Fort Collins: Tube the Cache la Poudre
Drive time from downtown Denver: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Why it’s worth the trip: Best way to beat the city’s blistering summer heat
Mountains mean snowmelt, and Colorado usually has plenty of it in the form of rivers that vary from relaxed to raging. North of Denver, the City of Fort Collins features the state’s only nationally designated “Wild & Scenic” river in its Cache la Poudre, named by the early 1800s French-Canadian trappers who would stash their furs and gunpowder along its banks. To hop in a tube and float its lazy sections is to immerse yourself in, well, snow -- a welcome plunge with mountain views peeking through between long, dense stands of pine and aspen.
This place is a madhouse on the weekends, but during the week, parking is aplenty and you’ll usually see but a few hardcore kayakers and paddle-boarders along the way. First, swing by one of the many places in town that sells real tubes (no pool toys, please) for less than $20, and blow them up at nearby Jax Ranch & Home for free. You can also buy or rent a life jacket, and remember, this river is made of snow, so pack warm post-tubing attire. Head up Poudre Canyon Highway (Colorado 14) to Filter Plant, or leave from Old Town at Legacy Park on the north end, hopping onto the trail off Shields Street. Know before you go when to get out (about 2.4 miles to Picnic Rocks after you get in, making for about four hours of heaven) and what the river might throw at you -- nothing ruins a great vacation faster than an unintended tumble through Class IV rapids or a branch to the Adam’s apple. Also, this requires a two-car shuttle or the making of new friends at the takeout... or a long, hot 2.4-mile hike back.
Fortunately, Fort Collins is craft brewery central (a tour of New Belgium is always a good idea), and so thirsts can be slaked at places such as Equinox in Old Town, which offers a zippy BetelJuice IPA, a shady beer garden, two stages for live music, and food trucks on weekends. Beforehand, fortify by stopping by Mountain Cafe for a big, gooey cinnamon roll or just-baked biscuits with spicy sausage gravy.