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The Fat Tire Guide to Fort Collins, Colorado

Six reasons to play, eat, and drink in the iconic amber ale’s easy-living hometown

(Matt Bowers)
Photo: Matt Bowers

Since New Belgium brewed its first Fat Tire in 1991, the amber ale has been synonymous with a relaxed mountain vibe, bicycling, and the Good Life. After all, brewery co-founders Kim Jordan and Jeff Lebesch were inspired to start making beer after Jeff pedaled his way across Belgium. Fat Tire refers to the thick treads on the steel-frame Stumpjumper he chose for the ride. It’s a get-outside-and-enjoy-the-ride ethos that still permeates the founders’ hometown of Fort Collins, Colorado, the laid-back college town that butts up against the Rocky Mountains. The city is bigger today than it was in the early nineties, and New Belgium now makes dozens of types of beer. But the carefree Colorado vibe that infuses every bottle of Fat Tire is alive and well in Fort Collins. Need more proof? Keep reading.

1) It’s All About the Bike

Not surprisingly, given how central cycling is to the local culture, Fort Collins is a Platinum-level cycling-friendly city, according to the League of American Bicyclists, with 30-plus miles of dedicated bike trails and more than 285 miles of bike lanes. Need a rig? The town’s dockless Pace bike-sharing system means you can find and rent a bike almost anywhere in town.

2) The Hiking and Mountain Biking Are World-Class, Too

While Fort Collins lies on the edge of the Great Plains, the steep inclines of the Rockies start less than five miles to the west. The area around Horsetooth Reservoir, above town, is a fantasyland of hiking and mountain biking trails with epic views over Fort Collins and easy access to the lake when you need to cool off. A local classic: the 2.5-mile jaunt to Horsetooth Falls, in Horsetooth Mountain Open Space, west of the reservoir. It’s especially sublime in the spring and early summer when vast meadows of wildflowers pop up to make the view that much more Instagramable.

3) The Great Local Eats

The Old Town Farmers Market, which runs from mid-May to the end of October, is one of the Front Range’s best, with everything from fresh produce and local crafts to live music and family-friendly activities. Also not to be missed: the FoCo Food Truck Rally, every Tuesday night in City Park, featuring a rotating lineup of 30-plus trucks. Grab a spot on the grass nearby and watch the sunset to the west over the mountains while you eat.

4) A River Runs Through It

The Cache la Poudre River, or Poudre (pooh-der), as locals call it, is Colorado’s only nationally designated Wild & Scenic River. And it runs right through town. On a hot afternoon, grab some friends and inner tubes for a mellow float. (Rent tubes at Jax Mercantile or Big O Tires.) Put in at the North Shields Street Bridge, north of town, and hop out at New Belgium’s brewery, at Linden Street. For those looking for more adventure, the new whitewater park opens just north of town this summer. In the meantime, book a raft trip through Cache la Poudre Canyon in May or early June, when the snowmelt from the Rockies turns the river into a rollicking plume of Class III-IV whitewater.

5) It’s an Angler’s Paradise

Tubing and rafting aren’t the only ways to enjoy the Poudre River. The multi-use Poudre Trail mirrors the river through much of town, and there are literally dozens of fishing holes and ponds along the way. Our favorites: McMurry Natural Area, northwest of Old Town, and Kingfisher Point Natural Area, northeast of Old Town. Both spots are home to more than a dozen species, including brown trout, and both are accessible via the Poudre Trail.

6) It All Comes Back to the Beer

Fort Collins is now home to more than 20 craft brewers, but none are as ingrained in the town’s social fabric as the 100 percent employee-owned New Belgium. Along with bikes and beer, being involved in the community is one of the company’s core values. Hence the brewery’s extensive events calendar, which includes everything from the annual philanthropic bicycling fundraiser, Tour de Fat, to live music to half-marathon training runs that finish with “beermosas.” But if you do only one thing, we recommend at least stopping by for a fresh pint of Fat Tire, the easy-drinking amber ale that helped put Fort Collins on the map.