Outific.com is web solutions company based in Loveland Colorado, so we figured Loveland would make a good starting point for our series outlining what to do and where to go for various locations around the country. In this article we’ll explore our top picks for “The Sweetheart City”, a vibrant town located at the center of one of the fastest growing regions in the country. Needless to say, Loveland wasn’t always this way.
Native peoples have lived on the banks of the Big Thompson River for perhaps thousands of years, while European settlers began inhabiting the area as early as the mid-1800s. These early frontiersmen came in search of animal furs, arable land, natural resources, or just a place to stay one step ahead of the constant flow of settlers from the east. By the early 1900’s, farming was by far Loveland’s largest industry with the peculiar crops of Sugar Beats and Cherries being the most important. The decaying remains of the town’s sugar mill (which operated from 1901 to 1985) can still be seen today, reminding us of what once was.
By the 1960’s, farming had given way to technology with Hewlett Packard being the town’s main employer. By the early 2000’s, HP was well into the process of shutting down it’s Loveland offices, and the economic loss was palpable. What was once a bustling downtown seemed sad and empty as big box retail moved in and shifted the towns center of gravity towards the intersection of highway 34 and I-25, where the Cloverleaf dog track (yes Loveland had a dog track…) would soon be bulldozed.
But out of the bust came a boom. A town with so much going for it couldn’t be kept down for long, and after a rough ride through the 2008 financial crisis things were starting to look up. With a steady influx of retirees, families, and remote workers looking to take advantage of the mild climate, stunning vistas, and easy access to the mountains, Loveland was fast becoming a hub for outdoor adventures, upscale food, and of course craft beer.
But enough about history. Let’s talk about what you can (and should) do in Loveland today.
The Best Places To Hike, Mountain Bike, Paddle, and Fish In Loveland Colorado
Being situated in the transition zone between the great plains and the rocky mountains offers Loveland some definite advantages when it comes to hiking and mountain biking. The landscape is varied enough to provide a taste of everything from gentle rolling prairie trails to jagged desert hogbacks and foothills forests. The city of Loveland along with Larimer County have protected thousands of acres of public lands, providing stellar trail access for residents and visitors alike. Below are a few of the more popular local trails, most of which are open to both hikers and mountain bikers.
The Devil’s Backbone trail system is widely considered the “go to” trail for anyone wanting to experience the best hiking and mountain biking Loveland has to offer. Situated in the hogback zone just west of town, the Devil’s Backbone is named for the impressively large jagged spine of sandstone that rises above the surrounding high desert ecosystem. From the parking lot the trail system splits into two separate paths. The western path is only open to hikers and is the more scenic of the two, following the backbone as it travels north. The big attraction / photo op is known as the Keyhole, a natural arch in the backbone. Through the arch you’ll have a nice view of the foothills to the west. Watch out for the bees nest near the top of the arch!
The eastern path, known as the Hidden Valley Trail, is restricted to mountain bikers only (although I occasionally see trail runners making use of it). Both trails eventually merge near the north end of the backbone before climbing a large hogback. Both hikers and mountain bikers will find this climb aerobically challenging to say the least. About half way through the climb there’s another split in the trail that forms the Hunter Loop. Either way takes you to the top of the ridge where the trail flattens out a bit and becomes more technically challenging. After reuniting, the trail splits once again. Both trails offer a challenge but the west side is a bit easer than the east side which has some extremely rocky sections that most bikers will need to hike.
After meeting back up, there’s a short chunky stretch that again climbs to the top of the ridge, where the Devil’s Backbone trail ends and the Blue Sky Trail begins. From here you can turn around and go back the way you came, or follow the Blue Sky Trail to access Horsetooth Mountain Park or Coyote Ridge Open Space.
Users should be aware that as of 2022, access to Devil’s Backbone is no longer free. Either a yearly Larimer County Parks pass or a daily fee of $10 are required to access the trail. Starting in 2023 a non-resident fee of $15 will be implemented. Users should also be aware that rattlesnakes are abundant in the area.
