Boulder vs. Fort Collins

The debate between Boulder and Fort Collins on which college town is better has been going on for years. Both are hailed as America’s best college towns. Not to mention, they’ve both been awarded several times when it comes to beer, biking, fitness, and eco-friendliness. But when it comes down to it, there are significant differences that can make Boulder or Fort Collins the better choice. 
Boulder vs. Fort Collins

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Boulder and Fort Collins are pretty similar on the surface.

But coming from someone who’s lived in both cities, there’s an important distinction between the two.

First, Boulder is closer to the mountains than Denver. Whereas Fort Collins is more spread out, which means it’s more spacious in general. Imagine parks, greenbelts, neighborhoods, and roadways all spaced out so you don’t feel crammed into one space.

Activities-wise, Boulder has more options. In other words, there’s more diversity in Boulder. This isn’t to say that Fort Collins is limited. Food, nightlife, and activities are all excellent in Fort Collins.

However, compared to Boulder, you’re looking at fewer options. Think lush neighborhood with plenty of small businesses.

Altogether, these are just a few things that make each city stand out. To decide which city is better for you, read on if you want to get the most out of your trip.


If you’re thinking of Boulder for your next trip, then you have adventurous activities at the top of your vacation priorities.

Thinking about hiking and rock climbing?

You’re close. After all, Boulder’s hiking, biking, and rock-climbing opportunities are practically limitless. But that’s not the only adventurous side of the city.

For those who enjoy quick road trips, Boulder has the advantage. And it’s only a stone’s throw from Denver. Plus, it’s also in close proximity to Blackhawk and Central City.

So if you want a change of pace or a new thrill, you can easily go on a road trip and go exploring.

Now, what about dining options, nightlife, relaxation, and nature?

That’s all covered in Boulder too.

Boulder’s craft beer scene is a must-try for beer lovers. But if you’d rather spend your nights sipping margaritas or wine, there are plenty of top-notch bars around as well.

Prefer to shop and explore Boulder’s gastronomic scene? Head to Pearl Street Mall. Here, you’ll find just about everything to keep you entertained throughout the day. Or if you just want to take it easy, slow, and relax in peace, Pearl Street Mall isn’t a bad spot either.

Boulder is a no-brainer vacation that requires minimal planning to fully enjoy what the city has to offer.

If you’re curious as to what else makes Boulder an enticing place to visit, read on below.

What Makes Boulder Unique?

Adventure All-Around

Boulder is well-regarded in everything fitness-related. In fact, locals lead a very active lifestyle, from mountain adventure to biking along miles of trails.

For visiting travelers, you have every opportunity to hike, bike, jog, run, or even go rock climbing. There’s also SU Paddleboarding, kayaking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing.

If you prefer scenic landscapes while hiking, Boulder has several options.

The Flatirons and Rocky Mountain are arguably the best places to go for a hike. What’s more, everything feels more sublime when you’re mountain hiking during a sunrise or sunset. From there, make your way to Valmont Bike Park to put your biking skills to the test. For any cycling junkie, Valmont Bike Park is like a biker’s haven.

But if you prefer to switch up your exercises, there are several places to choose from:

  • Bear Peak
  • Mt Sanitas
  • Boulder Falls
  • Boulder Reservoir
  • Boulder Creek Path

That said, the beauty of vacationing in Boulder is not just having close access to the mountains. That in itself is an advantage, and already gives you dozens of options.

For rock-climbing enthusiasts, Eldorado Canyon State Park is arguably the best choice.

But if you want even more, you can easily take a short day trip to cities like Denver, Blackhawk, or Central City. It’s perfect if you want a change of pace or simply want new experiences.

Denver will probably give you the most bang for your buck on your trip. And that’s because Denver offers a ton of new experiences to try, from nightlife to food and outdoor activities. In fact, you can visit Aspen for some epic skiing.

All in all, Boulder is a hub for outdoor activity. At the same time, you’re free to explore other cities around Boulder which are less than an hour away. From Boulder to Denver, it only takes roughly 40 minutes.

