Loveland may not be the first city you think to visit when you come to Colorado. It's easily overshadowed by some of the other tourist draws and college towns on the Front Range.
But this former tiny town just south of Fort Collins has really blossomed over the past decade, and it's begun getting national attention.
Even locals are taking note and planning day-cations to see the new face of Loveland.
Loveland has been named one of the 10 best Colorado cities for young families and was called one of the 10 Best Places in Colorado — a huge honor in a state with many awarded cities. Its crime rate is low, it has a low unemployment rate and it has also been recognized for being ultra healthy.
In addition, Livability named Loveland one of the top 100 places to live for 2016, and USA Today featured the city in a story about picturesque towns.
That's just the beginning.
Here are six other reasons you want to plan a visit to Loveland on your next Colorado vacation:
1. Its view of the Front Range is among the best.
Sure, it's hard to rank the mountains; they're all stunning. But it's also hard to deny that Longs Peak and Mount Meeker make one stunning pair. They're two of the Front Range's most famous sites and a quintessential Colorado view that you must take a photo of. You can clearly see the "twin sisters" from Loveland, which frames your entire day on one of the world's most beautiful backdrops.
2. It's a straight shot to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park.
Loveland is a quick drive to the Rocky Mountain National Park — definitely day trip distance. It's easy to zip up to the mountains and back, with the opportunity to return to a well-appointed city at a lower elevation. This appeals to out-of-state visitors who suffer altitude sickness or appreciate a wider selection of restaurants and shops that tiny Estes can pack in.
Drive up the canyon to see the park and book your hotel in Loveland or even at the base of the canyon. A great option is Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch. Stay in a private cabin on this horse ranch, go on a trail ride and enjoy the peaceful views.
3. You can breathe well here.
In fact, Movoto recognized Loveland as one of the state's best places, noting its nearly perfect air quality. You might disagree if you aren't from this altitude, though. The air can feel a little thin and dry. You'll get used to it.
4. The river runs through it.
The famous Big Thompson River cuts through Loveland, which is great news for people who enjoy fly fishing. You will be hard-pressed to find a better place to cast out.
5. There are many unique ways to get outside and get active.
Loveland boasts 17 miles of hiking and biking paths, four different golf courses and eight different parks — including Boyd and Carter lakes, where you can camp and boat.
Then there is the Devil's Backbone Open Space, one of the most unusual rock formations in the state. Red rocks jut out from the earth in a spiny line that resembles a massive, jagged backbone (hence the name). A trail will take you right up the spine, and the 12-mile trail will give you access to more than 2,000 acres of pristine wilderness. Bring your horse, your bike, your picnic basket or your running shoes. Definitely, bring your camera.
6. The shopping is legit.
While the western stretch of Loveland centers around the foothills, open space, sprawling farms and the river, the farther you head east, the more "metropolitan" the city gets. It's no big city, but you will be surprised to find this many shopping options in a city of only 71,000.
Downtown is a great place to find quirky antiques and vintage clothes, as well as hip boutiques, like Vintage Willow. Find various strip malls as you continue eastward with popular chains (Kohls, Target, Marshalls, that kind of thing), until you get to one of the city's two malls. Yes, Loveland has two different malls.
The outlet mall sells goodies at up to 70 percent off. Highlights include Coach, Sketchers, Nike, Levis and J.Crew.
Across the interstate is the Promenade Shops at Centerra, where you can find more than 70 different shops and restaurants, such as Macy's, Charlotte Russe and Victoria's Secret.