Exploring Northern Colorado Outdoor Activities

July 3, 2020

There’s a lot to love about Northern Colorado, but the immense amount of Colorado outdoor activities is by far the most alluring.  And when searching for pursuits that will leave you awestruck and amazed, many can be found in Northern Colorado. 

Explore Estes Park 

As the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park is a must for anyone looking for outdoor activities in Colorado.  No matter the season, this quaint mountain town offers something for everyone. 

Take a stroll along picturesque West Elkhorn Avenue to find the perfect keepsake from one of Estes Park’s many shops. While you’re there, don’t’ forget to grab some taffy from The Taffy ShopFounded in 1935, its mouthwatering treats are legendary among locals. 

In the mood for a hike?  Well, Estes Park has plenty to choose from! Enjoy a leisurely walk around Sprague Lake, which offers amazing views of the Continental Divide. Or challenge yourself with a journey up Long’s Peak, one of Colorado’s many 14-ers.  No matter your skill level, you’re guaranteed to find a suitable trail in this alpine oasis. 

Be sure to catch a glimpse of the local wildlife while you’re there! Estes Park is home to many Colorado critters including elk, mule deer, moose, bighorn sheep, black bears, mountain lions, bobcats and marmots, (among others). As the welcoming committee of the west, they’re sure to make your trip to the mountains even more enchanting. 

Looking for an experience that will fuel your next dinner party conversation? Then head to The Stanley Hotel for one of their spooktacular ghost tours! Learn about the hotel’s haunted history along with stories of the spirits who still call it home.  It’s no wonder why The Stanley served as the inspiration behind Stephen King’s, The Shining! 

Then, cap off your day of outdoor activities at Mama Rose’s for a bite along the river.  The restaurant’s delicious Italian food (like their tantalizing ricotta rollups appetizer) is rivaled only by its picture-perfect location. 

Marvel at Big Thompson Canyon 

As if Estes Park weren’t memorable enough, try getting there through the Big Thompson Canyon.  You’ll pass by towering walls of granite, lush green meadows, groves of cottonwood trees, and small mountain towns that are as charming as a Norman Rockwell painting. 

There are even a few opportunities to give your credit card a workout at shops like the Dam Store, Big Thompson Indian Village and Colorado Cherry Company.  You’ll find some special treasures at each, but the fruit pies and fruit butters at the Colorado Cherry Company are to die for! So, don’t miss the opportunity to grab some on your way up the canyon. 

For truly wow-worthy scenery, take a slight detour when you reach Drake.  Head north on C.R. 43 and follow the curvy canyon road as it winds past Glen Haven.  Along the way, you’ll pass by incredible rock formations and greenery until you reach the end of your journey in Estes Park at the intersection of MacGregor Avenue and US 34. 

Get Active at Horsetooth Reservoir 

There’s no shortage of adventure around Horsetooth Reservoir. Located just west of Fort Collins, this 6.5-mile long body of water has it all – boating, swimming, scuba diving, fishing, camping, hiking, rock climbing, picnicking and everything in-between! 

Open year-round, you can enjoy the reservoir from the shore or on the waves with an entrance or camping permit.  No boat? No worries! The Inlet Bay Marina has you covered.  The marina offers rentals on all kinds of aquatic crafts including boats, jet skis, kayaks, canoes, paddleboards and even hydro bikes! 

But what’s really intriguing about Horsetooth Reservoir is what lies beneath its glassy waters.  The remains of the small quarrying town of Stout, which was founded in the 1860s and later abandon, rests on the reservoir floor.  Over the years, enthusiasts have searched for the elusive ghost town with marginal luck.  However, just south of the reservoir you can find the old boarding house, which still stands today. 

Discover Devil’s Backbone 

Wildlife, wildflowers, and wildly impressive rock formations are just some of the reasons to visit the Devil’s Backbone open space. 

Located just west of Loveland, the 2,198-acre area features a myriad of Colorado outdoor activities including biking, horseback riding, picnicking and hiking its 12 miles of trail. With no entrance fee and access from dawn to dusk, it welcomes outdoor enthusiasts throughout the year. 

But if you really want to learn more about this enchanting area, then the best way to do so is on a guided historic hike.  An easy two-hour program, local author and tour guide Ken Jessen offers an inside look at this geologically unique corner of the Rocky Mountains. 

Enjoy the Poudre River 

The Cache la Poudre River, or Poudre River, is Colorado’s only nationally designated “Wild & Scenic” river.  The Poudre was given its name by French Canadian trappers who hid their gunpowder there during a horrible blizzard in the 1800s.  With dramatic cliffs, imposing rock formations, and lush lodgepole and ponderosa pines, it truly embodies its “wild and scenic” moniker.  

There’s no shortage of ways to enjoy the river with tons of outdoor activities!  Even driving Colorado Highway 14, which runs along the river between Fort Collins and Walden, is reason enough for a day trip.  The designated scenic byway is 101 miles  

Along the drive, stop at Picnic Rock for a dip in the cool mountain waters. About 10 miles outside of Fort Collins, this is one of the first areas visitors can stop and enjoy the Poudre River for freeHere visitors can find a bustle of tubers, picnickers, hikers and anglers all savoring the great outdoors.   

Or, enjoy the Poudre River just blocks away from Old Town Fort Collins!  The new Poudre Whitewater Park opened in October 2019 and allows visitors to relish in riverside pursuits from the convenience of town.   


The outdoor activities in Northern Colorado are as countless as the places to enjoy them.  Whether you want to hike, fish, boat or simplsoak up the state’s 300+ days of sunshine, Northern Colorado has it all!  

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