What's it like to live in Fort Collins, CO?


Profile written by local expert:

Josh Rhoten

Fort Collins was once overshadowed by Colorado’s heavily populated Front Range and famous mountain ski towns. That status has changed as new residents – increasingly priced out of the Denver or Boulder markets – have moved an hour north to join a growing community that retains a small-town feel.

Home to Colorado State University, Fort Collins is known to many nationally as the Napa Valley of craft beer, hosting big names like New Belgium Brewing Co. along with new up-and-comers. Outdoor recreation is a big driver of the economy and popular in social circles. The city’s access to nearby Rocky Mountain National Park and other pristine public spaces helps feed this dynamic. It’s not uncommon to see locals at the trailhead in the morning for a hike, run or bike ride and then on a brewery patio with friends later that night.

Many surrounding cities in northern Colorado boast similar advantages, contributing to growth in the region. Because of that popularity, Fort Collins has been forced to reevaluate its transportation and infrastructure systems.

Rankings

U.S. News analyzed 150 metro areas in the United States to find the best places to live based on quality of life and the job market in each metro area, as well as the value of living there and people's desire to live there.

Fort Collins, Colorado is ranked:

#5 in Best Places to Live

#71 in Best Places to Retire

#4 in Best Places to Live in Colorado

#9 in Fastest-Growing Places

#10 in Best Places to Live for Quality of Life

#12 in Safest Places to Live

7.4

Overall

Scorecard

Best Places to Live

  • Desirability
    7.7
  • Value
    6.0
  • Job Market
    7.5
  • Quality of Life
    7.6
  • Net Migration
    8.8

Read how we rank places

Fort Collins, CO Quick Stats

  • 338,161

    Metro Population

  • $51,050

    Average Annual Salary

  • N/A

    Avg High/Low Temps

  • 35.9

    Median Age

  • $381,358

    Median Home Price

  • N/A

    AVG Annual Rainfall

  • 2.4%

    Unemployment Rate

  • $1,228

    Median Monthly Rent

  • 23.2 minutes

    Avg Commute Time

What is there to do in Fort Collins, CO?

Outdoor recreation opportunities are plentiful in and around Fort Collins. Rocky Mountain National Park is just over an hour away and is one of the best spots in the country for hiking and camping in the high mountains. Closer to home, Larimer County operates many parks, like Devil’s Backbone Open Space.

The city’s arts and entertainment offerings are built around Old Town, a downtown area that boasts multiple music venues, bars and shopping options and is rumored to be the inspiration for Disneyland’s Main Street, U.S.A. The nearby Lincoln Center hosts touring Broadway productions and smaller shows geared mostly toward families. Just north of Old Town is the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery, a children’s museum and digital dome theater.  

Other entertainment options include guest speakers and live entertainment at Colorado State University, which also boasts Division I teams in basketball, football and other sports.

Summer is festival season in Fort Collins, anchored by the Colorado Brewers’ Festival and the Bohemian Nights music festival, which attracts nationally touring acts and has free admission. Also, New Belgium Brewing hosts the Tour de Fat, an annual celebration of all things bike culture that includes a massive bike parade through downtown.

What's the cost of living in Fort Collins, CO?

With many people looking to move into the area, median housing prices are high and expected to climb. However, homeowners in Colorado can expect to pay one of the lowest effective property tax rates in the country, and the average tax bill in Fort Collins is less than in nearby Boulder and Denver. Cost of living expenses in the state is on par with the national average for groceries and below the national average for utilities and transportation.

Colorado has a relatively low sales tax rate; however, Fort Collins and Larimer County each charge additional taxes. Some shopping areas in northern Colorado also charge an additional retail-development tax on top of the base rates.

Colorado has an income tax that most individuals and noncorporate businesses are subject to.

Looking for financial advice? Find a local financial advisor in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Value Index

Index Score: 6.0 /10

How we calculate this.


Fort Collins offers a lower value than similarly sized metro areas when you compare housing costs to median household income.

Housing Costs 2019


Fort Collins
$381,358

USA
$232,933

Housing Costs Over Time

Data sourced from Zillow median home sale price data series. Additional data provided by the Austin Board of Realtors, Houston Association of Realtors, Intermountain MLS, Omaha Area Board of Realtors, San Antonio Board of Realtors, and the Salt Lake Board of Realtors.

Buying or selling a home? Find top real estate agents in Fort Collins, CO.

What's the weather like in Fort Collins, CO?

The area is known for its sunshine. When snow does fall heavily in Fort Collins, it generally melts over the following days. However, snow closures are always possible, particularly from December to March. Summer finds hot, dry days with temperatures in the 90s, often culminating in impressive thunderstorms. Spring and fall  – especially in the shoulder months of April, May and October – can go by quickly and are hard to predict, with April showers sometimes leading to snow plowers rather than May flowers.

Tornadoes are possible to the east and north of the city but are considered rare in Fort Collins proper. Significant damage is more likely to come from hail during the late summer months. Smoke from wildfires in the region is also increasingly an issue, though property damage from them is still considered rare in populated areas.

What's the best way to get around Fort Collins, CO?

Easy terrain, a trail system and dedicated lanes have made biking a popular mode of transportation within the city. A robust bike-share program has helped too, as has support from local businesses. For example, New Belgium Brewing gifts a custom bike to each employee after one year of service.

Parking and driving around the city is not hard, and the Transfort bus service is generally effective. The Old Town area features a large parking garage, and surrounding gathering spots have plenty of surface and lot space. One problem for residents during local commuting is the frequent crossing of trains through major junctions downtown. This can cause backups that usually last for 15 minutes but can stretch for hours if there are problems with the engines.

While many residents commute an hour each way to Denver, Boulder and other nearby communities for work, they increasingly find themselves trapped in gridlock – especially along the Interstate 25 corridor. Some mass transit options do exist, mostly in the form of ride-share and buses, but many are at capacity. The state and communities along the corridor, including Fort Collins, are working to address this issue through construction and planning.

Denver International Airport is just over an hour away, and much of the Front Range traffic to and around it can be bypassed by toll road. 

Getting to and from Colorado’s famed ski resorts in the winter is a challenge, no matter where you live in the state. From Fort Collins, you should expect to spend at least three hours door to door with heavy traffic and shifting weather conditions. A train to the slopes leaves regularly from Denver but books up well in advance.

Commuting in Fort Collins, CO

Means of Transportation
Driving
84%
Equal to national average

Bicycling
3%
Above national average

Walking
3%
Equal to national average

Public Transit
1%
Below national average
Average Commute Time

23.2 minutes

3.4 minutes less than national average

Average Commute Times by Zip Code

Data sourced from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey.

Who lives in Fort Collins, CO?

Fort Collins is built around Colorado State University, the second-largest public school in the state. While many students are in town during the school year, recent growth has made the city less of a traditional college town. Lots of young families are moving to the area, with many working at the larger breweries, the university, or tech and innovation companies.

Age Distribution

Marital Status Breakdown


About the same number of single people in Fort Collins as national average

Data sourced from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey.