I grabbed a zucchini walnut muffin and latte as soon as Little Bird Bakeshop opened, then drove 26 miles north of Fort Collins to explore the expansive grasslands of Soapstone Prairie Natural Area. The nature preserve is 28 square miles of grazing meadows for the Laramie Foothills Bison Conservation Herd, a habitat for endangered black-footed ferrets and home to the Lindenmeier Archaeological Site. I was hoping to see bison, which are descendants of the Yellowstone National Park herd. Their pasture is 1,000 acres, and from the road, I could see them in the distance. I started with an easy quarter-of-a-mile walk on a paved path to Lindenmeier Overlook. As I looked out across the valley below, I imagined the archaeologists in the 1930s excavating an Ice Age Native American site considered one of the most important archaeological finds in the Western hemisphere.
It was very windy, so I opted for a shorter hike and did the 3-mile Towhee Loop. I didn’t see any ferrets and wasn’t expecting to since they’re nocturnal, but I did see some mule deer and lots of birds. Soapstone Prairie also has trails for cyclists and equestrians, but no dogs are allowed in the pristine shortgrass prairie.
Post hike, I headed back to Fort Collins for a late breakfast at Ginger and Baker. Housed in a historic mill, it’s a coffee shop, restaurant and gift shop. I scarfed down my garden skillet packed with veggies and ordered a slice of Earlene’s strawberry pie to go. It’s Ginger’s mom’s recipe, and I knew it would hit the spot after my next hike at Red Mountain Open Space 25 miles north of Fort Collins. There are over 15 miles of multi-use trails where you can wander through millions of years of geological history. I went for a close to 3.7-mile loop hike on fairly flat terrain connecting Sinking Sun, Big Hole Wash and Bent Rock Trails. I started with incredible views of the rugged and remote landscape then marveled at the exposed geological layers from uplift, folding and erosion while hiking along the 0.6-mile canyon section of Bent Rock Trail.
I met my friend Katie for a late lunch at Union Bar & Soda Fountain which has an ambiance that’s a cool twist on the old-fashioned diner and soda fountain concept. I was done driving for the day, and since we were sitting out on the patio, I ordered the sun kissed sangria, one of their “patio pleasers.” For a non-alcoholic option, go for one of their sparkling sodas or a shake. My sangria paired nicely with their Olympus Bowl, one of their specialties.
Union is less than a half mile from New Belgium Brewing Co.
I’m not a big beer drinker, but there are a plethora of breweries in Fort Collins. You can easily make a day of craft beer tastings. Fort Collins was a “dry” town until 1969 and now produces 70% of Colorado’s craft beer and has more microbreweries than anywhere else in the state. After doing the New Belgium tour that ends with a fun slide, I wandered around Old Town on the 30-minute self-guided Downtown Public Art Tour. Along with colorful murals and painted ads of long-gone businesses on historic buildings, there are over 100 whimsically painted pianos. I even caught a couple of folks tickling the ivories on the Pianos About Town.
I popped in and out of shops like The Spotted Frenchie in A&J Antique Mall, Old Firehouse Books, Tula Boutique and Ivy Boutique before doing a chocolate tasting. Fort Collins might be known for beer tastings at craft breweries, but I couldn’t pass up the chance for a tasting at an artisan chocolate shop specializing in single-origin bars. It was an eye-opening and mouthwatering experience learning how different chocolate can taste depending on where the cacao is from and how the percentage impacts sweetness and flavor intensity.
In a mood to keep tasting the finer things, I walked over to the Welsh Rabbit for “Hoppy Hour.” I sat out on the patio of this cozy bistro noshing on a smoked beet salad and bruschetta before retreating early to my room at The Elizabeth.