Loveland, Colorado is approximately 52 miles north of Denver, nestled south of Fort Collins and just east of the mouth to the Big Thompson River that rolls out of the Rocky Mountains from Estes Park. The city is aptly nicknamed both “The Gateway to the Rockies” and “The Sweetheart City,” hinting at modest roots in western cowboy culture. During the summer, Loveland is bustling with tourist traffic en route to Rocky Mountain National Park only an hour up Highway 34. With a population around 77,000, the city is the second most populous municipality in Larimer County, and it had quite the agricultural past. Surprisingly, the farmers in the area produced mainly sugar beets and sour cherries up until the 1960s when more agricultural diversity took over the agriculture industry in the region. With a picturesque downtown and agricultural plains dotted with ponds and reservoirs, Loveland is rich with history and geological variety. Use this Getaway Guide for your weekend in Loveland. You’ll notice its most stunning attribute is the western skyline, yielding an impressive view of Longs Peak and other Front Range mountains.
Day 1 – Work Those Quads
Start the day early at The Egg & I right off Highway 287, then head for the nearby mountains or the in-town trails with these options:
- Driving about 12 miles up Highway 34 (past the iconic Dam Store), you’ll find trailhead parking for the Foothills Nature Trail, Round Mountain National Recreation Trail, Summit Adventure Trail, and more, ranging from easy to moderate treks. Prime season is between May and October. Bring plenty of water, and if you’re bringing a dog, make sure it is on a leash at all times. These trails are fairly quiet if you’re hoping for a pleasant stroll.
- Head to the Dakota Sandstone of Devil’s Backbone Open Space on the west side of town for stunning views of interesting rock formations. The backbone itself, famous for its Keyhole formation, is considered Larimer County’s most impressive geological landmark, but this also means that trails in this area are very popular. The Open Space is open from dawn to dusk and has no day-use fees. With 12 miles of trail connecting the Rimrock Open Space and Horsetooth Mountain Open Space, there’s plenty to explore. Old red mounds can even be seen from historical mining of gypsum in the area. Horseback riding and mountain biking are also common in addition to hiking and trail running.
- Loveland has 18 miles of designated recreation trail that follows the Big Thompson River, passes irrigation canals, crosses over and under city streets, fields, and runs along the western shore of Boyd Lake State Park. The city boasts the potential for spotting wildlife from elk, eagles, foxes, and rattlesnakes. The city has placed quarter mile markers along the trail, and it’s open daily between the hours of 6:00 am and 10:30 pm.
All three options involve a whole day of adventure, so pack a picnic. Catch a show at the end of the day at the Thunder Mountain Amphitheater which hosts a series of concerts each summer.
Whatever your vibe is, Loveland hosts a range of accommodations from basic hotels to guest ranch getaways to RV campgrounds. And if you’re a night owl, there are numerous options for nightlife, including Burk’s Tavern and Loveland Aleworks.
Day 2 – Water Recreation and Leisure
Spend the second day of your weekend in Loveland at one of the most popular lakes near Loveland is Carter Lake, located in the foothills at an elevation of 5,760 feet. Run by the Bureau of Reclamation and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, Carter Lake was created to divert water from the west slope to the east slope for drinking, irrigation, and hydropower. The lake is three miles long and one mile wide and is surrounded by 1,000 acres of public land. Recreational activities range from sailing, water skiing, camping, swimming, scuba diving, fishing, and even bouldering. The lake is open year round and also offers mountain biking trails and horseback riding. The marina offers boat rentals. Camping permits are required and there is a nominal entrance fee.
Other notable spots for water activities:
- Flatiron Reservoir – This 47-acre reservoir is surrounded by 200 acres of public lands. This is a popular spot for fishing, picnicking, and family camping. There is no boating or swimming allowed, however, and entrance and camping fees are required. This reservoir does offer a unique camping experience nonetheless, with the chance to spend the night in a traditional tipi, available May-October.
- Pinewood Reservoir – 327 acres of public land surround this picturesque, 100-acre reservoir. Tucked farther away into the foothills, this reservoir surely has that getaway feel and is well worth the 25-mph road. No-wake boating, camping, fishing, hiking and running trails make this reservoir a peaceful escape into the mountains. Camping and entrance fees are required and can be purchased at either Carter Lake or Flatiron Reservoir (which you pass on the way).
- Lake Loveland – This lake offers a fine swim beach, open 10:00 am to 5:00 pm from Memorial Day to Labor Day. As a privately owned lake, the recreational rights belong to the residents. However, there is no admission fee to access the beach and both the north and south shore offer fishing opportunities. Lake Loveland is also near the Benson Sculpture Park.
- Boyd Lake State Park – This is Loveland’s largest park and offers the usual activities like fishing, boating, a swim beach, camping, and hiking. There are also music concerts during the summer at 1 pm every Saturday at the Swim Beach Pavilion. The park does require an entrance fee or a Colorado State Parks Pass.
After a long sunny morning out on the beach or in a kayak, head up Big Thompson Road to check out The Dam Store if you haven’t already, a tourist destination since 1906. Browse an extensive collection of souvenirs, try some buffalo jerky, and climb the 40-foot tower built to provide tourists a view of the Big Thompson River Dam. If you’re interested to learn more about the history of Loveland, head over to the Loveland Museum to look at pioneer artifacts, read stories about the railroad, and even walk into a general store from the early 1900’s. The museum is also an art gallery for world-class exhibitions; it hosts family events, classes, lectures, and poetry readings.
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A block south of the museum is the Black Steer, voted for the best steak in Loveland 10 years in a row, with the potential to see some real Loveland cowboys. And if you’re feeling like the day isn’t over yet, head over to the Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch for an afternoon horseback ride into the foothills. Keep your eyes peeled for coyote, bighorn sheep, wild turkeys, and if you’re really lucky, maybe even a bear. Horseback rides do require reservations, however, so plan accordingly.
Before heading home, make sure to stop by Esh’s Discount Grocery off Highway 34, a family-owned business selling grocery items at the lowest price possible, and even better, the majority of their items are organic. If you’re heading north towards Fort Collins, they have an even bigger store, newly built in 2016 off of Highway 287. To top the whole weekend off, pick up some ice cream from the freezer section, or hit up Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt or Paciugo Gelato for the road. And if you’re in no rush, head over to South Shore Parkway with your dessert to the southern end of Lake Loveland, and unwind with an unforgettable sunset.
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