colorado - fort collins and rocky mountain national park: part 1

it was an off-the-cuff trip that started with me saying "we should visit colorado over the holiday weekend so we don't have to use an extra day of vacation." while i would love to tell you that we jumped into our car and headed off into the sunset (literally, we left iowa around 6pm to drive overnight), having full time jobs and a dog do require we be pretty diligent about how we spend that paid time off.  

however that one little comment planted the seed and within 2 days we'd decided to take a road trip to fort collins (foco, as the locals say) and have ourselves an adventure.

from cedar rapids, iowa, where we live, to fort collins it's about 11 hours and 15 minutes. figure in the stops for gas, food and breaks (though i don't recommend lingering around rest stops in nebraska at 3am) and you're looking at around 12 hours total car time. we decided to drive overnight on a thursday so we wouldn't be wasting an entire day in the car. full disclosure; I've done this before when travelling to colorado, and it's not fun. but i also can't stand the thought of wasting a vacation day on it when my time is limited, so we picked the lesser of two evils.


day 1

we arrived in fort collins around 5:30am on friday and crashed for a 3 hour nap before getting up to head out and explore. home to over 150,000 residents, for collins houses colorado state university, and is known for being a quirky, bike friendly city. there aren't many options when wanting to stay right downtown by everything, so we opted for the Best Western University Inn based on recommendations from family and friends. while it's not a fancy hotel, our room was clean, the breakfast was free, and being just a mile from downtown it's in a great location that you can easily walk or bike to the main area of town.

the hotel had beach cruisers available to rent for only $15 per day, so we opted to rent bikes and check out all of the breweries that fort collins has to offer that afternoon. or so we thought.


a little back story...we own road bikes at home and are often biking places. it's second nature to clip in to my bike and go, gearing up on hills and effortlessly pedaling, so the experience of riding a cruiser completely threw me off at first. there are no gears, your brakes are you pedaling backwards like you did when you were a kid on your bike, your handlebars have a completely different placement, and the overall feel of riding a cruiser is just...different. not bad different, just different in the way that I needed a few laps around the hotel parking lot to get my bearings.

our first stop, post lunch, was at the brewery Funkwerks, a local Colorado brewery specializing in saisons. being more of a wine and vodka girl, the brewery stops were really more for dylan, though I do like beer just fine so i won't pretend i wasn't excited. and funkwerks? it changed my world! i loved their beers! particularly this one infusion they had on tap - chipolte pepper infused raspberry provincial.


i was convinced that a supply of that beer was coming home with us (bonus of doing a roadtrip instead of flying!) and was so so sad to learn that it was a tap-only beer, but I do understand that breweries have to have special beers for their taprooms.


from funkwerks we peddled to Horse & Dragon Brewing Company where my cousins, who live in foco, came and met up with us. and bonus - there were so many dogs at this brewery! 

as we chatted with my family we told them of our plans to do some hiking in the area around fort collins on Sunday, but after chatting with them we decided to make the 40 mile drive to estes park to hike at rocky mountain national park instead. with the mountains being so close, we changed our hiking plans on the fly and were excited to check out what would be our first national park visit.


our 'visit every brewery plan' turn a turn (blame it on the beer and puppies) and we ended up staying at horse & dragon a bit longer than we initially planned, but we hitched a ride to new belgium brewery to check them out before they closed for the day. being friends with folks who brew and sell craft beer, i know that people have varying opinions of new belgium beer, but let's all agree that they've been in the game a long time, and their brewery is very cool. i've heard the tour is a 'must do' but time didn't allow us to take one. so if you've been on the new belgium brewery tour before leave me a comment and tell me about it! 


by the time we were done at New Belgium we were totally beat. the 3 hour nap had caught up with us and we were hungry and exhausted. yeah okay, and feeling good from all the beer. we made the decision to head back to the hotel to get a good night's sleep so we could have a great second day.

day 2

we awoke on day 2 with a solid eight hours of sleep, and lots of excitement; we were not only on vacation but our beloved iowa hawkeyes had their first game of the season, and we had a great bar recommended to watch the game.

first thing was first though, we needed breakfast and we were heading to Snooze, a diner-type restaurant that everyone I talked to recommended. and I mean everyone.

that day was also Tour de Fat bike ride day, which if you're not familiar is a new belgium annual bike ride where thousands of cyclists dress up in their finest costumes and bike through fort collins, consuming lots of drinks, and just generally having a great time. the area was packed, great for people watching, and while we were nervous about our wait at snooze, which is located in the heart of where the ride was, we only ended up waiting around 15 minutes for our table.


now, i'm going to bury the lead here - our breakfast was outstanding. it was also International bacon day so I ended up ordering a meal from their special bacon menu - savor the bacon benny (tender belly bacon on a bacon cheddar potato cake topped with poached cage free eggs, horseradish hollandaise, espresso bacon jam and fresh chives), and dylan ordered the b.e.a.t. sandwich (tender belly bacon, fried cage free egg (sunny-side up!) organic arugula and sliced tomato served with bacon-tomato aioli on a toasted ciabatta roll and avocado).


then, because we were on vacation, we decided to share a pancake flight. and believe me, if you saw this pancake menu, you would have been just as gluttonous as we were. our flight of 3 consisted of:

  • pineapple upside down pancakes - buttermilk pancakes with caramelized pineapple chunks, housemade vanilla crème anglaise and cinnamon butter
  • blueberry danish pancakes - buttermilk pancakes topped with blueberry coulis, sweet cream and almond streusel surrounding a center of lemony cream cheese filling
  • peach cobbler pancakes - Buttermilk pancakes filled with fresh peaches and almond streusel then topped with vanilla cream and whipped raspberry mascarpone

holy mother of pancakes. these were melt-in-your-mouth amazing. i never order pancakes, or generally anything sweet and indulgent like this for breakfast, but i can confidently tell you it was worth the wait and the extra calories.


oh, and the mimosas! how could i forget. snooze had a variety of juices that you could add to your champagne so I tried an apple cranberry combination - amazing! by the time we were finished we were happy, full and ready to make our door! yep, seriously. low and behold the bar that my cousin recommended to watch the hawkeye game at was next door to snooze - the steakout saloon.

when we walked in the bar it was packed (remember me telling you about that little bike ride tour de fat?). yet somehow the vacation gods were shining down on us and the table right in front of the main tv was open. we settled in, arm-to-arm with csu's finest and grabbed a drink to wait to for the game.

after the game we headed out to find dinner, making a quick stop at an underground cocktail bar called Social for a proper whisky sour. i'm not traditionally a whisky drinker, but anyone that can make a proper one (egg whites!) has me hooked, and this place was fantastic.

we had one quick drink there, then decided to go to Cafe Vino, a wine and tapas bar highly recommended to us that resides in an old house, for dinner. it was very very dimly lit and the photos I took could not be salvaged, but the food was wonderful. i highly recommend the braised colorado beef short ribs - blackberry BBQ sauce, red cabbage-carrot slaw, creamy lemon poppy seed dressing, potato chips, bacon-potato salad. simply wonderful.

after dinner we turned in to get some sleep for our trek up to estes park and rocky mountain national park. 

stay tuned for part 2 of our roadtrip to colorado where i'm going to tell you all about how magical rocky mountain national park is, and why i'll never visit a national park on a holiday ever again.