Blue Sky and Indian Summer Trails
If you are looking for flow, the Blue Sky and Indian Summer trails are the place to go. In contrast to the punchy climbs and chunky rocks found at Devil’s Backbone, Blue Sky and Indian Summer offer mostly smooth single track that flows really nicely. Both trails can be accessed from the south via the Devil’s Backbone trail system, the east via the Coyote Ridge and Rimrock Trail system or the north from the Blue Sky trail parking lot near the south end of Horsetooth Reservoir. The Blue Sky Trail parking lot is a Larimer County fee area with the same rate schedule as the Devils Backbone Trail. While some may bristle at the fees, I applaud Larimer County for funding its open spaces from use fees that allow for additional land purchases. It also has the added benefit of keeping crowds manageable.
Speaking of crowds, the Blue Sky Trail tends to avoid the massive crowds seen at Devils Backbone and Coyote Ridge. After leaving the parking lot the trail gradually climbs out of the valley bottom and follows the back side of the hogbacks between Fort Collins and Loveland. As mentioned before this trail is nice and flowy without too much elevation gain or loss. The trail travels due south before hitting the junction at the west end of the Rimrock Trail. Users can opt to take a left and check out the Coyote Ridge and Rimrock trail systems or continue on the Blue Sky trail. After a short descent back into the valley, users will have the option to hang a right and take the Indian Summer loop counter clockwise. Traveling straight will bring you to the south end of the Indian Summer trail where you can take it clockwise. As the Blue Sky trail continues south, it eventually ends up connecting to the Devil’s Backbone trail system.
Coyote Ridge, Prairie Ridge, and Rimrock Trails
Sandwiched between Blue Sky Trail to the northwest and Devils Backbone Trail to the southwest, the Coyote Ridge and Rimrock Trails are popular with hikers and bikers alike. Unlike our previous two picks, parking at Coyote Ridge is free and offers a way for budget conscious adventurers to connect to the Blue Sky and Devils Backbone trails. The cost being grinding out a few extra miles. Another access option is parking at Prairie Ridge, just a few miles south of the Coyote Ridge Trailhead on Wilson Avenue.
The trails at Prairie Ridge offer a couple easy miles of hiking or biking before connecting to the Coyote Ridge trail near its first big climb. Most would consider the trails at Prairie Ridge to be worth skipping, and I would tend to agree. The only exceptions would be mountain biking with small children, in which case Prairie Ridge provides a great “low stakes” training ground. The other exception is when the Coyote Ridge parking lot is completely full.
From the Coyote Ridge parking area, the trail is basically double track gravel for the first mile or so, before turning gnarly with a lung busting climb up yet another front range hogback. Take a moment to enjoy the views from the top before descending into the next valley where the trail flattens out and becomes the Rimrock trail. After traversing the valley bottom, a more gradual but more technically challenging stretch of trail brings you to a technically challenging loop that connects to the blue sky trail about half way through. Most would consider counter clockwise to be the the optimal direction to travel the loop, but masochists may disagree. After completing the loop, return to the parking area the same way you came.
Users should be aware that dogs are not allowed at Coyote Ridge, and rattlesnakes may be active in the area.
Bobcat Ridge Natural Area
Bobcat Ridge natural area is another local favorite for hiking and mountain biking. This open space sits just northwest of Loveland and southwest of Fort Collins off Buckhorn Road. The open space was established after the city of Fort Collins purchased the 2,606 acres of former ranch land using funds from a citizen initiative to protect sensitive land. In April of 2022 the city announced the purchase of another 675 acres of adjacent land that was slated for housing development.
Bobcat ridge offers something for everybody, from handicap accessible wide gravel trails to double black diamond mountain biking. The most popular trail is the Valley Loop Trail, which is an easy 4 mile loop that starts in the valley bottom and then climbs moderately to the ponderosa forest at the base of the foothills.
The Valley Loop can be traveled in either direction, and at its southern extreme connects to the Eden Valley Spur trail. The Eden Valley Spur is an easy 1.3 miles that travels south to the border of the Eden Valley Institute, a Natural Health and Lifestyle center that may or may not be a commune. Hey it takes all kinds.
