[Sunrise trek by Horsetooth Reservoir. Photo: Steven Bratman] Fort Collins is Colorado’s fourth largest city, nestled in the northern foothills of the Front Range. It’s gorgeous all year long, with mild enough weather for day hiking opportunities each season.
Whether you’re strolling through Old Town, City Park, or amongst the prairies, the town provides plenty of opportunities for a simple hike. Fort Collins is a beautiful city with numerous parks, trees, bike paths and walking trails. Nature is nearby and that includes more than hiking if you’re looking to combine a trek with outdoor recreation like fishing or camping.
Remember to hike safely and be on the lookout for wildlife. If you see wildlife, leave them alone and do not approach. Follow the park’s rules. Most require your dogs on a leash. Bring some water and a snack, dress in layers, always expect the weather can shift in Colorado quickly. Here are among the top hiking trails near Fort Collins:
1. Hiking beside Horsetooth Reservoir
Let’s start off with the most popular, Horsetooth Reservoir. It brings together biking, hiking, fishing, boating and camping opportunities only minutes 15 minutes from downtown Fort Collins. It lies on the western side the Dakota Hogback mountain, which you can see from town.
Tucked into the start of the Rocky Mountains at 5,420 feet, Horsetooth provides fun dynamic terrain. The vertical gains on the hikes are relatively low, keeping them relatively simple. However, the nature is high and landscape spectacular. It’s definitely a smart idea to wear a good pair of affordable hiking boots. Your feet will thank you later!
The best part of hiking here aside from the scenery, would have to be the convenience to other amenities: boating, water skiing, swimming, scuba diving, rock climbing and picnicking. You can spend the night here in a beautiful campground. Boat all summer long on 6 and 1/2 miles of water, with available rentals at the marina.
Surrounded by 1,900 acres of public land, hiking is great here. The park is open all year long, with fees for entry and camping. An Information Center is open to the visitors Monday to Friday during the winter, and daily summer. Head there for tips on any of the above activities, especially the low down on hiking.
2. Hiking in Lory State Park
There are a myriad of day hikes at this state park, spread across more than 20 miles of hiking trails. While out and about, there’s a geocache stashed at @ N 40 34.067 W 105 11.252. Be mindful as hikers share the trail with bikers and horseback riders. Rock climbing, fishing and hand launched boats are some of the other activities at Lory.
Backcountry camping is the only type of overnight stays permitted at Lory. So if you’re looking for a longer hike, consider obtaining a backcountry camping permit. The hike in is at least 2 miles to the first primitive campsite. Unfortunately, there are no facilities and no fires allowed.
3. Hiking in Coyote Ridge Natural Area
More year round hiking lies within the Coyote Ridge Natural Area. It’s another super easy to reach trailhead, located only 8 miles from Old Town, and just south of Horsetooth Reservoir. You’ll get to witness a variety of habitats in this preserved public space.
You’ll find plains life meeting the foothills at Coyote Ridge. The main draws are hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. There are 2.3 miles of multi-use trails. The primary Coyote Ridge Trail connects with Devil’s Backbone Open Space and Blue Sky Trail. Don’t miss the 1/4 mile interpretive loop Hidden Clues Trail, tucked away about a mile into Coyote Ridge.
Wildlife includes the occasional mountain lion or bear sighting, numerous coyote, lizards, rattlesnake, deer and songbirds. There’s only a mild elevation gain of some 600 feet, just enough to rise above the plains offering an endless view of the Front Range. Cheyenne Ridge is visible to the north. Views west to the Rockies are phenomenal.
It’s open from every day from 5am to 11pm. There’s no overnight camping here. And unfortunately, this preserve does not permit dogs.
4. Hiking in Devil’s Backbone Open Space
Places with cool names like this often back it up, and Devil’s Backbone is no exception. This Open Space showcases one of Mother Nature’s magnificent wonders. Technically located in Loveland, this trailhead lies just south of Coyote Ridge, which lies south of Horsetooth Reservoir. It’s one spectacular hike after the next.
There are plenty of pretty hikes in the foothills of Larimer County. Easy day strolls that are perfect for all levels and the whole family. Devil’s Backbone sits with flower covered grasslands on 2,198 acres. Connected with Coyote Ridge Trail to the north, the park’s 12 miles of trail also link up with Rimrock Open Space and Horsetooth Mountain Open Space. Horseback riders and bikers share the path with runners and hikers.
Remember to pack enough water for your hike. Potable drinking water can be found at the start of the trail. Parking can reach capacity on busy summer weekends, so consider another nearby hike if that happens to you. It’s open from dawn to dusk year round, with no entry fee.
5. Hiking by the Cache La Poudre River
As one of Colorado’s most stunning rivers, Cache La Poudre holds the claim to fame as the Front Range’s only free-flowing, undammed river. That’s an impressive feat along its entire 70-mile stretch. It flows directly through the town of Fort Collins, so you can feel its beauty close by.
There are several points you can hike along. We’ll cover the easiest access to the Poudre Trail, a 12.3 mile stretch. It begins from the Bellevue Watson Fish Hatchery and follows the river southwest to the CSU Environmental Learning Center in Fort Collins. It’s an easy stroll on a concrete/asphalt surface, suitable for all abilities of hikers. Although it sounds city-like, you’ll pass small lakes, woodlands, grasslands, farms, parks and some industry.
Others head west of town on Highway 14 for the best access to nature. Highway 14 from Fort Collins west to Walden is known as the Cache La Poudre-North Park Scenic Byway. It holds treasures along its entire 101 paved drive to moose country. There are more than 10 campgrounds in route.
6. Hiking in Red Fox Meadows Natural Area
This natural oasis resides right in the heart of town, hidden within a residential area. Red Fox Meadows is among the easiest to pop into for a quick stroll, providing much needed reprieve from city life. It serves as flood control, wildlife habitat preservation and a way to improve water quality in streams and groundwater.
The short trails are open year round, although exceptionally lush in the spring and summer. It’s a wonderful location for a stroll or afternoon bike ride, passing by ponds and prairies. Fox, fish, deer, turtles, rabbit, birds, and even black tailed prairie dogs are all native wildlife. The trail connects with Roland Moore Park if you’d like to keep going.
Because of its wetlands habitat, remember to cover your skin and expect mosquitos during the spring and summer especially. Dogs are welcome on-leash. It’s free to use with no entry fee.
After the Hike
There’s also plenty to do after you’re finished hiking. Fort Collins is one of the brewery meccas of Colorado, so you’ll have your hands full on which one to choose. Dining is excellent as well, with the choices you’d expect from one of Colorado’s largest towns.
Once you’ve gotten a good meal in and refueled, it’s time to shower up, and hit the town. There are ample spots for a fun date night, in lieu of traditional restaurants. If you’re from out of town consider spending the night because there are a lot of cool Fort Collins hotels. The historic Armstrong Hotel is one of the town’s most popular places to stay.