We’ve all heard the standard Fort Collins itinerary: hike up to Horsetooth Rock, grab a few pints at New Belgium — or if Fat Tire is too mainstream for you, Odell —  and wander through Old Town into laid-back bars to hang with down-to-earth people who dig the outdoors just like you. But why limit Colorado’s fourth most populous city to such a few cliché options?

Now, it’s not that you shouldn’t do these — Horsetooth Reservoir is a must-see — but if you’re here, you probably want your FoCo adventures to take you beyond College Avenue. While this list is by no means exhaustive — nor should it dissuade you from exploring — these places and activities will lead you outside of the standard route and pave the way for a diverse experience of Northern Colorado.

Riverbend Ponds Natural Area

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Where: E Prospect Rd, Fort Collins, CO 80525

The Lowdown: If you’re looking for some quality outdoor time but have already ventured around Horsetooth and Lory State Park, take a short jaunt southeast of town to Riverbend Ponds. Though the Natural Area is just off busy Prospect Road, you’ll immediately feel immersed in these wetlands. Riverbend Ponds provides habitat for diverse species of birds, from mallards to herons to osprey roosting on treetops, scanning for fish — with proper licensing, you too can fish for bass, crappie, and catfish from the banks. If fishing isn’t your thing, stroll along the wooden walkway over the marshes, where you might kick back on one of the many benches while the sun sets over the distant mountains. The flat gravel trail will further lead into neighboring Running Deer Natural Area, where you might catch sight of mule deer leaping about the grass as the red-winged blackbirds flutter between the trees. Check out the summer schedule for free educational events and expert-led activities ranging from birding to stargazing.

Howling Cow Cafe

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Where: 5821 W Co Rd 54E, Bellvue, CO 80512

The Lowdown: Though not technically in Fort Collins, Howling Cow is but a 15-minute drive from town, and it’s well worth the commute. Located Northwest of Laporte, Howling Cow is situated on the massive property of Morning Fresh Dairy Farms, home of everyone’s beloved Noosa Yoghurt. Lattes and mochas are made with fresh milk from their “happy cows” — you should probably try one. The cafe’s fridges are stocked with primo dairy products, and the menu is primed with tasty homemade sandwiches. If it’s nice out, check out the back patio for a finer view of the mountains than any cafe within Fort Collins’ reach. On cold days, you can sink into cushioned armchairs and focus in like a scholar in a rustic cabin. There’s a homey feel to it all, and even if you happen to pop in when bikers abound in the wake of their rides through the Rist and Poudre Canyons, you’ll feel the sense of being away from it all, present with your thoughts in a way you weren’t aware you’d forgotten. 

READ: How Colorado’s Noosa Built an Empire From a Spoonful of Yogurt

Snowbank Brewing

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Where: 225 N Lemay Ave Suite 1, Fort Collins, CO 80524

The Lowdown: An un-flashy brewery located amidst industrial-land east of College Avenue, Snowbank offers tasty, diverse beers in a relaxed space where mountain portraits hang on the walls. It’s a perfect place to check out after an active day exploring the outdoors. Snowbank’s friendly, talkative bartenders are happy to discuss their beers in un-pretentious depth, but they won’t burden you with more information than you care to hear. It hosts a free trivia night on Thursdays at 6 p.m., and though the place fills up, the vibe remains laid back. You might also stumble into random events like Dip Night — everyone brings their favorite dip — and if you pop in at 5 p.m. on a Friday, you’ll get to try Snowbank’s raw-cacao chocolate beers it makes in partnership with Nuance Chocolate in Old Town. We recommend trying Snowbank’s signature Crankenbrew, a Coffee Pale Ale that goes down smooth after a nice hike — or before if that’s how you roll.

The Downtown Artery

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Where: 254 Linden St, Fort Collins, CO 80524

The Lowdown: You won’t find a place quite like the Artery anywhere else in Colorado, perhaps even the world. It’s like someone decided to take all the best parts of coffee shops, bars, art galleries, event centers, and dance clubs and combine them into one entity. Don’t be intimidated — the Artery is as welcoming as it is colorful, and as colorful as it is eclectic. You can lounge on couches with a cocktail, sit around a table with good people, and explore for hidden passageways in the galleries upstairs. Whether you’re looking for a place to focus, meet quirky people or speak intimately with friends, the Artery will welcome you in all your weirdness and alter your perception of what a community space can be. Check out their website for nightly events from concerts to karaoke to film screenings to open mics.

Mishawaka Amphitheatre

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Where: 13714 Poudre Canyon Rd, Bellvue, CO 80512

The Lowdown: All right, not exactly a “hidden treasure,” given it hosts artists the likes of Conor Oberst and Explosions in the Sky, but if you can see a show at the Mish, you should. The amphitheater rests many miles into the winding Poudre Canyon in the shadow of granite peaks overlooking the Poudre River flowing calmly behind the stage. It’s a bit of a hike from Old Town — about 25-miles northwest — but you will not regret the adventure. The Mish hosts outdoor shows throughout the summer. Even if there’s no show, the Mish has a great restaurant and bar with plenty of outdoor seating. The SpokesBUZZ Lounge behind the restaurant hosts concerts and events through the winter when the outdoor venue is closed — we went for a packed Rocky Horror night with drag galore. If you visit in the summertime, you might even camp down the road and fall asleep beneath the stars to the sound Fort Collins’ iconic river flowing calmly through the canyon. (For concerts, be mindful that parking is $40/car, so you’re better off taking the shuttle from CSU — it’s $22 and opens your night to plentiful Old Town pregaming.) 

Photos by Sean Lawlor, unless otherwise noted. 

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