You Have Plenty of Options to Unwind and Take a Break

Just as how adventurous souls can find the perfect vacation in Boulder, so too can relaxation seekers.

The city promises more than just 300 miles (482.8 km) of hiking and biking trails. Because after all, Boulder has 18,210.9 hectares (45,000 acres) of open green spaces for any traveler to relish in.

Want a sun-soaked vacation minus the long hike and sweat activity? You can do that in Flatirons, Rocky Mountain, or even the Eldorado Canyon State Park.

Yes – although all three are regarded as places to exercise, it’s certainly not an absolute rule. You can simply stay at the foothills of these mountains, sit down over a blanket, and enjoy the view.

If you don’t mind hiking just a tad bit, the views are even more sublime the further up you are. Or, you can go for a peaceful walk along Eldorado Canyon State Park.

Now if Eldorado, Flatirons, and Rocky Mountain seem over-the-top in terms of hiking, don’t worry. If it’s a laid-back hike you want, pick from any one of these three trails or do them all as they’re all uber-easy:

  • Sawhill Ponds
  • Anemone Trail
  • Bald Mountain

For any traveler craving nature and recharge on their vacation, Boulder fills that need easily.

And if you’re still not convinced, perhaps something within the city is a better option. Specifically, Pearl Street Mall. A lot of people come here to browse or shop – perfect if you need some retail therapy. But don’t be too convinced that it’s all Pearl Street Mall has to offer.

There are cafes, restaurants, and a dozen spots that read “places to chill” all around the area. Enjoy people-watching? Pearl Street is right up your alley. Want creative inspiration? The scenic backdrop of Flatirons at Pearl Street will surely get those creative juices flowing.

Even better, you can sign up for a yoga session at Yoga Pearl. Or do a restorative class at Radiance Power Yoga.

Finally, feel free to add in some me time and pampering at any of Boulder’s top-notch spas. If you want an award-winning experience, none will disagree with spending a spa day at St. Julien. Not only are the views here incredible, but the aura and experience are lavish, luxurious, and oh-so-worth it.

That isn’t your only option, though. There’s also…

  • Spavia
  • Siam Sensation
  • Dragontree Spa
  • The Woodhouse Day Spa

It’s Easy to Plan a Family Itinerary

If you’re planning a trip to Boulder with family, there are countless stacks of activities to do. Take your pick: family-friendly cafes, restaurants, parks, farms, open green spaces, and attractions.

To start, you can book a family-friendly nature hike and encounter tons of wildlife. The Boulder Open Space & Mountain Park Hikes and Program is the best place you can book family tours.

For more nature attractions, do the Boulder Farm Trail. Along the trail, here are a few activities you’ll get to do with your kids:

  • Harvest your own crops and goods
  • Try your very first wild-herb picking
  • Meet baby goats and learn how farmers milk cows
  • Spend the day at a pumpkin patch and weekend kiddie carnival

One of the best highlights of a farm trail? Getting to shop for handmade and organic farm produce. Artisan cheese, pasta, bread, jams, peaches, and sweet corn are just some of the farm produce you’ll get to find.

After you’ve spent time exploring Boulder’s family-friendly farms, there’s much more to still do.

You can stop by Pearl Street Mall to enjoy several of the mall’s family-friendly cafes and restaurants. Some of these include Pasta Jay’s, Rosetta Hall, and Pizzeria Locale. While also in Pearl Street Mall, you’ll see a lot of street performers to keep the whole fambam entertained.

Looking for family activities on the adventurous side? Hit up Gateway Park Fun Center for mini-golf, go-karting, video games, and more. You can also go for a quick swim at the Boulder Reservoir and cool off on a hot day.

For older kids, visit Valmont Bike Park or Boulder Skate Park for more recreational activities. If you’re traveling with the little ones, the Junkyard Social Club is an excellent place to do so.

Another popular attraction is Fiske Planetarium, known for its interactive shows.

Overall, visiting Boulder with family is a great idea. With so many family-friendly activities to go around, there’s no doubt the whole family will enjoy the city.

