our suitcases through dirt on the side of a highway, we finally made it to Enterprise.
At this point, you can assume we were not in the best mood. Covered in dirt and sweat, we lugged our suitcases into a shady spot on the concrete outside of Enterprise while our friend went to check in and get our car. Minutes later, an employee calls our name and brings us to a white, Mustang convertible. Needles to say, our mood instantly approved and we rode around in “the ‘stang” with the top down for the rest of our vacation.
where to stay
THE ELIZABETH HOTEL
When it comes to accommodation, there’s nowhere better than Fort Collins’ Elizabeth Hotel. Located in the center of town, The Elizabeth is a stone’s throw from all the best restaurants and shops in Fort Collins and offers everything you could possibly want during your Colorado vacation!
Most of you reading this know that there is a HUGE difference between traveling and vacation. And when you’re full-combat traveling like we were in Fort Collins, there’s no better feeling than sinking into a freshly made hotel bed at the end of a long day of sightseeing.
Walking into the hotel you’ll be greeted by a spectacular white marble staircase and a welcoming front desk (equip with plexiglas barriers and proper PPE). In addition to the sheer beauty of the hotel, a stay at The Elizabeth grants you access to luxury amenities such as…
- The on-site restaurant “The Emporium” complete with plenty of indoor and outdoor seating (also doubles as room service for the hotel guests)
- An instrument lending library complete with a record collection and instruments available for check-out
- Record players in every room
- A rooftop bar and lookout point – “The Sunset Lounge”
- “The Magic Rat” – a live music venue with plenty of outdoor seating
- On-site parking
- Complimentary coffee in the lobby
Book your stay at The Elizabeth here.
fort collins itinerary
HIKE TO EMERALD LAKE
The first item on our Fort Collins itinerary was hiking through Rocky Mountain National Park. After much research on the app All Trails, we settled on a scenic and moderately difficult hike to Emerald Lake.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has never been more difficult to purchase entrance tickets into the national park. Thankfully, we were able to snag passes for Friday (the only entrance time available was 3:00-5:00PM). Sadly, our luck ran out and we were unable to purchase entrance for our second hike on Saturday. We were online and ready to book the exact moment that tickets went on sale! Unfortunately they were sold out in seconds and we were unsuccessful.
If you plan on doing any hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park while in Fort Collins, I would suggest planning ahead and attempting to purchase tickets on your first available day. That way, you’ll have more time to purchase tickets for other days if you were unsuccessful on your first try (instead of waiting till your last day in town and being completely out of luck).
The passes cost $27/day and are sold in 2-hour entrance time slots. This means you can enter the park any time between those two hours, not that you can only be in the park during this time slot. You can purchase tickets here.
The park has COVID safety measures in place, but I would definitely suggest bringing a mask and hand sanitizer. This is especially true if you miss out on trailhead parking and are forced to take the packed shuttle bus.
Running down the trail, racing the sunset isn’t the best way to end a hike. But we did find ourselves greeted with gorgeous cotton candy skies like these!
HIKE THROUGH HORSETOOTH RESERVOIR
It has become very difficult to get your hands on admission passes into Rocky Mountain National Park. Because of this, you might find yourself moving onto Plan B. Thankfully, the Rocky Mountains are not the only hiking option Colorado has to offer.
When purchasing passes for a second day in Rocky Mountain National Park proved unsuccessful, we turned our sights to some of Fort Collins’ more local hiking options. Horsetooth Reservoir was the first on every list we came across so, come Saturday morning, we brushed the dirt off our hiking boots, powered up “the ‘stang” and drove the 15 minutes to the trailhead.
Hiking in Horsetooth Reservoir was every bit as easy as hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park was difficult. Where parking was a nightmare in RMNP, it couldn’t have been easier at this trailhead. RMNP had hundreds of people (usually not wearing masks). We were pleased to find Horsetooth Reservoir was the complete opposite! We crossed paths with a total of four other hikers during the whole hike.
And while the views are clearly not as impressive, it’s definitely the more economical option. Park passes here only set us back $9, instead of the $27 we paid for our hike to Emerald Lake. Horsetooth Reservoir also offers a wide variety of hikes for hikers of all skill levels. Since we were running short on time, we decided on an easy, 40 minute hike called “Shoreline Trail.”
In both of the above photos, I’m wearing athletic wear by Focus by Candice! Comfy and high-quality athletic wear is a must for hiking! Focus by Candice offers tons of cute styles and matching sets including the Dallas Set (pictured in Emerald Lake) and the Himalayas Set (pictured above). Use discount code MADISON10 for 10% off your whole order.
BUY LEGAL MARIJUANA
Although I prefer my vices to be in the form of a generously poured Aperol Spritz, there’s no hiding the fact that, for many, buying legal marijuana is #1 on their Fort Collins itinerary. After a quick google search it seems, in Fort Collins at least, that the process is very simple. Simply order online from Organic Alternatives and set your pickup time. The pickup process is moved completely outside and you’ll be required to show your ID to two different employees before receiving your order.
PROST AT PROST!
After checking into our hotel, the first thing we noticed was our view of a local beer garden. Since the last trip we had taken together was Oktoberfest in Munich (clearly before the COVID-19 pandemic), we knew we needed steins immediately.
Prost is an appropriately named brewery/outdoor biergarten with affordable and tasty German beers on tap. We only paid $9/stein and the outdoor atmosphere is lively and fun.
SHOP AROUND THE GOLDEN POPPY HERBAL APOTHECARY
While attempting to nurse the hangover headache brought on by said stein, I headed to the cutest apothecary in town in search of some peppermint oil. Entering the Golden Poppy Herbal Apothecary, we found much much more than peppermint oil.