More adventurous types may want to try the Ginny, D.R., and Powerline trails, which climb several thousand feet to the top of the ridge and gives outstanding views of the continental divide to the west. Directly to the west is forest service land, and one could theoretically hike all the way to the continental divide in Rocky Mountain National Park without ever leaving public land. All three of these trails are difficult, both technically and cardiovascularly (I know, not a real word).
Users should be aware that the area was impacted by the Cameron Peak fire, with about 80% of the area being affected. This sounds a bit worse than it actually is since an earlier fire had burned most of the upper regions of the open space, and the area still provides stunning views and great trails. This is also another area where dogs are not permitted.
Pinewood Reservoir and Carter Lake
Pinewood Reservoir and Carter Lake are both reservoirs that are part of the Colorado Big Thompson water project, a project designed to move water from the Colorado River drainage on the Western Slope, to the Front Range for residential and agricultural use. When these reservoirs were constructed, a large amount of the surrounding land was preserved as open space. The land around both reservoirs are managed by Larimer County, and Larimer County Open Space fees apply.
Hiking and Mountain Biking at Carter Lake consists of the Sundance Trail which skirts the western edge of the lake, and travels through Ponderosa forests on the side of a hogback. The trail can be accessed from either the North or South ends and is relatively flat either way. The Sundance Trail is a decent place to hike near Loveland if you are keen to avoid crowds. It’s not the best place to mountain bike due to the choppiness caused by rocky obstructions, but it’s doable in a pinch.
Pinewood Reservoir also allows both hiking and mountain biking. The Besant Point trail is a relatively easy hike or bike and encircles the entire lake, with only a few rocky areas. This is a great trail for spotting ospreys and bald eagles. The trail can be accessed from parking lots on either the North or South sides of the lake. The Shoshone Trail is an optional loop that connects to the north-west corner of the Besant Point, and adds 1.5 miles of more difficult terrain, with some elevation. The trails at Pinewood Reservoir are another nice option for avoiding crowds seen at other trails near Loveland.
Pinewood Reservoir and Carter Lake are excellent spots to Kayak, Paddleboard, or try your hand at fishing. Pinewood is a good choice for those looking to avoid the heavy power boat traffic of Carter lake as it is an entirely wakeless lake. It should be noted that the lake shrinks significantly as summer wears on and water is released. It should also be noted that this lake features a whirlpool, where water is drained to lower elevation lakes. The whirlpool area is well marked and surrounded by buoys, but paddlers should still be aware and avoid the area.
Carter lake on the other hand always has enough surface area to paddle for hours without repetition. As mentioned earlier, this is a busy lake, especially on the weekends, especially during the summer months. Users wishing to avoid the crowds could head up on a weekday (not Friday, it is Colorado after all), to enjoy some peaceful paddling. Paddlers should be aware that a life jacket must be carried on board your vessel for each occupant, and that this rule is strictly enforced.
Round Mountain, Stone Mountain, and Big Thompson Canyon
The Round Mountain Trailhead is just a few miles west of Loveland on the Lower Big Thompson Canyon. This is a popular hike with locals and visitors alike due to its proximity to town and “real mountains” as opposed to high desert terrain found closer to town. Here you’ll find tall trees, and spectacular views as you climb the canyon walls thousands of vertical feet to the summits of Sheep Mountain and Stone Mountain. The main trail is aerobically strenuous and there are some technical sections with vertical exposure. Less adventurous trekkers can still have a good time by taking the Foothills Nature Trail, an easy 1 mile (one way) spur off the main trail that ends at an old stone CCP shelter.
Viestenz-Smith Mountain Park, just across the Highway from the Round Mountain Trailhead provides a nice location for a pre or post hike picnic with covered tables near the Big Thompson river. There’s also large CCC era stone shelter with picnic tables as well. The park also offers very clean outhouse style restrooms, and a small children’s play area. The park is closed during the winter so plan accordingly. Fly fishermen can wet a line and wade the entire length of the park when river flows allow it, although this stretch of river is typically less productive than other areas of the canyon.
