EXPLORING GREELEY & WELD COUNTY, COLORADO
Adventures Abound in this Off-the-Radar Destination
By Lisa D. Smith and Nancy J. Reid
Just an hour north of Denver, the scenery escapes the city and stretches into a lush valley region dotted with farms, ranches and historic towns, along with wide open prairie country, beautiful gardens, rivers and wetlands, and amazing panoramic views of the Rocky Mountains. Welcome to Greeley and Weld County in northeast Colorado. The setting for the novel “Centennial” by James A. Michener. An agricultural oasis, and a recreational paradise. A place where family and quality of life are high priority, as is maintaining historical integrity.
As part of our Love Your Parks Tour, we spent a week exploring Greeley and Weld County. The list of what to experience in the area is astounding. Their motto is “You’ve Just Gotta Get Here…” and it’s true. So, here’s a little taste of some of the unique adventures you can count on having in this fabulously fun and off-the-radar destination.
GO WILD IN WELD COUNTY
Like most of Colorado, this region is a recreational haven for nature and outdoor enthusiasts that offers camping and picnicking, hiking and cycling, fishing and boating, photography, bird and wildlife watching, and much more.
Spanning 193,060 acres of short grass plains, Pawnee National Grassland is a popular destination for bird watching, hiking and spring wildflowers. St. Vrain State Park is a great family destination boasting spectacular mountain views, over 600 acres of terrain, and over 150 acres of ponds. Home to the Poudre River Trail and part of the Cache la Poudre River National Heritage Area, the Poudre Learning Center offers a variety of educational programs and recreational activities. If glamping is your style, Platte River Fort Resort & Event Center has wonderful luxury camping facilities along the South Platte River.
The Wild Animal Sanctuary is a must-visit for all animal lovers. This esteemed non-profit organization rescues animals from horrific captive situations and rehabilitates them so that they can live the rest of their lives in a relaxed and natural habitat.
SAVOR THE FLAVORS
Early in the region’s development, an irrigation canal became priority construction, turning the high desert into an agricultural oasis. Throughout its history, this area has been known for growing sugar beets, corn, and onion, among many other crops – all made possible on irrigated farmland. Today Weld County rates ninth in agricultural production in America, and you can get a taste of this rich farm history in the food prepared and served at local restaurants, farmers markets and annual events. Greeley, the county seat, has a number of breweries and distilleries, and is home to the first Go-Cup District in Colorado!
Our recommendations in Greeley: At Cottonwood Square, check out Fat Albert’s for a relaxed vibe with homestyle cooking, and My Place Coffee for breakfast or lunch. If you love fresh, authentic Mexican and Southwestern cuisine, go downtown to Luna’s Tacos & Tequila and Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant, or check out Coyote’s Southwestern Grill. Cables Pub & Grill has a fabulous mac and cheese, and burgers. Old Chicago Pizza & Taproom has all your pizza and pub favorites, plus a great selection of local Colorado brews. Doug’s Diner in downtown serves up delicious and hearty breakfast plates.
Our recommendations in Weld County: Wholly Stromboli in Fort Lupton is a destination restaurant with a super cool speakeasy downstairs! If you want to enjoy dinner with a view, check out Platte River Fort, it’s a really unique resort and event center in a beautiful natural setting.
CELEBRATE MUSIC & THE ARTS
If you ever get the chance to experience the Greeley Blues Jam, do it! We’re talking top acts performing on two stages (just twirl your chair around for each act) in a relaxed hometown setting. The whole event kicks off at Friday Fest, a free summer concert series in downtown Greeley. This year’s Blues Jam featured performances by Shemekia Copeland, Larkin Poe, Mr. Sipp “The Mississippi Blues Child,” Cha Wa, Roy Rogers and the Delta Rhythm Kings, Watermelon Slim, Kara Grainger, Taylor Scott Band, and Mojomama.
Downtown Greeley is a hub for the arts with galleries, concert and performing arts venues, murals, sculptures, and even a musical mural alley and a piano keys pedestrian crossing! The James A. Michener Collection at the University of Northern Colorado is a popular destination for literary enthusiasts.
STEP BACK IN TIME
Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, popularized the phrase, “Go West young man, go West,” but it was his visionary agricultural editor, Nathan C. Meeker, who spearheaded one of the most successful colonization experiments ever attempted in the “Great American Desert.” When the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, a spur from Cheyenne to Denver was built, opening this part of the country for settlement. Meeker was inspired to create an agricultural utopia. Where the railroad crossed the confluence of the Platte and Cache la Poudre rivers, the city of Greeley was born – an ideal location where both natural resources and transportation were abundant.
You can learn about the founding of Greeley and the historic pioneer and agricultural communities, and their railroad history at these various museums and historic sites: Centennial Village Museum where docents dress in period costume on weekends, Meeker Home Museum and Greeley History Museum. The South Platte Valley Historical Society in Fort Lupton has recreated the original Fort, and is host to numerous annual events. Located in downtown Greeley, the Colorado Model Railroad Museum is a 5,500 sq. foot destination that features hundreds of railroad sceneries, more than 500 scale locomotives, 80 scale miles of train track, thousands of handmade artifacts including around 28,000 handmade trees, plus, a 1919 Colorado and Southern Caboose.
We stayed in a private condo, however the region offers numerous hotels and lodging facilities including resorts, vacation rentals, and RV parks and campgrounds.
Fabulous and Fun? Yes! Unexpected Experiences? You bet! Worth a Return Visit? For Sure! You’ve just “Gotta Get to Greeley and Weld County!”