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, the Denver Zoo (2300 Steele St.) thrills kids with its komodo dragon exhibit, crowd-pleasing primates and a magical carousel comprised of 48 hand-carved animals, all of which are endangered species. Throughout the summer months, families can explore the zoo grounds during adventurous overnight outings.
Just adjacent to the zoo is the Denver Museum of Nature & Science (2001 Colorado Blvd.), 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. Opening in 2014 is a newly expanded Discovery Zone, with dozens of hands-on activities for kids.
Platte River Valley, Children's Museum of Denver
The Platte River Valley, in the heart of the city, boasts a cornucopia of family-friendly attractions and entertainments.
At the intriguing Children's Museum of Denver (2121 Children's Museum Dr.), infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers can spend hours roaming through scads of educational playscapes, including a miniature "Community Market," which allows kids to take on the roles of shopper, cashier and shopkeeper. Families will find several more thematic play areas that run the gamut from woodworking and scientific laboratories to animal exhibits and a fire station that teaches safety precautions.
Nearby, Elitch Gardens Theme & Water Park (2000 Elitch Cir.) 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 (700 Water St.), 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 River Trolley (700 Water St.), 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.
Denver Art Museum
100 W. 4th Ave. Pkwy.
The Denver Art Museum offers a Just for Fun Family Center complete with games, creative, make-it-yourself craft areas and dress-up costumes. On weekends, kids can pick up a family backpack, a portable bag brimming with all sorts of artsy, educational activities.
Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum
7711 E. Academy Blvd. #1
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.
16831 W. Alameda Pkwy., Morrison
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 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
501 Colorado 8, Morrison
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
6252 W. 104th Ave., Westminster
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?
Fun City Family Entertainment
9670 W. Coal Mine Ave., Littleton
This Littleton spot is a kid's dream come true, with Laser Tag, bowling, miniature golf and a "Foam Factory" all under one roof. Whether you are looking for a place to hold a birthday party or just have a fun day out, Fun City won't disappoint.
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 (2121 Children's Museum Dr.) hosts complimentary guided story hours and playtimes, from 4 p.m.-8 p.m.
The Denver Art Museum (100 W. 14th Ave. Pkwy.) is always free for children age six and younger, and free for all on the first Saturday of each month.
The Tattered Cover Bookstore (1628 16th St.), 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.
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.