Speaking of fishing, the entire length of the river from the mouth of the canyon to Olympus Dam in Estes Park provides ample opportunity to fly fish for wild Rainbow and Brown trout. There are multiple pullouts along the way for access, just be aware of private property. Fishing from Olympus Dam to Waltonia Bridge is restricted to artificial flies and lures, and is catch and release only. A handicap accessible fishing access point can be found between Waltonia Bridge and Sleepy Hollow Park.
As you drive Highway 34 up the Big Thompson Canyon west of Loveland towards Estes Park the road splits at the tiny town of Drake, with Highway 34 continuing to the left and county road 43 on the right. In-between these two paths lies Crosier Mountain, which features a mixed use hiking and mountain biking trail system encompassing the north side of the mountain. There are three trail access points along County Road 43. As you travel east to west the first access point is about 2.2 miles after the fork in the road. This section of trail is the Garden Gate Trail, a difficult trail starting with a steep climb before leveling out a bit as it heads towards the top of the mountain. Both hiking and mountain biking are allowed, and the 2500 feet of elevation gain will test your lungs either way.
Continuing up County Road 43 the next trailhead is about 3.7 miles past the Garden Gate Trailhead. This trailhead may be hard to spot, but you can recognize it by the grassy terraced hillside above it. If you see the entrance to “The Retreat” (A mountain community HOA) you’ve gone too far. This trailhead provides access to the Rainbow Trail. Similar to Garden Gate, Rainbow starts with a steady climb through pine forests and grassy meadows towards the peak of Crosier Mountain. To the trail eventually connects with both the Garden Gate Trail and our third trail known simply as “Crosier Mountain Glen Haven Trail”.
The Crosier Mountain Glen Haven trailhead is in the town of Glen Haven right next door to the fire station. Finding a spot to park off the road is your only option here. The trail starts on a gravel road that travels through a neighborhood before turning into the actual trail. This is the easiest of the three trails used to access the Crosier Mountain trail system. Again there’s a short steep climb before the trail levels out a bit. After a mile or two the trail splits. To the right is the H-G ranch trail, a relatively easy path that will take you through a grassy meadow with spectacular views of the Estes Valley. The H-G ranch trail eventually connects back up to the Crosier Mountain Glen Haven trail, so these two trails can be hiked in a loop if summiting isn’t on the agenda. As mentioned before the Crosier Mountain Glen Haven trail does eventually connect with both the Garden Gate and Rainbow trails.
North Fork and Bulwark Ridge Trails
We briefly mentioned the road to “The Retreat” in our description of the Crosier Mountain Trail system. This is the road that will take you to the North Fork and Bullwark Ridge trailhead. The official name is Dunraven Glade Road, and it’s located just 0.2 miles west of the Crosier Mountain Rainbow trailhead. Follow Dunraven Glade road for 2.1 miles to reach a large trailhead with outhouse style bathrooms. From the trailhead you can access tons of miles of trails that will bring you to high mountain lakes and Rocky Mountain National park, but you’ll have to choose between the North Fork and Bulwark Ridge trails to start your adventure. Be aware that these trails are hiking only, since they travel through designated wilderness areas.
To access the North Fork trail, continue past the outhouse and follow the trail down towards the North Fork of the Big Thompson River. The trail follows the river (or stream more appropriately) through light forest and meadows, with rock spires looking down from both sides. After passing through a private camp, the trail leaves the river and rises towards the boundary of Rocky Mountain National Park. Please note that dogs are not allowed in the park, so turn around if Fido is with. The trail ends at Lost Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, a well earned reward for your efforts.
Hikers looking for a bit more of a workout can take the high road so to speak by choosing the Bulwark Ridge Trail. This trail starts on the gated road that leads to Cheley Summer Camp, after about 1/3 of a mile the real trail starts with a steep climb into National Forest land. Shortly after reaching the top of Bulwark Ridge, the trail intersects with Indian Trail which takes you down the other side of the ridge, eventually connecting with the Miller Fork Trail. If you choose to continue on the Bulwark Ridge trail, you’ll follow the ridge to the saddle between Signal Mountain and South Signal Mountain. Either mountain may be accessed overland from the saddle. Be aware of any impending storms since you’ll be above treeline by this point. Near the summit of Signal Mountain the trail converges with the Signal Mountain and South Signal Mountain trails. The Signal Mountain trail will lead you north into the Pingree Park arear, and the South Signal Mountain will lead you Southwest where you can access the Stormy Peaks Trail or the Previously discussed North Fork Trail where you could theoretically complete a very long loop.
