Kids are often tough to please – but they’ll be grinning from ear to ear whenever they’re in The Mile High City, thanks to Denver’s wide array of kid-friendly attractions. Interactive museums, incredible zoos and aquariums, wide open parks – they’re all guaranteed to please even the grouchiest young ones. Writer (and mom) Lori Midson gives you the lowdown on some of her favorites.
CITY PARK, DENVER ZOO, DENVER MUSEUM OF NATURE & SCIENCE
City Park is expansive greenway boasting tennis courts, picnicking areas, playgrounds, lakes for paddling and a spectacular summer concert series.
At the eastern edge of the park sits Denver Zoo where education comes alive! More than 4,300 animals await to inspire awe in your family at Denver's most popular cultural attraction. See elephants swim, orangutans swing and hear lions roar while enjoying up-close animal experiences that provide moving connections to wildlife.
Just adjacent to the zoo is the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, a spectacular interactive museum that explores fossils and dinosaurs, the mysteries of space at Gates Planetarium (it's out of this world!), Egyptian mummies, the riddles of the human body, and a slew of other hands-on exhibits. The newly expanded Discovery Zone has dozens of hands-on activities for kids of all ages.
PLATTE RIVER VALLEY, CHILDREN'S MUSEUM OF DENVER AT MARSICO CAMPUS
The Platte River Valley, in the heart of the city, boasts a cornucopia of family-friendly attractions and entertainments.
At the Children's Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus they believe in kid-powered learning. Their one-of-a-kind exhibits open doors for young minds to create, discover, explore - on their own terms. Whether painting or sculpting, building and launching a rocket, climbing to the top of their 3 ½ story climber, or making 8-foot-tall bubbles, an adventure is ready for you!
Nearby, Elitch Gardens Theme & Water Park offers exhilarating adventures galore with 53 rides, including the heart-pounding Mind Eraser, a twisted-steel rollercoaster that spins, dives, drops, rolls and races along the tracks. There is also a 10-acre swimming area, that offers slippery slides, crashing waves and lazy rivers.
Just a short walk away is the Downtown Aquarium, a seaworthy spectacle of kaleidoscopic fish coupled with reptile, bird and tiger habitats. Here, amid the astounding marine life, kids can feed the stingrays, swim with the sharks, pan for gold, become a marine biologist for a day, or even spend the night in the aquarium.
While you're in the Platte River Valley, hop aboard the Platte Valley Trolley, an open-air streetcar that resembles the trolley on the Mister Rogers' Neighborhood TV show. The narrated tours provide a fascinating historical account of Denver from its Gold Rush days to the present.
ART PROGRAMS FOR KIDS
The world-class Denver Art Museum — free for youths 18 and younger — is a great place to introduce kids to the wide and wonderful world of art. Every gallery on every floor of this expansive museum has something fun for families.
First, pick up a free family backpack on the first floor of the Hamilton Building. These backpacks are filled with arts, crafts and games. Tromp through the galleries making art, playing games and piecing together puzzles. Try a different adventure every time you visit. You can also grab a free Art Tube, each containing an art-making activity that you complete while in the galleries.
As you make your way through the museum, keep your eyes peeled for the Hotspot icon, which will point you towards family-friendly art and activities. In the lower level of DAM's North Building, you'll find the Just For Fun Family Center, where touching, scribbling, building and playing is strongly encouraged. Nearby, check out the Kids Corner, where youngsters can create their own mini-masterpiece.
Smudge, squiggle and splatter at Create Playdates on the second Wednesday of the month from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Drop in with your little ones (ages 3-5) to meet up with other tots and their grown-ups for artmaking in Duncan Pavilion, storytime throughout the museum, and scavenger hunts in the galleries. Create Playdates explore a new theme every other month.
DAM also offers a wide array of art-centric classes and camps for kids every summer.
Contemporary art can be for kids, too! The Fox Family Idea Box at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver is a dedicated space for families located on the top floor of the museum. Filled with art-making activities and comfortable seating, it is a place where kids and their adults can relax, make art or just hang-out. The museum worked with artist Paul Andersen to install an immersive art-making environment and provide opportunities for families to simply spend time together experiencing art.
WINGS OVER THE ROCKIES AIR & SPACE MUSEUM
At the Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum, more than 40 planes and riveting space-oriented displays occupy the sprawling space, an aviation wonderland that allows families to get up close and personal with giant bombers, fighter jets, antique planes and a search-and-rescue helicopter. The museum always has seasonal exhibits, and on the second Saturday of each month, kids can experience the electrifying buzz of climbing into the planes' cockpits.
While you're not going to come across any living, breathing dinosaurs while you're here in Denver - they're still extinct, the last we checked - you will have ample opportunity to learn about these long-gone Colorado residents. At Dinosaur Ridge in Morrison (near Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre) you can touch the bones of Allosaurus and Stegosaurus at the site where important dinosaur discoveries were made in the late 1800s. See how Iguanadons walked by viewing real dinosaur footprints forever preserved in the sandstone.
MORRISON NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM
Get a glimpse of early dinosaur discoveries from Colorado, including fossils from the first Stegosaurus and Apatosaurus ever found. Located 25 minutes west of Downtown Denver, the 3,000-square-foot Morrison Natural History Museum offers a relaxed environment that is perfect for kids of all ages to explore rocks and fossils. The exhibits and guides connect visitors with the ancient story of the Front Range. Recent local excavations have yielded famous baby dinosaur footprints that were featured in Smithsonian magazine and media outlets around the world.
THE BUTTERFLY PAVILION
Located in Westminster, a 15-minute drive from downtown Denver, the Butterfly Pavilion is the perfect indoor refuge in which to interact with live invertebrates fluttering around a lush rainforest, or to hold Rosie, a Chilean Rose Hair tarantula, in the palm of your hand-if you dare. The Wings Over the Tropics conservatory, home to more than 1,200 flitting butterflies, moths and skippers, shipped from farms as far away as Kenya and Ecuador, makes for an exhilarating wander through the toasty conservatory, awash with lush green plants. Stop by the Shrunk! exhibit, an interactive play area buzzing with insects and giant robotic scorpions and carpenter ants that move. Inspect the information charts, and you'll learn that beetles comprise one-fifth of all living things on Earth. Who knew?
There's no shortage of fun-filled, free - and nearly free - family activities in Denver.
On the first Tuesday of every month, the Children's Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus hosts complimentary guided story hours and playtimes, from 4 p.m.-8 p.m.
The Denver Art Museum is free for youths 18 and younger, and free for all on the first Saturday of each month.
The Tattered Cover Book Store, arguably the top independent bookseller in the country, hosts hundreds of free children's events throughout the year, including lectures, book release parties and author appearances. The 16th Street Mall location is one of its three locations in the metro area, plus one at the Denver International Airport.
Denver is an undisputed sports paradise, and while tickets to the major sporting events don't come cheap, in-the-know baseball fanatics purchase Colorado Rockies baseball ROCKPILE seats, which cost just $4 for adults and $1 for kids age 12 and under.