Hikes around Fort Collins: Enjoying the outdoors close to home

Bailey Shepherd

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, there seems to have been a rush to the outdoors as people search for a way to get away from highly-populated areas. 

Colorado has always been a hub for all things outdoors, and some of these experiences aren’t that far from home for Fort Collins locals. The foothills and surrounding areas offer many different ways to get out and enjoy the wonders of nature, and hiking trails are some of the best ways to achieve those experiences. 


Here’s a short list of some close-to-home, must-hike locations near the City that hikers of all skill and fitness levels can enjoy.

Horsetooth Mountain

If you’re a Fort Collins resident and you haven’t experienced the splendor of Horsetooth Mountain, I recommend you come out of the hole you’ve been hiding in and hike this trail.

The trail to Horsetooth Rock is a 2.1-mile scenic route of twists and curves through the wooded slopes of the foothills that’s capped off with an easily accessible and fun climb to the top of the rock where an incredible view of the reservoir, Fort Collins and the surrounding Front Range awaits.

This hike is friendly to hikers of all skill levels, and if 4.2 miles in a round trip seems a little bit above your means, that’s totally fine. The Horsetooth Falls Trail is just as scenic with meadow views and vegetation and comes out to just a 2.4-mile round trip. You have no excuse to not give these hikes a try.

Devil’s Backbone

Located just off of State Highway 34 in west Loveland, this trail is as unique in its experience as it is in appearance.

As you pull into the parking lot, the first thing you’ll notice is the immaculate rock formations that form the ridge that is the trail’s namesake. From there, the trailhead is easy to find. This trail is great for those looking for an easily-traversable hike, as most of the trail is pretty consistent in elevation, making it great for novice hikers.

The total length of the trail comes out to about 4.3 miles with great views of the foothills and surrounding grasslands. Not only that, but this trail is also dog and horse-friendly so your animal friends can tag along and will enjoy this trail just as much as you will.

Hikers be warned, however — tree cover on this trail is sparse, so be prepared with ample amounts of drinking water and sun protection to maximize your safety and enjoyment.

“I highly recommend making the trip to Rocky Mountain National Park and visiting the Emerald Lake trail.”

Arthur’s Rock

Located just north of Horsetooth in Lory State Park, the spectacular views and experiences of Arthur’s Rock are often overshadowed by its famous neighbor.

The difficulty and elevation changes of this trail are similar to Horsetooth, offering about a 1,100 foot change in elevation along the trail. This trail is a bit steeper, however, with a shorter round-trip distance of about 3.4 miles.


The trail offers a plethora of experiences for hikers of all skillsets. The winding trail will take you up the wooded and rocky hills before splitting in two. Novice hikers may opt to continue on the main trail, but hikers looking for a more challenging route to the summit may want to try the Howard Trail. Whichever route you take, you can expect to be treated to splendid meadow views from the many overlooks as well as a short climb to the top of the rock. Once there, the glistening waters of Horsetooth Reservoir and the surrounding meadows make for a breathtaking reward.

Emerald Lake

For those who don’t mind driving for some of the most spectacular views in the county and even the state, I highly recommend making the trip to Rocky Mountain National Park and visiting the Emerald Lake trail.

With only a 3.5-mile round-trip distance and 650 foot change in elevation, novice hikers will enjoy this trail just as much as experienced ones. The trail winds through the beautifully forested terrain of the Rockies with many picturesque overlooks along the way.

The final destination of the hike is truly spectacular, with the beautiful, turquoise-colored lake nestled among a stunning backdrop of jagged rocks and mountains. The fun doesn’t stop at the top either, as there is a multitude of bouldering and fishing opportunities that are sure to please any outdoor enthusiast.

If this hike interests you, I recommend starting your day early to ensure a quiet and serene nature experience, as this is a very popular destination in the summer and fall seasons.

Bailey Shepherd can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @B_Sheps.