Trail users should be aware that this area was heavily affected by the Cameron Peak fire in 2020. Hiking may be more difficult due to downed trees, and there is added risk of falling trees and/or flash flooding if there is severe weather in the area.
Boedecker Reservoir is a local favorite for paddle boarding, kayaking, and fishing. Boat launch access is located off South County Road 21, just south of West First Street. The parking lot can fill up fast on summer weekends so plan accordingly. Early summer is the best time to paddle or fish in Boedecker Lake due to falling water levels as summer wears on. The lake is administered by the Colorado Department of Wildlife, and a valid Colorado Fishing License is required to access the lake.
Swimming is not permitted in the lake, although you may be able to get away taking a quick dip in the middle of the lake while paddle boarding. Fishermen will find Walleyes, Largemouth Bass, Crappie, White Bass, and Channel Catfish. Early season fishing tends to be more productive than late season fishing. Ice fishing on Boedecker Reservoir is also popular during the rare times when the ice is thick enough to walk on. Motor boats are allowed on the lake, but must remain wakeless.
In addition to paddling and fishing, Boedecker Reservoir does offer some hiking in the newly created Boedecker Bluff Natural Area, which sits on the North side of the lake. There is only one mile of trail to be explored, and the hiking is nothing special, but one could combine the hike the trails at nearby Mariana Butte for a decent workout. Boedecker Reservoir is also an excellent location for spotting Ospreys which have been reintroduced to Colorado and are now thriving. There are several Osprey nesting locations around the lake with the most prominent near the parking lot entrance.
Lon Hagler Reservoir
About a mile south of Boedecker Reservoir off South County Road 21 is Lon Hagler Reservoir, a slightly smaller lake that is also administered by the Department of Wildlife. The same rules that apply to Boedecker Reservoir also apply to Lon Hagler. There is access from both the north and south ends of the lake, but when the lake is low your best bet is to access via the north end since it is equipped with a long boat ramp. Access to the lake shore can be problematic when water levels are low due to sticky clay mud that likes to stick to shoes and boots. Lon Hagler is typically stocked yearly and features a wide variety of sport fish including Rainbow Trout, Wiper, Largemouth Bass, Walleye, Channel Catfish, Tiger Muskie, Bluegill, and Crappie.
There is a hiking trail that follows the shoreline of the lake. Again the hiking is nothing special, but it’s nice that it’s there. Be aware that hunters may be active in the area depending on the season.
Where To Eat, Drink, Play and Stay in Loveland
As we’ve seen Loveland does have some truly terrific opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, but what’s there to do after that big hike or mountain biking expedition? Luckily, Loveland offers something for just about everyone.
Grab a Pint or Two – Loveland’s Many Microbreweries
Like any proper Colorado town, Loveland has its fair share of microbreweries (11 as of June 2022). The oldest and probably most critically acclaimed brewery in Loveland is Grimm Brothers Brewhouse, which opened in 2010. Grim Brothers features a fairy tail inspired selection of mostly German style beers. Their taproom is large and welcoming, although it lacks the convenience and feel of being downtown. My must try beer from Grimm Brothers: Fearless Youth, an easy drinking Dunkel Lager with hints of caramel, chocolate, and freshly baked bread.
Loveland Aleworks has been a staple of the community for nearly 10 years, and is conveniently located on the West end of downtown’s main drag, 4th Street. With high tin-tiled ceilings, exposed brick, and large glass garage door to bring the outside in, Loveland Aleworks is one of the more popular downtown hangouts. Loveland Aleworks tends to emphasize seasonal variety, so check back often for a taste of something new. My favorite is the Coconut Porter, a winter favorite.