Since I know next to nothing about herbal remedies, we immediately turned to the staff for advice. They were extremely friendly and knowledgeable about all the products. I ended up leaving with a headache relief roller, skin ease cream and “beautiful” tea with calendula and gotu kola in addition to the peppermint oil.
Bonus? The entire haul only cost me $12!
ENJOY THE VIEWS FROM THE SUNSET LOUNGE ROOFTOP BAR
It’s extremely convenient when one of only two rooftop bars in town is directly in your hotel. Unfortunately, our timing was off and the bar wasn’t set to open for another two weeks due to the pandemic. However, the hotel staff was kind enough to let us up to enjoy the view and snap some Insta-worthy shots!
By now the Sunset Lounge should be open to the public. It’s the perfect addition to an amazing Fort Collins itinerary!
WANDER AROUND DOWNTOWN FORT COLLINS
Fort Collins has an adorable downtown area filled with boutique shops, street art, flowers and tons of yummy restaurants! No visit is complete without taking a few hours to wander the artsy streets (and maybe stop for a local brew or a chocolate chip cookie from Mary’s Mountain Cookies).
Fort Collins is covered in murals and cool street art! Make sure to check it out while in town.
Although we were only in Fort Collins for two days, we definitely ate our fair share of delicious food. Add all of these restaurants to your list of what to eat, climb and experience in Fort Collins, CO!
The Emporium is The Elizabeth Hotel’s on-site restaurant and is filled with some of the cutest decor I’ve ever seen (not to mention the yummiest eats). Immediately after arriving to the hotel and showering off the dirt from our unfortunate highway walk, we made our way downstairs to The Emporium for a round of happy hour drinks and appetizers.
We ordered the braised beef short rib nachos and the garlic parmesan fries with aioli. It was the perfect snack after a long day of travel and the bartender makes a mean Aperol Spritz. Even if you booked your accommodation somewhere other than The Elizabeth, I would definitely suggest adding The Emporium to your Fort Collins food bucket list.
THE CACHE ROOFTOP AT GINGER & BAKER
Since my craving for drinks and views is never satisfied, we made reservations at The Cache Rooftop bar for dinner on our first night. Although the prices are not for the traveler on a budget, sometimes a little splurge is understandable and we feasted that night. The drinks were delicious and my friends were on cloud 9 after ordering the New York Strip Steak.
LUCILE’S CREOLE CAFE
For a picture-perfect brunch in Fort Collins, there’s nowhere better than Lucile’s. Growing up in the midwest, I haven’t had the chance to sample much creole cuisine and I was impressed. We sat down and immediately opened the [contactless] drink menu because, let’s be honest…brunch without booze is just sad breakfast. I then proceeded to order the best Bloody Mary of my life, made with pickle infused vodka and a generous amount of spice!
The menu was every bit as mind blowing! The biscuits were enormous and served with delicious homemade jam or apple butter. We regrettably opted out of the beignets, since we were already bordering on food coma territory.
BEAUJO’S COLORADO PIZZA
I had never heard of “Colorado-style” pizza before visiting Fort Collins. Where normal pizza uses a bit of sugar in the pizza dough, Colorado-style substitutes honey instead. They also included some honey on the side to dip your pizza in and it 👏🏻 was 👏🏻 delicious. Don’t plan on visiting without including Beaujo’s in your Fort Collins itinerary!
If you’re a chocolate connoisseur or just love to snack on fancy chocolate in the middle of the day, Nuance Chocolate is the place for you. Nuance sells rows and rows of delicious chocolate from all over the world! I went for this “Habanero Chili” infused dark chocolate as well as a peanut butter truffle! To be honest, it was all a bit expensive, but insanely delicious.
THE WELSH RABBIT
The second I heard the words “build-your-own-cheese-board,” I was already booking it to The Welsh Rabbit. This adorable little cheese shop, offers cheese from all over the world as well as jams, honeys, meats and freshly baked breads. They have another location right around the corner that functions as a full-service restaurant!
The goat cheese was to-die-for and we were all devastated that our Wildflower Honey was 4 oz and too big to bring back in our carry-ons. The Welsh Rabbit was the perfect experience to add to our Fort Collins itinerary!
MAD CITY HOT CHICKEN
Don’t let its location in a strip mall fool you, Mad City Hot Chicken serves some seriously delicious eats. And in addition to serving crispy, hot chicken in between buttery buns with a variety of sauces and delicious sides, the restaurant is very safety conscious. All dine-in options have been closed for the present. They’ve also opened their front-facing windows to serve as an order-up window!
I decided on the classic chicken sandwich with Nashville hot sauce. Although my mouth was on fire, it was one of the best sandwiches I’ve had in a long time!
THE BUTTERFLY CAFE
The Butterfly Cafe is an adorable, walk-up breakfast and coffee shop just around the corner from The Elizabeth. Since we knew fried chicken sandwiches were in our future, we wanted something light and healthy for breakfast. The Butterfly Cafe serves a variety of tasty smoothies, perfect for a light breakfast on-the-go!
There’s nothing like eating yourself into a food coma before a hike to remind you of the joys of traveling. But hey, if you’re going to make your jeans uncomfortable you might as well have a great time doing it!
To be completely honest with you, I was not expecting to enjoy Fort Collins as much as I did. The town was charming and there was much more to do and see than I expected! All these things, coupled with the fact that we were staying at the most beautiful hotel in town and cruising around in a Mustang convertible, made our time in Fort Collins truly fantastic.
If you enjoyed my ultimate Fort Collins itinerary, make sure to check out my similar travel guides, like…
And don’t forget to follow along with the adventure on Instagram @madisonsfootsteps.
Thanks for reading!