Unique Nightlife Scene

Nightlife is probably the last thing you might expect out of Boulder. But recently, it’s been a growing trend.

Now, nightlife in Boulder isn’t exactly partying until your head starts spinning. There are a number of places around Boulder to party, but it’s not the main attraction.

Instead, what Boulder’s nightlife is famous for is its easygoing after-dark scene. For a little buzz, no headache, and a night to unwind, head to The Root Kava Bar.

There’s a generous selection of beer, kombucha, and tonic here. But their best seller is the kava drink, made from kava root. Don’t expect a strong buzz from Root Kava’s kava drink. But it will reduce your stress, and anxiety, and even boost muscle recovery and mental focus.

If you prefer an alcoholic drink with slightly more punch and flavor, visit Oak at Fourteenth. They have a broad selection of low-alcohol drinks, perfect for athletes and active travelers, right?

Next, BOCO Cider offers blueberry lemonade Rev Kombucha, a delicious drink free of gluten and sulfites. You can also order the Rocky Mountain Soda Company root beer if you’re craving something familiar.

For those after a more unique alcohol selection, don’t miss Tonic Alchemy Lounge. Their offer? Herbal cocktails, flavored water kefirs, crystal-flower chakra elixirs, and honey-based kombucha. For an even more unique twist, you can request flavored oxygen to be added to your drink.

Beer lover? Boulder has plenty of homegrown-stamped beers to keep you coming back for more. Avery Brewing, Twisted Pine Brewing, Sanitas Brewing, and Asher Brewing Co. are all excellent choices.

If you’re a wine lover, Vinnie Fera Wine and Bookcliff Vineyards are your best choices. But if you’d rather stick to spirits the entire time in Boulder, be sure to check these places out:

  • J&L Distillery
  • Deviant Spirits
  • Hogback Distillery
  • Boulder Spirits by Vapor Distillery

All in all, Boulder’s nightlife isn’t exactly the fist-pumping experience you know back home. But it does offer a ton of unique alcoholic drinks and bars that will keep you pinned the entire night.

Fort Collins

Did you know Fort Collins was named one of the 14 Best Places to Travel in 2019 by Forbes? Also known as FoCo, the city prides itself on recreational activities, an energetic art scene, and outdoor attractions.

Against Boulder, Fort Collins has comparable outdoor activities. Hiking, biking, whitewater rafting, and so on.

But there are a few things that make FoCo stand out from Boulder. For one, it’s easier to get around. Second, it’s cheaper too. And third, you’ll see a lot more green around the city. Parks, neighborhoods, greenbelts, you name it. In fact, there are a lot of waterfalls tucked away in dense and rich alpine forests.

Now, this isn’t to say though that Fort Collins is solely a nature lover’s haven.

Downtown Fort Collins, Horsetooth Mountain, and Holiday Twin Drive-In are attractions worth noting. Around Downtown Fort Collins, there are cafes, boutiques, and a charm that will instantly draw you in.

Overall, FoCo has a country charm perfect for those who feel pressured by the pace of city life. Not to mention, Fort Collins has a lot of museums, art centers, and historical attractions. So, it’s ideal for anyone looking for a more relaxed and easygoing vacation above all.

What Makes Fort Collins Unique?

Several Nature Getaways

One thing you can’t miss when visiting Fort Collins? Its open green spaces. And there’s nothing quite more pristine and stunning than the Horsetooth Mountain Open Space.

The park boasts its most iconic attraction, the Horsetooth Rock. What’s more, Horsetooth Mountain is also home to Horsetooth Falls, which features a spectacular display of Mother Nature.

But it’s not just admiring the view that visitors can do in Horsetooth Mountain. Hiking, climbing, camping, and even fishing are all possible recreational activities to do here.

For hiking enthusiasts, the Coyote Ridge Natural Area is the most popular in the city. But really, Coyote Ridge Natural Area is the perfect example of a nature getaway. Here, it’s all about reconnecting with nature and taking the sheer, grand beauty of the park’s entire space.