Another local favorite is Verboten Brewing and Barrel Project, which has been in business since 2013. Just a few blocks from Loveland Aleworks, Verboten another downtown staple, and a must visit on any Loveland Brewery Tour. Verboten has a core list of beers that are regularly available, with a large rotating tap depending on seasonality. The taproom is comfortable, and has plenty of space to spread out with its recent expansion into the building next door. For an easy drinking English Style Porter try their Killer Boots, or go nuts and try one of their high gravity selections like Cake or Death (13%), Bourbon Barrel-Aged Frau Blücher (12%), or the appropriately named I’m Not Drunk (10.4%).
Loveland’s Best Bets for Eating Out
As the population of Loveland has grown in the past few years, so have dining options. Yeah sure, there are about a billion chain restaurants, and even rumors of a soon to be In and Out Burger, but the local options are really where it’s at.
My top choice for dining out in Loveland is Henry’s Pub, a restaurant that’s been around forever (or at least seems that way). Henry’s is a place you can take even the pickiest of eaters due to their diverse menu sprinkled with traditional favorites. The atmosphere is casual and comforting with high ceilings and dark wood paneling. Service is always top notch, but don’t expect to just walk in and sit down, especially on Friday or Saturday night. If you don’t have a reservation there will be a wait. Henry’s sits conveniently right next door to the Rialto Theatre, which features live music, comedy acts, and other community events.
On the other side of the Rialto is another favorite for eating out in Loveland, Door 222. Door 222 is an “Upper Casual to Lower Upscale” restaurant which features many unique dishes that go beyond the standard Burger and Fries (although they make an excellent Burger and Fries). Door 222 often uses locally grown and raised products providing a true farm to table experience. The atmosphere is modern and upscale, although you won’t feel the least bit out of place wearing a baseball cap and tee-shirt. You’ll have the of a few local brews or can pick something from the extensive wine list. Appetizers range from classics like Cheese Curds and Truffle Fries to more exotic picks like Black Angus Carpaccio and Manchego Quinoa Cakes. Entrees will include something for everyone from the afore mentioned Burger and Fries to Gulf Shrimp Linguine.
Get Some Culture – Events and Venues in Loveland
Beyond the popular outdoor activities typical of a Colorado town, Loveland offers plenty of social and cultural events throughout the year. One of the most popular places to enjoy the arts is the Historic Rialto Theatre, which just recently celebrated its 100th anniversary. The Rialto started its life as a silent movie theatre but now features everything from movie nights, to live music, to comedy shows.
Loveland may be most famous for its dedication to the arts, most notably the large scale sculptures produced in the town’s bronze foundries. Every summer the city hosts its Sculpture in the Park Art Show and Fine Art Invitational both of which occur on the same weekend and draw patrons and artists from all over the world. The shows are typically run during the 2nd week of August, and usually feature over 2000 sculptures from nearly 200 artists.
For those looking to get in touch with Loveland’s western roots, the Larimer County Fair is the perfect opportunity to break out your cowboy boots and shiniest belt buckle. Held every year at the (new) Larimer County Fairgrounds at the Ranch Complex east of I-25, the fair features a carnival with rides and games, 4-H exhibits, and a rodeo. The fair also features the Gnarly Barley Brew Festival as well as live music throughout the day. The fair typically runs sometime in late June or early July.
After a long (and sometimes depressing) Colorado winter, the Loveland Sweetheart “Fire and Ice” Festival reminds us that spring is just around the corner. Held on Valentines weekend, the festival celebrates Loveland’s historic association with Valentine’s day and all things Love related. There’s live ice carving, fire shows, live music, games for the kids, and of course a beer garden featuring selections from local breweries. The location of the Sweetheart Festival varies from year to year, but recently has been held at the Foundry Plaza located just south of 4th Street and West of Lincoln Avenue.
Loveland is a pretty great place to live and a great place to work. While it may have been overshadowed in the past by its flashier nearby neighbors like Boulder, Fort Collins, and Estes Park, Loveland is a prime vacation destination in its own right. If you have any questions about Loveland or about how we may be able to help you with your next web development project, don’t hesitate to Contact Us.
P.S. – If you think we’ve forgotten anything, comment below and let us know, we’re always looking for new and different adventures in our own hometown.