From Colorado Springs to Fort Collins, exploring Colorado’s Front Range
“The Front Range” is a term to which I was introduced during my recent road trip through Colorado. It just so happens that most of the destinations I chose to visit — Denver, Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs and Pikes Peak, Boulder and Fort Collins — are located there, at the foot of the Rocky Mountains’ first range.
I’ll delve into each of these Front Range destinations and Breckenridge, my single mountain town visited on this road trip, in further detail in later posts. For now, I’ll share with you my initial thoughts on each of these Front Range cities and give you a few ideas of things to do and places to eat and stay.
Why visit the Front Range?
First of all, if you are flying into Colorado from out of state or outside the U.S., it’s very likely that flying into Denver is your most cost effective option. Denver International Airport is about a 30-minute drive to downtown Denver, about 45 minutes to downtown Boulder, and about an hour and 15 minutes to Fort Collins or Colorado Springs.
Secondly, you should give your body time to adjust to the elevation by staying on the Front Range for at least a day before heading to a mountain destination. Denver is known as the Mile-High City, but the mountain towns could have elevations that are 8,000-feet or higher. Planning to visit a mountain’s summit? Pikes Peak is only the 31st tallest mountain in Colorado, and it’s 14,110 feet tall! Some changes you may notice are your ears popping, headaches if you are not hydrated enough, and a change or loss in appetite (I’m a foodie and I hardly had an appetite in Colorado).
Third, the weather is mild and can be quick to change — my Uber driver in Denver joked that if you don’t like the weather, just wait 10 minutes. The Front Range gets snow, but it often melts away within hours or days. A friend of mine, who relocated to Denver from Michigan, said locals told him to keep his golf clubs in his car year-round. On the Front Range, there just may be a warm February day perfect to hit the links! I visited during mid-September, and temperatures I experienced on the Front Range were daytime highs into the 90s and cool evenings that sometimes called for a light jacket or cardigan — though being a Michigander, I was still OK in my short sleeves.
The biggest city in Colorado and the state capital, Denver is the cultural hub of the Rocky Mountain State. The Mile-High City is full of activity — professional sports, art galleries and museums, public art and gardens, bike shares and bike lanes and paths for cycling, shopping, nightlife and breweries galore.
Denver brews more beer than any other U.S. metropolitan area and hosts a multitude of beer-drinking festivals and events. Check out breweries like Wynkoop, Great Divide and Denver Beer Company, or order a local brew on tap at one of the rooftop bars in the ballpark neighborhood while taking in the Denver skyline.
For arts and culture, head to the Golden Triangle Museum District. The Denver Art Museum houses more than 68,000 pieces including artwork by Georgia O’Keeffe, Pablo Picasso, Roy Lichtenstein and a revamped Native American gallery representing more than 100 tribes. Other nearby attractions include the Clyfford Still Museum, free tours of the Colorado State Capitol, Civic Center Park and the U.S. Mint.
Colorado’s sprawling and second largest city is home to the U.S. Air Force Academy and the U.S. Olympic Training Center. It’s an ideal destination for adventurous explorers, craft beer lovers and active families.
A must-visit destination is Garden of the Gods, which has 15 miles of trails around red sandstone rock formations. It’s ranked as the No. 2 park in the United States on TripAdvisor. In the park, you can rock climb, hike, bike, horseback ride or just take a scenic drive.
Another must-visit attraction is Pikes Peak, America’s Mountain, which inspired the poem-turned-patriotic-anthem “America the Beautiful.” I recommend taking the cog rail up to the summit, but you can also drive — don’t miss any of those 156 turns! — or hike to the 14,110-foot peak. You can even take the train up to the summit, and then bike back down on a guided tour!
Other adventurous and family-fun activities include ziplining, white-water rafting, exploring caves and spending a day in Manitou Springs’ historic downtown — the Miramont Castle Museum is said to be haunted!
Like Denver, Colorado Springs is a craft-beer drinkers’ haven! Check out Bristol Brewings’ new home at the Ivywild School, an elementary school revamped as a community marketplace. Also drop by the Principal’s Office. Trust me, this is the kind of detention that you want! In downtown Colorado Springs, try the cheesy tots and new flatbread sandwiches at Brewer’s Republic, where there are always 20 craft beers on tap, or treat your taste buds to the craft beers and smoky flavor of the blonde lager and Gouda soup at Phantom Canyon Brewing Company.
Where to stay: The Broadmoor is a five-star resort and highly touted. I stayed at The Mining Exchange, a Wyndham Grand Hotel, in downtown Colorado Springs. I loved the mix of luxury and art juxtaposed against exposed brick walls and a Rocky Mountain view out the windows.
Home to the University of Colorado Boulder, Celestial Seasonings (free tours!), the Flatirons, thriving art and culinary scenes, an authentic and ornate tea house, miles of bike trails, and an outdoor promenade bustling with shoppers, diners and street performers, Boulder was recently named the happiest city in America.
Downtown Boulder, anchored by the pedestrian-friendly Pearl Street Mall, is full of shops, public art and restaurants. In fact, Food & Wine magazine named Pearl Street one of the “10 Best Foodie Streets In America.” I can attest to the Pearl Street dining — the beet burger I had at The Kitchen Next Door was delicious.
Where to stay: For a historic setting and unique experience, stay at the Hotel Boulderado, established in 1909 with rooms outfitted in Victorian decor. For a luxurious stay in a modern hotel that opened in 2005, book a room at the St. Julien Hotel and Spa.
Fort Collins is a college town, beer capital and perfect destination for outdoor adventurers. Home of Colorado State University, Fort Collins sits at the edge of the prairie along the Cache la Poudre River at the base of the Rockies.
For active travelers, golf the two public 18-hole and one nine-hole courses that are open year-round, snowshoe or cross-country ski in nearby Red Feather Lakes or Cameron Pass, cycle 200 miles of wide bike lanes, go mountain biking on trails just minutes from downtown, boat the picturesque Horsetooth Reservoir, camp, fish, white-water raft, kayak, rock climb or go hot-air ballooning.
For my fellow beer drinkers, Anheuser-Busch gives free tours and you might get to see the Budweiser Clydesdales. (Note: The horses are out on tour through December.) Among other familiar names nationwide, New Belgium — the brewery behind Fat Tire — gives free tours with tastings along the way!
After reading about the Front Range, which destination(s) would you like to visit?
Wish you were here,