The Cache la Poudre River is also another site worth visiting. No visit to Fort Collins would be complete without spending time at the Poudre River. The canyons at Cache la Poudre are without a doubt worth the hike, but it’s not the main highlight.

Instead, the Poudre River stands as the iconic landmark’s main attraction. During spring and summer, the river is a hotspot for anyone who enjoys tubing. For those who enjoy a challenge, try kayaking in the Poudre River’s waters.

All in all, there’s no denying that FoCo is an outdoor oasis and a nature lover’s dream. The city’s many trails, forests, mountains, and waterfalls offer a quintessential experience unlike any other.

Old Town Fort Collins

Hailed as one of America’s best downtown areas, Old Town Fort Collins is a must-visit. You can spend the entire day here if you like. However, it’s arguably better to go back and forth to Old Town whenever you’re in need of a city break.

In fact, Old Town Fort Collins was Walt Disney’s inspiration for Disney’s Mainland Street. The charming, old buildings lined along this town are just one of the many features to love about it.

Old Town hosts several events throughout the year, along with community events perfect for meeting locals. What’s more, you can dine, drink, shop, learn, mingle, and play all in the same town.

If you’re visiting Old Town first thing in the morning, stop by Bean Cycle Roasters. The coffee shop has been around for more than a decade, serving customers fresh-roasted coffee since 2004.

After your coffee break, check out the Museum of Art Fort Collins for some creative inspiration. From there, you can choose between two different activities: shopping or dining & drinking.

If it’s shopping you want, you’ll find everything you need on College Avenue. For those that want to explore FoCo’s gastronomy scene, The Exchange is the best place to start.

The Exchange is an open-air market with dozens of choices, including sour beers and robot-made donuts. You can also find wine, whiskey, handmade ice cream, tacos, burgers and so much more here. Cheese lover? Be sure to stop by The Welsh Rabbit.

Once you’ve had your retail therapy and explored the food scene, there’s plenty to keep you occupied. Love theater? Head to the Bas Blue Theatre Company. Want more art? Visit Smokestack Pottery and The Articulate.

Looking for a place to stay active? Old Town Athletic Club offers yoga, spin, pilates, step, Nia, and even sculpting. Prefer a more physical type of activity? There’s basketball in the Northside Aztlan Community Center.

Or, you can also check out Buckingham Park for more basketball courts, including baseball fields. Plus, the park is big enough for anyone that simply wants a lazy day to themselves.

Altogether, Old Town Fort Collins has everything you need in a day well spent.

Over 20+ Craft Breweries

Although nightlife is limited in FoCo, doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time. For beer lovers, there’s nothing better than stumbling into a city that loves its beer.

As a matter of fact, FoCo is home to the 4th largest beer brewer in the US: New Belgium Brewing Co. In this beer-centric town, there’s no doubt you’ll find what you’re looking for.

With more than 2 dozen breweries in Fort Collings, where would you even start? If you can, why not visit them all? That said, there are several places that always hit the spot. And CooperSmith’s Pub & Brewing deserves to be on that list.

Opened in 1989, CooperSmith was the first brewery in Fort Collins. So it should come as no surprise that the pub is often fully booked. It’s not just beer they serve either.

You can also order pizzas, chicken wings, burgers, fries, and appetizers to pair with any of their cold beers. The outdoor-patio setting also adds a lot of appeal if you’re in the mood to pregame in the afternoon or early evening.

A few of the noteworthy beers at CooperSmith include…

  • Poudre Pale Ale
  • Horsetooth Stout
  • Lemon Rye Kolsch
  • Sigda’s Green Chili

Another brewery worth visiting? Black Bottle Brewery, which won a medal at the Great American Beer Festival. One of the best things to love about Black Bottle Brewery is its seasonal offerings. At one point, they offered a Belgian Tripel and Tropical Depression Coconut IPA. Another time, they sold Zero to Tooty Fruity Kettle Sour – perfect if you love fruity-tasting beer.

For something more on the classical but beer-barrel-aged side, hit up Purpose Brewing & Cellars. If you’re after a wide selection of pilsners and lagers, Zwei Brewing hits the spot.

Of course, New Belgium Brewing is a great choice, especially if you love drinking these at home. Why else wouldn’t you visit when you can get one on tap, right?

There’s also Maxline Brewing, famous for its Coffee Porter. While they do serve IPAs as well, it’s worth trying the brewery’s unique drinks. Some of these include the Peach Mango Pale Ale and Raspberry Basil Saison.

Finally, don’t leave FoCo until you’ve visited Odell Brewing and Prost Brewing.

The Cache la Poudre Scenic Byway

There are three things in Fort Collins you won’t ever regret trying: Outdoor adventure, beer, and the Cache la Poudre Scenic Byway.

But unlike most of the outdoor adventure in FoCo that entails hiking, this is a softer adventure. Rather, it’s a scenic drive through the Cache la Poudre River Canyon.

One of the best times to do it? In the fall, when the trees and flowers are in full bloom. Now, it might not be your first time doing a scenic drive, but Cache la Poudre is one of the most memorable no doubt.

Along the way, there’s plenty to see apart from the endless row of yellow, orange, and green woodlands. On the rocky cliffs, you’ll spot a ton of bighorn sheep.

As soon as you hit Cameron Pass, there’s even more wildlife. Coyotes, elks, and moose all graze the grasslands here, which aren’t hard to find even without a pair of binoculars.

It’s worth making a stop and walking on the alpine meadows at Cameron Pass. Even better, you’ll be greeted with stunning views of the North Park basin.

Make sure you start early if you plan to do the Cache la Poudre River Canyon drive. A one-way trip takes at least 3 hours. With stops along the way, maybe even longer.

But all in all, the drive is worth every minute, especially for anyone craving a meditative retreat. Or if you’re in the mood for some quiet solitude.

Is Boulder Better Than Fort Collins?

Boulder and Fort Collins shine when it comes to outdoor adventure and recreational activities. For any active traveler, both are well worth the visit.

If you’re looking for adventure, great beer, and food, both cities have all three in spades.

But when it comes to diversity, Boulder has the upper hand. Nightlife, entertainment, food, concerts, and sports events – there’s more happening down in Boulder. This also means Fort Collins feels less urban, overall. And that’s mostly thanks to its vast open green spaces and parks.

Boulder might be for you if you prefer a vacation with a wider variety of things to do and see. The city offers more in general and is also closer to other cities like Denver if you want a change of pace. So, you can easily take short road trips if you’re after new experiences not limited to the city.

Fort Collins is more laid-back. You have fewer options, yes. But that could be more appealing if you prefer having more downtime with a mix of outdoor explorations and decent nightlife.


Is Fort Collins Near Boulder Colorado?

Fort Collins is relatively near Boulder. In fact, the distance is near enough that it’s possible to drive from one city to the other.

How Far Is Boulder From Fort Collins?

Boulder isn’t far from Fort Collins, with a total distance of 45.8 miles or 73.7 kilometers. Overall, the total travel time takes about 1 hour and 5 minutes.

Boulder to Fort Collins

There are several ways to get from Boulder to Fort Collins: bus, taxi, car, or Uber. If you take the bus, FLEX is the most popular option. It’s also the regional bus service that serves the Northern Colorado bus route.

In total, there are five bus trips daily – two trips in the morning and three in the afternoon. While buses are the cheapest option, they’re not the most convenient if you’re bringing a lot of luggage.

If you prefer more comfort and privacy, renting a car might be a better option. Alternatively, taking an Uber or taxi is a great option as well.

Renting a car is preferable if you enjoy driving at your own pace and want to do a lot of sightseeing. Taxis are comparably more expensive than UberX. Taxi fares are typically fixed, but expect to pay at least $140 one-way. In some cases, and due to traffic, taxi fares can cost as much as $170.

On average, a typical UberX fare ranges between $69 to $92. That said, if you’re taking an UberXL, costs are much higher – between $119 to $157.